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Issue 35, 05 Feb 2003

  In This Issue:
Forward by Michael Phipps 
This is a little different newsletter than normal. All three of the articles are opinion pieces. Furthermore, they are all on very related topics - totally coincidentally. No one saw anyone else's work - the same thoughts seemed to be on everyone's mind. Since that is the case, we decided to let the newsletter stand as is at the risk of sounding preachy or perhaps whining a little. We shall endeavor to make the next newsletter more technical to maintain the balance of the universe.
What about the OpenBeOS community? by Jacques Lema 
(Editor's Note - this is an editorial - all opinions expressed within belong solely to the author)

What about the OpenBeOS community?

Or why not become a creative and open-minded starlet?

Why would one start or keep on working on a free operating system? First you need to have dreams and/or problems. Usually you dream about the things you don't have and you have problems with the things you have.

To solve problems, like having to use an OS that for some reason you dislike, you need to do what humans have done since our apparition on this lovely planet: fight. Usually you don't want to fight alone against the whole world. At this point, you need a community.

But then again, what kind of community? What should the OpenBeOS community necessarily be like? Linux-like, Mac-like, Amiga-like, or even Windows-like?

Let's take a look at a few of them and see what is the best we can get from each.

The Amiga

I remember when the mighty BeBox was referred to as the new Amiga. It was as original and mindblazing in its days. On the Amiga platform, although it existed, the phrase "open source" did not really have any importance, at least before the 90's which coincided with the beginning of the end. At that time, piracy did the job very well, and people did not really care about open source OSes. In terms of community there were different kinds of Amiga people. Some only played games, others tried to be more creative. On an Amiga, the demo scene was the place to express yourself. In the demo scene people would work endless hours to get the best result and this for free.

If you created some nice-looking effect, or were the first guy able to display more than X 3d-polygons, you would get admiration from the entire community. Admiration is what creative people were looking for on the Amiga. You had two choices: you were either admired or a so-called lamer. Now were demos really useful to people? Not really. In a sense, it was a form of art, so it was. And you can indeed be grateful to an artist, but not in the same way as you would be to the guy who invented the dishwasher. Both were creative, but one gets admiration or even jealousy, the other gratefullness. Also on the Amiga the concept of sharing was rather limited. If you had the best 3D routine around, the last thing you wanted was to post commented source code on the web. So to keep it short one could say the Amiga community was motivating and exciting, just like watching some Hollywood movie star was. People wanted to be like the stars but most of them haven't reached the daylight since! No one was willing to show his/her own light for fear of losing some of it.

In the Amiga demo-scene the sense of friendship was essential. The thing is that is was a bit clan-like. The idea was not to consider the whole world as your friend. You hard to be part of a group and be the best. It was kind of a wild-capitalist community if you want, just that you didn't make much money. :-)


Creativity on linux has taken quite a different road than it did on the Amiga. First, no matter what you can hear everywhere nowadays, Linux is difficult to use, maintain, update, understand. Let a mac user try to find and install software on linux, and you'll understand what I mean. Linux is definitely not for my mother. It is a nice OS when you want to learn how things work from the inside. It isn't as nice, when you _have_ to understand it when you need something to get running. So it was not really the ideal place for artists but rather for hardcore programmers and kernel hackers.

Maybe for this reason, the demo scene never really existed on linux. Maybe because if you had to get the demo to compile correctly yourself, you would admire yourself rather than the author. :-) Imagine all the musicians and graphics men creating art and not being able to run their own demo. Yes, I am bit harsh but I am writing this from Linux, believe it or not.

Artists were definitely not going to use this OS. Yes, there are artists using Linux, but it is certainly not their default choice. So creativity had to take another path. Instead of admiration, people would get gratefulness. Because it is so difficult to do basic things in Linux, a community had to be created where the once-admired people converted themselves into gurus, and instead of laughing at the once-lamer types, they helped them find their way into this maze. As they say in most Linux-help channels: read the docs. Sometimes with reason, but often meaning, "Read the docs, or beg until I explain. I spent 6 months reading docs to be able to setup a mail server, so if you don't do it also, you'll be the 'lamer' again. You don't want to be a lamer again, do you? ". Again this is (a bit) caricatural, but this way you get the idea. :-)

It's not about glory or admiration. You don't admire the guy who knows how to configure your mail server, you are grateful. But at the same time you feel a bit angry about the guy who created the configuration format for sendmail. You think to yourself: Was he afraid of the Russians discovering our secret configurations, or was it just written by an extraterrestrial entity?

