Borkopolis

April 6, 2011

The NeXT chapter

Filed under: 20-minute,history — Mark Dalrymple @ 3:12 pm
Tags: ,

Dans panel

I guess folks liked my little WWDC guide. I got more traffic from than than everything else around here gets, combined. Poring through my referrer logs I found one tumble about it from @alanQuatermain who said:

“I have a suspicion that someone at NeXT went around with a huge bucketful of awesome one day, because everyone I’ve met with a NeXT association seems to have a fair amount of it these days.”

I can’t argue with that. Everyone I’ve met with NeXT affiliations has been incredibly smart, and usually very kind and gracious as well. The funny thing is, NeXT wanted nothing to do with me at the time.

I remember when the NeXT cube first hit the mainstream press. BYTE Magazine had a cover story with the cube, along with a pretty in-depth article about the tech inside. The 68030 processor, the DSP, scads of memory, the advanced OS and the toolkit. There was even a centerfold. I was in love. I wanted one of those machines. Who cares if the optical drive was slow.  It was mag-NEATO! 256 megs of space! Who cares if the machine was $10,000? Somehow I managed to secure funding for it. Now all I needed was someone who would exchange a pile of money for a black cube of 2-bit graphic goodness.

The first NeXT machines were only sold to educational institutions. At the time, around 1989-90, I was still in college,  fairly small liberal arts college in central Arkansas you’ve probably never heard of. Hendrix College was too small to qualify for any kind of educational co-op with NeXT. UCA, the larger school across town, was large enough though. A friend of mine was the trombone professor over there even had a visit from a NeXT sales representative. I got an invite, and was blown away. I really wanted that machine. Unfortunately, I was told point-blank that there would be no way I could get a machine for myself through regular channels.

Plan B. I’m a programmer. They had a developer program. I got an application and sent it in. I didn’t have a huge number of qualifications (unix? Is that like VMS?), but I have programmed Macs since they first came out. I even had a couple of application ideas in mind, including a MacDraw-like diagramming app, and a medical database system similar to one I built in high school. About a month later I got my rejection letter. I think I still have it in my archives somewhere. I purchased the developer documentation anyway so I could live vicariously. Boy did Objective-C look weird. And Display Postscript.

And so there ended my dreams of being a NeXT programmer. I spent the money on a Mac IIci with an ungodly amount of memory (maybe 8 megs?) to continue my Mac programming. A little while later at my first job I discovered we had some NeXT cubes. They were in the corners being used for print servers. But dutifully I got a login, worked through the programing tutorials, had some fun, learned a lot, and then went back to my day job of unix and C because there was No Future in the NeXT technology.

Needless to say I was pretty happy when NeXT bought Apple for -429 million dollars. I now had all my favorite worlds in one place: Mac, Unix, and now NeXTstuff.

(slightly edited and re-posted over at the miniblog)

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