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N > NEXT COMPUTERS  > NeXT Cube


NEXT COMPUTERS   Next Computers
NeXT Cube

Steven R. Staton comments:
NeXT Computer went through several marking iterations, trying to find a niche for this machine.

The first was higher education. When originally announced (in 1988, a year before the 1.0 version was released), the machines were only going to be offered to college students. I recall being quite annoyed at this, since I wanted to get one. A 6500USD computer was quite a hard sell at a time when that amount of money would buy a four-year degree at most US state colleges.

The second market was publishing. This made a lot more sense as the NeXT rendered the display in Postscript (a special version was coaxed out of Adobe called DisplayPostscript), and supported a (at the time) "high resolution" Canon print engine that printed at 400 DPI. Framemaker was ported to the NeXT, and was quite usable even on a system that had only an optical drive for mass storage. But again, one was looking at dropping almost 10000USD to buy a working system. Even Mac buyers blinked at that price. :-) The later releases of color systems did help sell NeXT machines to high-end publishers, but it didn't displace Apple Macintosh systems as the preferred platform for small to mid-sized desktop publishing.

The last market was vertical custom software, and in particular, Wall Street. This was a market where the cost of the hardware was NOT an issue, and the rapid development of custom software (once one had a suitable collection of NeXTSTEP objects to do the fundamental data processing tasks) and in particular, custom GUI software, was a premium. Steve Jobs famously demonstrated the creation of a simple database driven GUI program using *only* the GUI tool (Interface Developer) at one of the NeXTWorld shows -- the audience was stunned. It was several years after that before a Microsoft Windows development paradigm could come close to the ease of NeXTSTEP. Of course, by that time, NeXT had gone under and was selling itself to Apple. NeXT came to this market too late, despite having a line of machines that were surprisingly powerful, and an operating system that was running "fat" binaries on at least four different platforms (680X0, 80X86, Sparc, and Data General).

Fortunately today, if one wants a NeXT, all you have to do is go visit the local Apple Store -- they'll even sell you a NeXTSTEP for Intel machine that really works!

About NeXTstep, Sam Whaley specifies:
NeXTstep, the NeXTcube's operating system, was the first stab at today's popular Mac OS X.
Mac OS X is a powerful and sleek UI running on top of a BSD operating system. So is NeXTstep. The only possible differences I can think of from OS X & NeXTstep is compatibilty (NeXTstep is not compatible with very many programs) and UI design (look at the difference. Both are sleek, but OS X is much more advanced).
Plus, the BSD (Berkeley Software Distrubution, based on UNIX) core is different. Apple-made Darwin is OS X's core, it is also free and open source. NeXTstep uses NeXT-made MACH, which is only included with NeXTstep, and not open source.
NeXTstep was ported over to Intel processors before NeXT went out of business. It was also made open source, and dubbed Openstep. From what I know, it was only available for Intel processors and was never available for the processors that NeXT computers ran.
Like NeXTstep, OS X is being ported to Intel. Darwin is already ported, but OS X is still in beta. As you see, Apple has really followed the footsteps of the company that could of been, NeXT.

Rob Harrap specifies:
I had a NeXT for a long time (a cube, a color station, and a Next Dimension).
You missed the MAIN point of the NeXT - it had a true object oriented development environment (half a decade before Microsoft had a far inferior system) called NeXTStep. NeXTStep lives on as the foundation for Macintosh OS X.
Finally, the most significant thing about the NeXT was that Tim Berners Lee built the initial version of the World Wide Web on a NeXT using NeXTStep.

Interesting points from Allan Crain:
The reason the first NeXT systems used a grayscale display was because the color hardware wasn't ready yet, but Steve Jobs, having lived through the transition from black and white Mac to color on the Mac II, wanted to make sure that developers were expecting more than black and white with their software.

Incidentally, the operating system used on these machines became the basis for MacOS X after NeXT folded and Steve Jobs returned to Apple. The early releases of OSX (Rhapsody DR1, the first OSX Server release, etc) look a lot like NeXTstep trying to look like MacOS and failing.

Tim Allen reports:
Tim Berners-Lee used a Next machine when writing what became the first web browser when he created the world wide web. This is an important landmark role for this machine.

Liam McMullin writes to us:
I noticed it's not mentioned here that NeXT Cubes came in magnesium cases. I saw a picture of one of these on fire once because some guy just had to try it. Pretty impressive looking!

My dad works for part time for a company where they used NeXT computers in the early 90's. I remember thinking it was odd as a kid to see a black computer! I can't remember whether they were NeXT Cubes or NeXT Stations. They were neat though. Dad still rants on about how powerful the applications were for the lab work they were doing.

I believe NeXT computers were also used in the developement of DOOM at Id Software. Makes me wonder if there's a NeXT version floating around.

Oh yeah, for anyone who wonders what the desktop environment was like, there's a window manager for UNIX/Linux called Window Maker. It does a nice job looking like the NeXTStep desktop. I use it.

A few other items from Joseph Stebbins:
Canon loaned NeXT about $400M and in an effort to recap some of the money pushed the development of the Intel Port of NeXTSTEP called OPENSTEP.   They even built a system called an ObjectsStation based on a Pentium 100. in 1993/4(?) - mine still runs fine.

Also regarding DOOM, it was availabe on the web but I dont think the sound worked due to porting difficulties.

Interesting comment from Rob Harrap:
1) NeXT computers were not that expensive compared to other similar machines. They just couldn't compute as a 'third alternative' to DOS and Mac machines.
2) NeXTStep is, with minor changes, now called Mac OS X so it would be strange to say that it isn't 'still in use.' I'm writing this on a Mac running OS X and if you look 'under the hood' the programming environment is still NeXTStep - you find references to NeXTStep throughout the code.
3) The World Wide Web was developed on a NeXT. For that alone they should be remembered!
4) The NeXTDimension was fabulous. I had one for many years. It could do things that only became possible in the PC world in the 1999-2001 timeframe.
5) One of the nicest things about the NeXT was that the Cube could be put 10' away, say on a shelf, so it didn't take up your entire desk like most computes of that era. Many of us used the Cube as a plant stand or speaker stand!
6) NeXT machines are quite valuable now because museums want them.
7) The NeXT was the first machine:
   a) to use a magnetooptical drive
   b) to ship OS software on a CD
   c) to have Display PostScript
   d) to embody object oriented programming concepts throughout

Josh specifies:
Just thought I'd correct 'Sam Whaley' on a few things...
- NeXT did not create Mach. Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science create Mach in the 80s
- Openstep is not and never was 'opensource'. The name change relates to it supporting and complying with 'open standards'. The source code was not opensource.
- OPENSTEP ran on Black NeXT hardware (68k cpu), Intel CPUs, and, unless I'm mistaken, ran on SPARC. It did not run on PA-RISC. I have OPENSTEP 4.2 installed on my NeXTstation Turbo Color.
- NEXTSTEP ran on 68k, Intel, PA-RISC, and SPARC







 
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