October 1991


Jonathan Seybold: NeXT's big challenge is still software

On the eve of the Seybold show, NeXTWORLD editors Dan Ruby and Darcy DiNucci visited Jonathan Seybold at his Malibu, California, offices for an in-depth interview about NeXT's prospects in the desktop publishing market.

NW: What are main benefits of the NeXT for publishing? What are the main drawbacks?

JS: Take Illustrator, for example. The biggest advantage is that you can work directly in Display PostScript. On the Mac, because it's a QuickDraw machine, you really end up working in an outline form and then saying, "Okay, go and render this for me," and sit there and wait for it to render it for you. On the NeXT machine, you're working directly with Display PostScript. It makes it a much more potent program.

The main problem is software. In the publishing market place, what NeXT needs is QuarkXPress or its equivalent.

NW: Why specifically QuarkXPress?

JS: Well, I'd settle for PageMaker, too. But, basically, those are the two leading page-layout programs.

The kinds of things that NeXT could really capitalize on would be doing the stuff that the Mac is running out of power for Ð the high-end graphics stuff. [NeXT] really would have the advantage. Particularly with all the color stuff, you can imagine what NeXT could offer. But to do that, you need a really good page-layout program.

NW: What about Pages?

JS: Pages is a very interesting development. Pages was conceived as being for the mass office marketplace. But the magazine people looked at it and said, "Gee, there are some neat some things here."

It reinforces an argument I've been making for a long time. I have never believed that there is a fundamental difference between the publishing marketplace and the office marketplace.

With old technology, you were forced into a choice. If you wanted to produce a document, you could do it yourself in your office, where it was inexpensive and you had control and fast turnaround. It was typed and printed, and it looked lousy. Or, you could go outside to a craft Ð people using craft equipment Ð and it would take much longer, cost much more, you'd lose control over it, you'd go back and forth because they'd make a mistake and you'd have to correct the mistake, and so forth. You'd have a much more effective document. But you would only do that with documents that were important enough to warrant the pain and cost of doing that.

Now we've removed that barrier, and what we're seeing is, lo and behold, all along there weren't two classes of documents. The publishing people are just at the leading edge; they run into the walls first. And if they run into problems, they don't get tangled up in them; they're sophisticated enough that they can work their way out of them. If you don't solve the problems for them and you let the office guy run into the same problems, you'll be through.

Pages is a good example of that. Here's a product that was intended for the naive user, but the first acceptance of this, as often happens, is from sophisticated users who understand what it does and what its potential is.

NW: So for the NeXT in the publishing area, the current glaring holes are in page makeup and image processing?

JS: Yes. And what NeXT can add is that the page-makeup stuff can be customizable. The software that's available in the mass market doesn't really address all of what any particular person does, so we shouldn't be surprised that we haven't gotten the productivity gains that we thought we were going to get. You need to build things that are much more focused on an industry or an application or an organization, and leverage what the people doing those tasks really do.

Now that's too specific to support mass-market application software. It's the same thing we were doing back in the 1970s with custom application programs. The only way I think we're going to get to this area is through what we around here call "Lego software," software modules that can be plugged together to meet the needs of a larger application. You select modules, you link them together, and you may very well add some value of your own.

Now you really need an object-oriented environment to do this. That is how you could really leverage the NeXT environment, to be fundamentally different from things that exist elsewhere.

NW: The kinds of things that people use QuarkXTensions for?

JS: Right. One example is the system that Time magazine has been playing with and is marketing. They've written a whole bunch of software for editing copy, and they've written a QuarkXTension that basically places the copy automatically onto a page. The thing looks like a seamless whole rather than a bunch of individual programs.

NW: And that's the direction that something on the NeXT should go?

JS: Yes. In a much more open fashion. And that's the sort of thing that can make a fundamental difference. It could be a whole different metaphor of how one builds application solutions. It's important to publishing, but I think it's also important as a metaphor to be emulated for other kinds of software.

NW: What about color prepress? Some developers seem very excited about the platform, saying that the NeXT has the color and the performance that would allow you to do the kind of thing you could do on a Scitex.

JS: It is a natural platform. But ever since three weeks before the announcement of NeXTdimension and the NeXTstation Color, we've had conversations with companies Ð good-sized companies Ð who really wanted to develop color software for the machine. And so far all the smaller companies are doing things, and the bigger guys have backed off. The bigger guys haven't had the nerve to commit to NeXT and NeXTstep.

NW: So who's going to do this kind of software?

JS: The hope for companies like NeXT is to attract all those crazies with neat ideas who want to leverage their platform and do things more easily and more effectively than they could someplace else and who would get crushed in some other marketplace.

NW: And those applications will lure people to the platform?

JS: You could argue that if NeXT continues on the ramp it is on, it will be an incremental haul, but it will be sufficient by itself to get one software developer, two software developers, and to gradually build up steam.

But I believe that if NeXT is going to be a major force in the marketplace, it's going to have to be a system software company. That doesn't mean it can't be a hardware company. In fact, I would argue that if you had great system software and you had the neatest hardware Ð hardware that was tailored to that system software Ð that gives you a major advantage in selling the hardware as well. But I just don't see how any individual player starting where NeXT is starting from can get to a significant critical mass by itself, to really attract the numbers of third-party software developers you have to attract to be a major contender in the marketplace.

NW: And when NeXT has the software

JS: If sufficient software were available, I think that the market would be immensely receptive to NeXT. Nobody could have gone to our conference last year and not been impressed with the level of attention that NeXT got. An independent survey of show attendees found that NeXT was the second-most remembered exhibit after Adobe and that it ranked first for the most impressive demonstration and presentation at the show. The major reason was interest in products. This was last year, when NeXT was showing the NeXTstation and color.

NW: So people are interested.

JS: Absolutely. If you look at what NeXT is doing from a system software and hardware standpoint, it's mostly the right stuff. I've been on them since '88 about connectivity with PCs and Macs, and NeXT's finally taking some shape there. You can point to areas where there needs to be some improvement, but by and large the challenge remains software. The challenge remains to get the neat software, enough software so that people can do their jobs better.

Created by Stone Design's Create(tm) at 2005-08-20 23:26:56 -0500