In the end, Linux created people who are not only grateful to their gurus, they are really dependent on them until they become one. Linux gave birth to a kind of caste system based on those who know and those who don't. And people who would like to compose music or draw pictures spend a lot of their time learning how to use or setup their OS. In the beginning you chose Linux for that... and afterwards, you do not dare to leave for the reason: would all I have learned become useless if I go back to Windows? Think of some people in Moscow regretting Stalin: "Yes, we were wrong, but for such a long time that we would be ashamed to admit it now."

Again, this is my personal opinion and yes, you can flame me for being so unkind to our beloved penguin. I promise to recompile both my kernel and my GLIBC ten times today saying the Ave Tux for penitence. :-)

Microsoft Windows

Ah, the masses. Well, it was just there on their computer, and they didn't look any further. Sometimes it just did the job right, sometimes it didn't. What can I say, probably Windows could be compared to a religious government. Maybe it was the one you wanted. It is just a shame they did not inform you about the others and that any attempts to flee are so severely punished.

There is no Windows community to say it clearly. It is just a market. If you have a problem with your hardware, you go back to the shop. If they help you, you don't have to be grateful: you paid for it. If their driver works, you don't have to be grateful: you paid for it.

The Mac

So where are our good old artists that could not make it with Linux? Are they all using Windows like everyone else out there? Well, not all. Some, and I'd rather say more and more are using Macs. Why? Well, Macs are simple to use, even simpler than Windows and they look so good. Usually people who have a Mac could do all the same thing with a PC running Windows. Most of the software is available on both platforms. So why do they use a Mac? Is is cheaper? Faster? Do they have more software? Not really. But...

I think the main reason is: It's cool. Just that. When Apple says "Think Different", they know who they are talking to. Those artist-minded people just don't want to look like the masses. In the pre-Mac-OS-X time, Macmaniacs were so in love with their machines that they did not even see the crappy multitasking and the miserable virtual memory handling of the classic Mac OS. It was beautiful, it was cool. Just like a sports car. It's a bit expensive and you cannot take your family with you... But it's soooooooo coool!

Because everything is so simple and lovely in the base operating system, people who design applications on a Mac always take a special care about this. They keep it simple and design beautiful icons. If they didn't they just would look like a guy with his jeans full of holes at the Oscar ceremony.

Is there an open-source movement on the Macintosh? Probably. Last time I checked (Mac OS 8.1) you had to download a shareware to make a traceroute. It was indeed a beautiful 3D traceroute. I hope that with MacOSX this will evolve. In the meantime, what phrase could I use to describe the Macintosh community? Hmm... I'd say Fashion Victim!

So, finally, who do WE want to be?

Let's look at some of the choices we have. We can

  • use an Amiga and be a fan of lamer-inquisition looking for a clan
  • use Linux and be a slave of the system
  • use Windows and be a hopeless sheep
  • use a Mac and be ... hum... a starlet :-)

.... or we can find something in between. When Be Inc. was still a struggling company, the Be community was made of people that you could describe as something in between a sheep, a slave, and a starlet.

They were sheep because they depended on the too few BeOS engineers to develop the drivers they needed (why would a company write a driver for an OS that could disappear anytime soon?) and they expected commercial companies to invest money to develop full fledged software for a user-less platform.

They were slaves also in a sense because being dependent on a commercial company removes the will to do something for the others. You admire their work, but you don't do so much yourself. It kills your creativity, and your ability to give the best of you without money. You would do it for free, but not to help someone else make money. I guess that's how we are.

They were starlets because they liked how snappy and beautiful the OS was, and even if it could not fill all their needs, it was so nice to look at.

It was so nice, and the OS was so well designed, but you could not add anything to it. It belonged to Hollywood and you were just a spectactor.

Now, you can be an actor, you can be a director, nude dancer or whatever. With OpenBeOS, or RichardTheLizardTheOS.org or who knows what the name will be, we have the opportunity to create a new community. A community made of people who work for each other in harmony, through a coherent and democratic organization, and try to give the best of themselves to make this dream a reality.

We shall be a commmunity that will create beautiful and impressive things. At this point, we are about to unite again the artists, the programmers and everyone with a bit of creative soul into the making of a system that will, sooner or later, be considered as a revolution of minds.

Be Inc, had a great idea, and a great design, but they failed because they ran short of time and money and because they had to fight with enemies that had both time and money.

