TweetFollow Us on Twitter

OpenStep Overview

Volume Number: 13 (1997)
Issue Number: 3
Column Tag: Rhapsody

A Quick Take On Apple's Purchase Of NeXT

By Dave Klingler

What are the pros and cons of Apple's integration of NeXT technologies with the MacOS

A Late 1996 Christmas Present for the Rest of Us

My first reaction to the news of NeXT's sale to Apple was a groan of despair. For those who don't remember, Steve Jobs used to make having an Apple computer a roller coaster ride. Having anything at all to do with NeXT was the same way. Steve doesn't believe in color, floppy disks, games or self-restraint when it comes to offending the entire computer industry.

When I found out that Steve would be strictly an adviser to Amelio and Roizen, I breathed a cautious sigh of relief. I have met Steve Jobs and spoken to him twice. My personal reaction was that he was an individual of very high integrity and strong convictions, and I liked him a great deal. Steve can sometimes be right on when devising "insanely great" technologies. You can get an idea what life is like for me when you consider that I'm addicted to using my monochrome cube. Pain and pleasure all mixed into one.

I think the best thing to come out of the deal is that Apple will get Avi Tevanian, and, presumably, Jean-Marie Hullot. Tevanian did much of the original Mach port to the NeXT platform, and Hullot wrote a fair portion of the NeXT operating system and Interface Builder. I'd gladly work for Apple if it meant a chance to work with either one of these two guys. I've developed a strong respect for the rest of NeXT's software engineers as well.

If Apple slashes the cost of NeXT's products, such as the OS and WebObjects, I will be overjoyed. The products are superior, and their new lease on life would mean that I don't have to switch platforms for a while longer. NeXT's OS is arguably the most immediately relevant part of the deal for Mac developers, so I'm going to tell some of what I know about it.

OpenStep's Strengths

As most any Mac developer knows by now, Apple spent some time considering a number of options for the development of the next MacOS. These included purchase or integration of BeOS, Solaris or NeXT's OpenStep for Mach.

OpenStep for Mach (formerly called NeXTStep) is in many ways a far more elegant OS than the BeOS. It is based on the Mach microkernel with a BSD 4.4 personality for unix compatibility. The Display Postscript (DPS) server is tightly integrated into the OS just on top of the kernel, and so is Objective C. What makes OpenStep for Mach sort of magical is the sum of its parts: Mach + DPS + Objective C = an extremely elegant development environment. I'll refer to it from this point on as OpenStep, but keep in mind that the development environment has been decoupled from the OS and is available as OpenStep for Windows NT and Solaris as well.

For those of you who might be worried about DPS's speed, it's not really an issue. NeXT and Adobe optimized the DPS server so well that one never sees any sort of redraw. Note that I said "server"; DPS is a client-server system, so you can host a display on a different system than the one that's actually doing the drawing calculations.

The Mach microkernel is a multiprocessor-capable threading OS kernel. It has been ported to almost every processor extant, one of those being the PowerPC. Anyone who does NT development will notice that the NT kernel API is almost identical to Mach's, other than the Graphics Device Interface (NT's GDI was recently tied into the kernel in a controversial move by Microsoft to make NT faster for everyday users, thus changing the NT kernel's status as a microkernel.) MkLinux is based on Mach with a Linux personality similar to the BSD personality that OpenStep uses. If you've gotten the idea that Mach is very flexible, you're right.

Objective C is superior in many ways to C++. It is a true object-oriented language that functions sort of like a cross between C and Smalltalk. You will find that Java is more similar to Objective C than it is to C++. The nice thing about Objective C in relation to OpenStep is that the runtime object server is part of the core OS, so you get a very high percentage of code reuse.

As an example, I probably have in the neighborhood of 100 instances of the Text class currently running on the screen of the NeXT cube I am using to type this article. All of them are using the same piece of code in memory, and only the data for each object differs. Applications that use common object classes such as Text, Window and Button can use hardly any memory, because it is possible for them to use very little new code. OpenStep can be very efficient, and the only development system even remotely comparable is Smalltalk. In short, OpenStep is a developer's dream - keeping NeXT in business despite arguably the worst overall smart-but-dumb management in the computer industry.

Finally, there are some wonderful surprises in store for Macintosh developers. The first is that NeXT has enhanced OpenStep with some pseudo-realtime capabilities for developers wanting to do animation. These capabilities take the form of the DPSTimedEntry, a request to the operating system to call a certain function at a certain interval. Since OpenStep is a preemptive multitasking system, DPSTimedEntries are not truly realtime, but the system usually has no trouble achieving granularity fine enough for seamless animations.

The second surprise is that OpenStep's 3DKit is based on Renderman, the scene description language from Steve Jobs' other company, Pixar. You may recall Renderman's scene description language was used to create the movie Toy Story, and there truly is no substitute. Some of the best modeling software available is built on OpenStep and 3DKit, and many Mac developers will be ecstatic to gain access to Renderman. It's built into OpenStep's development libraries.

