January 1992

NeXTstep '486: Get ready!

by Laurie Flynn

Redwood City, CA: When NeXT announces its port of NeXTstep for Intel '486 machines this week, the company will demonstrate the software running on PCs specially engineered to match NeXT's video scheme.

NeXT will demonstrate its operating system running on a PC (most likely one from Dell Computer Corporation) equipped with graphics circuitry on the motherboard that addresses 16-bit color video in ways compatible with NeXTstep. NeXT's 16-bit video scheme uses 12 bits of video and 4 bits of alpha channel. "Dell was willing to modify the way it does graphics," said Mike Slade, NeXT's director of marketing. Slade called the modifications necessary to optimize a '486 system for NeXTstep "trivial." For optimal screen resolution, NeXT will recommend using 1024-by-768-pixel graphics, similar to XGA, said Slade.

To speed video, Dell has been testing systems with processor-driven graphics, and at Fall Comdex demonstrated a '486 system equipped with "local bus video," according to Lisa Rohls, a spokeswoman for the Austin, Texas-based PC vendor. By using this method, a 50MHz '486 system performed some operations five times faster than a SPARCstation, said Rohls.

Regardless of Dell's efforts to optimize video performance, the company has not yet decided whether it will license NeXTstep. "[Steve Jobs] has talked to us, but at this point we haven't made a decision. The door's still open," said Rohls. NeXT is also interested in a deal with Compaq, according to sources. Compaq, however, declined to confirm or deny whether it was in discussion to license NeXTstep.

By porting NeXTstep to more industry-standard systems and licensing NeXTstep to major PC vendors, NeXT hopes to shed its proprietary image. "Everybody thinks of us as a closed company, but we're really an open company," said Slade. While Slade wouldn't comment on which other PC vendors NeXT has talked to, he confirmed the company is hoping to sign up numerous OEMs of NeXTstep in the next few months. Slade acknowledged that '486 systems running NeXTstep will not necessarily be any less expensive than NeXT machines because of the required memory, hard disk, and video.

While the debut of NeXTstep '486 makes NeXT a software supplier, it does not mean that NeXT will become a major seller of shrinkwrapped software. Instead, the emphasis will be on forging relationships with PC vendors who will bundle the software with their systems, said Slade. Whether or not NeXT will decide to package the software separately had not been determined at press time.

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