I needed a new computer around 1990 - a usable one, not a Windoze machine, and sadly Linux had yet to be created - and so I began thinking about buying a brand-new, state-of-the-art NeXT. Never mind that I would have had to refinance my home in order to buy it; it was one of the most powerful systems available at the time, based on the remarkable Motorola 68040 microprocessor, and being an admitted and confessed (and, now, slowly recovering) computer geek I decided I simply had to have the latest in awe-inspiring technology lying around on my desk.
I could afford a small Mac. But I wanted a NeXT.
As much as I wanted it, however, having to refinance my home to purchase it was a daunting prospect. I found myself going back and forth between the two machines almost obsessively, caught between the sheer power of the one and the affordability of the other. I investigated both machines and made copious notes of the comparisons between the two. In time I found that I had written a description of my dilemma, using words which were not exactly my own.
Polonius I hear him coming. Let's withdraw, my lord. (POLONIUS and CLAUDIUS exit. Enter HAMLET.) Hamlet To buy a NeXT, or not to buy a NeXT, that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer The slings and arrows of mundane computer equipment, Or to take arms against a sea of Apples And by not buying end them. To buy a NeXT - to go into debt, No more, and by borrowing we say to end the heartache And the thousand natural shocks that inferior data processing equipment Is heir to. 'Tis a consummation Devoutly to be wished. To buy a NeXT - to go into debt. To owe, perchance to be foreclosed - - aye, there's the rub! For in that debt to NeXT what payments may come When we have shuffled off this sensible-budget coil Must give us pause. There's the respect That makes popular cheap 68020-based machines....
Writing all this was entertaining. However, even after finishing the entire soliloquy from memory I felt no closer to an actual solution to the problem.
Feeling the need for more information, I called up NeXT's 1-800 number to request they send information about their machines. After several attempts to get through, I finally was able to leave my name and address. After I had waited patiently for a couple of weeks, called again, and waited patiently and called again a few more times, they eventually decided to mail me information and a price list - information which took so long to arrive that I looked at the postmark carefully to see if it had been sent Eighth Class, Special Handling, Mule Frieght.
I also subscribed to NeXTWorld, a magazine which declared itself the "only comprehensive source of news and information" about the NeXT. NeXTWorld was much quicker to reply, but for some mysterious reason known only to themselves they later decided they should renege on the original subscription terms... and charge me a dollar more per issue than it would have cost me at the newsstand.
This didn't strengthen my desire to buy a NeXT.
Hamlet Fuck the NeXT anyway, I'll buy a Mac. Horatio How now, my lord? Hamlet Look you, Horatio, at these words. For Rosencrantz and Guildenstern hath gone with me to England, therein to make me pay $23.95 for four - but four - issues of NeXTWorld's utt'rances; yet would the lowly greengrocer sell me the same words for $19.80 plus sales tax. Something is rotten in NeXTWorld. And yet I could be bound in a nutshell and count myself ruler of infinite space, were it not that I get the same fucking treatment from NeXT's sales staff. There are more things on heaven and earth, Horatio, than you can get from their fucking 800 number. Horatio Look there, my lord! Someone approaches. Hamlet Hie thee, Horatio. We'll acquaint ourselves against their apportions. (Enter KING CLAUDIUS, LAERTES, and STEVE JOBS.) Claudius And for another, let us say, three hundred units shall we dedicate to the financial- Hamlet What, more sins commit? But now is judgement for your monstrous crimes! Laertes Ah! Ah! By the AK-47 I am touched. Claudius Ah! These bullets like daggers pierce my flesh. Hamlet Et tu, Stevie? Bite the bullet thou mustest. S. Jobs "Mustest"? Hamlet Feel you the hot tongue of the steel of Elsinore! Ah, he dies, Horatio!
