NeXTWORLD January 1994
Native Apps vs. SoftPC
By Dan Ruby
The arrival of Insignia Solutionsí SoftPC as an extra-cost add-on to NEXTSTEP 3.2 introduces new questions into the turmoil of the third-party software market. Will users turn to Insigniaís software as their preferred environment for productivity apps, while looking to the native environment only for custom development? Or will SoftPC remain a safety net for users who need one or more unavailable NEXTSTEP apps, while they continue to work mostly in the native environment?
The good new is that SoftPC is fast, robust, and reasonably compatible. The bad new is that SoftPC is fast, robust, and reasonably compatible.
One thing is clear: Itís not your fatherís SoftPC. No longer the emulation product of old, this is a product that lets you run PC applications on PC hardware. Itís like a nest of three boxes. On the outside you have the PC hardware. Inside is NEXTSTEP, and inside that is SoftPC. You run it either in a NEXTSTEP window or in full-screen mode. Switching is fairly easy, though not necessarily automatic. The same cautions apply to cutting and pasting.
Not to denigrate Insignia, which has shipped an outstanding product, but SoftPC has more exceptions than rules. In the case of each of the three programs that confirmed NEXTSTEP users would be most likely to want to use under SoftPC - WordPerfect, FrameMaker, and Improv - the current shipping version of the product is not guaranteed to run.
Beyond compatibility issues, switching constantly between environments detracts from the consistency of the NEXTSTEP experience. You use Windows because you have to, not because you want to. Many folks out there in PC land use it because they donít know any better. But for those of us who have experienced NEXTSTEP, regressing into an environment like Windows is less than pleasant experience.
Then there is the issue of NEXTSTEPís added value. As I have written previously in this space, the opportunity for developers lies in taking advantage of the special characteristics of the NEXTSTEP environment to offer special integration capabilities that differentiate their apps from run-of-the-mill desktop productivity apps. If the competition is head-to-head on features, it is unlikely that many NEXTSTEP programs will be superior to Windows standard-bearers. But NEXTSTEP applications that add value in the form of APIs, objects, or Services provide a good reason for users to stay native.
The bottom line is that SoftPC is a more than adequate solution for running standard apps like Microsoft Word and Excel, or NEXTSTEP refugee apps like WordPerfect and Improv. Companies that require access to these products will do just that.
But given a choice of reasonably competitive applications, I have to believe that most users will prefer to stay native. SoftPC really amounts to a safety valve providing access to application categories that are not yet fully represented under NEXTSTEP and to particular programs that may be required by an organizationís approved list.
By Eric Gwiazdowski
In my companyís move during the past year and a half to replace an aging and no longer-supported mainframe development environment, I have had the chance to learn about many aspects of client-server technology and object-oriented development, specifically in the NeXT environment. Here are a few points along my learning curve:
Demos are fluff, not reality. Through the use of InterfaceBuilder and DBKit, itís extremely easy to develop a slick prototype of a potential application or show off a particular feature of the platform. Vendors love to excite company developers and management with their toys.
Unfortunately, though, this approach builds a false sense of when an application may be delivered. To date, I have not seen one situation in which NeXT's development tools were used in the delivery of an application as they are for a demo. In the world of mission-critical apps, developers have to jump through a lot of hoops to deliver a product. For example, new custom applications must be integrated into existing legacy systems and still provide data to those systems. When working with a customer in developing the user interface of an application, there is no better tool to accomplish this than InterfaceBuilder. But customers have to be told that InterfaceBuilder only provides a graphical version of the interface and adding the functionality behind it will require a significant investment of time.
An operating system release for a new platform is actually Version 1.0, even if it is labeled 3.1. Users should expect all of the problems they would normally expect from a first-release product. In the October 18, 1993, issue of PCWeek, Rick Jackson, NEXTSTEP product marketing manager, said that Release 3.2 incorporates more than 500 bug fixes since 3.1. I find it disturbing that a product would have been released with so many flaws, especially when the product is going to be counted on as an integral part of information solutions. In the future, customers and developers need to prod NeXT to provide releases with far fewer bugs and far more information on potential problem areas.
