Like so many of us, I too was saddened to hear of the death of Steve Jobs last week. I never owned an Apple II, but I recalled very well those early days of personal computing, when one had to choose among a variety of machines with different operating systems, hardware configurations, and processors. My first computer used the same processor as the Apple II (A Motorola 6502, if you care about these things), but it had a different operating system. Unfortunately, my memory is not as clear about the time, years later, when Steve Jobs visited the National Air and Space Museum.
I believe it was around 1988, when the Beyond the Limits gallery was being installed. At that time Jobs had left Apple and was the head of a company called “NeXT,” which was selling a workstation, whose capabilities went beyond those of SUN or Silicon Graphics machines, not to mention ordinary personal computers. In any event, Jobs had enough faith in what we were doing to make a donation to the Museum to support the Beyond the Limits Gallery. He also gave us a NeXT workstation, which we promised him we would use to develop a flight simulator for the gallery. But after some efforts, we eventually gave up. I regret we were not able to make his NeXT donation work. The NeXT computer was tricky to work with, but it did have its fans. One researcher at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland got one, and while we were struggling to program ours, he used his to write a program for the Internet that he called the World Wide Web. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
We searched in vain for photos of that evening when Jobs was here, but I did manage to find his business card in my card file. So long Steve, and thanks for having faith in the National Air and Space Museum. We will miss you.
Paul Ceruzzi is the Chair of the Space History Division at the National Air and Space Museum.