Indeed, for many people, the Usenet is one of the primary sources for up-to-date information about what's happening in the NeXT community. That's largely because of both the Net's speed (a message posted to a NeXT user group crisscrosses the United States in only a few hours) and the breadth of the its readership (practically everyone who programs, manages, or buys NEXTSTEP-based computers spends at least some time each week catching up on NeXT Net news).
Despite their subject matter, the comp.sys.next Usenet groups have no direct affiliation with NeXT. That's because, for the most part, the Usenet is a cooperative network. In the style of a 21st-century New England town
meeting, anybody who wants to post a message to the network is free to do so. Any system administrator who wants to get these news groups simply has to find a system administrator at another site who is willing to provide a feed.
The NeXT Usenet groups are much more about opinions and personalities than about carefully written commentary. Of the nine groups, only one Ð comp.sys.next.announce Ð is edited in any fashion at all. A moderator reads each message before it is posted, to make sure it complies with guidelines that allow for announcements rather than open discussion. It's an unpaid, volunteer position, held these days by Scott Anguish.
Although you would never know it from his e-mail address (firstname.lastname@example.org), Anguish is a Canadian citizen who works out of his house in Waterloo, Ontario. He got into the NeXT world three years ago at a Businessland seminar in North Carolina. At the time, he was working on a textile-design program for the Macintosh. Realizing that NEXTSTEP's UNIX system and built-in Display PostScript capabilities would help him give customers a more powerful system, he ordered a Cube and signed up for Developer Camp.
In addition to opening his eyes to the world of object-oriented programming, Anguish's first NeXTcube also opened up the world of the Internet. A few days after the machine arrived, Anguish set up a UUCP connection with UUNET in Falls Church, Virginia. "I had heard about [the Internet], but I had no idea it was so vast," he recalls. During the six months it took to get his news software up and running, he read the raw files as they came over his modem link. These days, though, he's replaced the Cube with a NeXTstation Color with 48MB of RAM and 1GB of on-line storage.
Since then, Anguish's Macintosh-based textile-design system has been a limited success. "The Mac version has sold probably 300-plus copies Ð and 90 percent of those included hardware," he says. "At least a few of the big companies will be upgrading to a NEXTSTEP system by the end of the year." Large companies like Reebok and Starter need a more powerful computing platform to keep up with the dizzying rate at which fashions change.
"I like [NeXT's new] focus on mission-critical stuff, although I don't like what it does to the more horizontal application pricing," Anguish says. "I think, however, that the horizontal developers should be able to make a go of it anyway, since sites running 500 copies of NEXTSTEP are still going to need word processors and drawing programs."
Another well-known Scott on the Net is Scott Hess (email@example.com), author of the popular shareware Stuart, a replacement for the bundled Terminal application. Hess wrote Stuart in the days of NEXTSTEP 1.0. Back then, NeXT shipped the operating system with two different (and incompatible) terminal-emulation programs: Shell and Terminal. Hess wrote his application from scratch, taking the best ideas from the other two and tossing in his own as well. Stuart was so much better than NeXT's programs that when NeXT started working on NEXTSTEP 2.0, they hired Hess as a consultant and licensed Stuart from him to use as the basis for 2.0's improved Terminal application.
In the spring of 1988, Hess started working with NEXTSTEP at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, using a beta '030 Cube with NEXTSTEP 0.8. "I badgered them until I got to play with it, and, based on that week of experience, got a job at the Mayo Clinic Research Computing Facility that summer."
Now 24, Hess makes a living from consulting and shareware, selling an improved version of Stuart and another program called TickleServices. "I'm hoping that in 1994 I can stop doing external consulting and just concentrate on writing my own programs," he explains. The third Scott is Eric P. Scott (eps@ toaster.sfsu.edu), one of the elders of the NeXT news groups. Scott fell into the NeXT community right at the beginning, when he was working as a consultant and a part-time office clerk at San Francisco State University's computing center. "In mid-October 1988, one of our people came back from NeXT's introduction with very positive feelings. On-campus demos followed, and we got our first machines in early 1989," he says.
These days, Scott is still employed full time by the university. While he spends most of his time on administrative work for the Computer Science department, he still has time for his own pet projects. Last year, for example, Scott discovered a bug in NEXTSTEP that let any user browse the files of any NEXTSTEP system attached to the Internet. Instead of merely reporting the bug, he wrote a fully functional application for spying on files and sent it to NeXT's tech support.
Nevertheless, despite his software wizardry, Scott would rather be hacking hardware. "I have great respect for hardware," he says. "In fact, that's probably what I'd be doing today if it weren't for the fact that free computer time was Ð and still is Ð a lot easier to come by than access to electronics and test equipment."
The most prolific poster to the NeXT news groups at the end of the summer was Duane Takamine (firstname.lastname@example.org), who posted 71 messages in a 30-day period. Takamine says that his status as the number-one poster is mostly an accident: He recently changed his Usenet service from one that charges by the hour to one that charges only a flat monthly fee.
Based in Honolulu, Takamine works out of his house as an independent software developer. "I can't stand eight-to-five, so I go where the wind blows," he says. Currently, he's working on a number of projects for local hospitals, but none of them involve NEXTSTEP right now. "Unfortunately, NeXT is just a hobby, although I think that eventually NEXTSTEP technology will slip into the projects I'm working on," he says.
by Simson L. Garfinkel