Demand backward compatibility. When dealing with multiple custom applications, business users canít afford to go back and rework an application because of changes in a new version of the OS. A purist will contend that changes are needed to maintain integrity and take advantage of the latest, hottest technology. But in a business setting, resources must be used to continue new development rather than to go back and update an application just because of an operating system upgrade. If I have an application that is running successfully under Version 3.0, I expect it to run better under 3.1 and even better under 3.2.
Unfortunately, this has not been my experience. An application that relies heavily on the Indexing Kit for data storage and access runs well under NEXTSTEP 3.0, but upgrading to NEXTSTEP 3.1 results in some show stopping problems. NeXT willingly helped us resolve these issues, but we shouldnít have had to face them in the first place. To be successful, NeXT will need to recognize the importance of backward compatibility to a business and address it accordingly.
Supporting your users under this environment will require more resources than youíve probably anticipated. The move to a graphical user interface is a radical change for users in a traditional mainframe shop. Concepts such as multitasking, double-clicking, drag and drop, windows, and buttons will all require extensive training and ongoing support. The learning curve is steep. Look at how this issue will be handled and have a solution in place before deploying your first application.
The move to implement object-oriented development will require a greater commitment of time and people than you may envision. Build a solid foundation. The process of learning object-oriented concepts is relatively easy compared with that of implementing those philosophies within the confines of the business. And it all must be in place before the first application is ever delivered, even though this need conflicts with the business ethic that requires getting an application out the door and into the customersí hands as soon as possible.
To have a successful rollout, management must be trained and possess a thorough understanding of the client-server model of object-oriented development. If these people donít understand the payoffs and benefits of accepting this technology, it wonít survive in their organization.
In addition, bring support personnel up to speed on the new technology and build foundation objects that all developers need: date, time, string, and intelligent-text fields. Establish consistent version-control and application-distribution techniques.
Finally, get the vendor to make an investment of time and people beyond the sale: The success of the client will have a direct effect on the success of the vendor.
The Intel beta test is over - NEXTSTEP 3.2 has arrived.
By Lee Sherman
Interim releases of software products are usually released without fanfare. But the arrival of NEXTSTEP Release 3.2 does much more than squash a few bugs (though NeXT claims to have wiped out more than 500 of them). With greatly improved compatibility with Intel hardware, it brings NEXTSTEP into the computing mainstream for what is really the first time.
NEXTSTEP 3.1, rushed into release last May as NeXTís first version for Intel processors, was in many ways a beta release. It supported only a limited set of PCs and add-on cards and lacked Windows compatibility. With 3.2, which shipped in November, NEXTSTEP users have a solid foundation for building their own custom environments.
End users will see little change in their day-to-day work with NEXTSTEP. But if they are running the system on white hardware, drivers for popular sound and graphics cards will allow users to enjoy the same CD-quality sound and high-resolution graphics that owners of black hardware have enjoyed for years.
"The two major issues addressed are Microsoft Windows interoperability with SoftPC 3.1 and expanded hardware support," says Rick Jackson, director of product marketing at NeXT. In addition, NeXT released its Portable Distributed Object (PDO) system for Hewlett-Packard servers almost concurrently with NEXTSTEP 3.2 (though it comes in a separate shrink-wrapped box), providing advanced support for objects in a client-server system. (See the related articles on SoftPC and PDO.)
On the hardware-support front, NeXT has added new driver categories as well as the first official release of DriverKit, NeXTís object-oriented framework for developing device drivers.
NeXT expects a cottage industry to develop around DriverKit, as systems integrators move to meet the need for device drivers for the many hardware configurations in the Intel market. DriverKit provides an object-oriented framework for writing drivers, in which new drivers can be subclassed from existing ones. It offers support for whole new classes of drivers that werenít in previous versions of the operating system, including - at last - full support for 32-bit true-color graphics. Release 3.2 also includes a long list of drivers in the categories of sound, SCSI, graphics, and networking (see the chart, "NEXTSTEP 3.2 drivers").
