NeXTWORLD August 1993
Best of Breed
Our First Annual Awards for NEXTSTEP Product Excellence
By Dan Ruby
One measure of NEXTSTEP’s superiority as a development environment is the exceptional suite of third-party applications that runs under it. This month, we honor the best of those products with our Best of Breed (BoB) awards for NEXTSTEP product excellence.
In naming the awards, we resurrected a phrase that was once commonly used at NeXT to suggest that NEXTSTEP offered better application-software choices than other operating environments. Two or three years ago, that was not truly the case. But last year, the editors and reviewers at NeXTWORLD have witnessed an explosion of new software that really does live up to the name Best of Breed. In some cases, the products are designed with similar functionality to traditional best-sellers on other platforms, but with added features or improved performance. In other cases, the products embody entirely new approaches that improve on familiar software models.
Best of Breed trophies were awarded in 14 product segments and three special categories. To keep the project manageable, we defined the product categories as broadly as possible, so in some cases competing products were not necessarily directly competitive. For example, instead of individual awards for word processing and desktop publishing, we have a single category for document creation.
The judging panel was composed of 12 NeXTWORLD editors and contributing reviewers. The judges met numerous times and exchanged voluminous e-mail before reaching decisions on the nominees and winners.
To be as timely as possible, products were eligible for consideration if they were in wide beta release by April 25, 1993, and had shipped by the opening of NeXTWORLD Expo. Several nominated products – Pages from Pages Software, Frontface from nPoint, and Complete Access from Ocean Software – were scratched at the last minute when they failed to meet the second qualification.
The Best of Breed winners were announced at a gala awards ceremony during NeXTWORLD Expo. Practicing what we preach, we used many of the products honored here to produce the event. In particular, we want to thank Talus Imaging and Communications Corporation for its assistance in preparing the slide presentation for the BoB ceremony.
The 1993 BoB Awards are just the beginning. As hotly contested as some of our award categories were this year, we expect that our Best of Breed choices will be even harder to make next year, now that NEXTSTEP for Intel Processors is bringing its software base to a much larger potential market.
Best of Breed
PasteUp, RightBrain Software
Runner-up: WordPerfect for NEXTSTEP, WordPerfect Corp.
By combining the control of QuarkXPress with the usability of Aldus PageMaker and throwing in a grab bag of unique features that are only possible under NEXTSTEP, RightBrain gave NeXT users their first real page-layout program. Uniquely object-oriented, PasteUp lets you create documents simply by dragging and dropping elements and files onto the page. From there, its inspectors and panels let you adjust elements with a precision that should satisfy the fussiest professional. – Lee Sherman
Best of Breed
Mesa, Athena Design
Runners-up: Questor, Xanthus International
Mesa breaks little new ground, but for experienced spreadsheet users, that’s good news. Whether your habits were formed by 1-2-3 or Excel, Mesa lets you keep using the formulas, keystrokes, and mouse actions you’re used to, so you can get up to speed in no time. If you’re a programmer, Mesa’s Object Library Interface lets you incorporate its graphing and computation capabilities into your own apps. We still want an Undo key and a macro recorder, but even without them Mesa’s the best basic spreadsheet for NEXTSTEP. – Robert Lauriston
Best of Breed
Diagram! 2, Lighthouse Design
Runners-up: Concurrence, Lighthouse Design
Create, Stone Design
This new version of Diagram! Piles innovation on top of innovation. Through a unique feedback program, Lighthouse programmers gave users a new interface to access its unique features more easily, while cleverly retaining the old interface for operations customers are used to. Advertised as a digital whiteboard, it lives up to its billing. A new file format allows for enhanced interapplication and custom-application manipulation of Diagram! Data. – Dan Lavin
Best of Breed
Virtuoso, Altsys Corporation
Runners-up: 1 VISION, tms GmbH
Virtuoso is simply the finest professional illustration tool on any platform. It also remains the standard for single-page composition. With excellent color support, fine typographic handling, and a strong interface, this is a must-have for every publishing professional. – Rick Reynolds
