Start Now!

Dan Lavin

So far, the phones are silent in the developer-relations departments of Sun and NeXT. There has been no rush of NeXT developers joining Catalyst, Sun's registered-developer program, nor a wave of Sun developers inquiring about NeXT's programs.

At first blush, there appears to be no hurry. The SPARC port is nine months out, and true Solaris integration is probably 18 or more months away.

But from a business standpoint, both NeXT and Sun developers should start investing in the future right now. The lag before products get to market is critical preparation time that will allow both camps to get a head start on Johnny-come-latelies.

Sun developers and consultants should realize that it takes a year to create a decent NEXTSTEP programmer. And it can take up to two years for a team to gel and start creating large-scale applications. Part of this process is fully understanding object-oriented programming, and part is learning NEXTSTEP. Since most Sun developers are not doing any sort of object-oriented work, they can't skip this step.

No, the whole Sun market won't embrace NEXTSTEP in two years. But a large percentage of your most important clients will embrace it. The Sun–NeXT deal was driven by customer demands from extremely high-margin accounts. These are the folks who pay the most for consulting and care about functionality – not the price tag for shrinkwrapped applications.

After all, do you want to sell software in the object market at high prices and margins as part of custom solutions, or do you want to compete with a $49 Quattro for SPARC at Egghead when the CDE space opens up in 1996?

Remember also that Sun's version of OpenStep may only be the tip of the iceberg. HP, IBM, and DEC might very well join this bandwagon, making possible a relatively painless object-oriented cross-platform strategy.

To be a player in object-oriented consulting and applications in 1995 and beyond, pick up a copy of NEXTSTEP today. Start by producing a few small applications. They'll get your feet wet and may even pay for your "training program." Go to your current large clients who also use NEXTSTEP and ask them what they would like you to develop. Join NeXT's Registered Developer Program and send some people to training.

You could even start porting your large-scale apps or rewriting them to NEXTSTEP. It appears likely that you can then move them to OpenStep pretty easily from that point – perhaps even a recompile will do the trick.

Likewise, NeXT developers and consultants should start to learn about the Sun environment. Join Catalyst, find out about the mar- ket, and figure out who the customers are.

Networking, communications, and system-administration developers and consultants better start to learn Solaris, pronto. OpenStep is only the top layer, the application-development piece. You will need to climb the learning curve on lower-level issues, and you need to start now. If that large trading firm abandons NetInfo completely, well, it might be best to have a new skill set to avoid being locked out by more savvy competitors.

The good news is that customers for object-oriented systems are willing to pay big bucks for knowledgeable consultants and polished applications. These are smart customers at the high end who hire smart people. If you don't act now to upgrade your skill set, you may be out in the cold when the products start to hit the market.

Dan Lavin comments on business issues in NeXT Ink.