Brent Terry, manager of technology integration at Pencom, says the DriverKit has cut at least one-third off his development time, because he no longer has to worry about APIs to particular UNIX operating systems and can instead concentrate on talking directly to the specific device. Heís seen the typical UNIX driver reduced from 6000 lines of code to 1000.
"One of the best features of having NEXTSTEP on Intel is that you donít have to wait for some card manufacturer to convince NeXT to write a driver. You can just do it yourself," Terry says. The shorter development cycle also lowers costs, making it possible for smaller vendors, who might otherwise not be able to afford to develop a driver for NEXTSTEP, to do so.
With NEXTSTEP 3.2, NeXT has realized it must support other languages beyond Objective-C. Support for the more standard C++ is provided in the form of the GNU libg++ libraries. Modifications to the HeaderViewer and ProjectBuilder applications are also designed to improve interoperability with other development environments.
A brand new application called FileMerge began its life as a utility for detailing source-code changes between two files. Because it includes support for both ASCII and RTF files, NeXT expects that it may also be used by ordinary users for contracts and other legal documents.
Many of NeXTís OEM partners who have been sitting on the fence, including Compaq and NEC, are planning to deliver systems based on NEXTSTEP 3.2. NeXT has begun an improved testing process, under which vendors can verify their own systems simply by running a new application called the NEXTSTEP Third Party Testing Program. "It gives third parties a chance to verify that their system is compatible with NEXTSTEP," says Jackson. "Ultimately, we will provide this information to the customer base."
NEXTSTEP 3.2 arrives fully tested and ready for deployment, having already been seeded to over 100 developers and 20 direct corporate accounts. Installation has been simplified and system administrators can now perform a network installation using a special boot floppy and installation server. Many of these early users have found the new release to be much more stable than previous versions. System administrators at large sites are finding that the combination of support for a wider variety of Intel hardware, the promise of PDO in extending the benefits of NEXTSTEP to HP servers, and the ability to run legacy applications on the same machine as custom apps all greatly decrease the risk in choosing NEXTSTEP.
Dwight Koop, executive director of information technology at Swiss Bank Corporation in Chicago, had kept his users on NEXTSTEP 2.2 while waiting for a version that he felt was ready to be deployed throughout his organization. "Iím thrilled that 3.2 has made it to the point where it is a releasable major new UNIX operating system," he said.
Missing features and concerns about stability prevented Swiss Bank from embracing earlier versions of NEXTSTEP 3.0, but Koop now believes that NeXTís efforts have begun to pay off. NeXT still lacks the resources and the access to proprietary software to be able to test it as thoroughly against new versions of the operating system as the company does with shrinkwrapped applications, but NeXT appears to be working more closely with its major customers in order to ensure that it is meeting their product requirements. One sign of this is the inclusion of a new Product Feedback application in NEXTSTEP Release 3.2 that walks customers through a survey of their experience with NEXTSTEP and can be e-mailed, mailed, or faxed back to NeXT.
Large sites like Swiss Bank, with their mission-critical requirements, move more slowly to adopt a new version of an operating system, because their custom applications are more likely to break under the new software and they canít afford the downtime. "You donít want to divert the attention of the people who are building your proprietary application to a cycle of testing, recompiling, and re-releasing of software," Koop says.
Another concern is Swiss Bankís reliance on Improv and WordPerfect, two applications whose future on NEXTSTEP for Intel remains in doubt. Koop says the inclusion of SoftPC 3.1 provides at least a partial solution to this problem.
Besides improved stability, Release 3.2 has a more finished feel, because of the more extensive on-line help seen throughout the system, particularly in the PrintManager application.
With the release of NEXTSTEP 3.2, NeXT has delivered an object-oriented framework for client-server computing that runs on industry-standard hardware and squarely addresses issues of interoperability on many different levels. When NEXTSTEP for HPís PA-RISC arrives in mid-1994, NeXT will have fulfilled all of its major promises made during its transitional year.
Now NEXTSTEP customers can take over, building their own systems on top of a solid foundation of software technology.
