On Thu, Jan 26, 2023 at 11:08 PM Will Senn <will.senn@gmail.com> wrote:
> [snip]
> I also remember that they were bemoaning having to give up their NeXT
> boxes for racks and racks of some other machine to do equivalent work
> (at the time, I was completely clueless as to what they were talking about).
> With decades behind, I have a clue about one workstation being oh so
> powerful and about server farms doing rendering, but I really don't know
> nothing about NeXT, it's boxes, or what I'm really wondering about - its
> relationship with unix (although I'm pretty sure there is one). I know that
> Sun was working with them on OpenStep and OpenStep and the NeXT
> cube were predecessors to my favorite contemporary system (my Mac),
> but that's about it. So, how does NeXT fit into the unix world? And was
> it all that? I remember after talking to them that I really, really wanted one...

As Chet mentioned, NeXTs ran NeXTStep, which was based on Mach and 4.3-ish BSD. My sense was that they were underpowered and overpriced for the time; they were 68k based in an era where RISC processors were dominant (or becoming dominant) on the high end and they cost something like twice or more that of a contemporary Macintosh while targeting roughly the same userbase.

The software was really the interesting thing on NeXT machines. Oh the hardware was nice enough, don't get me wrong, but compared to a SPARC or MIPS-based workstation, I'd choose the latter every time. However, NeXTStep was not very "Unix-y" if you were used to BSD or even System V Unixes of the time. Things as basic as the directory structure were weirdly foreign (though will look familiar to users of macOS now), and it used "netinfo", which was a distributed directory service they'd built, rather than NIS or anything remotely interoperable with the rest of the world. But the NeXTStep user interface was very nice, and Display PostScript was beautiful. The Objective-C foundation classes were very powerful. But it was clear that you were meant to interact with it through the GUI, and CLI-style interaction was an almost totally separate universe (or so it seemed to me at the time).

One got the sense that NeXT was targeting users who had sort of outgrown the Macintosh, but weren't ready to make the leap to a full-on workstation on the low-end, and simultaneously trying to bring users from high-end machines into a totally new ecosystem. But that was a really small market and application vendors didn't jump on board: the Unix applications weren't there, and neither were the standards from the Mac world. A few things got ported, and that was cool, but perhaps sadly, Jobs just couldn't pull off the magic twice, and NeXT failed. Much of the technology lives on in macOS, though.

There's a great book about it, "Steve Jobs and the NeXT Big Thing" that's worth a read.

        - Dan C.