Field Reports

Hot topics and goings-on in the NeXT user community

Threads from the Net

Optical mourned. The most lengthy and noisy debates centered around the demise of the optical and its "replacement" by the new NeXT CD-ROM distribution strategy. Amid flurries of new and old OD sales (some masquerading as Cube sales), posters expressed confusion and pain; some said they felt abandoned. A straw poll of readers showed that by almost 30-to-1, respondents favored NeXT providing some way for OD customers to use their drives with new NeXT machines. Several discussed methods to implement an OD-to-SCSI solution without NeXT's help.

CD-ROM jitters. In related threads, NeXT's new CD-ROM strategy came under fire. Although some posters pointed out the advantages of the media (cheap distribution costs and large storage capacity), others were discouraged by NeXT's lack of warning and the potential for future system releases to be so large that CD-ROM might be required to "see" the whole system on smaller hard-drive systems. Old OD owners were afraid the system wouldn't fit onto one OD, making the purchase of a CD-ROM drive a virtual necessity. In any case, BANG and other user groups have stepped in, promising to make Release 3.0 available on OD to any licensed customer.

Custom strategy. NeXT's new marketing strategy based on mission-critical custom applications was hotly discussed. Some felt this was a temporary, necessary digression for NeXT to create sales. Others felt it discouraged sales of productivity apps and hurt NeXT's faithful community of longtime developers and educational users. A related thread debated the NeXT versus Sun video: Many believed it was biased and unfairly skewed toward NeXTstep, while at the same time holding that the underlying premise — NeXTstep is a superior development environment — is true and has not been trumpeted strongly enough by NeXT in the past.

Electronic free libraries. The NeXT archives are expanding and many other sites now have information of interest to NeXT users. Project Gutenberg will be placing hundreds of electronic books on-line over the next few years in formats compatible with Digital Librarian. Titles currently include Alice in Wonderland, some Doctor Suess books, A Christmas Carol, the King James Bible, The Origin of Species, and writings by Einstein, Yeats, Bob Dylan, and others.

Journal of success. One recent poster's article, "A Day in the Life of a NeXT User," was a compelling example of how a NeXT machine can really add up to more than the sum of its parts. Leveraged by the NeXT, this HSD salesperson described how every aspect of his daily job was made more efficient and effective through the use of NeXTmail, the Internet archives, and fax distribution of new product announcements. More stories in the future from others could make for continued good reading.

Rumors. The excited talk after Expo centered on NeXT's rumored RISC workstation, with several posters passing on reports that the machine will use the Motorola 88110 chip and offer built-in multiprocessor support. Base speeds of 100–200 MIPS were bandied about, with a possibility that DSP and NeXTdimension functionality might be able to run in software. The prospect of interactive RenderMan on such a machine made many readers drool.

The dark side. There were reports of NeXTs being stolen at an increasing rate, a good sign in a twisted sort of way. Postings on the Net are helping to track down these stolen machines and prevent future thieves from getting away with selling them.

Net stats. Traffic in the various subgroups of comp.sys.next had reached a steady stream of about 80 messages per day, 70 percent in the .misc group and the rest split evenly between the programmer and sysadmin group, when NeXTWORLD Expo hit. Volume quickly rose by a factor or two or more in the period just before and after the Expo, and overall traffic was up by 50 percent for all of January and early February. There were discussions of new splinterings of the group into sections on advocacy, hardware, equipment for sale, and competition.

User Group News

Expo stats. Over 100 user groups from 33 countries were represented at NeXTWORLD Expo in January. Volunteers from around the world worked 1000 hours in 250 four-hour shifts, in addition to 500 hours of work before the show. The United Kingdom and Japan shared awards for the most member-miles traveled to the show.

UK online. The NeXT User Group (United Kingdom) has begun operation of an on-line, NeXT-specific information service, known as NeXTel. The modem supports CCITT V.21, V.22, and V.22bis and V.32 data rates, as well as MNP Level 5 and CCITT V.42bis. The protocol is 8 data bits, 1 stop bit, and no parity. The number to dial is 44/844/28-660, e-mail: uk-next-users@ohm.york.ac.uk.

NeXLAW user group is forming. NeXLAW will be an electronic NeXT user group for lawyers, legal educators, and other legal professionals who use NeXT computers in their practice and teaching of law. This e-mail group will try to meet annually at NeXTWORLD Expo, and perhaps at American Bar Association functions as well. For more information contact Gregory Miller at Inherent Technologies, P.O. Box 1357, Portland, OR 97207, or at Marger Johnson McCollom & Stolowitz, 503/222-3613. E-mail can be sent to gam@techlaw.com or nexlaw-request@techlaw.com.

NOIR. It means "black" in French, but it also stands for NeXT Organizations International. Formed in October, this federation of user groups had its first organizational meeting at Expo. NOIR already boasts more than 100 member groups. It provided the Expo volunteers and hosted a full-day International User Group conference at Expo. The German groups hosted a small get-together for European user groups at the giant CeBIT computer show in Hannover, Germany, in early March.

In the groups. Chris Bradley (cbradley@convex.com) is the new head of DANG, the Dallas group. George Fankhauser of the Zurich group reports that a big party called Out in the Green is planned for June 4. No laptops or pocket calcs allowed. Contact george@ nice.usergroup.ethz.ch.

Fifth column. VATNUG, the Virginia Tech NeXT User Group, is campaigning to convince the university computer science department's PC-selection committee to choose NeXT. The committee awards the contract to a workstation vendor for the computer science department's undergraduate-purchase requirement.

Presence at shows. The Nova Scotia NeXT Society (abbreviated as NS2) was at the Delhousie computer fair March 2–4. The Boston Computer Society held a very popular meeting at Spring Seybold in February that featured a reception by Jonathan Seybold and demonstrations by a bevy of vendors. The NeXT section of the Club Macintosh of Montreal will have a booth at the SIMM (Salon International de l'Informatique de Montréal) Computer Show on June 3–5 at the Place Bonaventure Exhibition Hall in Montreal. The SIMM show is the largest in Quebec. Contact paulhus@cs.mcgill.ca or call 514/939-0382 (message).

Dead cube? There were signs at the Expo that the Cube may be dying. Upgrade paths for future NeXT products were hinted at but not promised, and faithful customers were worried. NeXTdimension customers are especially outraged since ND went up in price, and only boards (not ND systems) are now being sold. Without a daughterboard for compression, and no announced future, ND seems like a dead end (one long thread even explored NeXTstation Color boards as a Cube color upgrade alternative). Many posters were upset, especially about NeXT's refusal to say anything definite.

Vision in black. One developer, worried about the above issues, yet taken by the enthusiasm of the Expo, wrote and performed a song during Expo that was later recorded by Nathan J. and the NeXTsteps on a nearby NeXTstation. It recounts the excitement and occasional dangers of being ". . . a NeXTstep man and a NeXTcube guy." Copies of the 8-bit NeXT sound were placed on the archives by this author and a new NewsGrazer posting contained shell-file Icons that when double-clicked automatically downloaded the sound from the archives, dearchived it, and then opened the lyrics and credits in Edit while playing the sound on the NeXT. The artistic merits of the song were a matter of some debate, with professional songwriter John Perry Barlow offering a scathing comment.

by Charles L. Perkins & Dan Lavin