There’s little doubt that NeXTSTEP was the most important failed operating system. Though it went down with the overpriced and underpowered NeXT computer, it evolved into Mac OS X when NeXT was acquired by Apple and NeXTSTEP architect Avie Tevanian went there with Steve Jobs.
But honors for second place should go to WebOS, the operating system developed for the Palm Pre. Struggling Palm never had the resources to develop WebOS to its potential. Acquirer Hewlett-Packard had big ambitions, but corporate turmoil caused abandonment of the project before it got off the ground.
But while WebOS may be dead (LG now owns whatever is left of it), it influence lives on. iOS 7, announced by Apple today, shows more than a few traces of WebOS, especially in the user interface for multitasking apps, where a user can scroll through cards representing running apps and flick away cards to kill apps that aren’t needed. Google Now, which uses somewhat similar gestures to look through and dismiss notifications also shows lingering WebOS influence.
Software comes and software goes, but good ideas have a way of living on.