NeXTWorld continued sending me invoices, and I continued to send them back along with letters and phonecalls saying they were incorrect. "Your invoice says that, 'As a charter subscriber, you are a very important person to us at NeXTWorld'," one letter quoted. "I would find this easier to believe if my first letter on this subject had not been completely ignored." I even started sending photocopies of their original subscription order card, just in case they'd forgotten what they looked like. They continued to ignore every communication I gave them, and so I finally phoned them up in disgust and cancelled the subscription.
On another front, NeXT had finally delivered information and a comprehensive price list. While I was still impressed with the quality of their machines, the ineptitude of the mailings had left a bad taste in my mouth. The idea of having to actually pay NeXT's fixed and unbending asking-prices was a sore and painful idea to begin with, but the sheer incompetence of NeXT's marketing and NeXTWorld's staff made the idea even more repulsive.
I found myself wondering if I should buy a computer at all. My other hobbies were beginning to sound increasingly appealing.
Hamlet Get thee to a woodworking store! Wouldst thou be a breeder of computer geeks? I consider myself indifferent fun-loving, yet I could accuse myself of such geekish, nerdy, computer-lusting behaviour that it might be better if I'd never heard of programming. Ophelia Why dost thou stop, my lord? Hamlet I can't remember how the rest of the speech goes.
In spite of all this, however, the NeXT was still perilously appealing. The beauty and capability of the hardware were so great that they still held my attention, in spite of the best efforts of NeXT marketing and NeXTWorld to discourage me from buying one. My interest in the then-brand-new 68040-based machine refused to ebb.
Steve Jobs' creation refused to leave me alone.
(Enter HAMLET and HORATIO.) Horatio My lord, I think I saw him last night. Hamlet Who? Horatio My lord, Steve Jobs, the computer designer. Hamlet Importune me no further with this, whatever that means. Horatio No, really. He came to these fellows, Marcellus and Bernardo, and they then bade me accompany them on their watch. And at the hour of night, his figure came upon the battlements. We bade it speak, and it feigned as if it would, but then the morning cock didst announce the dawn, and he left. Hamlet You know, this is sounding less and less like Shakespeare all the time. Horatio If I couldst but find my copy o' the damned play, my lord, I'd work on it. Hamlet I would see this ghost. Horatio Well, you're in luck, my lord. There he is now. (Enter the GHOST OF STEVE JOBS.) Hamlet What wouldst thou say? Speak, I'll go no further! Ghost I am thy computer designer's ghost, Doomed for a time to walk the night - - Hamlet Yeah, yeah, skip all that. What do you want? Ghost I want you to buy a computer you cannot afford. Hamlet Look you, I shotst thou full of holes With an AK-47 some fourteen pages ago. Ghost And thereby hangs a tale. Yet still I would suggest That a 68040 processor is worth your first mortgage. Thou needest a computer. Buy one! It hast NeXTStep, and a thousand interface options That thou wouldst pray for on other systems. Hamlet You're dead. I killed you. I didst reject The idea that I couldst afford your damn'd, Foul machinery. What a piece of work is a NeXT! How noble in processing! In design, in layout, how like a CRAY! In storage, How like an optical disk! In ease of use, how like a Mac! Yet all these fair things would I give up, because I haven't got A million zillion jillion dollars to pour into them. Ghost You'll be back. Here: here's a copy of our 800 number. (Exit GHOST.)
I began investigating other options, such as a computer based on the INMOS/S.G.S. Thompson T-9000 (a terribly fast microprocessor built specifically for parallel, multiprocessor use). The machine itself was apparently very capable, but the documentation for it (particularly compared to Motorola's excellent manuals) left a lot to be desired.
But a new factor had entered the equation. Beryl, my girlfriend at the time, was working for a computer store in town that had just begun carrying the NeXT. The money I had saved in the bank, along with a surprising IRS refund and Beryl's employee discount, suddenly put me into the position where I could walk into the store and buy a NeXT that day if I chose to.
