NeXT "Cube"
Unveiled:October 1988
Shipped:December 1988
CPU:Motorola 68030 @ 25MHz
Display:4-grayscale 17-inch CRT
Storage:magneto-optical drive
Expansionthree internal slots
Ports:thinnet, serial printer, SCSI
two DIN-8 serial, DSP

The original NeXT workstation was introduced in October of 1988, as a very powerful, high-end workstation designed for colleges, students, and universities. NeXT (the company) was founded by Steve Jobs in 1985, who, after losing an internal power-struggle, quit his job at Apple Computer, a company which he himself co-founded just eight years earlier in 1977. Five other Apple senior staff quit to join him.

Ten days later, Apple filed a $5 million law suit agains Steve Jobs and co-founder Richard Page, to prohibited them from using proprietary Apple information, and from raiding other executives for the purpose of gaining access to Apple information.

On January 17, 1986, the suit was dismissed "without prejudice", which means that the lawsuit could be reinstated if Apple felt that Jobs violated the agreement, or if NeXT's products were found to incorporate proprietary information. NeXT agreed to not compete with Apple products, and Apple had the right to inspect any NeXT prototype, and other products before they are marketed to determine if they contain any Apple trade secrets.

Unencumbered by the previous legal issues, Jobs and NeXT set-out to design, build, and market an entirely new computer system with unique hardware and software, while competing with industry giants such as of Sun, Apple, IBM, and Microsoft. The price-point was to be $3,000, and time-to-market was Spring 1987 - just 18 months from inception.

They paid graphic design artist Paul Rand $100,000 to design the company logo - the tilted box with colorful text. The company name would now match the logo - "NeXT" - with a small "e".

The impressive system specifications include:
  • Powerful Motorola 68030 CPU @ 25MHz
  • Included Motorola 68882 math coprocessor @ 20MHz (?)
  • On-board Motorola 56001 digital signal processor (DSP)
  • Two custom VLSI chips to manage the I/O subsystems

  • Included inside the attention-getting, die-cast magnesium, matte-black, 12-inch cube-shaped system (informally called "the cube"), are four NuBus expansion slots, a 200W system power supply, and the first commercially available read/write magneto-optical drive for data storage. The NeXT system contains no floppy or hard drives - the magneto-optical drive (from Canon) with removable data cartridge ($50 each) is the only drive required. Very ambitious and potentially extremely handy, the bootable 256MB magneto-optical disk cartridge contains the operating system, all of the software and applications, and all of the users data. Just pop-out the disk and take it home, to school, or anywhere there is a NeXT computer system - you have all of your work and data in hand, ready to run on any NeXT system.
    Other features of the NeXT, which had been called a power user's dream, include:
  • multimedia e-mail
  • up to 16MB on-board RAM memory
  • built-in "thin-net" ethernet networking
  • internal and external SCSI connections
  • stereo, CD quality sound, thanks to the built-in DSP
  • a giant 17-inch monochrome monitor with 1120 x 832 resolution
  • NeXTSTEP was the first OS to featured object-oriented programming, and Display PostScript for true WYSIWYG.

  • Similar to the Apple Macintosh from 1984, the NeXT has a mouse-operated, graphical user interface (GUI), possibly the best one available at the time. Called NeXTSTEP, it was built upon the Mach UNIX kernel, an already existing, text-based, multitasking operating system, known for being very powerful but difficult to use.

    After seeing a November 1986 PBS documentary Entrepreneurs featuring Steve Jobs and NeXT as a new startup, Texas billionaire Ross Perot immediately invested $20 million for a 16% share in the company.

    "Late? This computer is five years ahead of its time!"
    Steve Jobs

    The NeXT system didn't make it to market by Spring of 1987 as planned - it took two additional years - and in October of 1988 the NeXT system was unveiled at the San Francisco Symphony Hall. The price as twice the original target - now $6,500. It shipped in December with a pre-release v0.9 of NeXTSTEP operating system.

    In April of 1989, NeXT announced a deal to sell the NeXT workstation through "Businessland", the nation's premier computer retailer. The new price - $10,000. It turns out, that they sold only a few hundred in 1989.

    NeXT 68040 motherboard
    In September 1990, with sales of only 500 systems per month, NeXT released new systems and options, including a new motherboard with a faster 68040 CPU, more on-board RAM memory, color graphics instead of grayscale, internal hard drives and floppy drives. Also available was a smaller and cheaper "slab" form factor. You can experience the excitement here: YouTube video part 1, part 2.

    Nevertheless, sales were slow, so in February of 1993 with around 50,000 systems sold, NeXT stops manufacturing hardware, in order to save money and focus on porting the NeXTSTEP operating system to Intel Corp.'s 486 computer chip, which runs Microsoft Windows-based computers. In comparison, Apple sold 50,000 Macintosh computers every 73 days.

    In December 1996, Jobs' former company, Apple, buys NeXT for $400 million.

    Related Links

    Sep 1985 - Apple sues NeXT - ComputerWorld
    Sep 1985 - Apple sues NeXT - LA Times
    Jan 1986 - Apple lawsuit settlement - LA Times
    Jan 1986 - Apple lawsuit settlement - NY Times
    Jan 1986 - Apple lawsuit settlement - Info World
    Jan 1986 - Apple lawsuit settlement - Computer World
    Jun 1989 - Canon invests $100 million in NeXT - Info World
    Feb 1990 - NeXT manufacturing plant built in Freemont, CA - Fortune
    Dec 1990 - NeXT manufacturing plant is empty - NY Times

    Related Links

  • 1986 PBS documentary Entrepreneurs
  • The NeXT Computer from BYTE, November 1988, via
  • The NeXT Computer from BYTE, November 1988, via The NeXT Computer Historical Site
  • Lisa Lives from BYTE, December 1988, via
  • 1990 NeXT presentation - part 1, part 2
  • The Best of NeXT Computer
  • U-M Computing News, Volume 3 - January 1988
  • Details on NEXT workstation from MIT e-mail archives
  • Early reviews from

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