Yes, NeXT did port NeXTStep to the m88k CPU

In “The 88110 CPU and the RISC workstations that never were” we’ve related the story of how in the early 90s NeXT had supposedly developed a RISC-based prototype NextStation using a new and cutting edge Motorola RISC architecture, the 88k.

That hardware, though, never materialized. Did NeXT have a prototype or was it just a strategic rumor?
According to former NeXT and Apple engineer and manager Avadis “Avie” Tevanian it wasn’t a rumor.

In a 2+ hours “Oral History of Avie Tevanian” video, recorded by the Computer History Museum and released in June of 2017 Tevanian speaks – among other things – about porting NeXT’s operating system software to different ISAs.

Here’s the transcription of the relevant part of Tevanian’s interview, which starts at 2:18:00 and ends with a unequivocal confirmation.

CHM: The transition… then came the transition to the Intel hardware, moving away from 68k. Do you remember why you chose to move away from the Motorola architecture and go with Intel?
Avie Tevanian: Well, the Intel [move] was not about using Intel hardware ourselves, it was about selling software on PCs, the thinking there being ‘These guys builiding PCs can do it for zero profit margin, right? They’re at scale and we’re not’. [It’s] Simple as that.
CHM: For you that meant you had to take this OS and move it to a new architecture. How hard was it to move NeXTStep?
AT: That was our specialty! [laughs] Remember we had Mach which was already portable. So, you know, that was easy. And in fact we ended up porting it to the x86, to the PA-RISC, to the POWER architecture, to SPARC… you know, we were churning them out. Give us the funding or commit to go (?) and six months later we’ll have it running.
We ported it [the NeXTStep] to some processor that never shipped. The 88k. Remember the 88k? We had it running on 88k prototypes!

Thursday 07 December 2017, 12:34 pm

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