The NeXT Computer System, unveiled, fanfared and launched with all the razzmatazz at Steve Jobs’ command on Wednesday, may be the most expensive and desirable executive toy ever invented, but status-conscious executives who want to impress their visitors are just going to have to wait – unless they have indulgent kids at college. Despite expectations […]
The NeXT Computer System, unveiled, fanfared and launched with all the razzmatazz at Steve Jobs’ command on Wednesday, may be the most expensive and desirable executive toy ever invented, but status-conscious executives who want to impress their visitors are just going to have to wait – unless they have indulgent kids at college. Despite expectations that NeXT Inc, Palo Alto, would have to offer its magic toy on the commercial workstation market to keep its highly automated plant in Fremont, California busy, the company insists that the only market into which it plans to sell the machine is the college market – starting early next year. And the college kids who can afford the $6,500 price tag should be delighted: the features included in the machine are the ones turned up most often by an exhaustive round of polling the Class of 86 to find what it really wanted in a computer. And when the impatient executive is finally able to get his hands on the thing (it would be about ninetieth on a woman’s list of desirable toys), he will find that the thing costs rather more than the prices quoted here: these apply strictly to educational establishments only. Software features true object-oriented programming, the Compleat Works The operating system is of course Mach, the slimmed-down Unix from Carnegie Mellon University that used Berkeley BSD 4.3 as its starting point, and one of the most attractive features of the machine is the amount of software that comes bundled with it. In addition to Mach, there is the NextStep shell, comprising the Window Server, Workspace Manager, Application Kit and Interface Builder. The object-oriented environment was developed with Objective-C from the Stepstone Corp. The Window Server provides a window-based, graphical and intuitive interface to Unix. The Interface Builder works graphically to enable the developer construct an application by choosing from a palette of available objects and using the mouse and keyboard to modify the objects as needed, define the layout and establish connections between objects: now that’s what object-oriented programming should be about. Adobe Systems’ Display PostScript ensures true WYSIWYG between screen and printer, and is claimed to simplify the programming of graphical applications that support high-quality printing. And there are also a SoundKit, a MusicKit, array processing routines, assemblers, compilers, debuggers and a terminal emulator. A Digital Library on optical disk includes Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary, with definitions, pronunciations and illustrations; Webster’s Collegiate Thesaurus; the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations; the Oxford University Press edition of William Shakespeare; The Complete Works; NeXT technical references and other pertinent technical references. Bundled applications include the WriteNow word processing program; the Mathematica symbolic mathematics program for equation-solving; the NeXT SQL Database Server from Sybase Inc; Allegro CL Common Lisp; Jot, a personal text database manager; and graphical electronic mail with integrated voice mail capability. NeXT will ship systems to its key customers and developers starting this quarter, and expects to ship systems with final software by the second quarter of 1989 to a broader base of institutions and developers. Apart from the expanded memory, options include 660Mb and 330Mb Winchesters from Maxtor Corp, an Ethernet kit, blank $50 optical disks and printer toner cartridges. Two key chips liberate power of 68030, drive optical disk One of the most striking internal features of the NeXT Computer System is that the entire processing power of the machine is housed on a single circuit board inside the one foot black cube body of the machine. And the $6,500 configuration does indeed include the 256Mb erasable optical disk drive from Canon Inc (CI No 1,035); and the 17 extremely high-resolution MegaPixel Display from Sony Corp. The 400 dot per inch PostScript laser printer is another $2,000. On that circuit board is a 25MHz Motorola 68030, a 25MHz Motorola 68882 floating-poi
nt unit, and a 10 MIPS Motorola 56001 digital signal processor that handles the machine’s compact disk-quality sound, speech synthesis, high speed modem communication, facsimile transmission, array processing, voice mail and advanced numeric processing. The machine comes with a colossal 8Mb as standard, and can take another 8Mb on the motherboard. Taking a leaf out of Uncle Sir Clive’s book, NeXT has designed two proprietary gate arrays that differentiate the machine from anything else using the 68030. The two chips are the Integrated Channel Processor to manages the flow of data between the central processing unit, main memory and all peripheral devices. It has its own intelligence, thereby offloading the 68030, so that the latter can run at its full rated capacity of 5 MIPS. The Channel Processor provides 12 dedicated direct memory access channels, including ones for Ethernet and for disks, monitor, printer and other peripherals. Next reckons that the Channel Processor chip replaces several hundred chips performing similar functions on a mainframe, and thus raises sustained system throughput to a level impossible with either personal computer or workstation architectures. The other custom chip designed for the machine is the Optical Storage Processor, which controls the vast 256Mb exchangeable read-write optical disk drive from Canon. Suppliers rush to endorse the system Perhaps the biggest achievement of NeXT Inc was to get large parts of the industry so excited by Steve Jobs’ plans that they were prepared to subsidise the company with unbeatable OEM prices, and vast credit, just so they could say they were associated with the product. And so it was that we got releases from Canon Inc on the optical disk drive; Adobe on Display PostScript – revealing that the laser printer uses a Canon SX engine; Maxtor Corp saying it is sole supplier of the optional magnetic disks; and Motorola Inc on its three core microprocessors.