3-D and CAD
Best of Breed
solidThinking Modeler, Gestel Italia
Runner-up: ZZvolume, Ares
Gestel’s solidThinking is an extremely powerful 3-D modeler with a great depth of features. It sports a strong user interface, which places a universe f controls right on the screen. Its shader builder puts the elegance of RenderMan into the hands of nonprogrammers. We found solidThinking to be a strong entry in this field, which will continue to expand over the next several years. – Dan Lavin
Best of Breed
SmartFieldPalette, Objective Technologies
Runners-up: 3270Palette, Conextions
BarCodeKit, Hot Technologies
SmartFieldPalette is a NEXTSTEP TextField on steroids. The palette provides a powerful set of objects for verifying typed user information in forms-driven applications. You can program SmartField to accept only numbers, letters, dates, or user-definable information. You can restrict input to a particular range of values and have the field automatically convert lowercase input to uppercase or vice versa. Many of NeXT’s most important customers have made SmartField an integral part of their mission-critical custom applications. – Simson L. Garfinkel
Best of Breed
Screen Machine, d’ART Computersysteme GmbH
Runners-up: TaskMaster, Lighthouse Design
VirtSpace, Pinnacle Research
Screen Machine brings the promise of desktop video to NEXTSTEP for Intel Processors with an innovative ISA video board and a combination of objects and application programs that drop live video into NEXTSTEP windows. Screen Machine lets you add video into other NEXTSTEP applications or use the system’s object library for adding video into custom software. – Simson L. Garfinkel
Best of Breed
Parabase, Parabase Software Corporation
Runner-up: DataPhile, Stone Design
This is a product for people who are convinced of the benefits of building database applications around industry-standard SQL database servers. Parabase lets sophisticated end users build their own front-end applications for data-entry and retrieval without having to understand anything about programming. It’s as easy to use as a flat-file application such as FileMaker Pro on the Macintosh but can share data with custom applications and other commercial font ends. – Daniel Miles Kehoe
Best of Breed
NoteBook, Millennium Software Labs
Runners-up: Mathematica, Wolfram Research
Pencil Me In, Sarrus Software
Millennium set a standard for original software design in this combination outliner and free-form database packaged around a familiar notebook metaphor. NoteBook is the place you clip and save unstructured information from any source. With its tools for organizing, searching, and reassembling that information into new forms to be exchanged with co-workers, many users have found that NoteBook is an indispensable application that they keep open on their screen at all times. – Dan Ruby
Content and Information
Best of Breed
The Electronic AppWrapper, Paget Press
Runners-up: Birds of Europe, Expert Center for Taxonomic Identification
Sex, Lies and CD-ROM, Bay Area NeXT Group
The Electronic AppWrapper is an exciting adventure into a multimedia world of music, poetry, computer animation, and Seattle-style insight. The disc contains descriptions of more than 100 NEXTSTEP products, many with screen shots, company histories, and demo versions. A sophisticated ordering application lets you use a credit card to easily purchase merchandise by e-mail. The Electronic AppWrapper is a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of NEXTSTEP’s ever-growing third-party application market. – Simson L. Garfinkel
Best of Breed
Goldleaf Imagesetter/eXTRASET, Goldleaf Systems
Runners-up: Scan-X Color/PowerScan, HSD Microcomputer US
Talus T-1 Film Recorder/ImageMate, Talus Imaging and Communications Corporation
The combination of Goldleaf eXTRASET with a Goldleaf imagesetter represents the easiest high-resolution imagesetting solution available today – it’s as easy as printing to a NeXT Laser Printer. Goldleaf’s product is also the only solution on the market that guarantees the exact same version of PostScript Level 2 for proofing and imagesetting. eXTRASET and the imagesetter are some of the best-kept secrets on the platform and were a great surprise to our judges. – Rick Reynolds
Communication and Emulation
Best of Breed
NXFax, Black & White Software
Runners-up: co-Xist, Pencom Software
SoftPC, Insignia Solutions
All people use the telephone for communicating, but NEXTSTEP users have the added power of e-mail and faxing built right into their computer. Whether you have a machine at home or a machine on a network, a modem is there to talk to the outside world. Black & white Software’s NXFax does an outstanding job of handling modem interactions between fax and serial communications on NEXTSTEP computers – and it works with popular modems. No other software in this class comes close. – Joe Barello
