Issue 1-10, February 14, 1996

Be OS Contest

Over the last few weeks we've received 287 entries for the "Name the Be OS" contest, many of which were great, and others of which were....ummm....interesting. In parallel we've also been talking to partner companies, members of the media, and others whose feedback we value. And after extensive deliberation, we've decided that the winning name is...

The Be Operating System (Be OS)

We received a wide array of suggestions from every area. But we also received a large number of responses that suggested that we "keep it as clear and simple as possible." It's hard to argue with this advice.

In keeping with the spirit of the competition, the ten prize-winning entries (selected at random) are:

  • BeCAUSE (Be Creative and Understandable Software Environment), by David Sinclair

  • BeWare, by Su-Ju Wang

  • BBOS (Brigitte Bardot? Oh yeS), by Patrick Loge

  • Beyond, by Pierre-Nicolas Lapointe

  • BeFM (Be File Management), by Matt Pauker

  • BeBase (BeBox Application System Environment), by Jerry Decker

  • BeACH, by Chris Dunphy

  • BeDO (Be Digital OS), by Alex Block.

  • BeATYCB (Be All That you can Be-BeBox), by David Ascher

  • BEDROCK (Be Dynamic Realtime Operating Code Kernel), by Eddy Carroll

Congratulations! These ten people will receive a Be T-shirt very soon! And thanks to all of you for your participation!

Be Engineering Insights: What's Wrong with this GIF Image?

By Doug Fulton

With more swash than buckle, the big computer shops impress my drooling cousins from Nebraska through the medium America uses to display its funniest home videos. My favorite opens on 80-year-old Giuseppe strolling the vineyard with his (ahem) "granddaughter" as he explains, in a curiously reverential whisper, that he has just completed his degree (discipline unrevealed) from The University of Godforsaken Indiana, such accomplishment made possible through the benevolence of the Internet-savvy folks at IBM (or maybe it's Microsoft—they all look the same from here). The commercial ends with Giovanni peering weepily into the near heavens and proclaiming

"It's a wonderful time to be alive."

Excuse me, Gian-Carlo: You live in a villa on the south slope of the Monte Trecchio; you amble timeless through the family vineyard with your ebon-eyed mistress (they can't fool me), barefoot and grape-stained to the calves, sidling at half an arm's length—and you think it's a great time to be alive because of the Internet? Hie thee to a chat room. That'll cure you.

(Not to knock the Internet—Be has certainly been well served by its Web site—but most home pages I've seen have the appeal and elegance of a pesky little orange dog yapping at your heels "Click here, click here, click here." And what can you say in a forum that recognizes only two terms of approbation: "cool" and "check it out." This reminds me of a true story. A friend of mine knew a Russian fellow, recently arrived to America, who had learned English by watching American movies and cartoons. Although he spoke with a strong accent, his grammatical purchase was reasonably fixed and his comprehension fluent. Unfortunately, his earnest exclamations of "Well blow me down" and "Shiver me timbers" brought all conversation to an embarrassed halt.)

Although the commercial doesn't much suggest that this scene is offered ironically, I suppose we're no more expected to accept this hacker Don realistically than we are gulled by shepherds guarding their hard disks in the rain on a chalky cliff outside Cardiff, or are taken in by fashion models, legs up to their armpits, discussing "data mining" on a runway. But even conceding irony, one questions the wisdom of setting a computer advertisement in, as another example, a Venetian piazza. You do what you think best, but if I'm sitting outside St. Marks, I'm not looking at a PowerBook.

Be doesn't do television commercials. We don't have to; we've got the Media Kit.

The Media Kit was designed and implemented by Rob Poor, a fellow whose sound hardware and signal-processing credentials laid end to end stretch halfway from here to Mr. Nyquist and then fold over. Someday, the Kit will let you record, synchronize, and broadcast a variety of media signals; currently, it just does sound. (Unfortunately for us, Mr. Poor was tempted beyond his resolve by the allure of poverty and student housing. He had just finished the audio portion of the Media Kit when he was accepted into the Media Lab at MIT.)

If you've tried writing sound-generating or -processing applications on other computers, you'll appreciate the transparency of the Media Kit. The Kit brings you within kissing distance of the sound hardware (the Crystal CS4231 audio codec), but takes care of the brutalities of buffer scheduling and data transfer for you. To receive sound data that's recorded from the microphone, for example, all you have to do is create a BAudioSubscriber-derived object, tell it to "subscribe" to the sound-in stream, and then enter the stream. Buffers of sound data appear automatically as the Kit invokes your object's call-back function (which you define as part of your derived class).

Broadcasting sound is similarly simple: You subscribe to and then enter the sound-out stream. The data that you add into the sound-out buffers (which are also delivered to you through a call-back function) will automatically find its way to the sound-out hardware (the line-out jacks, the headphone jack, and the built-in squeaker).

