Friendly Fire

User Group News

The red glow of the sun disappeared behind the darkened ridge of the Rocky Mountains as the capacity crowd settled into a lecture hall at the University of Colorado in Boulder to witness the Windows NT vs. NEXTSTEP Shoot-out.

As things turned out, it wasn't so much High Noon as The Unforgiven. Instead of a technical showdown based on benchmark-evaluation criteria, the audience witnessed side-by-side demonstrations followed by a provocative discussion of open-systems computing.

This event wasn't about confrontation. "The whole purpose of open systems is to bring hardware and software from different vendors together and combine them to fulfill a variety of needs," said Tim Miller, treasurer of the Rocky Mountain NeXT User Group (rmNUG) and consultant with Denver-based Resource Integration Associates. "In the future, we can expect any software to run on any hardware under any operating system. In NEXTSTEP and developing products like Windows NT, we are witnessing this phenomenon being born."

The Shoot-out was organized by rmNUG in response to Steve Jobs's exhortation at Expo for NEXTSTEP users to reach out to new audiences and introduce NEXTSTEP and the open-systems trend to a group of people who had never before been directly exposed to them. The roughly 110 attendees were two-thirds PC users and one-third NEXTSTEP users. Though it was generally agreed that NEXTSTEP offered an advanced solution for those making the move toward open systems, the attendees also carried away a glimpse of a future in which the boundaries between software platforms will dissolve.

John Stoddard, Windows programmer and coauthor of Inside Windows NT, demonstrated the capabilities of the NT system. Although NT was billed as being nearly identical to NEXTSTEP, questions raised on such issues as software licensing for networked environments, transferability of applications to other architectures, and remote logins revealed NT's troubling lack of a common UNIX heritage.

NeXT System Engineer Brent Loschen kept the NEXTSTEP presentation focused on the end-user perspective. Attendees from the PC world, many of whom had never before seen NEXTSTEP, found the system-level integration of native NEXTSTEP applications very appealing. Whereas Windows and NT applications need to be specifically enabled to communicate with one another, the innate familiarity between NEXTSTEP applications makes sharing information largely effortless.

"Windows NT has a long way to go to compete with the friendliness and functionality of NEXTSTEP," said one attendee. "Although some nice features were demonstrated regarding configuration and security, it seems that much of NT has to do with solving problems that simply don't exist for the NEXTSTEP user."

"NEXTSTEP is tomorrow's technology today," Miller emphasized. "Whatever the OS of choice is in the years to come, it will look a lot like NEXTSTEP."

So were the uninitiated ready for this new vision? "Most people aren't ready to make a paradigm shift," Miller said afterwards. "They're not interested in technology for technology's sake. They need to link technology to what they're doing today, while keeping their eyes open to the skills they'll have to learn for tomorrow."

This message on NEXTSTEP and open systems hit the target for at least one PC user, who commented, "It seems operating systems are looking more and more alike. One can learn one operating system and apply 25 percent to 50 percent of that knowledge towards learning another. Although the casual user is still trying to learn DOS 6.0 and Windows 3.1, it's obvious that one day they'll need to learn NEXTSTEP, Windows NT, or some hybrid of the two."

by Leann Coulter