We have no enemies but ourselves, we don't need much money, and we have plenty of time. So repeat this to yourself: we cannot fail. If its not perfect from the start, it will be later and with your help it will be sooner than that. Some people complain about the slow progress of R1. I will say, do not complain: help. If you don't know how, just learn. The community is here to help you. It can only benefit you. If any, the only thing that OpenBeOS would be missing would be hope. If you knew you were going to succeed wouldn't you find more motivation? Well that's the way it is. It is going to happen, the only thing you can change is: when and by whom?

When R1 gets ready we will have done a big part of the job. From then on, the only thing left we will have to do is try to our best to make this new reborn platform the best free OS available of all times.

We will create an OS for which no company will say it makes money from the support, because even my mother will be able to use it. We will create an OS that will be truly modular, robust, fast, and clean. We will create an OS of which many will say: how could we live before? And they will know it's forever, because open source gives you this guarantee. Will it pay your bills? Not exactly, but it will give you the satisfaction you feel when you have done something good, for you, and everyone else. None of your work is useless. Some of it pays your bills, the rest of it makes you a better person.

I am certain that we will make it. It is just a matter of time. So get back to your keyboards, and make it happen!

PS: Amen, so now you can join our sect, the fee is 50% of your monthly income and we reserve the right to beat you if we consider it necessary. :-)

Yet Another Rallying Cry (maybe?) by Kevin Field 
Hi there. My name is Kevin Field, and I was a Beoholic. Unlike Deej's first entrance as newsletter editor, mine will contain nothing about most of you knowing me. I seldom post anything online, and when I do, it's usually under the name LackOfKnack. I am, I suspect, like many of the readers of this newsletter in that it would be difficult to decide whether to be called an (Open)BeOS community "member", or just a "spectator". Tell me if you can see yourself in the story below.

Many (millions, wasn't it?) were lured onto the BeOS bandwagon back when BeOS 5 PE was released. I was one of them. Delivery of elegance, usability, performance, and openness in an all-around smart package, in every good sense of the word, was followed by promises of upcoming support for popular features (DVD, USB gadgets, new system hardware, etc.). Once I was hooked, it wasn't long before I started spreading the word. The messiah of modern operating systems was here, and the authoring company hadn't yet been bought out or crushed by "competitors" (that is, a division of the U.S. Treasury commonly known as Microsoft.) Soon my family was dual-booting (a temporary solution until the promised features showed up) and testing the waters of Gobe Productive and BeMail. My friends never did try PE, but they sure did hear a lot about BeOS, especially whenever they complained about Windows. I even recently set up my girlfriend's computer with it.

Unfortunately, the same thing happened to my girlfriend, my family members, and myself: We each became disillusioned. I'm not about to blame Scot Hacker for ruining my life or anything, but BeOS wasn't exactly the utopia we imagined. Aside from the lack of drivers and software, some things just weren't as good as their Windows equivalents, like Tracker. That changed with the advent of OpenTracker, but at the time I simply couldn't fly in BeOS like I could in Windows in basic ways. On the other hand, I could do many things much faster in BeOS with less crashes. While my family migrated back to the Windows bugs they were used to, I chose to stick it out, but this didn't last long. As we upgraded hardware and switched to cable, less and less of our computer was supported, and the things that were once faster in BeOS were now just as fast in Windows. There was no longer a good reason to boot back and forth, aside from getting at my GP2 documents.

When OBOS was launched, it renewed my hope, but I was getting too busy to devote much time to it. I had "real work" to do. I've watched on and off from the sidelines, still letting my family know whenever a crucial piece of BeOS was replicated and working better than before. It's taken me a while of newswatching to realize that all the time I spend newswatching could be put toward newsmaking instead. My excuse was that I never had a solid chunk of time to put towards learning to program, or doing web design, or whatever. I still don't. What's great about a community project like this is that many important things can be done in short time spans. Almost anything to do with writing (translation, documentation, newsletter articles, etc.) can be done bits at a time, and often it's easy to get carried away and get the job done almost by accident. The other place for time-deprived community members to pitch in is the area of ideas. Join the mailing lists. Everyone notices something they want changed or improved on their current OS. The more quality ideas from both brain storms and light-bulb moments, the better. Even just encouraging the developers would help, so they know the world hasn't forgotten them. The sidelines are an okay place to be, but you at least have to cheer on your favourite team. If you haven't heard this one enough times to believe it, YOU are responsible for the outcome of the project. Help restore and surpass the dream that made the BeOS!

And if you can, write more articles too. :)

Press, PR, Progress and Purse by Michael Phipps 
As many of you know, OBOS has been getting a fair amount of press lately, which is very cool. I have been on the radio (oncomputers.info) and in print at the Wall Street Journal. Some people might think that this is a little presumptuous - we don't have a finished (or even runnable) OS. Honestly, it baffles me a little, too.

