a report on NeXT's announcement

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Seth Ross

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Sep 26, 1990, 2:38:04 AM9/26/90
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Here is an account of the NeXT rollout that will describe it for those who
were not present but who may be curious:

NeXT Introduces New NeXT Computers
A Report from Davies Symphony Hall
San Francisco, California

On September 18, 1990, Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco was packed as NeXT
President and CEO Steve Jobs strolled out to share the stage with four
computers. The nineties are the age of interpersonal, rather than personal,
computing, Jobs told the faithful as he unveiled a new line of computers built
around the Motorola 68040 microprocessor. Jobs reflected on NeXT's original
product announcement in the same hall two years ago and identified four common
complaints about his company's first computer:
too slow
too expensive
not enough applications
no color

Jobs first unveiled the NeXTstation, a compact pizza-box shaped unit .
According to Jobs, NeXTstation runs three times as fast as NeXT's original
computer, and is comparable in performance to the fastest desktop computers. A
complete system sells at a suggested retail price of $4995, which includes a
105 megabyte hard disk, a 2.88 megabyte floppy drive, a 17" monochrome monitor
with built-in speakers and microphone, keyboard and mouse. So much for too slow
and too expensive.

Jobs outlined four major application areas for the NeXT: 1) spreadsheets and
analysis (a market dominated by PCs) ; 2) desktop publishing (a market
dominated by the Macintosh) ; 3) custom apps (a market dominated by Sun); and
4) interpersonal computing (a market NeXT plans to dominate in the '90s).

For the spreadsheet/analysis market, Jobs said that there would soon be three
products: Lotus Improv, Ashton-Tate Powerstep, and Informix Wingz. He
introduced Jim Manzi, President and CEO of Lotus, who said that Improv was the
result of a four-year long research effort to design the next generation of
spreadsheets. In an ironic parody of computer evalengism, Manzi told the
audience that Lotus was redesigning the spreadsheet for the NeXT computer
because "God wanted us to." Manzi hailed Improv, with its use of natural
language spreadsheet formulas and "dynamic" viewing abilities, as a continued
step in the liberation of computer users, whom he likened to medieval monks
about to encounter the invention of moving type. Rather than talk to software,
users will now be one step closer to the data itself, according to Manzi.

For the desktop publishing market, Jobs introduced Alan Ashton, the President
and Founder of Wordperfect. Ashton wowed the audience with a demonstration of
Wordperfect for the NeXT, the first 100% WYSIWIG version of the program. This
highly intuitive application is fully compatible with and contains all the
features of Wordperfect 5.0.

Jobs spoke at length about "interpersonal computing," and showed off NeXTmail,
a multimedia mail program that allows for the seamless integration of voice
messages, images, and any kind of document into the text of electronic mail
messages. As part of NextStep 2.0, users will be able to easily fax a document
from a variety of applications, and receive faxes that are read by Optical
Character Recognition software developed by HSD.

Jobs spent a session running NeXT's Interface Builder, a programming tool that
eases the software development process. Jobs was easily able to use the program
to throw together a front end for a database server.

So much for not enough applications. The Fall 1990 Software and Peripherals
Catalog describes 78 commercial software products and 26 peripheral products.

The introduction of two color computers was the climax of the announcement. A
NeXT cube with a NeXTdimension board can generate and display 32-bit Postscript
color, a full 16 million colors on a 16" Sony Trinitron monitor that is
compatible with NTSC video standards. The color video board fits into one of
the NeXT cube's expansion slots and includes an Intel i860 graphics copressor
and a video compression chip. Jobs demonstrated the computer's color
capabilities by running a full-motion and full-color clip from "The Wizard of
Oz" in a window on the computer's screen, followed by a brief live video
session which captured a smiling Jobs waving his arms in front of the computer
and on the computer screen simulaneously. The NeXTdimension computer will sell
at a list price of $13990. A "baby color" version of the NeXTstation capable of
displaying 4096 colors will also be available for $7995, which includes the
Sony color monitor and the "pizza box" computer unit configured with 12
megabytes of memory.

So much for no color.

Gone is the 256 megabyte optical disk drive that shipped standard in the
original NeXT cube. All three new computers have IBM-compatible 3.5" disk
drives that read and write 2.88 megabytes of data. The optical disk is now an
option for cube-based models to be offered at a suggested retail price of
$2995. The price NeXT's 400 dpi laser printer has been cut in half; the
suggested retail is $1795.

Jobs told the audience that NeXT has recieved 15,000 orders for its new line of
computers, a number which should triple the company's installed base of users.
All current NeXT users will be offered an upgrade path: they can purchase the
new 68040 board for $1495.

This suggested retail price/availability chart is from NeXT's press release:
NeXTstation system $4,995 November 1990
NeXTcube system $7,995 November 1990
NeXTstation color $7,995 Q1 1991
NeXTdimension board $3,995 Q1 1991

A sidelight: at the conclusion of press conference, Jobs asked the press
gathered on the stage of Davies Hall for a show of hands of those who thought
NeXT would succeed. The response was only a little better than 50-50.

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