December 1991

NeXT stepping over to 486-based machines

by Laurie Flynn
Redwood City, CA: Seizing an opportunity in the mainstream PC market, NeXT soon will make its NeXTstep operating system available for Intel 486-based computers, according to sources. The announcement is scheduled for early 1992.

The disclosure comes during a period of confusion created by the dissolution of the once mighty IBM/Microsoft alliance and IBM's subsequent realignment with Apple Computer. The offspring of that realignment, Taligent Corporation, is not expected to offer a product for at least two years. Likewise, Microsoft's Windows NT environment, part of the Advanced Computing Environment initiative, isn't expected to be fully object-oriented until late 1992 at the earliest.

Although he declined to comment specifically, NeXT CEO Steve Jobs hinted strongly that NeXTstep soon would become available on more-mainstream platforms than the Motorola-based NeXT computer. "A lot of our customers have told us that there is a lot of iron that they have already bought, and we have listened," said Jobs, speaking at Unix Expo in New York last month. The company confirmed that it is currently running NeXTstep successfully on four different processors in its labs. Some industry sources contend the company is also developing a version of NeXTstep for Sun SPARC systems.

A version of NeXTstep for 486-based machines could open up NeXT's market to millions of PCs at both the workstation and server levels. By the end of 1991, the installed base of 486 machines will be about 850,000, according to Bruce Stephen, analyst at IDC in Framingham, Massachusetts.

"It's clear [Jobs] has to expand his hardware base," said one industry analyst. "If he stuck only to the Motorola he'd have a problem if he wanted to be in the mainstream."

The real question is whether customers of Intel machines would be interested. According to one analyst, that will depend on the customer's application. "If customization is the real issue, probably, but if backward compatibility is the issue, probably not."

The strategy is consistent with NeXT's new emphasis on its object-oriented system software, rather than its hardware. "We believe, and we have been told by our customers, that our system software is one of the most important competitive advantages that we have," said Mike Slade, NeXT's director of marketing.

Estimated growth of 486-based PC market, worldwide



1.9 million

4.5 million

Source: IDC

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