Field Reports

Hot topics and goings-on in the NeXT user community

Threads from the Net

Who's supporting whom? Howls of protest were heard from both corporate and commercial developers about NeXT's new developer-support policies, under which fees range from $225 for a single question to many thousands of dollars for a year of asking questions. Though several posters noted that other manufacturers with larger installed bases had worse support, most agreed the prices seemed too high, especially since NeXT support has often been known to answer questions incorrectly. One poster wrote in humorous exasperation that "$225 a question wouldn't be so bad, if only they would pay us $225 for every incorrect answer." Others suggested that only simple questions should be charged such a large fee (to discourage overuse of the support lines), while more difficult ones (involving bugs NeXT needs to know about, for example) should be free. Many worried about how bug reporting will work under the new system.

Net strikes back. In a more practical vein, developers discussed forming ad-hoc groups for the expressed purpose of pooling individual questions under a single expensive support contract, while others noted that traffic in both the dev-next and next-prog mailing lists and the newsgroup will certainly skyrocket, taking up some of the slack.

Silicon dreams. In a wonderful ex-ample of stream-of-net-consciousness, a long thread in the advocacy group began as a heartfelt plea for Silicon Graphics and NeXT to talk about swapping technology, took a turn to a discussion of SGI's IRIX vs. NeXTSTEP, then digressed into comparisons of various RISC chips, veered into NeXTSTEP '486 and marketing strategy, and ended with "X11 must die!" The original premise may not be so far-fetched, now that the SGI GL graphics library is being ported to i860s.

Meta-open. As NeXT continues to announce "open system" moves, such as the licensing of their NetInfo source code to other machines and POSIX compliance for NeXT-STEP, rumors once again abound. Beyond the rumblings about Data General and HP, there is the exciting possibility of a NeXTSTEP kernel server on a microkernel architecture, suggesting a fast, cheap way for NeXT to port to a plethora of other UNIX platforms in a fraction of the time.

Developers love objects. NeXT's thrust into the object world was trumpeted by various announcements on the Net: NeXT's objects catalog and CD-ROM; a third-party offering of palettes for Interface Builder; and the postings of developers struggling to enter this brave new world. A whole new business model is needed (and has been discussed on the Net) and it looks like NeXT is committed to pursuing it.

Way early. Even before the shipment of either 3.0 or 3-D apps, excited prerelease users on the Net have been trading RIB files (the 3-D representation files used by RenderMan) via the archives, as the possibilities of 3-D begin to take hold in the community's mind.

Way late. After two major releases and at least as many years, it looks like NeXT will finally release a new NeXTSTEP Concepts Manual (the basic introduction for programmers). Word spread rapidly after a Canadian posted an article with the ISBN numbers of the new "NeXT-STEP: Release 3.0" series of Addison-Wesley books, which were due to be released in October. New titles in the (now) seven-book series in-clude Object-Oriented Programming and the Objective-C Language and User Interface Guidelines.

Settling in. The four new comp.sys. next groups (.advocacy, .hardware, .software, and .marketplace) are thriving, causing the older groups to settle into new traffic patterns. Overall traffic is still at about 80 to 100 messages a day, but half the traffic in the .misc group and one-quarter the traffic in the .programmer and .sysadmin groups seems to have shifted into the new groups. The most inflammatory discussions have been in the .advocacy group, with .misc coming in second.

The '90s and beyond. In an exciting demonstration of NewsGrazer, Morris Meyer, a leader of the NeXT ISDN project, showed what the new log in panel will look like as you login to your office NeXT from your home NeXT , using ISDN. The home machine looks and acts exactly like the other. This exciting preview of an until-then unknown aspect of 3.0 can before any prereleases were shipped.

Tone it down. General comments about the stability and functionality of the prereleases of 3.0 seem mostly favorable, except on the subject of color. Besides the valid technical points (that having color icons and buttons everywhere deepens window depths and slows down color machines), many found the 3.0 colors to be garish, inappropriate, and un-NeXT-like. Particularly bitter scorn was heaped on Interface Builder's gold icon and the "technicolor wait cursor from hell."

NeXT scores. The announcement of Presto, at last a viable commercial MIDI-sequencing app, presages a whole slew of music software. One such free app discussed recently, ModPlayer, generates musical interludes from the numerous and ubiquitous Amiga ModPlayer music files available on the archives.

User Group News

From all over. New NeXT groups formed this quarter in southern Connecticut, Singapore, Russia, Toronto, and Charlotte, North Carolina, to name a few. This brings the total on International NeXT User Group Manager Conrad Geiger's "Geiger Counter" to 360, with over 200 groups in North America. Now 35 countries have groups.

Far East. In Hong Kong, Bill Schell reports that the Hong Kong NeXT User Group has increased its membership to 25. In Taipei, the Taiwan NeXT User Group hosted a NeXT developer class during August, says David Li.

Outreach in Europe. Gianfranco Pocecai reports that the NeXT2You Italian group will have a special meeting the first week of October during SMAU, the big computer expo in Milan. In Switzerland, NeXT Para-digme's Daniel Allgoewer reports that a September 3 press conference was scheduled to introduce NeXT to the French and Swiss media. Paul Beaumont of the UK NeXT User Group says that the group will sponsor a booth at the MacUser Show in Olympia October 28 to 31.

Regular updates. The BCS (Boston) NeXT User Group now has about 500 members. It meets the first Tuesday of every month on the MIT campus in Room 1-190. New NeXT publishing and connectivity SIGs have formed in Salt Lake City. Demos and tutorials are the focus at regular meetings (the third Wednesday of the month, in the Dynatronics conference room) of the new Salt Lake City NeXT User Group. The Calgary NeXT User Group recently held a successful NeXT minideveloper class.

La-la land report. The 250 members of SCaN (Southern California) include faculty and student members from many of the major universities in the area and several community colleges. Membership also includes representatives from NeXT users like the William Morris Agency and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, as well as professional software developers, computer animation artists, developers of academic courseware, and research scientists. They even have a retired couple who uses the NeXT to produce a church bulletin.

by Charles L. Perkins & Dan Lavin