Vivid Imagination

Emerging market

When David Gregory was contacted by headhunters looking for someone to head the IBM/Apple joint venture Kalieda, he took just one look at the job description before declining. "That person isn't going to be in the trenches doing the creative work. They're going be busy worrying about whether the employees will wear jeans or suits to work," says Gregory, a former professor of music who left academia behind to form his own company, Imagine Multimedia.

Not that sticking with Imagine or NeXT has been very easy. After what Gregory has seen, it has required a good imagination to continue to have faith. As the oldest registered NeXT third-party software developer, Imagine has watched NeXT drop the multimedia ball on more than one occasion and other computers, like Silicon Graphics' IRIS Indigo, steal some of NeXT's multimedia thunder.

But Gregory's perseverance is about to pay off. In January, the company formalized a partnership with compact-disc-maker Phil-ips Consumer Electronics aimed at developing a complete solution for delivering multimedia content on CD-I (compact disc-interactive). Using a new product called Calisto, which is scheduled to ship this year, NeXTSTEP users will be able to put together interactive presentations simply by dragging and dropping icons that represent different types of media into a presentation window.

The most basic of three versions developed for the NeXT allows for output to videotape; Calisto Author is more interactive; Calisto for CD-I adds the CD-I technology.

Gregory's search for the perfect multimedia computer began in the mid-1980s at the University of Michigan, where he taught music and founded the school's Center for Performing Arts and Technology.

He was initially attracted to the Macintosh. "Apple has historically had the reputation of appealing to more adventurous, creative types," says Gregory. "We were digitizing video with an Apple II back in 1981, before there even was an IBM PC. Once you actually started to do creative work, you began to run up against the limitations of the hardware. In the real world, when you are doing presentations or performance art, you don't want to be limited to a 20-second blip."

Frustrated, he turned to workstations from Sun and IBM but soon discovered they had limitations of their own. "They solved some problems with virtual memory, larger disks, good color resolution, and good quality imaging," he recalls. "The short side was you had a lousy GUI and no commercial software that compared in the least to VideoWorks or Performer."

NeXT machines, being neither workstations nor PCs but combining the best features of both, were the answer Gregory had been looking for.

Since 1989, Imagine has concentrated on creating tools that make it easy to combine text, graphics, images, video, animation, and sound. MediaStation, the first product released by the company, provided NeXT users in academia with a sorely needed system for acquiring, cataloging, and storing all types of media. Media-Station's facility with video, in particular, made it the NeXT's first true authoring environment.

Gregory thinks multimedia can be a practical business tool and an essential part of NeXT's thrust into the Fortune 1000. "Multimedia will become a billion-dollar market when it becomes a business tool that is as accepted as desktop publishing," he says.

And it looks likes Imagine will now have the resources to stay at the forefront of that market. The Philips CD-I agreement coincided with a joint capital investment announced in January by Philips's in-vestment arm, Philips Venture Capital, B.V., of The Netherlands, and the Enterprise Development Fund of Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The time may be right for Gregory's mission. His commitment to creativity for its own sake to "putting tools in the hands of artists," as he describes it appears to make business sense as well.

by Lee Sherman