The NeXT Workstation

NeXT Workstation Slab Model A NeXT workstation, 1991. Slab model (as in the movie, 2001; there was also a "cube" model). Barely visible is the Columbia signon graphic. The NeXT was one of the early attempts (but by no means the first) attempt to put a friendly GUI face on UNIX to make it more accessible to the masses (or, conversely, to put a real operating system behind a GUI rather than the disaster that was Windows). The company was founded by Steve Jobs during has absence from Apple; this workstation was to be the "next" hot item after the Macintosh: a Macintosh-like system that emobodied concepts such as memory protection, multiprocessing, multiple users, and security that were absent from the pre-OSX Mac. It was marketed heavily to universities, who snapped it up in vast quantities, but not vast enough to keep the company afloat.

Although the NeXT was not particularly fast, it had a lightning-fast PostScript interpreter because its display was, in fact, Display PostScript (not X). This made the NeXT the ultimate PostScript previewer.

Initially NeXTs were monochrome, but color models soon followed. NeXTs were installed in all Watson Lab offices in the early-to-mid 1990s, as well as in many of Columbia's public labs and in the CU Libraries. The entire population of NeXTs was tied in to our central identify, file, and mail systems and administered centrally by just a handful of people (actually more like one person).

Unfortunately, NeXTs were not built to last; the disks and monitors began to give out after several years; as far as I know, none survive at Columbia.

Image: Scanned from a slightly torn shapshot by Rob Cartolano. A Google image search doesn't turn up any better pictures of Slab-model NeXT.


Frank da Cruz / fdc@columbia.edu / Columbia University Computing History / Jan 2001, revised May 2011.