Development and Authoring Tools
Best of Breed
CraftMan, Xanthus International
Runners-up: Callisto, Imagine Multimedia
GNU C Compiler, Free Software Foundation
NEXTSTEP is widely praised for providing a development environment that lets programmers knock out custom applications in record time, but not everyone has the expertise or need to program with Objective-C and InterfaceBuilder. Multimedia projects, simple database applications, and educational courseware are mission-critical also, but they require tools that allow a developer to concentrate on content. Depending on your point of view, CraftMan, with its object-oriented tools and accessible scripting language, is either a more powerful version of Apple’s HyperCard or an InterfaceBuilder for the rest of the rest of us. – Lee Sherman
Most Innovative Product
Best of Breed
NoteBook, Millennium Software labs
On a new computer platform, it is not enough to produce a solid, functional product that is similar to successful products on other platforms. A breakthrough product must take advantage of the special characteristics of the platform to provide an entirely new experience available nowhere else. NoteBook qualifies on that score by combining various existing ideas in a wholly original format that raises user productivity and group interaction to a new level. It is, in our judgment, the third-part product that embodies the freshest ideas and gives users a compelling reason to choose NEXTSTEP over competing system. – Dan Ruby
Best of Breed
SafetyNet, Systemix Software
Runners-up: Engage! Desktop, Millennium Software Labs
SafetyNet sets the standard for archiving UNIX file systems to 8 mm and DAT tape. The program maintains a database of every file that has been backed up in an electronic index, which allows the application to fast forward the tape to the exact location of an archived file. The program also maintains a database of every tape in your tape library. All this functionality can drop the time to restore single files from hours to seconds. Unlike most other applications, SafetyNet also deals intelligently with linked files, backing up a file once and restoring both the links and the original files as needed. In case of disaster, the application can even build a bootable floppy that allows you to rebuild your file system with nothing more than the floppy and your tape. – Simson L. Garfinkel
Best of Breed
Jim Opfer, consultant
The NeXT market is a model of community spirit and volunteerism, in which developers, customers, user groups, consultants, resellers, and NeXT employees share an ethic of supporting each other and lending a helping hand. Jim Opfer exemplifies that spirit through his varied contributions to the NEXTSTEP cause. At the U.S. Air Force, he was the decision maker who took a chance on NeXT and in the process helped launch the company’s successful business in the government market. He played an instrumental role in organizing ProNeXT, a group of NeXT’s largest customers that has served as a sounding board for NeXT’s technical and marketing decision makers. Since retiring from military service, he has worked closely with several third-party developers to define and improve their products, and he has served NeXT in a sales support role and in advising company executives on strategic directions. – Dan Ruby
Outstanding NEXTSTEP Implementation
Best of Breed
Advanced Technology Group, Williams Telecommunications
The future success of NEXTSTEP – and NeXT – relies heavily on the in-house solutions customers can develop for their mission-critical needs. To date, NEXTSTEP custom apps have broken new ground in fields as diverse as financial services, legal, health care, manufacturing, and retail. Our winner was chosen not only for technical expertise but for the far-reaching consequence of the development effort and consistent vision pushing NEXTSTEP into the telecommunications industry. Currently, WilTel has over 40 developers building and maintaining a state-of-the-art fiber-optic Asynchronous Transfer Mode network that stretches from coast-to-coast. With partnerships between phone companies, cable firms, and entertainment giants being signed every day, users will see examples of that vision on their own TVs in the very near future. – Eliot Bergson
Runts of the Litter
No show is complete with just blue-ribbon winners. The NeXT year past also boated plenty of mutts, mongrels, and crossbreeds. Here’s our solute to the people, products, and events that made NeXT-watching entertaining during the last 12 months.