Buffers are created and managed by the Audio Server. The Audio Server starts automatically at boot time and then sits and waits quietly for subscribers to enter the audio streams. It also handles volume and mute requests, such as those generated through the Sound preferences panel.

Although the call-back buffer and dedicated server architecture isn't unheard of, its implementation is remarkably efficient and flexible:

(This last point is particularly amusing. You can use the Media Kit's audio streams to transfer data—any data—between applications. Although this isn't a serious alternative to ports or the BMessage system, someone will think of a sportive and unexpected use.)

The world isn't perfect: Although the Crystal's analog-to-digital converter is extremely linear, it does have a slight, slowly fluctuating DC offset. Currently, there's no API to connect the sound-in stream to the sound-out stream (you can do it yourself—it's not that difficult —but it would be nice if the Kit did it for you). And if you're reading and mixing sound files, the Kit's lightening may be grounded by the shrieking seeks of your hard disk.

But put the uncontrollable, fixable, and external aside, the Media Kit and its relationship with the sound hardware provides you, the signal processor and vineyard owner, with enough power to scare my cousins. Shiver me timbers.

Be Developer Profile: Abiogenesis Software

It might surprise some to find that despite all of the hype about multimedia and the world-wide web, the most popular computer programs are still things like word processors and databases—even among educators and researchers who are considered to be on the cutting edge of technology.

Julie Petersen and John Seagrave looked at that and saw an opportunity. Indeed, they were smart enough to know that they couldn't jump into the word processing game with Microsoft and Lotus. But they recognized that "people universally want to create and access information," according to Petersen. So they started Abiogenesis in 1994 to produce authoring tools for creating electronic multimedia dictionaries.

Last year they introduced Lexicographer, a dictionary authoring program that they hope will fundamentally change electronic reference books the way desktop publishing changed the document and printing industry. The program costs between $199 and $299, depending on features. That makes reference publishing available to the masses, instead of just the large companies that can afford complex reference authoring systems that typically cost between $350,000 and $2.5 million.

Abiogenesis also publishes a $29.95 dictionary viewer called Lexica. The company launched its first product on the Macintosh "because many publishers and educators prefer Macs and we wanted it to be easy to use," Petersen says.

"But we're never satisfied," she adds. "We also wanted fluid multitasking, fast compilation, better sound, video clips, Internet connectivity, and opportunities to implement new ideas. The BeBox has the horsepower for us to move past current entrenched technologies."

Abiogenesis expects to have Lexicographer available for the BeBox in three to four months. They're porting it over from the Macintosh so they can get something out quickly, Petersen says. But they have other product plans for the BeBox that will take a year to 18 months to come to market.

"People may think that supporting low-volume computers is bad business, that the only good markets are big markets," Petersen says. "Sometimes it takes only one product, like the Video Toaster, to change an industry. We think a few key products in hot markets can kick the BeBox into high gear. And we'll have a lot more fun doing it than any Windows devotee could ever imagine."

Black Cyberspace

By Jean-Louis Gassée

I feel better about our country and our community. Congress got me worried, but I feel better after seeing the strong reactions to the passage of the "decency" provisions in the Telecommunications Bill. "Why do you care?" you might ask. "You're not in the business of peddling smut on the net, you don't plan to use indecent language or images to promote your business. So, why get involved in a controversy that doesn't concern you?"

Well, it affects us in more than one way.

In the first place, I believe in the Constitution of my adopted country. As an immigrant in a nation of immigrants, I came here for the freedoms our culture affords us. Freedom of enterprise, freedom of speech; to me, they're connected. As an individual, as an entrepreneur, I experience a greater sense of freedom here than in the Old Country, with its more refined and more constricting caste system. Any attempt to abridge freedom of speech I see as a threat to our society and to me, personally. And for the notion that "good citizens have nothing to fear," please, read history. Oppressive governments use that line all the time. By definition, we have something to fear from governments. They're run by human beings, with normal tendencies to use and abuse the tools at their disposal. That's why our Constitution (and its amendments) offer safeguards. In the former Soviet Union, the people had civil rights, guaranteed by their constitution... save for the People's enemies, who had no rights. If we start banning material on the net that is today legal on paper, book-burnings aren't very far away.

Second, we care a lot for the net at Be. It's been nice to this little start-up. The net, as the protest proves, is still a community without a Big Brother. It's the big equalizer instead, a place where individuals and companies can have a voice, a reach they couldn't otherwise afford. The net is a helpful place, full of hope and hype, creative and anarchic, in the original sense, without (much) hierarchy. Of course, the protection of children will be invoked as an excuse. As if the bullets in the streets and in the schools were not bigger threats. It's a lot easier for we parents to protect our kids from "bad" sites than to shield them from weapons. We can't take the weapons back, it's not popular, but we can take back freedom of speech from the net. Cyberspace is more dangerous than our streets; or, perhaps easier to police—they think. The net sneaked up on them, on all of us. They're afraid of it because of its power, because they don't understand it, because it's not centralized. Someone once equated the web to the printing press of the next century. He or she must be right. They are trying to do to the net what they used to do to the books.

