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Saffo: essays: Why the Next Computer Is Like the DeLorean Automobile

Saffo: essays: Why the Next Computer Is Like the DeLorean Automobile

Just stumbled upon this interesting essay, written in 1990 at the time NeXT launched their 2nd generation Workstations. The article compares the NeXT computer with the DeLorian. Good, almost prophetic points, are being made. The design concepts of the DeLorian was adopted by Detroit, and NeXT was eventually acquired by Apple, and the NeXT legacy lives on in the core of the Apple.

What hasn’t happened is that the computer industry, still largely in it’s infancy, hasn’t really seen a consolidation into a “big three”. Today we’re seeing an increasing amount of garage start-ups, thanks to the DIY software tools that are being made. Who could have predicted that an Open Source operating system offered for Free, made practical by a Finish student, could become a serious contender for a “big three” spot.

I’d rather compare the computer industry today, with the time following the rediscovery of mechanised printing by Guttenberg. Thanks to the Internet, projects – many of them with highly questionable business models – are made possible through a global, largely volunteer, work force, willing to invest time to make the projects happen.

At the time when the article was written, the computer industry was largely hardware driven, today it is software driven. The “big three” today are all software companies, Microsoft, Oracle and SAP.

Computer hardware has been commoditised, and only Apple and SUN remains as suppliers of complete solutions, with branded hardware and software. SUN has already changed their strategy towards Open Sourcing their software, and offering Linux as the operating system. At some point Apple will have to follow suit, as the commoditised hardware and software bundles, catches up with the pure aesthetics of OS X. It will, in many ways, be a sad day, because what makes the Mac such a compelling platform, is the fact, that the hardware and software fits so well together.

Finally I return to the topic…It is true that there’s a lack of innovation in the hardware market, and the last real innovation we saw, might have been the NeXT cube, the clamshell configuration of the ordinary laptop, made popular by Toshiba.

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