With the arrival of NeXTStep for Intel object-oriented operating systems are no longer the stuff of science fiction and vaporware for PC users. NeXT Corporation’s $795 workstation operating system brings a distinctly different look and feel to today’s PCs.
Other then a pretty front-end, what do you get from NeXTStep? Well, you get several things. One is an interface, Workspace Manager, that’s a delight to use. With NeXTStep, there’s finally an interface for the PC that rivals, and even surpasses, that of the Macintosh.
The interface is completely object oriented. That means that Workspace Manager’s individual elements, icons, menus and windows, can be taken apart and sewed back together to form an interface’s that’s custom tailored for the way you work.
For example, NeXTStep comes with a “shelf” for files and an “application dock” for programs. These resemble many Windows applications’ icon bars, but unlike icon bars, where you can only place predetermined program functions, on NeXTStep’s shelves you can place any frequently accessed programs, directories, or files. Launching programs and working with files is all accomplished by click, drag and drop.
The object metaphor is carried beyond the interface. Linked editable items, such as documents, use Object Links, similar in concept to Window’s object-linking and embedding (OLE), to automatically and transparently transport changes from say a document object to a spreadsheet object. In NeXTStep, applications do not need to be aware of this facility, object linking is built into the operating system and all its applications inherit this facility.
Making the Workspace Manager run smoothly is a multithreaded, multiprocessing microkernel operating system: Mach. Mach gives NeXTStep, as it should Windows NT, the ability to run multiple applications at once without the stutter-step problem found in other operating systems where multitasking applications operate in starts and stops.
Over Mach, is NeXTStep’s version of Unix. Don’t start sneezing if you’re allergic to Unix. NeXTStep completely protects you from Unix’s complexities while preserving its rich commands and file access structure. Most users will never know they’re running Unix thanks to the Desktop Manager.
One thing that NeXTStep won’t give you in this version is the ability to run MS-DOS or Windows programs. This was promised as an option, using Insignia Solution’s SoftPC, but it’s one that won’t be fulfilled until fall when NeXTStep 3.2 appears. This version will be a free upgrade to registered users.
Don’t stop reading yet! NeXTStep may not be MS-DOS/Windows compatible, but it has its own virtues that demand your attention.
First, NeXTStep has superior interoperability characteristics. Besides its TCP/IP and NFS client/server networking capacity it inherits from its Unix father, NeXTStep comes ready to step into corporate America’s Novell NetWare networks as a NetWare client. NeXTStep also comes out of the box able to use not only Unix and DOS files, but Macintosh files as well. If interoperability is your game, NeXTStep is your player.
NeXTStep is also an extraordinary development platform. NeXTStep Developer runs an additional $1,995, but programmers shouldn’t be phased by the cost. NeXTStep’s development environment and language, Objective C, make building programs from reusable objects feel as easy as building trucks from tinker toys. Don’t want to reinvent the wheel? Third-party objects are available and can move projects from prototype to finished project in a fraction of the time required in other development environments.
NeXTStep also avoids the lack-of-application bane of most new operating systems. WordPerfect for word-processing, Mesa for spreadsheets, and Gupta SQLBase Server for databases, to name but three applications, takes care of office work basics. Many other applications are available. NeXT includes a catalog to these products along with an application sampler CD-ROM.
You may not need some applications. NeXTStep comes richly endowed with its own set of applications. The operating system comes with NeXTMail a network capable mail system that includes multimedia capacities. It also includes an editor that works with ASCII and rich-text format (RTF) files and displays EPS and TIFF graphic files. NeXTStep also has VT-100 and 3270 terminal emulators, and network system administration tools.
To guide you through all this, NeXTStep comes with a complete set of online manuals. For your information and amusement you also get the online version of Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary and Collegiate Thesaurus and other references such as a complete Shakespeare.
It’s a truly rich package, but it’s not perfect. Like any 32-bit operating system, there’s a paucity of drivers. In some areas, NeXTStep is stronger then others, it has a more complete collection of video drivers, for example, then OS/2 2.1. On the other hand, it can only work with PostScript capable printers. There’s also such oddities as NeXTStep can only work with a system with a single, 3.5-inch high-density, floppy drive. The 5.25 inch drive must be disabled.
NeXTStep doesn’t belong on everyone’s desktop. The recommended system resources alone put it beyond the reach of most users. Still, NeXTStep worked like a fine Swiss watch both in standalone mode and concurrently as a node on NetWare and TCP/IP networks. In particular, adventuresome programmers will be delighted with NeXTStep’s development environment. We foresee NeXTStep taking a place similar to that of the Macintosh: an operating system that’s not for everyone, but extraordinarily easy-to-use and powerful for those willing to travel a path away from the mainstream.
NeXTStep for Intel 3.1
NeXT Computer, Inc.
900 Chesapeake Dr.
Redwood City, CA 94063
List Price: $795
Requires: Minimum RAM required for color: 16 MB, 24 MB recommended; minimum RAM for grayscale: 8 MBs, 12 MB recommended; 120 Mb hard disk space minimum, 200 Mb recommended; 486DX or higher; and a high-density 3.5 floppy drive and a SCSI CD-ROM drive.
A version of this story first appeared in PC Magazine.