Lt. Sullivan

Sullivan rolls out carpet for visiting NeXT crowd

As January drew to a close with Washington in a deep freeze, Lt. Sullivan's world was a collection of loose ends. At the Pentagon, officials were on edge as the drama over Aspin's ouster, Inman's self-immolation, and Perry's indecision left a power vacuum.

The NeXT community was assembling for three days of pep talks over in Woodley Park, but the conference kickoff was still 24 hours away. Meanwhile, the boys at NeXTWORLD were clamoring for Sullivan's latest dispatch from the front.

Couldn't we just hold off a couple of days for events to settle, Sullivan wondered. Sorry, Lieutenant, a deadline is a deadline.

NeXT has deadlines, too, Sullivan discovered during a preconference schmooze in the hotel bar. The company has to cement its technology lead with some serious sales this year, execs told the sales force in a company meeting the day before. The targets: 100,000 units this year, 300,000 in '95, and 500,000 in '96. That would leave NeXT with a million-seat installed base before its competitors are able to grab even a toehold in the object wars.

Company execs sketched out a future product strategy that features a 3.3 release with DBKit 2 and whatever else is ready in mid-1994, with 4.0 scheduled for next year.

The comic high point of the meeting was an intramural game of NeXT Jeopardy, in which salespeople were tested on their knowledge of Redwood City trivia – or, in one case, tongue twisters. Asked to name NeXT's vice-president of sales and marketing, VP of North American sales, and director of corporate marketing, District Manager Fred Giardana came up with "Wesemann, Weiss, Weissman," but in the wrong order.

The best comeback since David Gergen has to be FrameMaker for NEXTSTEP. Apparently some heroic efforts by NeXT staffers coupled with loud customer voices has convinced Frame Technologies to climb back into the proverbial Jacuzzi. Nothing has been announced yet, but it looks like dreams are coming true.

The Lighthouse Design buying spree mentioned last issue is not the only sign of activity at the firm. The company is in the process of bringing on more programmers for its forthcoming CASE tool app, developed to order for two major NeXT customers. Meanwhile, the company was already showing its two mainstream apps, Diagram! and Concurrence, running on PA-RISC. Finally, Lighthouse's self-styled Mesa-killer appears to be on track for a precision midyear appearance.

While Sullivan's stock in trade is outguessing the future, he isn't above wallowing in the past. Earlier in the month, Sullivan dropped by the MacWorld show in San Francisco and found that he wasn't the only one feeling nostalgic for the ten-year-old Macintosh dream. A panel of early Mac veterans, including Guy Kawasaki, Andy Hertzfeld, Steve Capps, Joanna Hoffman, Mike Murray, and Bill Atkinson, reminisced about the Mac's salad days and reached for some lessons learned. All agreed that Steve Jobs had been much maligned in the press and that, though some of them still bear the scars from his volcanic temper, he really was a genius without whom the Macintosh revolution would never have happened.

As for NeXT, well, they hemmed a bit and hawed a little, but the consensus was that NeXT's technology was really interesting and the Sun–NeXT deal would help Steve's latest venture find its niche.

Then there was this other historical footnote, a piece of e-mail dated March 18, 1993, from Scott McNealy to an unnamed NEXTSTEP developer. You'll recall that this was the period when NeXT, having just dumped hardware, turned down what many considered an attractive offer from Sun. Here's Scooter's contemporaneous reaction: "I have nothing against Steve. I am a businessman, not a society columnist. NeXT has done some interesting software. We have offered for NeXT to port it to SPARC and/or Solaris. They have chosen to spend their efforts elsewhere. Either NeXT makes more compelling software, makes better deals to potential partners, makes different business choices, or continues to gain speed while losing altitude. I fear they are gaining speed."

What a difference a year makes. Back in the present, Sullivan placed a call to arrange a suite for a late-night reception and information exchange sometime later in the week. It would hardly be sporting – like shooting ducks in a barrel. Check this space next month for a full report on the gossip from the D.C. conference.

NeXT may have turned down DEC on a NEXTSTEP port to Alpha, but the Lieutenant would never turn down a request for a mug from a good tipster. It's yours in trade for an insider tip. Leave me voice mail at 415/ 978-3374 or e-mail me at Sullivan's public RSA key available upon request.