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.

 
AAPL
$102.25
Apple Inc.
+0.12
MSFT
$44.88
Microsoft Corpora
+0.01
GOOG
$569.20
Google Inc.
-1.80

MacTech Search:
Community Search:

Software Updates via MacUpdate

Cloud 3.0.0 - File sharing from your men...
Cloud is simple file sharing for the Mac. Drag a file from your Mac to the CloudApp icon in the menubar and we take care of the rest. A link to the file will automatically be copied to your clipboard... Read more
LibreOffice 4.3.1.2 - Free Open Source o...
LibreOffice is an office suite (word processor, spreadsheet, presentations, drawing tool) compatible with other major office suites. The Document Foundation is coordinating development and... Read more
SlingPlayer Plugin 3.3.20.505 - Browser...
SlingPlayer is the screen interface software that works hand-in-hand with the hardware inside the Slingbox to make your TV viewing experience just like that at home. It features an array of... Read more
Get Lyrical 3.8 - Auto-magically adds ly...
Get Lyrical auto-magically add lyrics to songs in iTunes. You can choose either a selection of tracks, or the current track. Or turn on "Active Tagging" to get lyrics for songs as you play them.... Read more
Viber 4.2.2 - Send messages and make cal...
Viber lets you send free messages and make free calls to other Viber users, on any device and network, in any country! Viber syncs your contacts, messages and call history with your mobile device,... Read more
Cocktail 7.6 - 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
LaunchBar 6.1 - 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
Maya 2015 - Professional 3D modeling and...
Maya is an award-winning software and powerful, integrated 3D modeling, animation, visual effects, and rendering solution. Because Maya is based on an open architecture, all your work can be scripted... Read more
BBEdit 10.5.12 - Powerful text and HTML...
BBEdit is the leading professional HTML and text editor for the Mac. Specifically crafted in response to the needs of Web authors and software developers, this award-winning product provides a... Read more
Microsoft Office 2011 14.4.4 - Popular p...
Microsoft Office 2011 helps you create professional documents and presentations. And since Office for Mac 2011 is compatible with Office for Windows, you can work on documents with virtually anyone... Read more

Latest Forum Discussions

See All

Hyperlapse Review
Hyperlapse Review By Jennifer Allen on August 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: SPEEDY VIDEO SNAPSUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Want to make a great time-lapse video quickly? Hyperlapse is perfect for that.   | Read more »
Back To Bed Review
Back To Bed Review By Jennifer Allen on August 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: STYLISH BUT LIMITEDUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad It looks gorgeous, but Back to Bed is actually a fairly simple and uneventful puzzle game.   | Read more »
New Cars, New Locations, and a New Seaso...
New Cars, New Locations, and a New Season in Asphalt 8: Airborne Update Posted by Jessica Fisher on August 28th, 2014 [ permalink ] Universal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad | Read more »
Award Winning Children’s Book Bedtime fo...
Bedtime for Sarah Sullivan is a children’s storybook that emphasizes the importance of going to bed, dreams, and those magical moments right before being tucked in. Now Kelly Paniagua, author of the award-winning children’s book, is planning to... | Read more »
Happy Cube Death Arena Review
Happy Cube Death Arena Review By Jordan Minor on August 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: CUBEDUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Happy Cube Death Arena is adorably violent, but very, very shallow.   | Read more »
8bit Doves, the New Game from Icebreaker...
8bit Doves, the New Game from Icebreaker Developers Nitrome, is Now Available – and in Four Colours Posted by Ellis Spice on August 28th, 2014 [ | Read more »
Ace Ferrara and the Dino Menace Review
Ace Ferrara and the Dino Menace Review By Nadia Oxford on August 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: DINO-MYTEUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Ace Ferrara and the Dino Menace combines space combat and weird humor into a fun game... | Read more »
Draw Stuff, Win Prizes. Glorkian Warrior...
Draw Stuff, Win Prizes. | Read more »
Lots of iOS Games Have Been Deeply Disco...
Labor Day is fast approaching, and so are the sales. Lots of sales, by the look of it. This list is already pretty sizable, and we haven’t even made it to the weekend yet. Naturally that means you can expect there to be plenty more price drops and... | Read more »
Letter Pix Review
Letter Pix Review By Jennifer Allen on August 28th, 2014 Our Rating: :: FLAWED WORDPLAYUniversal App - Designed for iPhone and iPad Create words to clear the board and guess a photo underlay correctly in this fun but flawed word... | Read more »

Price Scanner via MacPrices.net

Smartphone Outlook Remains Strong for 2014, U...
According to a new mobile phone forecast from the International Data Corporation (IDC) Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, more than 1.25 billion smartphones will be shipped worldwide in 2014,... Read more
Save up to $60 with Apple refurbished iPod to...
The Apple Store has Apple Certified Refurbished 5th generation iPod touches available starting at $149. Apple’s one-year warranty is included with each model, and shipping is free. Many, but not all... Read more
12-Inch MacBook Air Coming in 4Q14 or 2015 –...
Digitimes’ Aaron Lee and Joseph Tsai report that according to Taiwan-based upstream supply chain insiders, Apple plans to launch a thinner MacBook model either at year end 2014 or in 2015, and that... Read more
Sapphire Screen “Most Wanted” iPhone 6 New Fe...
According to the ‘uSell.com iPhone Most Wanted Survey’ — a representative survey of 1,000 U.S. smartphone users conducted by used iPhone marketplace uSell.com — close to half of all smartphone users... Read more
The iPad’s Real Competitive Challenger (Not S...
It’s been my contention for some time that the iPad is suffering from something of an identity crisis, and I suspect that may be a factor in slackening sales this year. Apple can’t seem to decide... Read more
13-inch 2.6GHz/256GB Retina MacBook Pro on sa...
B&H Photo has the 13″ 2.6GHz/256GB Retina MacBook Pro on sale for $1379 including free shipping plus NY sales tax only. Their price is $120 off MSRP. Read more
Life Inventory iOS Apps – Learn to Know Thyse...
James Hollender’s Life Inventory apps s are now on sale with 20% off thru Labor Day, 09/01/2014. This is a great opportunity to get started on that Moral Inventory you’ve been putting off doing for... Read more
Pocket Watch, LLC. Reveals Cloud Server For P...
Beaumont, Texas based Pocket Watch, LLC. has announced the availability of its new ActivePrint Cloud Server Powered by Raspberry Pi. With this small standalone box almost any USB printer or available... Read more
902it Simplifies Area Code Changes For Nova S...
The east coast Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island are phasing in 10 digit telephone dialing, to be fully in place by November, in order to accommodate a second area code to... Read more
Boomerang iPad Stand Mounts Your iPad Anywher...
Boomerang, a Mountable Stand with Multiple Viewing Angles, is now available for iPad Air. Boomerang combines several functions that aim to expand your iPad’s potential in one, elegant product. The... Read more

Jobs Board

*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* 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
Senior Event Manager, *Apple* Retail Market...
…This senior level position is responsible for leading and imagining the Apple Retail Team's global event strategy. Delivering an overarching brand story; in-store, Read more
*Apple* Solutions Consultant (ASC) - Apple (...
**Job Summary** The ASC is an Apple employee who serves as an Apple brand ambassador and influencer in a Reseller's store. The ASC's role is to grow Apple Read more
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
All contents are Copyright 1984-2011 by Xplain Corporation. All rights reserved. Theme designed by Icreon.