Issue 2, December 13, 1995
Table of Contents
Be Engineering Insights:
Programming Should Be Fun
By Benoit Schillings
The first time I realized that an Apple II was able to turn
a pixel on or off, I was hooked. At that time, programming
was pretty easy -- no big manual to read, no Ph.D. was
required, just energy and imagination. Then came the
"modern" machines. Suddenly, I had to read and understand in
great detail massive amounts of documentation. "Let's write
a small program" was a thing of the past. Well, I think the
fun is back. After doing my regular system work at Be (if
such a thing exists!), I often sit down and write a small
Why is the BeBox fun to program? I guess the main reason is
that most of the operating system design and application
framework was done by people with experience in writing real
programs. As a result, common things are easy to implement
and the programming model is CLEAR. You don't need to know
hundreds of details to get simple things working. The second
reason is speed. We all want fast machines, so the BeBox was
designed with performance in mind -- performance at both the
user and operating system levels.
Why is the BeBox fast? Well, first because it uses a large
number of threads at the system level. For instance, a
single window always has two threads associated with it: One
on the client side, which is used when drawing in the
window, and one on the application server side, which is
used to execute the client's requests. This simple idea
takes advantage of the dual-CPU architecture without the
application programmer having to know about it. In a certain
sense, for the duration of a graphic operation, one of the
CPUs turns into a super graphics coprocessor. In the same
way, when you do a lot of small writes to a file, the actual
writing to the file is performed by another thread. In this
case, the second CPU becomes a dedicated I/O processor.
Finally, we always look at the machine as a whole. Since we
can control all aspects of the software, we can optimize the
subtle interaction of many different components.
Why did I come to work for a company like Be? Well, I
couldn't resist the opportunity to design and build a
machine for MYSELF. This is very much the state of mind I
had when we started: What would be MY dream machine? There
is, of course, room for a lot of improvement in the system,
but the basic concepts are now in place.
Now I can learn from your experience and needs to create
YOUR dream machine, as well as mine. After five years of
pain, I have a machine shaped by my desires; I hope that you
like it and that you come to agree that programming is fun
Be Developer Profile:
Illusions Gaming Co.
"As nerds, it's always fun to mess with the coolest
hardware, especially when it's from a company that's driven
by technical people" says James Coliz, when asked why his
small Illusions Gaming Co. is interested in developing
software for the BeBox.
This 25-person development company in Sausalito, California,
specializes in video games for Sega Genesis and the recently
released Sony PlayStation, the advanced video game system
that captured everyone's attention at the last Consumer
Electronics Show. Illusions is also pouring resources into
the new Sega Saturn CD-ROM-based video game system.
Neither PlayStation nor Saturn have reached huge installed
bases. But Illusions can't resist the opportunity to work
with the most advanced hardware. They were immediately
intrigued by the BeBox.
"We have to deal with a lot of the things they talk about;
MIDI, sound mixing, and network communications" Coliz says.
"The idea is to see how far we can push it. We're doing it
because it'll be fun."
In addition, Illusions is intrigued by the possibility of
developing hot, 3D, networked games for the BeBox, an
opportunity which isn't available on the soloist-oriented
Sega and Sony systems.
It's also a good business opportunity, Coliz says. If he'd
had to work with the traditional game distribution model and
royalties for the BeBox, Coliz might have passed. But he
says Be's promise of an electronic software distribution
system opens the possibility of a good return with a minimal
investment in distribution.
Coliz and his partner, Darren Barlett, started Illusions
Gaming four years ago with their own money. The company
reached $1 million in sales last year, mostly from royalties
on its Sega Genesis games. For the most part, Illusions is a
creative services and engineering company. It employs 13
artists, designers, and animators plus six full-time
programmers. It was also credited with some animation work
in Walt Disney's The Lion King.
"We have all these resources and it'll be great to take one
more platform and get something fun out of it," Coliz says.
"That's the whole point."
By Jean-Louis Gasée
I'm often asked if I can describe the "killer app" for the
BeBox. This raises enough questions for a series of columns.
But let me start with the moniker itself and the notion of
"guide geeks." I much prefer the phrase "tractor
application" to "killer app." The kinetics in the metaphor
are more appealing. Each one of the existing platforms
enjoys one or more applications that really pulled it into
the market. We'll review them in a moment. That's where the
guide geeks come in.
Only the leading-edge, sometimes called bleeding-edge, users
and programmers have the skills and the vision to explore
the possibilities of what we've built and to unfold the
contents of its genes.
Based on my reading of the history of our industry, I
believe the people involved in building the platform,
because of their close involvement, develop myopia and can't
see the tractor apps in the distance.
For instance, when they designed the Apple II, the two
Steves had no idea that Bob Frankston and Dan Bricklin were
going to invent VisiCalc, the big time tractor. When he set
out to design the original IBM PC, Don Estridge had no idea
that a transcendental meditation teacher named Mitch Kapor
would create Lotus 1-2-3, at one time the most successful
application on the platform. Back to Apple, when Steve Jobs
and Jef Raskin started building what became the Macintosh,
they had no idea Messrs. Kitamura, Warnock, and Brainerd (at
Canon, Adobe, and Aldus) would create desktop publishing,
still a leadership application for the Mac. And the creators
of the Amiga didn't have the Video Toaster in mind when they
started either. You see my point. Rather than betting that
we're less myopic than our noble and worthy elders, let's
accept that we're shortsighted -- and do something to
compensate for it. Let's use the more technically inclined
and aggressive users as guide geeks towards the next
innovative applications, the next genre. Today, if I ask a
mainstream user, s/he will want more, smaller, faster,
cheaper. And there are a wealth of interesting developments
taking place along those lines -- more disk space, more
processor speed, ISDN, and so on. (I'd like less expensive
memory, but for some reason, this seems to be the lone
exception.) But this is all derivative of what's happening
today. We need to find the discontinuities where our new
baby can flourish.
I'm also often told that everything that can be done has
been done already -- nothing really new can happen anymore.
I've heard this many times since I introduced a distant
ancestor of today's PCs, the HP 9100A, in France in 1968.
Since then, the industry hasn't been boring. How many people
knew about the Internet and the web three years ago? No one
in the mainstream -- and many people in geekdom.
Be OS Contest
We're holding a contest to find a name for the Be
operating system! We've tried all kinds of things, BeBUZZ
(BeBasic Understanding Zone Zystem), BeBRAIN (Be Runtime
Alleged Intelligence Nub), and so on, with no success.
HELP US! What do you think the Be Operating System should be
We're waiting for your great, creative ideas. Please e-mail
your proposals to
email@example.com. Enter as
often as you like.
We'll have a nice prize for the winner and we'll randomly
select 10 entrants to receive Be T-shirts