OpenStep's Weaknesses

One of OpenStep's greatest weaknesses is its unix file system, and the BeOS is far better than OpenStep in this area. From the point of view of a Mac programmer, the unix file system might seem great at first because of its reliability, support for essentially unlimited path- and filename-size, and great support for security. Unfortunately, however, the unix file system has grown pretty archaic in many ways and it is arguably unsuitable for a personal computer. Long ago NeXT promised OpenStep developers that there was a completely revamped object-oriented file system on the way, similar to the BeOS or Newton OS. It never arrived. Hopefully Apple will bring it out.

The BeOS also has it all over OpenStep when it comes to device management. BeOS devices are just as object-oriented as the rest of the system, which means that a BeOS device isn't actually instantiated until it's needed. It can be linked and unlinked on the fly, and I have to say I was completely blown away once by the sight of a Be computer rebooting before its (still-warm) monitor could warm up. The system booted with only the devices it needed, saving the rest until an app used them.

The last place BeOS is really stellar is in its multiprocessor support. There's no real excuse for the lack of it in OpenStep; NeXT just never got around to releasing a threadsafe version of the AppKit (the large library of object classes). So, we have an OS running on a multiprocessor-capable kernel with multithreading applications but no multiprocessing because nobody ever got around to revamping the object libraries. It's a sure bet someone will fix this problem quickly, in fact, NeXT had a version of NeXTStep running on a multiprocessor machine before they got out of the hardware business. Some OpenStep people get sort of steamed when you bring up this topic.

The new version of OpenStep, 4.0, is also no longer POSIX-compliant and that broke a lot of applications. Lots of OpenStep people get pretty steamed about this topic as well.

OpenStep is far less flexible than MacOS when it comes to game or multimedia development. Something like RAVE+Game Sprockets is needed badly.

Last, but not at all least, the OpenStep Workspace Manager GUI needs a revamp as much as the Finder's GUI. In some ways it is more friendly, but in some ways it really needs many of the same changes the Macintosh Finder is getting. Again, not a hard problem to solve.

Conclusion

That summarizes Apple's acquisition of NeXT Software from the point of view of a longtime Mac fanatic and OpenStep developer. I still really can't figure out what at NeXT was worth $400 million, but it's a great PR move and I think it was done right. I'm happy to have Apple supporting my favorite OS, and I can now postpone my port of Objective C to the Macintosh yet another time. Like many OpenStep developers, I got a better Christmas present than I could ever have imagined, and I think everyone who will use a computer in the next few years did also.

 

Community Search:
MacTech Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Cocktail 8.4 - General maintenance and o...
Cocktail is a general purpose utility for OS X that lets you clean, repair and optimize your Mac. It is a powerful digital toolset that helps hundreds of thousands of Mac users around the world get... Read more
PDFKey Pro 4.3 - Edit and print password...
PDFKey Pro can unlock PDF documents protected for printing and copying when you've forgotten your password. It can now also protect your PDF files with a password to prevent unauthorized access and/... Read more
Kodi 15.0.beta1 - Powerful media center...
Kodi (was XBMC) is an award-winning free and open-source (GPL) software media player and entertainment hub that can be installed on Linux, OS X, Windows, iOS, and Android, featuring a 10-foot user... Read more
DiskCatalogMaker 6.4.12 - Catalog your d...
DiskCatalogMaker is a simple disk management tool which catalogs disks. Simple, light-weight, and fast. Finder-like intuitive look and feel. Super-fast search algorithm. Can compress catalog data... Read more
Macs Fan Control 1.3.0.0 - Monitor and c...
Macs Fan Control allows you to monitor and control almost any aspect of your computer's fans, with support for controlling fan speed, temperature sensors pane, menu-bar icon, and autostart with... Read more
Lyn 1.5.11 - Lightweight image browser a...
Lyn is a lightweight and fast image browser and viewer designed for photographers, graphic artists and Web designers. Featuring an extremely versatile and aesthetically pleasing interface, it... Read more
NeoOffice 2014.11 - Mac-tailored, OpenOf...
NeoOffice is a complete office suite for OS X. With NeoOffice, users can view, edit, and save OpenOffice documents, PDF files, and most Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents. NeoOffice 3.x... Read more
LaunchBar 6.4 - Powerful file/URL/email...
LaunchBar is an award-winning productivity utility that offers an amazingly intuitive and efficient way to search and access any kind of information stored on your computer or on the Web. It provides... Read more
Remotix 3.1.4 - Access all your computer...
Remotix is a fast and powerful application to easily access multiple Macs (and PCs) from your own Mac. Features Complete Apple Screen Sharing support - including Mac OS X login, clipboard... Read more
DesktopLyrics 2.6.6 - Displays current i...
DesktopLyrics is an application that displays the lyrics of the song currently playing in "iTunes" right on your desktop. The lyrics for the song have to be set in iTunes; DesktopLyrics does nothing... Read more