Most Over-Hyped Piece of Vaporware Consistently Mentioned in Conjunction with NEXTSTEP:
Windows NT by Microsoft
Most Confusing Upgrade Path:
Lotus, for forcing Improv 1.0 users to move to Windows in order to user Improv 2.0
Most Aggressive Contestant for Smallest Potential Market:
Talus, which would fight to the death for the rights to rubles
Most Eagerly Anticipated Nonproduct:
NeXT RISC Workstation
Most Irritating Capital Offense:
Best Severance Package in the Industry:
Former NeXT President Peter van Cuylenburg
Reverse Polish Notation Award:
Hewlett-Packard, which plans to replace Drag and Drop with Drop and Drag
Greatest Concentration of NEXTSTEP Knowledge:
General Magic employee cafeteria
The Addams Family Award:
Uncle Fester from Appsoft; Morticia from Millennium; and Lurch from Adamation
Best Dressed at a Convocation:
Don Frisbee, Chairman of the Board, Reed College Board of Trustees
Most Brutal Customer Purchase Plan:
Sun Microsystems’ buy-and-grind program
Celluloid Hero Award:
Glenn Reid, for his uncanny resemblance to Michael Douglas's vigilante character in Falling Down
Lost in the Ozone Award:
Intel, for the Pentium processor’s contribution to global warming
Most Innovative Customer Service Policy:
Neuron, which shipped faulty fax-modems and then closed its doors
Would You Like Fries With That? Award:
NeXT, for the "Happy Meal" evaluation kit offering no upgrade path
Beauty is Skin Deep Award:
Appsoft, for designing packaging before software
Best Excuse For Anything Not Done in Q3 ’93:
"I was at Andy Stone’s party."
Breakfast of Champions Award:
John Perry Barlow, who couldn’t decide if it’s a magazine or a nutritional supplement
Angus Demming Quality Award:
Pages Software, which will ship no app before its time
Most Dramatic On-Again, Off-Again, On-Again, Forget-About-It Sale:
Least Journalistic Integrity:
G. Pascal Zachary, whose warmed-over Wall Street Journal hit piece appeared on the first morning of NeXTWORLD Expo.
Oliver Stone Conspiracy Theory Award:
Millennium Software Labs, which combines secrecy with salesmanship
By John Perry Barlow
Winston Churchill once said that there is no meal quite so nutritious as that of one’s own words. In that case, the astonishing NeXTWORLD Expo ’93 certainly improved my diet. (Actually, I found Expo a cornucopia in general...but I digress.)
As you may recall, I last used this space to write what might be called a premortum of NeXT, saying that if NeXT were anything but dead or mighty moribund by late May, I would use the occasion of Expo to eat my own words.
Well, I wish to hell we used tastier newspring for this rag.
Not only does it appear I still have Steve Jobs to kick around, I may have a longer future in this community than I could have imagined back in March. And no, I don’t believe my faith in this most recent and miraculous resurrection is simply a product of the ol’ Reality Distortion Field.
For one thing, the RDF – or at least that large part of it that relies on smooth theatricality – was barely discernible during Steve’s keynote speech. He suffered a series of audio problems that would have strained the patience of Job, let alone Jobs. He was down to his hole cards, and they looked surprisingly good.
Of course, he’s still got NEXTSTEP, which most sensible people who have actually experienced it agree is the best – I could say tastiest – operating system in the universe. (I ran into Sun founder Bill Joy on the plane to Expo and he expressed both this sentiment and his genuine sorrow over what both of us, at that point, took to be its last hurrah.)
But now we’ve got NEXTSTEP on hardware that doesn’t require a crazy act of faith to buy. NEXTSTEP for Intel shipped on schedule, it works, and it’s packing a whole bunch of cool new features.
Further, NeXT has lined up a very credible group of computer manufacturers, nice beige outfits like Dell and Epson, who will preload NEXTSTEP on the machines they market and sell.
Most importantly, NeXT now has the ObjectEnterprise arrangement with Hewlett-Packard, which will provide terrific integration, depth, and development speed to any company using HP servers and NEXTSTEP clients.
In the wildly unlikely event that I were running MIS for some oil-futures brokerage house, I would go ahead and gamble on NEXTSTEP whether or not UnixWorld knows of its existence.
