Issue 10, February 14, 1996
Table of Contents
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
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
- BeACH, by Chris Dunphy
- BeDO (Be Digital OS), by Alex Block.
- BeATYCB (Be All That you can Be-BeBox), by David
- 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
BE ENGINEERING INSIGHTS:
What's Wrong with this GIF Image?
By Doug Fulton, Technical Writer
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
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:
- You can control the size and number of transfer
buffers; by fiddling with these numbers, you can
fine-tune the real-time response of your application.
- The Audio Server locks the data transfer buffers into
RAM, and Media Kit thread priorities are higher than
other system-defined threads. This helps ensure that your
real-time application will avoid swapping, and will get
the heightened attention that it needs.
- Sound data is shared by all the subscribers to a
particular stream. For example, you can design a
reverberator that operates on sound data that's generated
by other sound-out subscriber objects in other
applications. The data that's generated by these other
subscribers automatically appears as the input to your
reverberator through its call-back function.
(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:
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
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
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
"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."
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
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
Let's show them wrong.
BE EUROPE: "En Direct de
By Jean Calmon
The BeBox is already penetrating many countries in
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
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
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
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
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.