NeXT Computer (the original 68030 cube) was a high end workstation that was manufactured between 1988 – 1990. Back then it was a very expensive machine as a complete system would start at $6500 (in 1988 dollars). The machine is a 1 foot cube magnesium case that houses the computer. At the time, its performance was impressive, with a Motorola 68030 CPU running at a screaming 25Mhz, a dedicated floating point CPU, and a digital signal processor built into the system. NeXT cubes featured a magneto-optical drive that stored a whopping 256 Megabytes (by comparison, high end Mac systems at the time might have featured a 20 Megabyte hard drive.) In its day, this was the “Ferrari” of desktop systems!
NeXT championed many technologies into the workstation arena, such as object oriented programming principles, UNIX with a refined user interface, and the ability to work with CD quality sound files. The Operating System evolved into Apple’s MAC OS X, portions of which exist in the iPhone and iPad. The development language, Objective-C, is still the same programming language used for iPhone Apps. A few GUI icons from the NeXT era remain in today’s Macs, such as the small camera icon displayed when performing a screen capture.
A claim to fame is that the world’s first web server and browser was written by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN using a NeXT cube, marking the introduction of the World Wide Web in 1990. That same cube has been restored and a I understand it’s at MIT today.
While NeXT was a technological success, it was a commercial failure (at the time), focused on the academic market with a price point that was simply too high. Ultimately however, NeXT may have been a huge commercial success, as its technical incorporation into Apple became OS X and further evolved into today’s iOS platforms.
Ladyada and pt had an old NeXT keyboard with a strong desire to get it running on a modern computer. These keyboards are durable, super clicky, and very satisfying to use! However, they are very old designs, specifically made for NeXT hardware:, pre PS/2 and definately pre-USB. That means you can’t just plug the keyboard into a PS/2 port (even though it looks similar). In fact, I have no idea what the protocol or pinout is named, so we’ll just call it “non-ADB NeXT Keyboard”
There is no existing adapter for sale, and no code out there for getting these working, so we spent a few days and with a little research we got it working perfectly using an Arduino Micro as the go between. Now this lovely black deck works like any other USB keyboard. Sure it weighs more than our Macbook, but its worth it!
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Gorgeous! We had a NeXT "slab" lab when i went to university. I’d love to get my hands on one of those.
That’s awesome! I do recall the keyboards being decent, and NeXT Step was arguably the first GUI put on top of a Unix variant that was actually functionally usable and pretty (and arguably it and OS X are still the best GUIs to have existed for unix variants). That said, the original NeXT systems were overpriced, slow and terrible compared to what else was on the market at the time IMNSHO. To wit, in the same era, systems with 16 or 24bit full colour graphics, 68040s and 68060s were available for less money, and had more peripherals and software available for them (whether referring to Macs or Amigas in that era).
There’s actually a rarely known story of how Steve Jobs brought in Jay Miner (of Amiga notoriety) to discuss doing a graphics chip for NeXT. Purportedly, Miner proposed something that would have run circles around other contemporaneous systems of the time, 24bit colour depths, etc. Apparently Jobs rebuffed him, stating that the NeXT was intended to be a high end professional workstation, and professional didn’t take colour displays seriously. At any rate, Miner thought Jobs was crazy and wasting his time for asking him to architect a graphics subsystem that was black and white in that day and age, and I think history showed that between the NeXT Color and NeXT Step, Miner was correct. NeXT sales were poor, and the NeXT color didn’t spark much interest either.
The cubes (and even the color) felt excruciatingly slow to me at the time for what they did. Gratefully NeXT Step also ran on x86 systems officially, and it screamed in full colour on a 486 dx2 66 by 1994 or so. Omniweb was in my experience, the first browser that was actually usable, and it was years before anyone had anything on par with it on other operating system platforms. Years later, when OS X got ported to intel platforms, it came as no surprise for those of us who had been using its progenitor on various architectures years before OS X even existed.
There are others who argue that Symbolics LISPMs were object-oriented beyond anything that succeeded them, I never used those systems unfortunately; but I’m grateful I cut some of my teeth on objective-c on a NeXT and definitely am fond of some of my memories of it. But predominantly I was a fan of the OS, not the hardware (other than aesthetically). NeXT had a pretty nice looking all black laser printer in that era too. 🙂
You are SO awesome! Hacking ancient beautiful hardware to make it useful again is one of the coolest things you can do, electronically. Reminds me of when I hacked a Selectric typewriter to work with my TRS-80 Color Computer. I may be one of the only people in the world who did REAL letter-quality printing on the CoCo!