From Kernel to Interface

When NEXTSTEP 3.2 is released near the end of the year, its primary new feature, beyond bug fixes, will be increased compatibility with the many sound cards, network interfaces, and printers on the market for PCs. This will be a necessary step in satisfying the corporate imperative at NEXTSTEP sites. For technology freaks, however, the real excitement will come with future releases of the OS.

The next full rev of NEXTSTEP is expected to leverage NeXT's acknowledged lead in object-oriented operating systems, keeping it in front of competitors such as Windows NT, OS/2, and Pink. Updates were expected to include the object-oriented database technology from ODI, but NeXT discarded that in favor of its own approach. In addition, there will be improvements to all of the bundled apps, including a revamped version of Mail.

In addition to work on NEXTSTEP, R&D technicians are working on two new exciting technologies an as-yet unnamed update of DBKit, and NEXTIME.

The original DBKit was object oriented but maintained a strong relational feel to it; updates of the kit will probably attempt to closer model the object-oriented paradigm, from the UI level all the way to mapping data. The updated kit will eliminate all of the subtle dependencies contained in DBKit's current access layer, to produce a more independent access layer. Because it will no longer be dependent on the NEXTSTEP user interface, in-house developers will find it easier to bring the advantages of the DBKit to the server side of the client-server equation.

Far more visible is NEXTIME, NeXT's new standard for multimedia integration, which makes NEXTSTEP much more viable as a multimedia platform. With NEXTIME, video becomes just another data type that can be manipulated the way users now work with text, graphics, and sound.

The standard will ensure that video sequences can be shared among different applications. A speedy symmetrical-compression algorithm is at the center of NEXTIME, providing the ability to do real-time video compression and decompression. Existing standards, such as Apple's QuickTime and Microsoft's Video For Windows, take much more time to compress video sequences as to decompress them, limiting their use in applications such as video teleconferencing.

In keeping with the R&D group's dual focus on both users and developers, NEXTIME will be tightly integrated with the rest of the AppKit, making it much easier to develop video-aware applications under NEXTSTEP than on other platforms. NEXTIME's modular architecture will allow compression/decompression algorithms, file-format parsers, and new device profiles to be plugged right in, ensuring backwards compatibility with the thousands of QuickTime and Video For Windows movies already out there. Included with the software will be a demo app for movie playback, objects such as a View subclass, and a simple controller that developers can use to integrate movie recording and playback into their applications.

by Lee Sherman