Steve Jobs wanted to put Mac OS and NeXTSTEP onto Dell PCs way back when

Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs (Image credit: Rene Ritchie/iMore)

What you need to know

  • Steve Jobs reportedly tried to get Dell to put both NeXTSTEP and Mac OS onto its PCs.
  • The PC manufacturer went with Windows and the rest is history.
  • Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell has been talking about Jobs as he promotes his new book.

With yesterday marking the 10th anniversary of Steve Jobs' death and Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell doing the rounds to promote a new book, new tidbits about the pair's relationship have been shared. According to Dell, Jobs tried to get him to install not only NeXTSTEP onto the company's PCs instead of Windows but he also wanted Mac OS to be offered up, too.

Promoting his new Play Nice But Win: A CEO's Journey from Founder to Leader book, Dell mentioned that Jobs wanted to have the NeXT operating system installed on PCs because it was "better than Microsoft's Windows." Dell was speaking with CNET at the time.

Dell says Jobs came to his house in Texas several times that year, trying to convince him to use the Next operating system on Dell PCs by arguing that it was better than Microsoft's Windows software and could undermine the Unix workstation market being touted by Sun Microsystems. The problem, Dell says he told Jobs, was that there were no applications for it and zero customer interest.

NeXTSTEP was ultimately rolled into Mac OS with the operating system eventually being renamed to the macOS that we know today.

Not one to take 'no' for an answer, Jobs returned to Dell in 1997 when he was back in charge at Apple. This time he wanted Dell to install Mac OS alongside Windows in a dual-boot scenario. But this being Jobs, there was a catch — no guarantee of future updates was offered up, potentially leaving Dell PC users in the lurch.

Dell smiles when he tells the story, saying the deal was a nice try on Jobs' part, but it wasn't "an economic proposition that made a lot of sense" since he'd have to pay Apple hundreds of millions of dollars in licensing fees even if his PC buyers didn't use the Mac OS. Another problem: Jobs wouldn't guarantee access to the Mac OS three, four or five years later. That could leave Dell customers using Mac OS out of luck as the software evolved.

Whether that would have been the best move for the Mac, we'll never know. But it's fair to say that things could have ended up very differently if Dell had given in and allowed Mac OS to become part of the PC world.

Fast-forward to 2021 and one of the best Mac features is its ability to run macOS — something PCs can't do.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too. Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.