Part of the reason, I think, for this interest is the potential of OBOS. I still believe that there is a huge hole on the desktop. Yes, the predominant desktop OS is *better* than it was in its previous N incarnations, but it still crashes. I was using a fresh XP machine last week - a brand new machine, new XP install, 4 games installed. The machine blue screened after playing 1 game. Automatic reboot. Many people will blame the hardware or the drivers. Well, OK, but this was an ASUS motherboard with an ATI Radeon 9500 Pro video card. Nothing no-name, nothing too exotic. If this is the competition, I can't believe that there is not a chance to get some desktop users interested.

Be, Inc was also an interesting story. Of the three companies that sued Microsoft, Be, I believe, had the strongest claim for damages. They were forced into bad situations by illegal practices, not to mention a long string of bad luck and some questionable management practices. So I think that some of Be's great story is bleeding over to us.

Finally, I think that we are a good story. Here we are, a bunch of people that just stepped up to the plate and started to build something ourselves that took a company approximately 300 man-years to build, and we are doing it all in our spare time and giving it away.

The press is all very good, but if we don't make progress, it will all come to naught. This isn't about press clippings and trying to be famous. This is about having an operating system to use, code for and enjoy. It always surprises me when people ask me how we are doing - it is nearly impossible to be more open than we are. Anyone can subscribe and see our CVS changes. And they exist - we have on average 3 or 4 checkins a day. Some larger, some smaller. I tend to submit in batches - a whole group of files every couple of weeks. Others submit much more often and check in smaller changes. But there is a solid core of developers working. There is (almost) no kit that doesn't see progress weekly, on average. Sure, some weeks, people are busy or sick or real life intervenes. Especially on the kits with only one or two developers. But, in general, we have a great core group that is pushing forward.

Does that mean that I am completely satisfied with our progress? No. Absolutely not. Everyone who is working is giving their all. No question about it, in my mind. But I believe that we need another 5-10 strong, committed developers to help out. Two more kernel people, two more media kit people and 2 more network people would be my choice. The other kits are pacing the big kits well. I believe that with these additional people, we could see an alpha in August. Really. 6 more Axels, or 6 more Marcuses or 6 more DarkWyrms or 6 more Ingos would be enough. Commitment is the key. Many people have come along with good intentions and a lot of enthusiasm but something happens. Either the size of the task, real life issues, or just a lack of knowledge stops them from becoming super-stars or even regular contributors.

So we need a plan. Where can we go from here? How can we create these 6 new developers? Well, the first and most obvious is that we go back to the community. The problem is that I think that all of the "free" developers are taken. If someone wants to prove me wrong, you know how to get a hold of me - we have plenty of work to go around.

The next most obvious is to "free some people up". Internally we are doing that already. Axel, for example, finished the BFS and moved into the Kernel. Others will do the same, over time, as kits get completed. Outside the OBOS community are developers who are working on things in their spare time, too. It may not be wise, though, to cannibalize other efforts too much, even assuming that our powers or persuasion were sufficient to entice people to drop their pet projects. Would it be worth getting R1 quicker if we, say, convinced the Bezilla team to quit their work? Or the Refraction team? Or the BeBits admins? I don't think so.

The final solution is to hire people. I know this sounds a little crazy, but stay with me a moment. This is the (tail end, in my opinion) of a recession. There are a *LOT* of people out there who are out of work and have been for a long time. Gone, for now, are the days of Aeron chairs and fresh college grads getting 6 figure incomes. There are lots of skilled people who are ready, willing, and able to take work (any work) to put food on the table. Here in Rochester, NY, I know that I could walk into any geek gathering, hold up a sign that says "I am hiring" and have more instant friends than a lottery winner. OK, so there is a cheap labor pool - how does that help?

That is up to you. We are in the middle of becoming a non-profit organization. As soon as I have the legalities worked out, we will begin accepting donations. There are a number of people who have been frustrated that they couldn't contribute due to lack of skills or lack of time. This would be a way to contribute, especially for those with good jobs.

In an ideal world, OBOS would have enough money to pay all of the developers. And I would like to financially reward (i.e. give a check to) the people who have been working so hard for so long, in addition to hiring new people to get the job done. The way I see it, we have at least another year and a half or so worth of work with the volunteers that we have today. I don't think that anyone wants to wait that long; I certainly don't. Let's get this thing done and prove to the world that BeOS was worth saving.