Microsoft, Apple, and Pink: A History Lesson

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on April 28, 2009

Rumors that Microsoft is developing a multimedia smart phone heated up again today when The Wall Street Journal reported (subscription required for full article) that Microsoft was talking to Verizon Wireless about launching the new phone in 2010. But for those of us with long tech memories, the project’s alleged code name, Pink, brought back some queasy memories.

Pink was also the codename of an ill-fated mid-1990s joint venture between Apple and IBM—just the thought of that sounds weird today—to develop a new object-oriented operating system. Back then, there was an even stranger collaborative effort among Apple, IBM, and Motorola to develop something called the common hardware reference platform based on the PowerPC chip, which was made by IBM and Moto and which ran Macs back then. The idea was to develop a single hardware design that would run Mac’s System 7, IBM’s AIX Unix, and Windows NT (IBM and Motorola actually brought products to market; Apple gave up early.)

But Apple and IBM were both interested in a new OS to run on the PowerPC platform. Pink began as an Apple project but in 1992 became a joint IBM-Apple effort. Eventually, the cooperation was formalized in a joint venture called Taligent. Apple was simultaneously developing an OS called Copland as a successor to the old Mac OS and gradually lost interest in Taligent. Eventually, IBM acquired Apple's stake in the joint venture and it faded away in the maw of Big Blue.

In the end, Copland never made it to the finishing line either. When Apple acquired Steve Jobs's NeXT Computer in 1997, NeXT software chief Avie Tevanian moved to Apple and, using the NeXTSTEP operating system as the basis, shepherded the creation of Mac OS X. The rest is history.

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Reader Comments

danieleran

April 29, 2009 04:10 AM

"IBM and Motorola actually brought products to market; Apple gave up early"

Wrong!

If you're talking about CHRP/PREP hardware, IBM and Motorola delivered PowerPC machines with lots of PC legacy, while Apple delivered much better, legacy free PowerPC Macs. If you're talking about PowerPC OSs, it was only Apple that delivered a successful mainstream PowerPC OS. IBM's OS/2 for PowerPC was a failure, and Motorola's port of Win NT for Microsoft was similarly a lead balloon.

And if you're wondering why Microsoft didn't develop the PowerPC port, that was because Microsoft never delivered anything but copies of other's work on the PC. It has never had any vision for doing anything new and great.

Pink was an effort by Apple to copy NeXT. IBM helped, then HP climbed on board (both IBM and HP partnered with NeXT before dropping the company). What resulted was Taligent, then CommonPoint, and it ended up as a patent portfolio that was partly rolled into Sun's Java.

The real NeXT software everyone was trying to copy became Mac OS X after Apple bought the company in 1997.

Microsoft's problem is that its code name is the same as some previously failed effort by Apple to catch up with NeXT, but that its own ten year old Windows Mobile is so awful that the company can't do anything to fix it apart from adding a shiny layer of crap on top, just like Windows Vista.

Steve Wildstrom

April 29, 2009 06:22 AM

@Danielran--Apple gave up early on CHRP, not PowerPC. It successfully made Power-based Macs for about a decade, but as best as I can rmeember, none was ever built on the CHRP platform. Windows on PowerPC was a complete flop and Microsoft dropped support quickly, I think with Windows NT 4.51. But IBM, too, succeeded with Power. While its CHRP machine was not successful, the AIX-on-Power platform went on to become the very successful p-series server family.

John Gilbert

April 30, 2009 07:22 AM

Microsoft's response to Apple's game-changing iPod platform (Zune) was a big yawner. I predict more of the same with a mobile handset

CrashPad

May 1, 2009 03:09 PM

This story is missing the fact that Microsoft seen shipments of 20 million handsets with Mobil OS on them last year. Last I heard Apple sold a total of 10 since it was introduced in june of 2007. Looks to be that maybe just maybe MS does have the larger audience.+

davidvw

May 1, 2009 08:06 PM

CrashPad, that "missing" fact is completely irrelevant to this story.

Shaun

May 2, 2009 07:54 AM

And apple made a couple of billion dollars on the iPhone while win mobile is bleeding...

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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