ObjectWorld '95: It's Better to Burn Out than to Fade Away...

It may not be official, but the writing on the wall was clear to read. NeXTSTEP is dead. There was no mention at all of NeXTSTEP in the keynote speeches at the ObjectWorld NeXTSTEP day. A NeXT representative said that it was the "end of an era". The pitch was clearly aimed at those unfamiliar with NeXTSTEP who may have been sucked over from ObjectWorld, and those longterm NeXT users who made up 80% of the audience were ignored in the agenda. Attendance was considerably down on NeXTSTEP Expo from last year, at under 1,000 attendees.

Steve Jobs opened the keynote by saying that he was going to review the Past, Present and Future for NeXT.

The Past

The Past was represented by 1994; which was the first year of NeXT as a software company. Revenue was $50 million; profit $1 million. NeXT established their professional services operation, and were the largest supplier of objects.

The Present

The Present: 1995. In this year, NeXT refreshed their entire product line (which was described as NeXTSTEP, EOF and PDO). They exceeded their revenue and profit plan, and established new mainstream customers. Consulting revenue grew by 400%. And NeXT remained the largest supplier of objects.

New or 'refreshed' products were: 3.3 for HP and Sun; 3.3J (NeXTSTEP for Japanese); NeXTSTEP Developer 3.3; EOF 1.1 and PDO 3.0 (which added support for Digital Unix).

The customer list dropped all the UK customers apart from British Telecom; new customers were Revco and Walt Disney.

The Object Expert team (consultants) expanded from 4 to 21, with 40 planned for year end, going up to 100 for next year.

Software Magazine Top 100 showed NeXT at 67th, and the fastest growing.

The Future

Future: OpenStep will ship in the first half of '96. HP, Sun and Digital are partners.

OpenStep for Windows will run on NT and Windows 95, with Windows "look and feel", and full interoperability with OLE. Alpha release will be in quarter 4 '95, beta in q1 '96, and full release in q2 '96.

The Demo

Demo of OpenStep for Windows: run on NT. Steve showed just Draw with a few images dropped in, using drag and drop of images from File Viewer using OLE. He brought up a Colour panel, Font panel and the standard inspector. Menus come up in the main app window in Windows style.

The next demo was of Interface Builder, creating the standard slider and TextField example. The Windows menus were in the IB instances box.

Distributed OLE, or PDO for Windows. This is two years before Microsoft plan to have distributed OLE. The product name is D'OLE (various jokes were made about American political figures at this point). D'OLE accepts OLE calls from standard Windows applications, mentioned Visual Basic, Delphi and Visual C++. It will communicate with other OLE servers, or PDO servers.

The beta is available now, with ship by year end.

Demo of D'OLE. Using 2 NT machines. First demo was client-client, using a demo app written using Interface Builder and OpenStep on one machine, firing up Excel and creating a chart on the other machine.

The next demo was client-server, using scripts written in Excel (about one and a half pages) to retrieve data from a database on an HP PDO server.


WebObjects. Steve reminded us that Tim Berners-Lee created the first WWW applications at CERN in 1990 using NeXTSTEP. The quote of the session was "a web browser is like a multimedia 3270 on steroids".

There is a lot of competition in web browsers; the point is that we can assume that clients will be effectively free, and there isn't a lot of money to be made in them.

There are four uses being made of the Web by companies:

Static Publishing;
unchanging data on pages
Dynamic Database Publishing;
simple database queries, like the FedEx package tracking example (which took four months to write), or WebCrawler (which was written all on NeXTSTEP)
buying and selling on the Web. The interesting point being that accepting an order from the Web requires interoperation with existing order management systems, which means custom apps
applications running systems developed for internal use only, that can run on any internal system with a web browser.

Three of these four require custom app development.

"Bark like a dog". WOF: Web Object Framework. The slides linked this with EOF and PDO as the way to create Web documents and process WWW requests using corporate data and business logic. Hence:

Alpha is running now, beta in Q4, and ship in q1 '96.

Running NetScape on NT, showing a demo app that browses a database of Dodge cars, searching by model, price and type of car. The demo took two days to write, and two days to make pretty (Avie Tevanian later said one week for each).

There was a loan calculator built into the middle of this demo that ran using PDO/OLE to an Excel spreadsheet ("because we could").

The Future Revisited

Future: OpenStep, D'OLE, and WebObjects.

The common theme is the same proven backend, with front ends written in OpenStep, Visual Basic, or WWW.

Final topic: PDO will support CORBA 2, and a hacked up demo of intercommunication was shown. PDO is the only shipping DO system; the next release supports OLE; and CORBA support will ship in the next major PDO release, sometime next year.

The demo showed communication with OMG's sample CORBA server for the show, with front ends from an Excel sheet, and a NetScape browser via WebObjects.


(written on a Talus laptop, and sent using PPP via Compuserve)