SoftPC 3.1 Integrates Microsoft Windows Into NEXTSTEP
By Dan Lavin
Most NEXTSTEP users today are pragmatic. The goal is to get the job done, and the elegance of the solution may be secondary. If the right software tool already exists, it shouldnít have to be reinvented under NEXTSTEP. Well, it doesnít anymore, now that NeXT has teamed up with Insignia Solutions to offer the first version of SoftPC for NEXTSTEP that can really run Microsoft Windows.
Microsoft Windows: Love it or hate it, you canít ignore it. Especially now that you get SoftPC 3.1 for next to nothing as a piece of locked software on your NEXTSTEP 3.2 distribution disk. (The confusing version numbers are coincidental.) At $249, less than half the cost of the old SoftPC for black hardware, it opens the door to a vast library of productivity software.
Despite its name, SoftPC 3.1 is a radically different product than its predecessors. For starters, it runs Windows applications well and accesses Novell networks seamlessly. The old version product was an emulation product for running DOS on non-native computers. Now it runs DOS and Windows on their Intel home turf.
"SoftPC used to be a compatibility solution. Now it is a productivity solution," says SoftPC Product Manager Mark Munford.
The old performance problem is gone. Using software developed by NeXT, Insignia boosted graphics performance to more than 80 percent of pure Windows performance on Intel. The company expects to find a receptive market. "We used to have 15-percent penetration of the NeXT base," Munford says. "With the new product, we hope to be used on 25 percent or more of all NEXTSTEP systems. We want to be a ubiquitous utility for NEXTSTEP."
But why, you may ask, should you need any software to run PC software on a PC? Because SoftPC integrates DOS and Windows under NEXTSTEP. If you can endure a cold boot every time you want to switch environments, you donít need SoftPC. But if you want to switch effortlessly (well, nearly so) and cut and paste data between apps on the two platforms, SoftPC will let you do it.
DOS applications that are no longer available in current versions for NEXTSTEP - to say nothing of the other DOS and Windows standards that were never available - are instantly up and running inside your NEXTSTEP workspace. Itís the next best thing to native versions.
Of course, nothing is ever perfect, and SoftPC does have a few blemishes. Not every DOS and Windows program will run, and depending on your mode of operation, cutting and pasting may not be as automatic as youíd like. Weíll consider the limitations in a future review.
Modes and More Modes
Every copy of NEXTSTEP 3.2 comes with a full demo copy of SoftPC 3.1 on the disk. The demo version works for 30 days, after which users can call and get a license number and full documentation for $249. There is no upgrade pricing for former users of the black hardware version. (In fact, there will be no new version of SoftPC for black hardware. It will be supported in its current state and sold at its old price of $549 indefinitely.)
The SoftPC license includes not only Insigniaís code but MS-DOS 5.0 and Windows 3.1 as well. Insigniaís licensing agreement with Microsoft allows the company to literally modify Windows source code to optimize it for other environments, which it has done for Microsoft itself for Windows NT, and for HP-UX and Solaris with its SoftWindows product, due out in a few months.
There are two ways to run SoftPC: either within a NEXTSTEP window or by taking over the full screen. Full-screen mode is significantly faster because it bypasses Display PostScript and the demands of NEXTSTEP completely. But the in-a-window mode is more convenient for interoperability and compatibility.
Toggling between modes is easy to do, but there are certain limitations with each. In full-screen mode, the window is resizable on the fly, but the size of your in-a-window mode Windows screen is fixed for the duration of your Windows session. Also, SoftPC lets you hot-key between full-screen and in-a-window mode, but once you switch to full-screen mode, you can only go to an inactive-window mode that permits only cutting and pasting.
Cutting and pasting text between NEXTSTEP and Windows apps is easy in the in-a-window mode. Graphics are copied using Grab or other screen-capture utilities. Thereís no cut and paste to NEXTSTEP when in full-screen mode. Windows application links using DDE (Dynamic Data Exchange) and OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) work fine but are not tied into NEXTSTEP.
