NeXT gets customer feedback

by Eliot Bergson

Redwood City, CA NeXT got some pointed feedback from heavy-hitting customers at a meeting here on June 9 and will probably get even more in the near future, as two new customer groups take shape.

The Customer Advisory Board, which met behind closed doors, brought together executives and system administrators from Swiss Bank Corporation/O'Connor Services; Union Bank of Switzerland; Phibro Energy; Williams Telecommunications; Preferred Health Care; the advertising firm of Bozell, Jacobs, Kenyon, and Eckhardt; and high-ranking officials from unnamed government sites. A representative from J.P. Morgan also reportedly attended (see "Beans spilled in help-wanted ad," page 5).

Attendees were "adamant" that NeXT would not get "enterprisewide penetration" without ports of mainstream applications such as Microsoft Word and Excel, according to sources. The importance of software was underscored when NeXT CEO Steve Jobs asked attendees to rank NeXT, given the mean of systems on the market. While NeXT's hardware was rated "0.8 to 1.2 above the standard deviation," a source said, NeXTSTEP got the high marks and "was rated a full three points above."

In addition, customers discovered they had been charged different prices for some third-party software. And representatives from the financial community were unhappy with support from "some of the third-party consultants," one source said.NeXT is reportedly looking at changes in its own large-site support structure as a result of the complaints.

The Customer Advisory Board meeting grew out of a dinner attended by commercial users during NeXTWORLD Expo in January, but was probably pushed for by "[NeXT President Peter] van Cuylenburg," said one source. "One of his pet babies is to get customers in."

Customers will certainly have more to say to NeXT in the future. ProNeXT, a "professional network of corporate users" is hoping to have an organizational meeting in the near future to bring together system administrators at large sites to discuss technical concerns, said Alex Henry, director of information systems at the William Morris Agency in Los Angeles.

A group of users interested in publishing on the NeXT is also reportedly forming. Bruce Webster, of Pages Software in San Diego, said that he believes the group will tell developers what users want to see rather than wait for what is offered on the market. This will allow developers to better coordinate their programming efforts and "remove the perception of some developers having suspicious agendas," Webster said.