Canon to buy NeXT factory, design center

by Dan Lavin

Tokyo Canon has reached an agreement in principle to acquire NeXT's Fremont, California, factory and hardware-design center, form a business unit, and hire about 60 NeXT hardware-division employees, according to a Canon spokesperson.

Canon will likely manufacture the next-generation NeXT workstation, code-named NeXT RISC Workstation (NRW), in the factory, though many uses for the facility are being considered.

In addition, Canon will receive certain limited rights to distribute and localize NeXTSTEP software and continue its close ties with the management of NeXT.

Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed, but Canon will not put any new cash into NeXT beyond the $55 million pledged last year as part of a credit line. Canon also retains its $120 million equity investment in NeXT, which will not change substantially as a result of the new agree-ment, according to both Canon and NeXT.

NRW will have two PowerPC 601 chips running at 50MHz. It is housed in a Slab-shaped box slightly larger than the current model. According to NeXT, there are several prototypes with UNIX up and running, making them the first PowerPC machines to be this far along in development. NeXT-STEP may be ported to NRW, but the workstation is capable of running Windows NT and Taligent's future OS.

The hardware design group has also finished work on Nitro, a 40MHz acceleration daughterboard for the NeXTstation Turbo. It may be produced if there is enough market demand.

Jon Rubinstein, vice-president and general manager of NeXT's hardware division, decided to de-scribe some of the previously secret projects under development at the hardware design center. "We want the world to know we can produce great products quickly using our unique world-class, object-oriented design methodology. NeXT's decision to discontinue hardware production is un-related to the quality of the work of this division."

In addition to the works in progress, Canon may build printer controllers or other electronic devices in Fremont. On the software front, Canon will continue to distribute NeXTSTEP in the Far East and localize it for those markets. Canon also said it may work with NeXT to develop innovative connections between NeXTSTEP and Canon's high-end printers and copiers.