March 1992

Fast talking keeps Guru's cover secure

The "eyes-only" packet from the Directorate of Administration caught Sullivan's attention when it landed in his In box. Usually, DirAd memos involved vacation schedules and the like; personnel matters would be classified only as "confidential."

He opened the envelope, and a stack of press clippings about a future NeXT RISC workstation slipped out. A handwritten note from the chief of information systems read, "What can you tell me about this?"

A queasy feeling welled up inside. Sullivan's first thought was that his cover was blown. That might mean no more visits to Redwood City, no more expensive lunches at Sans Souci. But a moment later, he was feeling better. A crackdown on his moonlighting operation would have come from his own superiors in DirPlans. Maybe the IS honcho was witting, but could be kept quiet in exchange for some information.

"Meet me at Angelo's, 6 p.m. Your code name will be Seeker. You can call me Guru," Sullivan scrawled back, and called in a clerk to route his message through secure channels. It was a chance picking a lounge favored by Agency personnel, but it seemed unlikely that eyebrows would be raised over two employees sharing a beer.

Seeker got right to the point: "So what's this all about? I haven't been disclosed." At first Sullivan played dumb, but an impatient look from across the table pushed him over the edge. "NeXT isn't doing any disclosures yet. They're worried customers might delay purchases," he began.

"Look, the press reports are all over the map. Read them all, and you know less than you did to begin with. The bottom line is, of course NeXT has faster machines in its future. What computer company doesn't? But should you wait to buy? Hell, no. I need a Turbo now, and so do a lot of us throughout the building. If you jokers hold us up for some kind of administrative snafu, a lot of people are not going to be pleased."

"Well, we'll still want slabs on most client desks," Seeker conceded. But he wasn't going to let Sullivan off that easy. "Who's in the know about your NeXT connection?" he asked casually.

Clearly, Sully was going to have to cough up some specifics. "What do you know about FDDI?" he said. "Combined with Ethernet and ISDN, FDDI on the motherboard means NeXT is positioning NRW in part as a communications server. With an NRW as the main server in each office, Ethernet networks at each site would be connected via a high-powered FDDI backbone link. ISDN allows individual remote sites to dial into the same worldwide network. Every computer in the organization has total access to the net."

While Seeker was chewing on that one, Sullivan slyly shifted to another topic: the not-quite-dead optical drive. He explained that NeXT is working on solutions, and the best bet at this stage is a SCSI upgrade kit. The kit would reuse an optical from an existing NeXTcube in an external case with a connection to NeXT's SCSI bus. Unfortunately, the device will no longer read disks written before the conversion. You would have to dump the data somewhere, reformat the disks on the converted drive, and then dump it back. "Sounds about as much fun as a three-day weekend in the Iraqi desert," Sully observed.

Another problem NeXT is working on are complaints over its keyboard. While Apple Desktop Bus is still alive for future machines (allowing users to choose among input devices) there will be fresh keyboard options this spring or summer. An ergonomic keyboard designed to lower the risk of repetitive motion syndrome is in the works. This model is also expected to feature function keys.

Seeker yawned as Sullivan rushed ahead. NeXT's physical plant seems to be shrinking, he said. Employees vacated the little-used building at 600 Galveston in Redwood City last month, a short time after the company also relinquished its offices on Saginaw Drive. This is one more aspect of the general belt-tightening as NeXT counts down to a planned initial public offering in late 1993.

By this time, Seeker had reached information overload. On his way out he assured Sullivan that his secret would remain safe "as long as we can sit down like this every once in a while."

"Sure," said Sullivan, feeling the hook sink deeper into his hide.

The new Agency directive about openness with the press specifically does not apply to computer applications, according to policy makers in the Director's office. No matter, the channel is still open, and Lt. Sullivan T-shirts signed by Steve Jobs are still available in exchange for reliable information. Send e-mail to or leave voice mail at 415/978-3374.

Created by Stone Design's Create(tm) at 2005-08-20 23:35:07 -0500