Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak doesn’t believe that Apple should have bought NeXT, the company that provided the foundation for Mac OS X.
The purchase of NeXT – run by Apple’s other co-founder Steve Jobs during the time he was not working at Apple - came at a time when Apple was suffering from an onslaught of bad publicity due to perceived faults in OS 7, which was suffering from crashes.
Macworld caught up with Wozniak while he was in London promoting his biography iWoz. In this book Wozniak claims that the OS 7 crashes were linked to running Microsoft Internet Explorer, rather than the Apple operating system. He says that his own research made it clear that people with IE installed on their Macs were suffering from crashes, but those who used alternative browsers, such as Netscape, were experiencing no problems. Wozniak’s theory was not given credence at the time because IE did not have to be running for the crashes to happen.
Wozniak told Macworld: “There wasn’t an objective engineering type look at the operating system that we had. It was not at fault, although it was implicit a little, it was not the reason Macs were crashing. Apple thought it was and it gave a horrible opinion inside Apple as to what steps we should take to correct it, and these steps were wrong. There was nothing wrong with OS 7.”
“My feeling wasn’t so much about operating systems, as: ‘Does Apple need OS X?’” Wozniak confessed his concerns to Steve Jobs: “I remember asking Steve, telling Steve, that we didn’t really need a new operating system for that amount of money involved in the purchase of NeXT. But he said he had an obligation to his shareholders at NeXT.”
But, Wozniak concedes, the switch to OS X wasn’t a bad thing. “Now looking back it’s a good thing we have a better more stable more complete better operating system, from the ground up,” he said.
Breaking the system, cracking the code
Not that Mac OS 9 - the operating system that predated OS X - was not stable. According to Wozniak. “That was something to say for Mac OS 9. It was just so secure,” he said, denying that the security was based on the fact that being a minority operating system meant that nobody was interested in attacking it. He explained: “Mac OS 9 was differently constructed to anything else. It wasn’t because it was minor and unknown.”
Mac OS X on the other hand is built in Unix and is therefore is more prone to attacks because people are familiar with the holes in Unix, explained Woznaik. “Some of the holes in Unix are well known. So keeping Firewalls on is more important. And we keep announcing, even our own security fixes, not as many as Microsoft but still we never really had those in the OS 9 days.”
Wozniak confessed that he has a lot in common with the type of person who seeks to break into an operating system. He described hackers as “some of the brightest people”, adding that: “They are going to be able to solve some of the most complex problems of our lives, and their minds will develop so well by trying to get through those systems that they didn’t create. The script kiddies, they just want to do it because they feel that it gives them power. Maybe that’s the reason why people do that sort of thing.”
“I never once hacked a computer, I never got into one, I never felt like trying to crack a system, but I think that people that do are like myself. I had one of those minds that I think if I could I would have looked for ways, and been real clever to try and find a little hole,” revealed Wozniak.
Steve Wozniak doesn’t condone trying to break into systems. He emphasised that in IT classes that he taught he would set the kids a challenge: “To try and break through someone else’s security, but you can’t do it in a way that damages anything, it can always be restored.”