December 1991

'Deep' encounter in a DC parking garage

Expo fever is running high enough to overcome any chill caused by layoffs or third-quarter results. Even the normally skeptical Sullivan let those details roll off his back. Now the IPO, that will be interesting. Foremost in his mind, though, as he rolled his unmarked Agency sedan to an isolated corner on the third floor of the D.C. parking garage, were the rampaging rumors about NeXTstep on other platforms.

A tall figure in a trenchcoat stepped out of the shadows. Forget about the RS-6000, he said. SPARC is iffy at best. But developers and users would be wise to start thinking about NeXTstep on the 80486. Like, for example, how do you ship an app for more than one platform? Do you need separate packaging, or perhaps separate disks, for the different binaries? Sullivan's source says no. Multiple binaries could fit in the same app wrapper. The user sees one file. The machine knows which part of the code to run.

Sounds like nirvana for users with a big '486 installed base. But it's not that simple. Only '486 machines equipped with special graphics buffers will handle NeXTstep's graphics routines. Only a few installed machines are so equipped, but a handful of Intel clone makers may be working on special NeXTstep boxes.

Sullivan has been unable to nail down whether or not Developer Conference attendees will get NeXTstep 3.0 betas at NeXTWORLD Expo. NeXT isn't certain it can handle full beta distribution at this early stage. In any case, the conference will function as a "3.0 camp" in many ways. If betas do ship, they'll come on CD-ROM, so get yourself a SCSI CD-ROM drive for your NeXT. You can wait for a NeXT-specific drive, but there is also an inelegant solution. Buy an AppleCD SC drive and hook it up to your NeXT computer. It works better with NeXT than with a Macintosh anyway.

So what do you get with this new version of the operating system anyway? A lot. Support for PostScript Level 2 (with your own NeXT look-up table in the CIE color space). Pantone Matching System. A new API for the digital signal processor (Motorola 56001 DSP) chip. Support for 1.4MB Macintosh floppy disks. And a lot more.

Create a successful computer, and great games will inevitably follow, regardless of the thousands of MIS managers who would swear otherwise. In the past several months, both commercial and shareware entries have appeared, and Sullivan knows of more in development. Athena is planning to release the 1991 version of Culture Shock in January. While Lighthouse will not do any follow-up to Void, Sullivan was delighted to get a sneak preview of a color version of the in-progress Ragnarok. Other games are in development from MIT to Stanford.

Cash on the barrelhead? Well, not always. Even credit-hostile NeXT has had to face up to the fact that large corporations won't buy on a cash-in-advance basis, so it has begun quietly extending credit to select customers. If you're not among them, ask your NeXT salesman for a credit application anyway. Although NeXT does not publicize the availability of terms, a credit application is available from the finance department upon request.

While Apple ships a Motorola 68030 emulator with all 68040-based machines, NeXT has bitten off a bigger bite. Insignia Solutions has been retained to write a Motorola-680x0 emulator for NRW. While NRW (as in "NeXT RISC Workstation") is not expected until late in "92, when it does come there will be a workaround for software to support the RISC machines. Insignia, famous for DOS emulation, seems like just the right solution for this task.

While Ashton-Tate's PowerStep was only a cult favorite as a commercial spreadsheet product, it seems to have found more-ardent admirers now that its in exile at Borland. Both Pages Corporation of San Diego and Appsoft Corporation of Palo Alto have been attempting to snap it up. Pages sees PowerStep as the foundation of a nice charting package for PageOne. Appsoft envisions a traditional spreadsheet for the mainstream business market who don't like newfangled paradigms and fixing things that weren't broken. So far, Lt. Sullivan hasn't been able to tell how things will end, but it is very possible Borland has its own, non-NeXT uses for the PowerStep technology. Sullivan jotted down this last tip, then looked up for more, but Deep NeXT had already disappeared.

Sullivan plans on making the rounds of Expo parties, and he is busy planning his own underground event. The best way to get your invite is to first share your tips with him by sending email to or calling his voicemail at 415-978-3374. Don't call the Agency, though. No reason to tip off the bean counters about those party expenses.

Created by Stone Design's Create(tm) at 2005-08-20 23:29:43 -0500