|As computers have proliferated, so has the
number of operating systems that power them. Each, of course, has
its own set of supporters and detractors.
Despite the debate, UNIX is widely considered the winner in two
categories: raw power for multitasking and networking. And depth of
obscurity for even the simplest commands.
As a result, UNIX has built an enthusiastic following, but primarily
among those with a high degree of computer expertise - the scientists,
engineers and academicians of the world. Certainly there are simpler
and more intuitive systems. The problem is, they lack the power
inherent in UNIX.
Choosing the operating system for the NeXT Computer was a key
decision. Given the capabilities of UNIX, it was also an obvious
one. The marriage of NeXT and UNIX provides an exceptional base for
the networking and multitasking needs of the 90's.
But no amount of power has any relevance if it can't be put to
use. The challenge for NeXT was to remove the mystery from UNIX, to
make it useable by every level of user. The result it one of our
biggest breakthroughs: a new user interface that is intuitive and
graphical, and as the same time allows full access to the features of
This interface makes it possible to access sophisticated functions
simply by pointing with the mouse. It also makes it possible for
expert UNIX users to work exactly as they are accustomed. If you are
so inclined, you can summon a "command line" window and deal
directly with UNIX, with all of its native warmth intact.
On the assumption that you do not have a NeXT Computer in front of you
at present the screen at right will provide a simple demonstration of how
easy it is to interact with our machine. It's exactly what you would
see when using the NeXT Computer: the NeXT workspace.
The multiple windows reflect the multitasking nature of UNIX, and
perhaps its greatest single benefit. Simultaneously, you can run as
many programs as memory will allow (NeXT's standard eight megabytes will
allow quite a few). Though you might leave one program to work on
another, that first program is capable of continuing with its task.
In practical terms, this means you can send or receive mail as you
compose a document, while another program is busy recalculating an
elaborate spreadsheet. It also permits "cooperating
applications": One program (a spreadsheet for example) can call upon
another (such as Mathematica) to perform a function (a complex
calculation) for which the second program is better suited. Only
when you work with true multitasking can you appreciate how confining a
computer can be without it.
As for the graphical interface itself, the NeXT workspace introduces
several significant innovations.
The window in the far right corner of the
screen is called the Directory Browser. Rather than viewing all of your
files and program icons, the Browser gives you an easy way to navigate
through your work. Pick a folder in the left column and what's inside
appears one column to the right. Pick a folder from this column, and its
contents appear in the third column. And so on. The current selection
appears as an icon on the right side of the Browser.
On the far right side of the screen is the
dock, which lets you quickly access your most frequently used applications
with a simple double-click. Drag the application icon here from the
Browser, and it "snaps" into place. The dock can't be covered by
any window, so the applications you place there will always be accessible.
And every time you start the computer, the dock will appear just as it was
when you last used it.
The NeXT System also makes a major
improvement in the way menus are handled. On a big screen, it isn't
convenient to go to the top line every time you want to make a menu
selection. So in the NeXT workspace, you can locate your menus anywhere.
Even though you may work with many windows in multitasking, the current
menu will always rise to the top for easy access. Submenus can be torn off
and placed where they are more accessible. And when you need more space, a
single click will send the submenu away.
As for your unwanted files, you will notice
there is no trash can in the NeXT workspace. Technology has advanced to
the point where you can now safely dispose of your trash in a "black
hole." It's located on the bottom right of the screen, thought it too
can be placed where most convenient.
These examples alone should convey a sense
of how NeXT has revolutionized UNIX. Because in a raw UNIX environment,
accomplishing just these simple tasks would have required a healthy
working knowledge of a very technical language.
Now UNIX is truly a tool for every level of user. With this
breakthrough interface, the enormous power of the NeXT Computer System can
be wielded by anyone. And for those in the mainstream of education
and business, that power can have a startling impact.