Value Versus Price

Simson L. Garfinkel

Last month, reading through the Help Wanted section of the Boston Globe, I discovered an advertisement for a telecommunications company seeking NeXTSTEP programmers. The full-page spread cost the company a cool $38,000.

There's never been a better time than now to be a NeXTSTEP programmer. Companies aren't looking for entry-level programmers they're seeking team leaders and offering salaries in the high $60s to low $90s.

There's even more money to be made as a consultant. That's because many companies want to test the waters by having a few hired guns write one of those mission-critical custom applications before committing themselves to training or new hires. After all, most people know that it's one thing to watch a hot Steve Jobs demo; it's another thing entirely to sit down and make something that actually works. No matter how easy InterfaceBuilder seems, building applications still involves more work than simply connecting objects with thin black lines.

That's why NeXT's announced pricing for NeXTSTEP '486 $995 for the user version and $2495 for the developer edition is so disturbing. NeXT needs to create an army of evangelist-consultants who are enamored with the technology and hungry to share their vision. Now is the time to seed the market. But, oddly, NeXT has priced NeXTSTEP '486 to turn a quick buck from outfits like Chrysler Financial. NeXT doesn't see single-copy sales having any impact on the company's future.

Self-employed consultants aren't going to spend $2495 for a copy of NeXTSTEP to run on their spiffy new '486s. Not when they can buy a comparable OS/2 or Windows 3.1 development system for under $500 and the beta version of Windows NT for less than $100.

"It sounds as if they're coming out with a killer product, and they're taking every step necessary to make sure that they fail," says a friend and Windows consultant who would dearly love to add NeXTSTEP to his portfolio. His problem: The cost of admission is just too high.

NeXT is quick to point out that NeXTSTEP isn't comparable to the competition. It compares its object-oriented environment to expensive CASE systems costing $10,000 or more. The payoff in increased programmer productivity is worth it, NeXT says.

While that argument might make sense to the company footing the bill for a project, it rings hollow to my friend, who gets paid by the hour. Sure, he might be five times less productive writing programs for Windows, but his hourly rate is still the same. Is anybody going to pay him five times more to write NeXTSTEP programs simply because he's five times more productive? Not a chance.

So why be a NeXTSTEP consultant? Because its more fun to write programs for NeXTSTEP than for Windows.

It puts my friend in a difficult position. He likes NeXT but can't afford to shell out $2495 to get a copy of the NeXT-STEP developer edition. Is he better off pirating a copy from a willing co-conspirator or just forgetting about NeXTSTEP and sticking with Windows NT?

The feverish competition for the hearts and minds of programmers is about to take off, as NeXT, SunSoft, and Microsoft all expect to ship advanced operating systems for Intel this summer. NeXT's technology is more than competitive, but that may not be enough. To attract developers, NeXT will have to reconsider its pricing strategy.

Simson L. Garfinkel, NeXTWORLD senior technical editor, is coauthor of NeXTSTEP Programming (Springer-Verlag, 1992).