How NextStep can one-up the Mac operating system

CobraBoy (
Fri, 31 Jan 1997 12:15:30 -0800

Special to the Mercury News

AS users contemplate the prospect of Next Software's NextStep operating
system -- or some variant --
becoming the new Macintosh operating system, they have one essential
question: What's in it for me?

Quite a bit, depending on users' needs. Keep in mind, though, that as
Apple adapts Next's technology to
its own systems, it's likely to change or even eliminate some features of
today's NextStep.

Here are some of those features:

NextStep is dramatically more reliable than the MacOS. Computers running
NextStep can run for months
at a time without crashing or having to reboot. And some developers report
that they can create applications
for NextStep in a fraction of the time that it takes to create
applications for other operating systems.

Also, thanks to improved memory management and other technology,
NextStep and programs written to
run under it should be between two and three times faster when run on the
same hardware as MacOS. But
Display PostScript, the way that NextStep displays on the computer's
screen, is slower than the QuickTime
drawing system used by the Macintosh. (On the other hand, Display
PostScript displays without flickering
on the screen.)

NextStep is visually more attractive than the MacOS, though Windows 95
is pretty attractive as well. A
small but real advantage in user ease: NextStep still has better scroll
bars -- the ``up'' and ``down'' buttons
are right next to each other, so you can scroll up or down without having
to keep moving your mouse from
one edge of the window to the other.

NextStep's cut-and-paste system is vastly better than in either Windows
or the MacOS. If you copy a
graphic to the PasteBoard -- the equivalent of the clipboards used by
Windows and the Mac -- and then
paste it into your word processor, you'll probably paste in an
``Encapsulated PostScript'' image. As a
result, it will print much better. And NextStep has something called
``lazy evaluation,'' which means that
the image isn't actually put on the PasteBoard until it is needed.

NextStep has ``filter services,'' which is a unified way for
third-parties to create graphic and file-format
translators. This would open the file-translation market. Individual
companies could sell single file
translators. Alternatively, a company that makes a word processor could
bundle it with a filter service so
that any other program that you have can read the file formats of your new
word processor.

NextStep has built-in faxing. Any application that can print can fax.
This feature is handled much more
capably than in the MacOS or Windows 95. Faxes look better, too, because
they're generated by

The NextStep ``dock'' is pretty nifty. It goes down the side and holds
your most frequently-used
applications. The icons for the applications are there whether the program
is running or not, and are always
in the same position. NextStep allows you to ``hide'' applications the way
that MacOS does. (Windows 95
doesn't really do this.)

For the graphic-arts community, NextStep has ``Display PostScript,''
which means that artists can
preview on their screen exactly the way something will look when it is
printed. NextStep's PostScript
software can also be used to run a wide variety of printers, whereas the
Macintosh today can only work
with Apple printers and printers that contain the PostScript language.
Nextstep also has a system, known as
Pantone, which allows precise matching of colors. Applications can refer
to colors by Pantone number,
rather than by using the amount of red, green and blue in the color, which
means that matched colors stay

NextStep allows users to plug in new features. For example, they can
plug in their own spell-checker
that will work with any application written for Nextstep.

NextStep has built-in support for internationalization, or making
applications multi-lingual. It's relatively
easy for software developers to bring out a single application that
supports French, German and Spanish in
addition to English. The basic NextStep environment comes with all of the
applications translated into
English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian and Swedish. Users
can have language
preferences: ``Give me Spanish, if you have it, otherwise give me English.''

Networked NextStep

As an operating system for systems administrators and network managers,
NextStep is much more similar
to Microsoft's Windows NT than the MacOS. NextStep and Windows NT have
configuration files that
control the way that the operating system boots and how it behaves.

If Apple just takes NextStep and ``ports'' it to the Mac, the Macintosh
could lose much of its fabled
ease-of-administration. Running a NextStep-based network is a lot more
similar to running a network of
machines running Windows NT than to a network of machines running MacOS.

Another difference is the file system. On NextStep, a file's type is
determined by its extension -- such as
.DOC, .TXT, etc. -- just as with DOS and Windows. On the other hand, it's
possible that Apple might
want to adopt an industry-standard file system. Although it's handy, the
``resource fork'' in Apple files is
nothing but a headache in the networked environment.


Do you pine for the nice days of Minix-1.1, when men were men and wrote
their own device drivers? ...Linus Torvalds