[rescue] NeWS (was: FS/FTGH: Sun kit)

Skeezics Boondoggle skeezics at q7.com
Wed Jan 18 20:08:02 CST 2006

Bah!  Was gone all day (put on my "job interview hat") and now I have to 
go fix a stuck garbage disposal (the "landlord hat") and then go get 
mildly pissed and play drums (the "band practice hat") - it's a full day. 

Hopeless trying to get caught up with the thread, so a few parting shots:

Obviously everyone has their own UI preferences; my main point with 
NeXTSTEP is that on the whole, I haven't seen a system in 25 years that 
has the same sense of "completeness", of overall fit and finish as the 
combination of black hardware, the GUI, the apps, the development tools, 
etc.  The integration they achieved was crunchy through and through; even 
on hardware that by today's standards is rather wimpy, NeXT apps always 
felt solid and snappy; clicking and dragging and scrolling always felt 
like there were solid underpinnings - unlike systems like, say, Windows 
(layered atop DOS) or X (layered on Unix, or VMS, etc).  Grab and drag a 
window - no artifacts.  Grab a scroll bar - smooth from top to bottom. 
And so on.

As for looks, I found the minimalist approach refreshing; I don't think 
NeXT apps "waste" screen space at all.  A simple title bar and minimal 
footer on resizeable windows, compared to the decoration that CDE/Motif or 
other WMs use?  With beautiful icons, the careful use of color, and with a 
clean, consistent widget set - that didn't end up degenerating into 
endless goofy little variations, the entire NeXTSTEP experience showed 
amazing attention to detail.  It was a _joy_ to use a NeXT machine every 
day, starting right out of the box, without fuss - never having to tweak a 
config file to fiddle with "resources", never having to muck about with 
init scripts, or deal with programs linked against different toolkits 
misbehaving (or just behaving completely differently) under whichever WM 
you happened to prefer.

Obviously, as a closed system there were advantages and disadvantages. 
If you didn't like it, you couldn't change it.  My one major complaint, 
coming from X, was the lack of a point-to-focus option - but someone wrote 
a brilliant little DPS patch that fixed that. :-)

MacOS, from version 7 up through 9, started to spawn all sorts of new and 
annoying little widgets; Windows was plagued with that from day one. 
Aqua is now undergoing the same thing - from version to version, Apple 
can't seem to stop tinkering with their look and feel.  Part of the appeal 
of a system like NeXTSTEP is that it was well thought out from the 
beginning - and the development tools provided made it easy to create apps 
that stuck to the UI guidelines.  Moreover, the extensive support built-in 
for standard dialogs, for color pickers and font panels and inspectors and 
all the stuff that people seem _compelled_ to reinvent on every other GUI 
made it easy to create non-trivial NeXT apps that looked and behaved 
predictably.  Virtually every graphical application I use with regularity 
on X11, to this day, behaves in a completely different manner:  xfig, xv, 
Acrobat Reader, Netscape, Legato Networker, xterm, rxvt, olvwm, ghostview, 
etc. etc. - it's a complete hodgepodge.

Am I still more productive on a Sun, given that I still use all these 
varied apps, than I am on, say, Windows?  Hell yes.  But it's still 
annoying.  And X11 has been around for _years_ longer, was "open" for 
development by a far larger community, and yet NeXT - a small company - 
managed to accomplish (IMHO) far more with far less.  Why?  How is it that 
the X Consortium, with so many huge companies and countless thousands of 
paid and volunteer programmers out there banging away on X, still haven't 
produced a system that was as seamless as a dead OS like NeXTSTEP?  They 
were all too busy writing their own toolkits instead of end-user apps?

Obviously a modern X-based desktop - any Linux or BSD installation today 
is going to be far more up-to-date than my Solaris 7 box at home - 
addresses some of the issues I've talked about.  But look at the resources 
required - CPU, memory, and disk space - to support any "modern" Unix+X 
compared to the fully-functional NeXT Color Turbo - a 33Mhz box with a 
400MB disk... what has happened to software engineering in the last 10 

And a decade before that, one of those _funky_ and completely proprietary 
systems I love most is SAPPHIRE on top of Accent, running on the PERQ 
workstation.  With 16K of writeable control store, CMU packed the OS 
kernel, the hard disk and Ethernet drivers, *two* instruction sets 
(C/Pascal/FORTRAN, *and* a tagged Lisp ISA) with room left over for 
user-written microcode.  The rest of the OS supported up to 64 overlapping 
windows running the native shell environment, a Unix emulator AND the Lisp 
environment - in 1 megaword of RAM, running from a 24MB hard disk.

So with a machine on my desk with two orders of magnitude more power and 
capacity running X still can't seem to get it right, it just makes me 

Ultimately, though, it still comes down to individual preference.  Steve 
Jobs, driving the NS GUI and (presumably) sticking his micromanaging self 
into ongoing Aqua development, has always been a UI fascist.  If you like 
tinkering with every freaking UI element, "skinning" your this and that, 
picking from a thousand different gaudy color schemes, tweaking your 
.Xdefaults (or .xresources, or .Xdesktop, or WTFever) then obviously the 
more customizable environment will make you happier.  Sometimes I do like 
to goof around with that stuff; but often I just want the UI to be simple, 
clean, and stay the hell out of my way.

So on one of my SS20s, I run the (beta) OpenStep desktop, just for grins. 
Best of both worlds. :-)


-- Chris

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