(Enter HAMLET along with the INMOS/S.G.S. THOMPSON ACTING COMPANY.) Hamlet Write your T-9000 technical manual, I pray you, so that I could pronounce it to you, trippingly on the tongue. Nor do not mouth it full of useless asides, as Microsoft writers do, or I would as lief Bill Gates spoke the lines. And do not saw the air so much with your development system, thus, but use all gently; for in the torrent, tempest, and (as I may say) confusion of your manual, you must acquire and beget an overall view of the processor that will give it sensibility. Oh, it offends me to the soul to hear some engineer-lab-coated fellow tear a sentence to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the end-users, who (for the most part) are capable only of spreadsheets and video games. I would have such a fellow whipped for doing a Motorola manual. It out-Intels Intel. Pray you avoid it. SGS Rep. We warrant your honor. Hamlet Like hell you do. You didn't even provide an index on the thing, for God's sake. And there are a number of critical facts you've left out - - for example, how does your "Shift Left" instruction work? Which number is divided by which in "Divide"? What do you use for the condition in the "conditional jump"? And if it's the A-register, is it popped off the stack? Things like that. SGS Rep. If you just bought the development system, m'lord, you wouldn't need to know. Hamlet Spare me your development system! S'wounds, if I could afford your development system, I'd just buy a NeXT! SGS Rep. It's our job to sell development systems. Hamlet And what about the innovative experimenter? Is he too in need of your development system? SGS Rep. Of course he is. He can't do it himself because the documentation is inadequate. Hamlet Treachery! Out with it! How now, a rat? Dead for a ducat, dead! (HAMLET slays every member of the INMOS/S.G.S. THOMPSON ACTING COMPANY.) Hamlet Thou wretched, rash, intruding fools, farewell! I took thee for engineers. Take thy fortune! Thou find'st to write inadequate documentation is some danger. (Enter HORATIO.) Horatio My lord, what is it? Hamlet A bunch of dead INMOS representatives. I'd have put it differently, but I can't think of a Shakespearian way to say it. What bring'st you here? Horatio My lord, I am here to say you have twelve thousand dollars in the bank. The NeXT is within your reach. The only question Is if you would reach out your hand to take it. Hamlet Would I? I don't know anymore, Horatio. Though the NeXT is the most excellent machine at present, It is also the most costly machine, And it has ludicrous, useless, non-existent support. Yet the newest Mac, that venerable machine, Is now old and frail and pathetically slow, Yet at least one could purchase the Mac LC Without fear of drowning in one's own debt. Wouldst thou exchange this cost for that frailty? Oh, Horatio, if only I wouldst buy a woodworking shop And while away the happy hours at my craft...
Ironically, it was those staunch proponents of the NeXT at NeXTWorld magazine who ultimately helped me to make the decision. After several months of silence, they abruptly mailed me the latest copy of NeXTWorld along with a letter thanking me for my new (!) subscription request. The accompanying invoice indicated that they were finally willing to abide by the original subscription terms they had promised half a year earlier.
Needless to say, however, I was no longer interested.
In an effort to be polite I wrote several letters to mail back to them about the situation, but they all came out looking like this one:
...What the hell do you people do with your correspondence, anyway? Bury it? I would have thought that several letters and four months' worth of answering-time would have been sufficient to net me at least a reply. It seems, however, that only by cancelling my subscription could I get any attention... and even then your reply consisted only of preprinted postcards and invoices for a new subscription I didn't order.I just didn't care enough to be angry any more, though, so I eventually dropped the letter idea entirely and simply telephoned them to cancel the new subscription. (The phonecall was positively cheerful. I was burned out of anger, and the woman who answered the call seemed to intuitively understand that even before I spoke. If they could have fired all the executives and put her in charge, maybe their organization would have been worth something.)
By the way, while we're on the subject, by what unimaginable stretch of the intellect did you conclude that I wanted to renew the subscription I had so forcibly cancelled?...
I suppose I should be thankful to NeXTWorld, in a way. They demonstrated with amazing clarity and force exactly how much good the NeXT would do for me. My decision was clear at last.
