Pink was the great white hope, a next-generation operating system developed by Apple (and later IBM) in the early 1990s, to replace both Mac OS and OS/2 with a Microsoft-crushing newcomer.

It didn't quite work out.

Apple had started developing Pink back in 1988, then in 1991 brought in IBM to co-develop. They called the operating system 'Pink' because, at a meeting in 1988, Apple engineers and managers had a brainstorming session in which possible operating system features were jotted down on index cards and pinned to the wall in two groups: blue cards represented technologies that could be supported as extensions to the then-current Mac OS, and pink cards, representing technologies for a future dream system. Together they formed a company called Taligent (doesn't that name sound like every failed DSL company from 1999?) to produce and market the operating system.

Initially, Apple and IBM were quiet about Pink development, presumably to avoid scaring developers away from their existing product lines (premature product announcements can destroy companies; they were among the things that killed both Wang and Osborne).

Pink was sexy to both developers and marketing departments. In the first place, it was designed from the ground up to be object oriented, and thus to ease the development of new applications. According to Ed Bliss, then Apple's head of object oriented development, the new OS would be portable with "less code rewriting than Unix."

In the second place, Pink was designed to make adoption easy. The platform was intended to interoperate with the existing Mac OS, the proposed Apple/IBM AIX, and OS/2 2.0.

This would have meant emulators of three older operating systems baked into the O/S. None of these emulators was ever delivered, but you can imagine something like the "blue box" that lets Apple's current unix-based operating systems run older Mac OS applications.

There was a lot of enthusiasm for Pink, and its development team grew rapidy. In early 1994 Hewlett-Packard jumped onboard and became Taligent's third major investor and partner.

But Taligent never delivered. Though management was always discreet, it's not hard to guess that they missed delivery deadlines and gradually lost the faith of both IBM and Apple. Meanwhile, Microsoft charged ahead with Windows 95 which, while delayed, was clearly going to be a consumer darling.

In 1994, without cancelling Pink, Apple adopted a contingency plan. In March, CEO John Scully announced the Copland OS. Due in 1995, it would feature active assistance, multitasking, and memory protection. An even more advanced OS, Gershwin, would follow in 1996. This was one of Scully's final presentations for Apple.

By the summer of 1994, Michael Spindler had the top spot. He reviewed progress from the OS department and announced that Copland would arrive in 1996.

A beta of Copland came out in November of 1995, but the same month Apple delayed the release of the operating system until 1997.

Shortly before the end of the year, Taligent became a wholly owned subsidiary of IBM.

Long-forgotten Pink was never heard from again.

Considering this, especially together with the history of the Copland and Gershwin projects (neither was ever released), it is amazing that Apple was ever able to rebuild the credibility of its operating system. Buying NeXT was, in hindsight, exactly the right thing to do.

Byte September 1991
Wired, May/Jun 1993
Byte Nov 1994
Macworld April 1995
Inside Taligent Technology Addison-Wesley, 1995

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