In full-screen mode, applications write to the PCís native VGA graphics hardware, which yields near-native performance. Itís more complicated in the in-a-window mode, in which the software has to deal with NEXTSTEPís Display PostScript screen graphics. Using some technology called Interceptor that NeXT developed for its NEXTIME video-display software, SoftPC is able to blast data right to the screen. Result: Windows performance about 80 percent as fast as in a native environment.
It is easy to see the effect of Interceptor by overlapping a screen element such as a menu onto a running SoftPC Windows screen. Display PostScript kicks in and performance drops dramatically. (It rebounds when SoftPC is uncovered again.) This doesnít happen when the NEXTSTEP cursor moves over the Windows window; it simply turns into a Windows cursor.
The Interceptor technology is the breakthrough over previous versions of SoftPC, in which the Display PostScript problem left the program unacceptably slow for running Windows.
Another key improvement over the previous version is the inclusion of Insigniaís SoftNode software, which permits SoftPC to access NetWare networked drives on NetWare file servers through the use of Novell NetWare IPX and Novell LAN Workplace DOS TCP/IP.
SoftPC provides vast options for configuring file systems and physical drives. It automatically sets up a large UNIX file that acts like a hard drive. In addition, SoftPC can access the DOS partition on a hard disk, the one you would use if cold booting into DOS rather than NEXTSTEP. You can also designate any UNIX directory tree as an FSA (File System Access) drive. Using this option, all the files created by DOS are readable as individual entities by NEXTSTEP, and vice versa, which is very useful for sharing files between operating environments.
Communications ports have been improved to support 9600 baud on a regular basis. Printer support includes a variety of PostScript and non-PostScript printers to meet the needs of a range of DOS or Windows applications. You configure how much memory you want your virtual PC to possess. SoftPC supports extended and expanded memory up to 32MB.
Other functions, including the method for setting preferences, remain basically unchanged, though a full on-line help facility has been added.
SoftPC 3.1 runs most but not all Windows and DOS applications. These ceveats get a little complicated for non-Intel experts, but SoftPC supports Real and Protected-mode DOS applications and Standard-mode Windows applications that comply with the DOS Protected-mode interface. It does not run applications that require Windows Enhanced mode. These exceptions involve some important programs, including FrameMaker and WordPerfect 6.0. (Insignia says that some Enhanced-mode applications, such as Improv, will run even though they say they require Enhanced mode.) Graphical DOS programs, as opposed to character-based ones, will only run in full-screen mode.
Full-screen mode is supported on most hardware configurations listed in the NEXTSTEP Hardware Compatibility Guide, though some graphics subsystems, including Compaqís Qvision, are problematic at this time.
While all these exceptions sound complicated, most standard DOS and Windows programs run well. Munford says that additional support and the schedule of future upgrades to SoftPC will be determined by the market acceptance of the product.
That may depend on the ratio of NEXTSTEP purists to pragmatists. NeXT and Insignia are betting that many users are willing to sacrifice a small measure of elegance for a big helping of functionality.
SoftPC 3.1 At A Glance
VGA text mode only
CGA text and CGA graphics
VGA (only on tested hardware)
The Portable Distributed Object System Brings Big Iron to the NEXTSTEP Edifice
By Simson L. Garfinkel
The NEXTSTEP platform is no longer a single-family dwelling. Following through on one of the major promises of last yearís NeXTWORLD Expo, NeXT shipped its Portable Distributed Object System (PDO) for Hewlett-Packardís PA-RISC UNIX servers in November. Data General will deliver another version of PDO in January for its Aviion workstations and servers, and more ports are expected later this year.
As Steve Jobs promised last May, PDO lets developers use NeXTís Distributed Object system to communicate directly with object servers running on other UNIX platforms as if the objects were running on the NEXTSTEP desktop. The network fades away, hidden by a seamless layer implemented on top of NeXTís Objective-C language.
PDO lets a program running on a relatively slow NEXTSTEP-based desktop computer tap into the powerhouse of HPís top-of-the-line multiprocessing mainframes. With an appropriate server, PDO lets programs running on remote computers perform complex calculations in a flash, access remote devices, or directly interoperate with other applications that donít run on NEXTSTEP itself.