(A field south of Elsinore. Enter HAMLET and HORATIO.) Horatio But the situation remains, my lord, that the moment I finish off my speech about the ghost on the battlements I get hardly any decent dialogue. "'Tis so, my lord," "I don't know, my lord," "T'were true, m'lord," and so on. Hamlet I wouldn't give those lines to a dog. (Enter ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN bearing documents.) Guilden. What! Ho! My lord. Rosencr. Ho! There, my lord! Hamlet Their dialogue's worse than yours. My most excellent friends! Come, thou art welcome. But didst I think thou were both still in England, Bound by letters in earnest tone That wouldst cancel my interest in NeXTWorld. Guilden. And from there we bring you earnest reply. They have reconsidered, my lord. They are willing To meet their original subscription terms once more. Hamlet What! Only seven months too late? Rosencr. They send you this copy of NeXTWorld #4, along with These invoices and a postcard which states thew new terms. Hamlet And no apology, I see. Will you play this? (Hands ROSENCRANTZ a recorder.) Rosencr. I can not, my lord. Hamlet And you? Guilden. My lord, I have not the art. Hamlet And yet you would play me; you would sound me from my lowest note to the top of my voice, yet you say you can not produce music from this, though it is full of most excellent sound. Mark you this, my friends: Though you may fret me, you cannot play upon me. Rosencr. We can play you for a sucker, m'lord. (HORATIO pushes HAMLET aside and slays ROSENCRANTZ and GUILDENSTERN.) Hamlet For this relief much thanks. Horatio Anything to increase the size of my part, m'lord. (Two CLOWNS enter and begin digging a grave.) Hamlet I think this decides it, Horatio. Here they lie, the incompetents o' NeXTWorld. The "only comprehensive source of news and Information" about NeXT computing, and they can't even settle Their own subscription offer. My point, Horatio: if NeXT's flagship periodical be so importune, Why, then; how capable is't their computer can be? I. Clown (Sings.) Oh, once I owned a fast machine, As mighty as a CRAY; But only bought word processors And games to while the day. (Throws out a skull.) Hamlet What knave is this? I'll speak to him. Here now, fellow; You sing songs of data processing and throw up skulls. Whose skull is this? I. Clown 'Tis Yorick's, the King's once jester. Hamlet This? I. Clown E'en that. Hamlet Alas, poor Yorick! Never heard of him, Horatio. (The CLOWNS unearth a coffin and raise it up.) And whose is this? I. Clown 'Tis the case of Steve Jobs, the computer designer. Hamlet At last! Now comes the time, and the time well met. Throw back the lid, Horatio; lt us confront it, and end the madness. Come, to 't. No more! Speak, were ye man or daemon. Speak to 't! (The UNDEAD BODY AND SPIRIT OF STEVE JOBS appears.) S. Jobs What's to speak of? 68040 processor. Sound capabilities. Mega-Pixel monitor. NeXTStep. Tons of bundled software. WriteNow word processor. Digital signal processor. A fully-integrated package. Let's face it, now: we've got a sale. Hamlet What's to speak of? No technical support. An Internet you can't provide access to. No expansion capabilities without a Cube. Huge price tags from all outside developers as they try to recoup their investment. No games! A keyboard that even NeXTWorld says is useless! Talk that you're going to drop the 68040, leaving users to either update and rebuild their software or be abandoned! A support office that Steve Barlow says is harder to get than an audience with the Pope! A Digital Librarian which even Dan Lavin admits he can't find a good use for! No contact with the market except through NeXTWorld! The dropping of all the word processors from your bundled software! A NeXT 800-number full of marketing people who take five months to send you a fucking price-list! Let's face it, now: we've got a loser! (HAMLET pounds a stake through the undead heart of STEVE JOBS.) Well: that ought to do it. (Enter FORTINBRAS with AIDES, SOLDIERS, &c.) Fortinbr. But will this truly end it? Guy Kawasaki once said that medicine will cure death and government will abolish taxes before Steve Jobs will fail. Hamlet But he just did fail. It's over. That's it. Let's go get that router. (Exeunt. Curtain.)