Close Call: Apple's OS X Almost Looked Exactly Like OS 8 (From the Book Inside Steve's Brain)

There's a gem of a story in Leander Kahney's new book, Inside Steve's Brain, about the biggest OS X mistake Apple never made: The original plan UI was to take the old crusty crap interface from OS 8* and drop it on top of the core. Thankfully Steve Jobs called the entire UI team a "bunch of idiots" and they used the beautiful tech demo mockups as the basis for what you see on leopard's OS today. Close call, eh?

After buying NeXT, Apple had to figure out how to turn NeXT-step into a Macintosh operating system. At first, the job looked so big that Apple's programmers decided they should take the old interface in Mac OS 8 and try to graft it on top of the NeXT-step codebase..."We assigned one designer to OS X," he recalled. "His job was pretty boring: make the new stuff look like the old stuff."

But Razlaff thought it was a shame to put an ugly facade on such an elegant system, and soon, had designers creating mockups of new interface designs...to show off advanced technologies under NeXTstep's hood.

Jobs called Razlaff into a meeting before ever seeing the prototypes, immediately called them "a bunch of idiots" and complained about the old Mac interface.

One of the things he hated most were all the different mechanisms for opening windows and folders. There were at least eight different ways...

The meeting ended with Jobs and Razlaff, now a creative at Frog Design, figuring out how to fix the UI issues, and Jobs asked for the mockups to be made into prototypes. Three weeks later Jobs dropped a compliment on the man.

This is the first evidence of three-digit intelligence at Apple I've seen yet.

And this was just the start. And over the next few weeks, Jobs and Ratzlaff's team would meet once a week where the CEO would pore over mockups and code based executions, pixel by pixel, until the UI was done.

I got through a copy of Leander's book this weekend, and to my delight it was very fact, quote and anecdote dense, not only relying on many previous interviews but lots of original reporting, as well. I mean, yea, it's a book, not a blog post. There are people at Portfolio complaining that Jobs didn't participate in the book, but anyone who knows anything about Jobs knows that he does not typically comment on these projects.

The book is pretty good at highlighting the evidence of his genius, chalking up the control-freakiness that he has a rep for as a strategy. (As a comparison, his Pixar is relatively open with news.) But I would have liked a little more discussion here about one or two things. Like Apple TV's lack of support for DivX, while Jobs is lauded for being open to new business models even if they threaten old ones, for example.

Inside Steve's Brain is meant to be a look at The Steve's business practices, and so chapters are organised as such, with Lessons from Steve summaries at the end of each. But Apple nerds looking for more details on the company itself will find plenty new here. Previous Apple history books like iCon are detailed, but only go up to a certain point in time. Leander's book adds new stories like the one above from the past, and bring the company's backstory up to about the time where the iPhone launched plus the SDK and bricking debacles.

And even though it's meant for business nerds, who is to say that we all couldn't use a little bit more evil/genius in the way we work and live. I mean, I call everyone here on staff a friggin idiot every day, and it seems to be working ok. CHEN WHERE ARE MY TPS REPORTS!? And of course, there are dozens of new interesting stories in the book like the one above. [Inside Steve's Brain]

*OS 9 was released as a stop gap.