Byte Article

by Tom Thompson and Nick Baran


Editor's note: In August, Nick Baran, Tom Thompson, and I attended a marathon all-day briefing at NeXT's headquarters in Palo Alto. It was the first time a publication was given an in depth look at what surely is one of the most eagerly anticipated machines in recent memory: the NeXT Computer.

On this and several follow-up visits we saw beta versions of the hardware, system software, and some early applications. We met with many of the engineers and programmers who developed the machine's hardware and software, and we spoke with the managers who are determining where NeXT is going and what role it will play in the microcomputing community.

We weren't disappointed. This is a milestone machine -- one that in all likelihood will cop machine-of-the-year honors all around.

BYTE will have ongoing coverage of the NeXT computer in upcoming issues. We'll report definitive performance figures, for example, after we receive and test a production unit. Here are our first impressions of the beta hardware and software.-FSL

It's been a long wait, but it has finally arrived. In early October, Steve Jobs's NeXT, Inc., unveiled the fruit of its creative efforts: a workstation referred to as "the cube."

NeXT asserts that the cube, having been designed to meet the computing needs of the next decade, is "the machine for the nineties." A bold statement, to be sure, but the cube goes a long way to bolster that claim: It sports the first commercially available erasable optical drive and advanced VLSI (very-large-scale integration) technology, and it comes with a built-in digital signal processor. On the software side, the Unix-based cube features an object-oriented version of C as its standard programming environment. It uses Display PostScript to present a graphical user interface that shields users from the traditionally user-hostile Unix command syntax, and it offers easy access to the cube's considerable power.

Targeted initially for the higher-education market, NeXT built the cube with the feedback of an academic advisory council that consisted of researchers and professors from schools such as Carnegie-Mellon, Stanford, and the University of Michigan.

The academic bent shows throughout. For example, the digital signal processor can be programmed for real-time laboratory work and demonstrations. The cube's large mass storage and memory capacity make it ideal for accessing substantial libraries of information. And Unix is the multitasking operating system of choice in academia.

Although the cube delivers a lot of bang for the buck, it's priced in the neighborhood of $6500 (all prices quoted are aimed at the higher-education market), which may, at least initially, limit its availability to its intended user base: students. The cube's rich features list would surely be appealing to those in nonacademic settings (engineering and science applications come to mind), but we were surprised to learn that for now, NeXT has no firm plans to pursue these markets.

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