So we zoom out and we say, how have people attacked operational productivity with information technology? Well, in the ’60s, they bought a mainframe, and they got some terminals and a bunch of COBOL programmers, and they wrote a few apps. And most of them were kind of back-room apps. And it sort of worked for the very few that could afford to do this.
In the ’70s, they got a mainframe and some terminals, and they did the same thing. And a few of them got a few mini computers and terminals and tried to do it a little cheaper.
In the ’80s, nothing changed. Mainframe and terminals, minis and terminals. Until maybe about two or three years ago.
What happened two or three years ago was that the front office started to realize that they needed operational apps so bad that they couldn’t depend on the MIS folks anymore. They started taking life into their own hands and sometimes working with the MIS folks to start downsizing and getting some servers and running some industry-standard databases like Sybase or Oracle in the servers, and making a little local area network, and getting maybe some Sun Workstations, and spending about two years writing some mission-critical operational applications. Like trading apps for Wall Street, perfect example.
And it kind of worked. And the reason that they needed to do this was because more and more, they were discovering that things like new products required a custom operational application. An example, if you’re in financial services and you come up with a new product, it’s only three things. It’s an idea, it’s a sales force, and it’s a custom app to bang on databases to make the product real, to do the mortgage swaps or whatever it is you want to do.
Without the app, you don’t have a product.
And so there has been an increasing buildup of demand from the front parts of corporations to create more and more and more of these operational applications. And I think it’s going to get to the point where this becomes fairly clear that this is the next big revolution in desktop computing, is to attack the operational productivity.
And as we start to re-engineer the way we do things, to automate a lot of this in custom applications. Sounds a little strange now, to most people. Sounds like desktop publishing in 1985. Nobody knew what it was, everybody thought it was kind of a strange vertical thing over there.
But my guess is it’s pretty horizontal. And we’re attacking vertical markets now that know they want this. And it’s going extremely well. Sun is the only company that’s really had any success at this, and we’re knocking them out of the box.
Because we came up with the software called NeXTSTEP which lets you build apps five to 10 times faster than anything anyone’s ever seen. And after you build them, they’re deployable and usable by mere mortals, because it’s really easy to use, this computer. And you can interoperate your custom apps seamlessly with a bunch of off-the-shelf productivity apps.
So we go to these companies that use Suns and take two years to write their apps — or are thinking about using Suns, and they can write their apps in about 90 days on a NeXT.
Now, if you’re on Wall Street and you can create a new product in 90 days versus your competitor in two years, that’s eight new products you can field for their every one. And you can start to see the competitive advantage that can be created this way.
Now, we had no idea that we were any good at this when we started NeXT. A lot of times you don’t know what your competitive advantage is when you launch a new product. Let me give you historical example.
When we created — how many of you guys use Macs? Anybody? Good.
How many of you have seen a NeXT? Oh, how many of you use a NeXT? Oh, that’s not so bad. We’d like to change that ratio a little bit. We’re on the right track.
When we did the Macintosh, we never anticipated desktop publishing when we created the Mac. Sounds funny, because that turned out to be the Mac’s compelling advantage, right? The thing that it did not one and a half or two times better than everything else, but four or five times better than anything else, where you had to have one.
We never anticipated it. We anticipated bitmap displays and laser printers, but we never thought about page maker, that whole industry really coming down to the desktop. Maybe we weren’t smart enough.
But we were smart enough to see it start to happen nine to 12 months later. And we changed our entire marketing and business strategy to focus on desktop publishing, and it became the Trojan horse that eventually got the Mac into corporate America, where it could show its owners all the other wonderful things it could do.