New Kid in Town

John Perry Barlow

A weird thing is happening. The secret world of NEXTSTEP is suddenly being revealed in such thuddingly conventional venues as Computerworld, BYTE, PC Week, and even (yikes!) Computer Shopper. It's as though NeXT were a fresh-faced newcomer splashing on the scene with its revolutionary object-oriented environment. Where have all these publications been the last five years?

Over the course of my NEXTSTEP enchantment, I have had to accustom myself to the idea that I would get from the press little encouragement regarding this obscure object of my desire. I found myself afflicted by thesame involuntary privacy of enthusiasm suffered by Amiga nuts or curling fans.

Of course, NeXT itself bears much responsibility for its public invisibility. With a culture as paranoid and inwardly directed as that of its largest (unnamable) customer, NeXT truly has been a black box. Despite this, I always suspected that the biggest reason behind the . . . uh . . . blackout was that there simply wasn't any money in writing about NeXT.

It's like this. The press gets paid by advertisers. While most computer journalists will swear a principled weightlessness against the gravitational forces of advertising, there remains an unmistakable (if fuzzy) correlation between the column inches a publication devotes to news about a product and the column inches its maker buys to promote it.

Please note that I'm not suggesting anything conspiratorial here. I'm just talking about how things operate in the natural world. In the jungle, the first rule is to survive. And if you don't think computer press knows jungle law, you haven't been around it much.

But the position of NeXT and its related species in the overall food supply of computer journalism has never been significant. The company itself has had an advertising budget which is in line with the relatively small size of the company. It's a mere hors d'oeuvre to a critter like PC World. As a result, CP/M probably got more press last year.

So what's going on now? Why is NEXTSTEP all of sudden pulling so such ink? Part of it has to do with structural and cultural changes in the company. NeXT is now doing its own public relations and acting as though it genuinely wanted some.

Of course, the biggest change is that NEXTSTEP now runs on the architecture you buy when you don't want to think about it: Intel. From a purchasing point of view, this puts NEXTSTEP on an even commercial footing with a host of operating systems, both present and future, over which it has significant technological su-periority, if not necessarily market share.

Maybe NEXTSTEP, like the Marla Maples of operating systems, is finally just getting its 15 minutes. Maybe the whole thing will pass like Pet Rocks. But right now, it's great watching the rest of the computer press discover what NeXTWORLD subscribers have known all along: If what you really want is a truly great object-oriented operating system and not just some future version of the Devil You Know, NEXTSTEP just works and it works now. And maybe it's even a little fashionable.

John Perry Barlow conspires here each month.