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NeXT services

In 1989, a top-secret client of defense contractor RDR made inquiries about NeXT computers; the client had a NeXT project underway and needed help writing custom applications. As luck would have it, RDR had just hired Chris Walters, who had enough experience with NeXTs to set up a small group of programmers and help push the company in a lucrative new direction.

RDR has since identified a tactical opportunity in the shortage of qualified programmers versed in Objective-C and NeXT's AppKit. The firm's expertise, and now a couple of its own products, are benefiting many of the government agencies and private firms turning to NeXT-STEP for mission-critical custom applications. RDR recently signed a contract to design the retirement system for the city of Baltimore. It is also helping the consulting firm DCM, which is running Earl Williams's gubernatorial campaign in the state of Virginia.

RDR started as a small security consulting group in 1986, when its founder, Colonel Cal Sasai, retired from the military after 26 years of active service. Sasai drew upon his military credentials including time spent with the Army's elite Delta Force and was soon winning contracts to conduct field-training exercises and help the Army manage its computer systems. The company, which is headquartered less than 15 minutes from the Pentagon, in Fairfax, Virginia, quickly grew to about 100 people.

The company's decision to pursue the NeXT market came two years into Chris Walters's project, on December 4, 1991, when NeXT hosted a show for government customers. Sasai realized that the NeXT marketplace was about to explode with opportunity: It was the ideal time to get involved in product development. A few days later, he created RDR's advanced technology solutions group, with Walters as technical head. Walters sold RDR the rights for a set of InterfaceBuilder palettes he had been working on, and the company started marketing them in January 1992 at the first NeXTWORLD Expo. RDR also began aggressively pursuing contracting and training opportunities in the NeXT community and succeeding well.

"A lot of people have been burned by systems integrators," explains Robert Ward, the company's vice-president. RDR's solu-tion is to use NeXTSTEP's rapid development environment to deliver working prototypes of applications "within six to twelve weeks" of signing a contract, he says, letting customers "drive before they buy."

On a typical $500,000 contract to develop a custom application, the customer commits $50,000 up front.

A few months later "we give them an application they can try," says Ward. The customer then has the choice of canceling the contract or letting RDR finish the work and paying the contract's face value. So far, says Ward, nobody has ever opted to cancel a project.

RDR is getting aggressive with products as well. The company has polished up a presentation program called @image that Walters developed with two friends several years ago while moonlighting. The software, originally called NeXT Question, was put on the back burner when Lighthouse Design's Concurrence came on the scene. While @image doesn't provide the outlining capabilities of Concurrence, it costs less than half as much.

Meanwhile, RDR has taken NeXT's Developer Camp model one better: This spring, the company is opening the doors of its own "NeXT University." In addition to being an authorized provider of NeXT courses for users, developers, and system administrators, RDR will be offering introductory classes in UNIX, Objective-C, and most NeXTSTEP productivity applications.

Colonel Sasai is convinced that the flurry of NeXT-related activity at his company won't die down anytime soon. "NeXT is new," Sasai says enthusiastically, so RDR can make a name for itself in this market and grow with it.

by Simson L. Garfinkel