What's NeXT?

Friday, November 26, 2004

What's NeXT?
Originally uploaded by nardac.
This weekend is my friend, the Buscemi doppelganger's, official computer birthday party. He's celebrating the fact that he's been messing around with bits and bytes for the last 20 years. Pretty impressive.

Ironically, last year was the 20th anniversary of the SVM magazine in France (Science et Vie Micro). I managed to find the anniversary copy from a year ago at the library and it's chockfull of interesting information on the (at that time) latest digital cameras, computers and television screens. The last couple of pages were dedicated to the history of SVM, and it's landmark issues.

For example, on the cover in 1987, is the "Compaq 386," "the fastest portable computer in the world," "with a monochrome plasma screen weighing only 6 to 10 kg!" In 1984, the cover is obviously a little Macintosh, where the critics are shocked, "using a Mac is as simple as that: no document to read, no command to know...the interface by images makes the classic operating systems insipid and laborious." That's 1984!

Reading about the last 20 years of computing made me realize how fast the last 20 years have been. I still remember being the computer monitor in junior high, where there was one Mac, and forty PCs, and I always hogged the Mac. Or being frustrated with Windows 95, even though it was so hype. Even the early days with Amiga and Ataris. Commodore 64s in my classroom where we all were amazed with very stupid games like mine-sweeper.

My first computer was an Atari ST 520, where I first learned how to program my computer into playing a melody. It had no games, worked in monochrome black and white, and had a very unfortunate power button on the top left of the keyboard. I say unfortunate because I remember once, when moving a stack of books, hitting that button and wiping out my sister's essay. She cried.

We kept that computer in my room, me being the geek and all, and only when we moved, in 1992, did we change computers. My parents bought a PC, which I hated. Everytime I loaded a new program, I would inevitably have to phone the helpline, in the US, for details on rewriting files in the autoexec.bat... or other stupid details. I officially got irritated/frustrated with programming with my PC.

Because, even then, I was more interested in using a program to make a sound or image, rather than actually the language used to write a program to do exactly that. I'm not a programmer. I'm a mad computer user. I eventually pestered them, years later, to burning the PCs and getting me a Mac. Never looked back.

Going back to SVM, I noticed something curious under 1988: the NeXT Computer, put out by Steve Jobs when he got kicked out of Apple. It's a black cube, with no built in hard drive or floppy. It takes removable magneto-optical disks, each of about 256MB, with optional hard disk, floppy (2.88MB) and CD drive. It featured a fully image based interface, modem, and was colour upgradeable. Never heard of it before? Me neither.

But think about it, it's a black cube computer in 1988. Looking at the photographs, one can't help but admire how Jobs was always interested in the value of aesthetic appeal when using a computer. Apparently, the interface of NeXT, which Jobs bought the rights over before he left, is the basis of Mac OSX.

Furthermore, and this is interesting, Tim Berners Lee built the first version of the World Wide Web using a NeXT!!! Incredible. They are still used in some remote places as a server.

Anyways, I'm off to see the Buscemi in a couple of hours and hopefully pick up more useful nerd-o facts. If you want to know more about this, and other cool archaic computers, go to this wicked old computers website. CPU later.