What the Apple Watch Gets Right, and Wha...
| Read more »
Celebrate PAC-MAN's 35th Birthday W...
BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment America is celebrating PAC-MAN's 35th anniversary by releasing updates for PAC-MAN and PAC-MAN Lite for iOS. [Read more] | Read more »
Strike Wing Episode 2 has Landed on the...
Strike Wing: Raptor Rising is an exciting space combat simulator by Crescent Moon Games, which was recently updated to continue the story with Episode 2. [Read more] | Read more »
This Week at 148Apps: May 18-22, 2015
May Days at 148Apps How do you know what apps are worth your time and money? Just look to the review team at 148Apps. We sort through the chaos and find the apps you're looking for. The ones we love become Editor’s Choice, standing out above the... | Read more »
Biz Builder Delux (Games)
Biz Builder Delux 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $4.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: Ah, there's nothing like the rhythmic bustle of a burgeoning business burg... especially when you're the one building it... | Read more »
Auroch Digital is Bringing Back Games Wo...
| Read more »
Blades of Brim is a New Endless Runner f...
SYBO Games, the minds behind the ever-popular Subway Surfers, have announced their latest project: Blades of Brim. [Read more] | Read more »
Carbo - Handwriting in the Digital Age...
Carbo - Handwriting in the Digital Age 1.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Productivity Price: $3.99, Version: 1.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »
Draggy Dead (Games)
Draggy Dead 1.1 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $.99, Version: 1.1 (iTunes) Description: Ditch your dead end job and take up a rewarding career in Grave Robbing today!Guide the recently deceased to a fun filled life of... | Read more »
Bad Dinos (Games)
Bad Dinos 1.0.0 Device: iOS Universal Category: Games Price: $2.99, Version: 1.0.0 (iTunes) Description: | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

New 13-inch 2.9GHz Retina MacBook Pro on sale...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.9GHz/512GB Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1699.99 including free shipping plus NY tax only. Their price is $100 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price for this model from... Read more
12-inch MacBook stock status for Monday, May...
The new 12″ Retina MacBooks are still on backorder at The Apple Store with a 3-5 week waiting period. However, a few models are in stock today at Apple resellers. Stock is limited, so act now if you’... Read more
New 27-inch 3.3GHz 5K iMac in stock with free...
Adorama has the new 27″ 3.3GHz 5K iMac in stock today for $1999 including free shipping plus NY & NJ sales tax only. Adorama will include a free copy of Apple’s 3-year AppleCare Protection Plan. Read more
Memorial Day Weekend Sale: New 27-inch 3.3GHz...
Best Buy has the new 27″ 3.3GHz 5K iMac on sale for $1899.99 this weekend. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale price for online orders only, in-store prices may vary... Read more
OtterBox Maximizes Portability, Productivity...
From the kitchen recipe book to the boarsroom presentation, the OtterBox Agility Tablet System turns tablets into one of the most versatile pieces of handheld technology available. Available now, the... Read more
Launch of New Car App Gallery and Open Develo...
Automatic, a company on a mission to bring the power of the Internet into every car, has announced the launch of the Automatic App Gallery, an app store for nearly every car or truck on the road... Read more
Memorial Day Weekend Sale: 13-inch 1.6GHz Mac...
Best Buy has the new 13″ 1.6GHz/128GB MacBook Air on sale for $849 on their online store this weekend. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale price for online orders... Read more
Memorial Day Weekend Sale: 27-inch 3.5GHz 5K...
Best Buy has the 27″ 3.5GHz 5K iMac on sale for $2099.99 this weekend. Choose free shipping or free local store pickup (if available). Sale price for online orders only, in-store prices may vary.... Read more
Sale! 16GB iPad mini 3 for $349, save $50
B&H Photo has the 16GB iPad mini 3 WiFi on sale for $349 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $50 off MSRP, and it’s the lowest price available for this model. Read more
Price drop on 2014 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro...
B&H Photo has dropped prices on 2014 15″ Retina MacBook Pros by $200. Shipping is free, and B&H charges NY sales tax only: - 15″ 2.2GHz Retina MacBook Pro: $1799.99 save $200 - 15″ 2.5GHz... Read more

Jobs Board

Project Manager / Business Analyst, WW *Appl...
…a senior project manager / business analyst to work within our Worldwide Apple Fulfillment Operations and the Business Process Re-engineering team. This role will work Read more
*Apple* Retail - Multiple Positions (US) - A...
Sales Specialist - Retail Customer Service and Sales Transform Apple Store visitors into loyal Apple customers. When customers enter the store, you're also the Read more
*Apple* Online Store UAT Lead - Apple (Unite...
**Job Summary** The Apple Online Store is a fast paced and ever evolving business environment. The User Acceptance Testing (UAT) lead in this organization is able to Read more
Payments Counsel, *Apple* Pay (mobile payme...
**Job Summary** Apple is looking for an atto ey to join Apple 's Legal Department to support Apple Pay. **Key Qualifications** 7+ years of relevant experience Read more
Touch Hardware Design and Integration Enginee...
…Summary** Design, develop, and launch next-generation Touch solutions in the new Apple Watch product category. The Touch team develops cutting-edge Touch solutions and Read more
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.