"It enables us to take advantage of the power of other platforms," says Matt Peron, systems officer at First National Bank of Chicago, a PDO beta site. "Our processing demands are increasing, probably faster than the hardware can keep up. If we have the choice, we can go to large and larger systems, thatís great."
Most people think of NEXTSTEP as a slick graphical user interface, layered on top of the Mach operating system and the proprietary NetInfo network-management facility. To get PDO, NeXT took out these three parts, creating a system that could let NEXTSTEP object servers run on top of other operating systems.
PDO is both a development environment and a run-time system. The basic developer building blocks include four key libraries: NeXTís Core Classes (Object, List, HashTable, Storage, and NXStringTable); the NEXTSTEP Distributed Objects Classes library (NXConnection and NXProxy); NeXTís streams library, a unified system for dealing with data stored in files or in-memory buffers; NeXTís Zone malloc library, which gives programmers control over memory within an application, allowing them to improve memory performance; and the NEXTSTEP defaults system.
PDO programs are compiled with a version of the NeXT Objective-C compiler (GCC v.2.4) and debugged with the GDB debugger. Developers can compile PDO programs from the command line of the non-NEXTSTEP system or remotely from a system running NEXTSTEP with NeXTís ProjectBuilder and the Portable BuildServer (a part of PDO that runs on the remote system). For the first time, NeXT is also including the GNU sources directly on the release disk, "so you donít have to ask for another disk if you need the source," says Kate Smith, PDO project manager.
To make use of a PDO object, the client program, which might be running on a NEXTSTEP workstation or on the PDO server itself, issues a TCP/IP request to NeXTís Portable nmserver (another PDO program) with the name of the server and the name of the object with which it wishes to communicate. If the server program isnít running, the Portable nmserver starts it. The nmserver then gives the original requesting program a pointer to the PDO server and gets out of the way, allowing them to communicate directly with each other.
Not That Portable
While PDO itself is portable, applications written to take advantage of it might not be, says Van Simmons, president of VNP Software, a Cambridge, Massachusetts-based NEXTSTEP developer who was also a PDO beta tester. The problem, says Simmons, is that NEXTSTEP, DG-UX, and HP-UX are all different flavors of UNIX, with different system calls, different versions of the make program compiler, different arrangement of include files, and so forth. Although the NEXTSTEP libraries and languages are the same across the platforms, moving an object server from NEXTSTEP to another operating system is not a simple recompile.
Thus, PDO won't let NEXTSTEP developers "archive world peace," says Avie Tevanian, NeXT's head of software development. On the other hand, he adds, PDO still makes it relatively simple to take compute-intensive objects out of NEXTSTEP programs and run them on faster servers.
"Remember, the language is the same as on NEXTSTEP. The foundation classes are the same. It really works," says Tevanian.
Indeed, customers who have tried it say that NeXT's claims are accurate. "Our nastiest port was from the NeXT black box to HP-UX - that's probably as nasty as it gets - and that port took about a day," says First National Bank's Peron.
Nevertheless, one incompatibility that hangs over PDO is the lack of support for multithreaded servers. Under NEXTSTEP, a server can be set up so that each client program requesting a distributed object gets its own execution thread. This is important for servers vending large, complicated objects that require a considerable amount of CPU power; it lets the server respond to more than one request at a time. But under HP-UX, PDO does not support multithreaded servers - an issue that has been a point of concern for some customers.
"Eventually, I think it probably will be [a problem]," says Peron. In the short term, he hopes that the five-fold speed improvement his objects get from moving from the black box to an HP 735 will more than make up for the lack of concurrence.
PDO also gives companies an easy way to migrate to the network-based object-oriented environment that has become so desired in recent years, says NeXT's Smith. "Let's say you are an organization that deals with foreign currencies and you have a program that a lot of employees use for billing or currency exchange of some kind. Currently, an employee might look up the exchange rate on a sheet of paper that has been faxed to them that day and calculate it with an adding machine. With PDO, one can have a currency-exchange object that runs on a central server. The exchange rates get set as often as needed in that one object by an administrator. The application running on the employee's desk messages that object to find out the current rate and then does its thing. The messaging is transparent; it looks like the object is part of the application on the desk, so information is centralized."