Let's show them wrong.

BE Europe: "En Direct de Paris"

By Jean Calmon

The BeBox is already penetrating many countries in Europe.

We had the very first public appearance of the BeBox at the IT Forum in Paris last week. This is one of the two largest industry shows in France. It gathers 90,000 visitors, mostly French, over a period of six days. A sort of mini-Comdex for professionals.

A "village" of the major PowerPC players was built in the middle of the expo. Be Europe had its own small booth at the entrance to the village, in the immediate neighborhood of the big guys: IBM, Apple, Bull, Motorola, and so on. We set up three BeBoxes, one on a big screen to give public presentations, the two others dedicated to early versions of independent software vendors' applications, demonstrated by their authors. With our four-person European team, with Jean-Louis, and above all with the help of our already existing French Be fan club, there was a permanent presence of at least six geeks in Be T-shirts welcoming the public.

Without making any comparisons to what happened at MacWorld some weeks ago, our booth was crowded the whole week, some of us lost our voices, and everybody is exhausted—but proud and happy. A quick calculation has shown that more than 5000 people attended the 15-minute presentation and demo, we received another 100 developer applications, and I had a tough time trying to explain to certain people that I could not accept an order at the booth and that there was no public price yet!

I would not dare say that we gained any victory, but I was struck by a few facts I want to share with you. Despite the fact that a Directeur Informatique from a very large French firm told me that "he knew it was an Alpha-chip-based monoprocessor platform running Linux dedicated to real-time applications [sic!]," most of the visitors to our booth already had a pretty good idea of what the BeBox is and could become. Thanks to France Telecom, France probably has the lowest Internet subscriber penetration (around 80,000) in Europe, but nevertheless, Be and its product are already pretty well known by the enlightened French amateurs and professionals. The power and bandwidth of Internet as a marketing tool are not to be underestimated!

De facto we were one of the biggest (if not the only) attractions of the show. People were very encouraging to us and I heard many comments like "This is exactly what needs to be done," or "Finally this industry has decided to move ahead with new operating system," and even "incompatibility means creativity and progress."

But I must say that I also heard "you guys have no chance to survive, because you're not compatible" a couple of times. I would direct that kind of person to some of our present developers, who were demonstrating the first versions of their applications: A very creative incarnation of a web browser, a word processor from Lorienne [Now BeatWare] with innovative implementations of the drag-and-drop metaphor, the first version of a flight simulator (for two players) developed by Ex Algebra, or the "Geekplayer" application, developed by Mipsys (see the article about Mipsys in the next issue of this newsletter).

Our industry, even if it suffers (you noticed less spending on booth decoration), is growing rapidly in Europe and Be has a large potential here.

Europe as usual is following US technological progress by a few months or years. For the first time in '95, more PCs than cars or TVs were sold in most of the Western European countries. With a penetration that is still lower than in the US, the home market is growing at 40 percent a year in most of these countries, in a global market that (according to Dataquest) is grew by 20 percent last year in volume. France, which is the smallest of the big three European markets, reached 2 million units last year. In a pretty dull economy, where unemployment exceeds 11 percent, the growth in volume of PC sales was more than 18 percent last year; no other economic sectors had the same kind of growth.

Developers are looking for something new and attractive that can help them make some dollars. Today we have over 50 independent software vendors active in Europe, 65 percent of them outside of France, with a higher ratio in the northern part of Europe. We had 14 different nationalities represented at our first European GeekFest!

It's interesting to consider that countries like Sweden, Norway, Denmark, or even Iceland already have active Be developers. I also know some German companies who are working on music applications. Surprised? The Nordic part of Europe has always endorsed technology earlier than the southern part (see the penetration of mobile phones). This is particularly true for the Internet as already demonstrated by some Be-related initiatives in Norway.

We'll have many occasions in the future to participate in public events in Europe, where we will actively promote our developers' applications and savoir-faire. We would also like to encourage communication, exchanges, and meetings across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This company was born with International blood in its body and the product will have more and more international flavors in the future. One day -- maybe soon—you'll be willing to promote your software out of your country's boundaries, and we're ready to help!

First Firebug User's Group Meeting in the Seattle Area

Firebug, the First BeBox User's Group, is sponsoring a live demo of the BeBox, set for Saturday, February 24, 1996, in Bellingham, Washington (midway between Vancouver BC and Seattle WA).

If you're interested in attending (space may be limited), send e-mail with the subject line "I Wanna C Be" to and state how many people will be attending.

Be there!

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