Black Tuesday

Dan Ruby

Even though we had all seen it coming for some time, Black Tuesday hit the community hard. The embodiment of NeXT's original vision, its elegant black hardware, was dead. The keepers of the flame, hundreds of dedicated NeXT employees, were gone, too.

But if the physical manifestation of the vision is gone, the dream itself lives on in the form of NeXTSTEP software. With its decision to abandon hardware sales, NeXT now becomes the computerless computer company described in an influential 1992 Harvard Business Review article. NeXT has proven the article's premise: Hardware is a commodity and innovative hardware is an anchor. The real value of computers is delivered in software operating sys-tems, databases, development tools, user interfaces, and applications.

In those areas, NeXT leads the field. As long as it sold hardware, NeXT was limited to slugging it out for a minority share of a minority workstation market. Now NeXT is free to offer its true software advantages on whatever hardware is dominant. Today it's '486 PCs. Tomorrow it's Pentium, Power PC, SPARC, HP-PA, and Alpha.

Instead of playing on the fringes of the market, NeXT now moves to the mainstream of corporate computing. As our cover stories in this issue demonstrate, NeXTSTEP on white hardware is little different than NeXTSTEP on black hardware. The real difference is NeXT-STEP itself, which will now stand on its own in the race against Microsoft, Taligent, and the other contenders for the object-oriented operating-system market of the future.

In the next phase of corporate computing, the focus on individual productivity will be replaced by the need to maximize operational productivity. To serve that emerging need, today's dominant operating systems will give way to fully object-oriented, client-server systems. Alone among current offerings, NeXTSTEP provides those capabilities today.

Of course, there are still hurdles to clear. NeXT's software, like its hardware, is nonstandard. Customers still must choose NeXTSTEP in place of more accepted operating systems. But the bar is lower. Users don't need to make as high a commitment of dollars to try NeXTSTEP, and they also can use it in conjunction with other systems.

The result is that NeXT can be expected to capture many more corporate seats with its software than it would have with its hardware. That's great news for developers, dealers, consultants, and customers. While Black Tuesday was a traumatic shock to the system, the reality is that White Wednesday offers far greater opportunity to the NeXT community.

When we planned the black-and-white concept for the issue, we didn't know of NeXT's impending decision to fundamentally change its business model. Scrambling quickly, we modified our cover, inserted a news analysis of NeXT's decision, and rewrote several of our columns.

As the NeXT community now regroups for NeXTWORLD Expo in May, deeper reflection and analysis remains ahead. For now, we must absorb the shock and deal with immediate ramifications. Uppermost among these is the fate of NeXT's installed base of Motorola hardware. NeXT's announced on-going service provisions are reassuring, but we'd also like NeXT to guarantee timely delivery of future software releases for black hardware.

An era is over, but the dream lives on. As NeXT moves on to new markets and customers, it must also demonstrate its loyalty to the true believers who have been with NeXT since the beginning.

Dan Ruby is editor in chief of NeXTWORLD.