We've rounded up the top 15 big ideas that were supposed to revolutionise technology, but beyond a few prototypes they never actually appeared. In some cases we're glad they didn't.
Taligent and Microsoft Cairo
Steve Jobs, ousted from Apple's board of directors, left the company in 1986 and founded NeXT Computer. In 1989, NeXT released its first computer to great acclaim. Though the NeXT computer was only a modest commercial success, its launch and the technology it demonstrated (including the advanced NeXTSTEP operating system) galvanised three companies in particular: Apple, IBM, and Microsoft.
What NeXT had done, seemingly out of nowhere, was create an object-oriented operating system. (Among other things, such a design makes reusing programming code easier.) Apple had already started work in 1987 on an object-oriented operating system code-named Pink, but was struggling against internal politics to deliver anything even close to a finished product.
In 1992, the Pink project moved to Taligent, a joint venture between Apple and IBM. IBM, having recently parted ways with Microsoft over OS/2, had already started work on a microkernel called WorkplaceOS. Taligent merged the work on Pink and WorkplaceOS, with the intent of releasing a multiplatform operating system named TalOS.
While the group did eventually release an object-oriented programming environment named CommonPoint for OS/2 and various flavours of Unix, the actual Taligent operating system never surfaced. The company was absorbed into IBM in 1998.
In 1991, Microsoft launched the Cairo project - by several accounts, as a direct response to NeXT. Cairo promised a distributed, object-oriented file system (Object File Store, or OFS) that indexed a computer or network's file structure and contents automatically.
Several versions of Windows NT came and went as Cairo continued development, shifting targets all the while. Eventually the company referred to Cairo as the successor to Windows NT Server, and then as a collection of technologies. Cairo development ended in 1996.
Incidentally, two of these object-oriented ventures ended up generating technologies that lots of people use today. Bits and pieces of Cairo (in addition to conventions from Mac OS and NeXTSTEP) helped inspire the Windows 95 interface, and formed the building blocks for Exchange, Server, Active Directory, and Windows Desktop Search. (The OFS vision morphed into the Windows File System, aka WinFS, which was promised for Longhorn but removed from the feature list by the time it became Vista.) Apple bought NeXT in 1997 and got Steve Jobs with the deal; NeXTSTEP became the foundation of Mac OS X.
NEXT PAGE: The saga of Silicon Film EFS-1
- The gadgets that didn't revolutionise the world
- The Amiga Walker PC and Sega VR
- Glaze3D Graphics cards
- The Atari 2700 and the Secure Digital Music Initiative
- Whatever happened to the Action GameMaster
- The Apple Interactive Television Box
- Taligent and Microsoft Cairo
- The saga of Silicon Film EFS-1
- What happened to Project Xanadu?
- Honourable mentions