This week’s Links We Like admires the clean design and innovative software of the NeXTstation, traces the history of the Palm personal digital assistant, and celebrates the 25th birthday of the Linux operating system.
If you’ve stumbled onto an interesting link or two, make sure to share them in the comments below, or in our forum. We’re always on the hunt for new links to get lost in. Have a great weekend! ᕙʕಠᴥಠʔᕗ
Ken Fager is living a retro computer fan’s dream. After a colleague tipped him off, he is now helping restore a rare NeXTstation.
Founded in 1985 by Steve Jobs, NeXT was an important, though short-lived company in the history of computing. These computers were not cheap and only about 50,000 units were shipped. A major reason for the modest sales was the $4,995 price tag for an entry level 1990 NeXTSTation. In today’s cash that’s about $9,369.09!
Designed for academic and research institutions*, it’s no big surprise the NeXT computer Fager is working on belongs to a University of Wisconsin professor. While at CERN, Sir Tim Berners Lee wrote the first web-browser and hosted the first web server using a NeXT machine.
The NeXTSTEP OS was based on the Carnegie Mellon mach kernel and the graphical user interface anticipated much of what would come later with Apple’s OS X operating system –in 1997 Apple bought NeXT. There was even a precursor to an apps store!
While you’re waiting for Fager to post another update on the restoration process, take some time to browse through his NeXTstation photo gallery. And make sure to experience the NeXTSTEP desktop from the convenience of your browser!
Around the same time as NeXT released its first computer, Jeff Hawkins was building a portable digital assistant. The device had no physical keyboard and accepted a person’s handwriting as input. On January 2, 1992 Hawkins formalized his pursuit, creating Palm Computing.
Tom Hormby traces Hawkins’ quest in a five-part series documenting the ups and downs of building Palm.
- Part 1: Before the PalmPilot
- Part 2: Palm PDAs and Phones, 1996 to 2003
- Part 3: Handspring, From Rival to Partner
- Part 4: Reunited with Its Founders
- Part 5: The End and the Post Mortem
In 1994, Palm released its Graffiti software handwriting translation software. Rather than require a physical or virtual keyboard, Graffiti enabled users to interact with devices as though they were paper note pads. It wasn’t perfect, but it was visionary.
Throughout the rest of the 90s, Palm continued to develop software and hardware, and was bought by US Robotics in 1995. And when 3COM bought US Robotics in 1998, Hawkins and many of the core team felt they no longer had control of the company and left to start Handspring, a rival hand-held company.
Whatever you think of Palm Computing’s corporate results, the company, its hardware, and its software strongly influence today’s handheld computing experience. Palm set the expectation that a handheld device should be inexpensive, intuitive, and able to do mundane scheduling, accounting, and documentation tasks with very little degree of difficulty. It wasn’t about the specs of the machine, portable computing was about what you could do and where you could do it.
In the late 1980s and early 90s, Andrew Tanenbaum’s operating system Minix and accompanying book, Operating Systems: Design and Implementation were popular in academia. It was far cheaper than buying a license for UNIX, but modification and redistribution of Minix was prohibited under its license. A deal breaker for anyone who wanted to tinker with the OS code and share hacks with friends.
Linus Torvalds, lacking the freedom to legally share and modify Minix source code changes, set out to make his own operating system kernel. On August 25, 1991 Torvalds e-mailed the Minix Usenet list to share his progress.
Hello everybody out there using minix –
I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things)…
Twenty-five years later his hobby transformed into a profession, and Linus is a computing super-celebrity. To this day, Linux remains open source and completely legal to hack, modify, and share with the world.
Over the years, the operating system has matured and is widely seen as both stable and secure –many argue even more secure than proprietary alternatives. Linux powers everything from CERN and the New York Stock Exchange to C.H.I.P. and PocketC.H.I.P.. To get a sense of the steady rise of Linux from this timeline.
If you’re new to Linux, it’s worth taking this free Linux Foundation course to get your bearings.
Have you ever owned a NeXTstation or used NeXTSTEP? What about a Palm device? Share your story in the forums or comments below. And if you’ve got a cool Linux tip or are working on any C.H.I.P. or PocketC.H.I.P. projects, make sure to tweet about them. Have a great weekend!