As the business grows and its needs become more complex, NeXT could put additional objects on the server: objects to calculate interest rates and rates of return, or sophisticated objects that perform complex analytics written by in-house programmers, Smith says.
PDO blends well into a fast-moving development cycle in which small changes need to be propagated instantly to hundreds of users at computers around the globe. Instead of deploying a new version of an application program, the developers can simply put a new object on the central server, and applications in the field would automatically get the new version of the object the next time they ran.
Because PDO does not use the graphical environment, it is portable to most other operating systems that provide basic POSIX functionality (that is, virtual memory, TCP/IP-based networking, and multiple processes).
NeXT plans to ship PDO for Sun's Solaris OS next March or April says Smith. "Today it's HP, in January it will be Data General, and later, Sun and others. It will give NEXTSTEP programmers more flexibility in deployment of application to servers that have useful features that client machines don't have, like high performance, central location of data, and fail-safe mechanisms."
Indeed, with little effort, PDO could be ported just as easily to Microsoft's Windows NT, Novell's NetWare, or DEC's Open VMS. Then, no matter what the environment, users could build complex structures on a foundation of NEXTSTEP.
By John Perry Barlow
Lately, Iíve been reminded of the baling-wire mechanics I used to perform when I was still a rancher and got by on what I could cobble together from what was lying around. Iíve got a new computer. Itís an Epson Progression, running NeXTSTEP for Intel, still a nonstandard configuration.
It is the first PC Iíve laid a finger on since I sold my Compaq "Portable" back in 1988. If I squint and look directly at the screen, I can pretend that itís really a NeXT. It just (well, for the most part) works.
It didnít work at all when it arrived. I put the juice to it and watched those incredibly ugly DOS characters form on my screen: "Defective or nonsystem disk. Replace and strike any key when ready." Some things never change.
I had no choice but to unbolt its tan steel box and take the matter into my own inexpert hands. Fortunately, it didnít require a wirehead to see that the SCSI controller board had rattled loose. I plugged it into a slot and a couple of minutes later, I was looking at the fashionable hues of the Workspace Manager weíve all come to know and love.
Once booted, this combination of disparate items adds up to about 95 percent of what you used to get from NeXT. The Wingine graphics board keeps the screen every bit as fresh as a NeXTstation Turbo does, but disk operations give the monitor a mild palsy and the screen dimmer doesnít work. Thereís a sound board, but apparently no driver for it. The machinations required to mount and unmount floppy disks are the very definition of a kludge. But itís very fast and it absolutely, positively does not crash.
Of course, there now arises the question of what I will actually do with it. Unlike NEXTSTEPs of yore, NEXTSTEP for Intel doesnít arrive richly accessorized. (Iím writing this column in Edit, the word-processor equivalent of a mattress on the floor.)
Well, one thing I can do with it is store and search my 150 MB e-mail archive. I set about connecting the Epson to my Mac network. I mail-ordered an Intel Ether Express adapter card, which arrived with a disk of drivers for everything from NetWare to Vines, but not NEXTSTEP. Fortunately, NEXTSTEP 3.1 came with a driver for that card, which I assumed would work.
Iíve used IPTís estimable NEXTSTEP-to-Mac networking software, uShare, to productive effect on my Cube, so I got a copy of the Intel version (which, with IPTís Partner, includes the ability to access AppleShare printers and networks). But, upon loading it, diplomatic relations between the Epson and my Macs werenít immediate.
I called Intel support. No one there knew anything about using its board under NEXTSTEP. I called IPT and spoke with Rod David. He revealed that the product supports only one PC Ethernet board, the SMC Elite 16. But he had lore indicating that Intel boards might work if you use Phase I Ethernet protocols.
With his patient help and a lot of my own cobbling, I now have a two-way network that more or less works, though my main Mac is now crashing at the slightest provocation. There is no one who can help me tweak out this bug, since I am now evidently the leading local authority on this particular mongrel combo.
My first impression of NEXTSTEP for Intel is that it works and probably can be made to work seamlessly, but I will