There remain a couple of watch-outs that might bear attention. I’ll get into those next month. But right now, I’ve got that nice feeling I get after dinner.
By Geoffrey Moore
As a consultant reviewing NeXT’s 1993 marketing strategy, I’ve read a lot of doomsday reports and analyses of the company’s prospects. But my own assessment is that the sky isn’t about to fall on NeXT. The company’s destiny, in fact, is in its own hands.
NeXT is a case study in the "chasm", a concept related to the Technology Adoption Life Cycle: Whenever a radically innovative product is introduced, it will go through a cycle of acceptance by innovators and early adopters before winning over the early majority, the late majority, and finally, the laggards. As the cycle moves for a market dominated by visionaries to a mainstream market dominated by pragmatists, there is an adoption lull – what I call a "chasm" – during which there is fundamentally no market.
NeXT is experiencing this chasm even as I write. It has successfully captured the enthusiasm of the early market – witness the virtually universal accolades given to NEXTSTEP – but is now floundering in search of a loyal following that could give it a sustainable mainstream market. Indeed, NeXT hit the chasm head first in 1992 and, recognizing that, abandoned its hardware shortly afterward.
Whenever a company hits this chasm, everyone in the industry believes the company is finished. But this isn’t the case. First, the chasm is inevitable, like adolescence – painful beyond belief but essential to growth. Second, crossing the chasm is a well-understood discipline, with well-established principles that NeXT’s marketing organization is following. Third, it is far easier to cross the chasm carrying NEXTSTEP rather than a bulky Cube. Finally, the tougher the chasm is to cross, the higher the reward – if it’s hard for the innovator, it’s hard for the followers. The chasm can be a great moat.
To cross that chasm, the company must accomplish some key goals in the near future. NEXTSTEP is the first comprehensive object-oriented operating system, so it must position itself correctly relative to the other operating-system alternatives. In this light, its competitors are going to be Cairo and Taligent – not UNIX, not NT, not Windows. And in this competition, NeXT has a two-year head start.
NeXT must also make objects commercially viable. Today, the universe of objects exists at the subprogram level; there are data objects and communications objects, text objects and window objects, and so forth. But at this level, objects are interesting only to computer scientists. This will all change when users hear about comprehensive libraries of objects with names like mortgage basket, currency hedge, or CD and know they can manipulate these objects – combining, trading, or monitoring them. Now the idea of objects becomes very interesting indeed, and as users commit more and more of their business practices to NEXTSTEP development, they become more and more vested in NeXT’s ongoing viability.
Given this, NeXT’s marketing strategy should capitalize on its head start by creating a critical mass of objects for one or more target customer communities. And NeXT is in a very good position to do this: NEXTSTEP is not only a superb product, it is relatively mature and available now on a low-cost open-systems platform; NeXT has already established a beachhead in the financial-services industry and recognized the need for partners with broader channels of distribution and support, reflected in the HP announcement; and NeXT has found at least one systems integrator, Systemhouse, which has already set up an object factory for NEXTSTEP.
But challenges exist. NeXT must remain focused. The sales force will find plenty of opportunities outside its target markets, so the company must adopt a clear discipline about how it will invest and when it will pass over opportunities, or at least park them under some other prime contractor.
The second challenge is money. A critical mass of objects is worth millions in the long term but is not likely to be a generator of short-term cash. Nonetheless, this is where the company must invest.
A third challenge is overcoming the Steve Jobs mystique, for it is the irony of chasm crossing that assets in the early market tend to be liabilities in the mainstream. Fortunately, however, there is a company just up the road from NeXT pointing the way to a solution. At Oracle, the Larry Ellison mystique is in the process of being overcome by the integration of increasingly autonomous layers of senior executives. If the model can work there – and it is showing every sign that it will – there's no reason why it can’t be ported south.
For the next two years, NeXT has the opportunity to control its own destiny. It should be able to cross the chasm, solidify its beachhead in an initial target market, and begin to branch out from there. How far that branching out will go is anybody’s guess, but there is no reason that this point to set any limits on it.