Columbia University Computing History   

The NeXT Workstation

NeXTs (both slabs and cubes) 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.

NeXT workstation
NeXT workstation (slab); image: [1]
NeXT workstation
NeXT Cube; image: [2]
NeXT workstation
NeXT slab at Columbia[4]
Left: The NeXT workstation, 1991, "slab" model (as in the film 2001 Space Odyssey; there was also a "cube" model). Barely visible in the right-hand image is the Columbia signon graphic. The NeXT was one of the early attempts (but by no means the first) 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 his 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. As I recall, we bought hundreds of NeXTs and put them everywhere. If you walked into one of the public NeXT areas you could log in to any one of them as if you were logging into the central Cunix system, and have access to all your own files.

Although the NeXT was not particularly fast, it had a lightning-fast PostScript[5] 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. 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.

  1. NeXT Computer, Wikipedia, accessed 30 March 2021.
  2. NeXTcube, Wikipedia, accessed 30 March 2021.
  3. NeXT (company), Wikipedia, accessed 30 March 2021.
  4. Snapshot by Rob Cartolano, 1991.
  5. PostScript (page description language), Wikipedia, accessed 30 March 2021.
Columbia University Computing History Frank da Cruz / This page created: January 2001 Last update: 30 March 2021