3.675 more on NeXT (77)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Tue, 31 Oct 89 18:10:34 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 675. Tuesday, 31 Oct 1989.

Date: Tue, 31 Oct 89 09:47:56 -0800
From: Malcolm Brown <mbb@jessica.Stanford.EDU>
Subject: NeXT

Oliver Berghof asked about the use of the NeXT for humanities. Here are
some of my reactions.

This big news is that NeXT has finally shipped version 1.0 of their
operating system, and it's a pleasure to use. Things have settled down
considerably and, mirabile dictu, they *work* (er...well, they "mostly"

For those who have never worked with one, the NeXT environment is like a
Macintosh, in that it offers a graphical user interface (GUI... yes,
groan, there goes another one). This interface, in addition to being
aesthetically pleasing, maintains a degree of "resemblance" across
applications. This makes it inituitively easy for the user to use a new

In addition, the NeXT computer offers a sophisticated inter-process
communication capability. Applications "talk" to one another: for
example, the digital librarian can launch a text editor when needed. If
you double-click on an icon representing a TeX DVI file, the TeX
Previewer is automagically launched. Moreover, if the Previewer finds
it needs additional font bit maps, it starts up Metafont (again
automagically) to get them. It seems to me that the NeXT environment
takes the graphical user interface one step further, in that it combines
the consistency and ease of use of the GUI with a robust inter-process
communications. Anyone who has moved from a single application
microcomputer to a multitasking computer knows how difficult it is to
"move back"; I feel the same is the case with the NeXT. So there's a
good deal to recommend here.

I must say, nevertheless, that I find Oliver's assertion that the system
"includes a fair amount of tools for HUMANISTs" to need a good deal of
qualification. Aside from the working environment described above, what
does the system offer a humanist? The on-line Webster dictionary
certainly enhances the overall working environment, but it hardly
represents anything revolutionary. The digital librarian, while another
fine enhancement, doesn't begin to have the power to be a significant
text analysis tool. Indeed, our conversations with NeXT seem to
indicate that they had no plans to make the librarian more powerful,
which made it necessary for us (at Stanford) to embark on the
development of a completely different text analysis tool.

WriteNow? It's useful to have a decent word processor built-in, but
WriteNow is not (nor was intended to be) a Nota Bene or WordPerfect. I
don't see the "typical" HUMANIST programming SyBase, using Mathematica,
or writing code for the digital sound (DSP) chip. The Interface Builder
is precisely that: it builds an interface to an application but does not
provide the application itself.

At the present time, applications significant for scholarship are
lacking. Indeed, version 1.0 doesn't even support diacritics!! (One
could do a kludge fix of this, but, again, it requires that you know
enough PostScript to be able to re-encode the character sets).

I suggest that the NeXT system provides the foundations for an excellent
workstation for the humanist scholar. I'd say it goes a fair way in
merging the best of Unix and the Macintosh. Hence the operating system
certainly provides the environment for an excellent workstation for the
scholar. We'll have to see how quickly the NeXT computer can be
furnished with applications that have the sophistication required by

Malcolm Brown
Stanford University