Issue 21, May 1, 1996
Table of Contents
BE ENGINEERING INSIGHTS:
Shaken, not Stirred
By Doug Fulton
A developer release is like a family photo taken on the
last day of a week-long Italian wedding party. The
photographer shouts "Dite formaggio," and, reflexively, the
grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, esposi y monelli look
up for the flash to capture an accumulated forced smile.
That little moment passed, they return to the arguments and
the serious drinking.
Of course, there's always somebody missing from the picture.
Our prodigal, in developer release 7, is the fortune cookie,
the verbum nerdum that you (used to) get with each shell.
Fortune cookies are easy to despise: They're rarely worth
reading, and the concept is embarrassingly geeky. But after
indulging in this initial, priggish scoff, I settled into a
patronizing tolerance, from which middle road it was an easy
slide into guilty anticipation.
The fortune cookie phenomenon used to be the domain of
UNIX-grade systems. But there's an equivalent in PC-land:
Microsoft Word's Tip of the Day. My introduction to Word
came when I offered to help format a newsletter at my
daughters' school. Although I'd never used Word before, I
figured it was probably similar to Frame, which I knew all
too well. The newsletter document was already open when I
sat down to fiddle with the heading styles; within a few
keystrokes and mouse-clicks, the machine froze. I thought
this was serious. Not only was I unfamiliar with Word, I'd
never really used a PC before -- I had yet to understand
that crashing is a proof of existence.
Acting quickly, I power-cycled the machine, logged in using
my friend's name, guessed at the password (right the second
time), found the Word icon, and restarted the program. Up
popped a little box that said something like:
"Did you know ... If you applied built-in heading styles
to headings, you can create cross-references...."
and so on. I realize now that it was just coincidence, but
at the time I thought the program was actually trying to
tell me what I had done wrong -- after all, I had been
playing with heading styles when the machine crashed, and
here it was recommending... My God... Was Microsoft actually
bundling a laudable form of artificial intelligence? Was I
going to have to recant my snobbish dismissal of these toy
computers? On the verge of apostasy, I tried to banish the
knife before me -- I quit Word and relaunched. Another
"Did you know ... If you use fewer words, your documents
will be shorter?"
Somewhere in the back of my pea brain a night light
glimmered. I quit and launched again:
"Did you know ... You can check grammar in a document?"
I got it.
(Years later, I concatenated a couple of Word's tips:
"You can check grammar in a document. Word can analyze
the readability of a document."
and ran them through the program's grammar checker. They
scored an appalling 52.58 out of 100. (By the tool's own
estimation, an average document should score between 60 and
The Be fortune cookies are -- excuse me, were -- distinctly
more amusing and less annoying than Word's Tip of the Day.
For me, one cookie in particular stood out from the
"When confronted by a difficult problem, you can solve
more easily by reducing it to the question: `How would
the Lone Ranger have handled this?'"
Admittedly, this isn't one of the shell's wittier offerings.
Until recently, I would have dismissed it as an easy and
uninspired cliche. But that was before my awakening.
Some months ago I was driving peacefully, dreaming along a
pleasant boulevard, when my reverie was shattered by the
frothing bark of an angry young white male, muscle-bound at
6 feet tall and 200 pounds. There, in the left turn lane,
was the evidence of a minor collision between Mr. Tank Top's
American pickup (in front), and a teeny foreign sub-compact
driven by my mother (speaking figuratively). The two drivers
were freshly out of their vehicles in preparation for what
is, normally, a graceful insurance card gavotte -- but here,
instead, we had a red-faced goon, fists raised, screaming
obscenities at my cowering mom.
Understand that I was driving in lightly heavy traffic two
lanes to the right. The scene pressed itself into my
awareness in an instant: A defenseless woman in obvious need
of a champion. An instant more, and the moment for action
would be lost. I wasn't obliged to stop; none of this was my
doing; aside from her being my mother, I'd never seen the
woman before. It's at times like this, when the present
becomes remarkably immediate, that we show who it is we
really think it is we are. So, what's the first thing that
pops into my head as naturally as instinct?
"What would Sean Connery do?"
Literally. I have two smallish children and one large
mortgage at home; I have advanced degrees in music from
major universities; I hitchhiked across East Germany before
the wall came down; I don't watch much television. Yet, when
spontaneous action is necessary, I find that my personal
standard for adult behavior is measured against James
Dazed by my superficiality in the face of an imperative, I
reviewed my life: When I was a kid, my favorite uncle was a
bachelor who owned a small English sports car. As a
teenager, my best friend (also a bachelor) had a small
English sports car. The first car I bought when I arrived in
California -- while still unmarried -- was a small English
sports car. It began to make sense.
When I got back to Be, I thought I'd retreat from my
sickness by firing up a shell and, oh, I don't know, maybe
reel off a few psloop's. That's when the Lone Ranger quote
popped up. A few days later, the fortune cookies were gone.
My mother gets out of the hospital next week.
(According to Word's grammar checker, this document was
written at a seventh-grade level.)
BE DEVELOPER PROFILE: Make It So
According to a recent newspaper article, the average
number of digital shots in special effects movies this
summer will exceed 500. That's up from 400 shots in the
movie "Caspar" in the summer of 1995, and a mere 55 in the
1993 blockbuster "Jurassic Park."
Demand for digital video and special effects software is
growing fast. Visual effects that used to require expensive,
high-end workstations can now be achieved on low-cost
personal computers, and in much less time.
Daniel Koch, a director at Make It So Pty. Ltd., isn't
complaining. Make It So, a Be developer based in Crows Nest,
Sydney, Australia (the Australian equivalent of Hollywood),
makes special effects software for film and video, assisting
in all post-production aspects from processing, to editing,
to compositing. Make It So's current products include
Digital Fusion, which was used in several movies including
"Sirens," as well as in corporate videos, movie trailers,
and a number of television ads. (Digital Fusion is available
now for MS-DOS; a port to Windows NT is in process.)
With the BeBox, it was a case of instant attraction. "It's
got multiprocessing, a cool API, a good OS, and lots of
I/O," says Daniel. "All that at a low price, and not
dominated by Microsoft. Hooray!" Daniel is especially
excited about symmetric multiprocessing at a decent price.
"My application requires lots of MIPS, smooth multitasking,
and a rich graphics capability. The Media Kit could be a
tremendous asset. The multiprocessors definitely will
First-hand experience with a BeBox in-house has been
positive. "I was spoiled by the speed of the interface on my
old Amiga -- it's very hard to work with NT as a result. The
BeBox is better still, and I think I'm going to love the
quad-604," Daniel says. "The best part, though, is the
uncluttered API. Drag and drop was never a lot of fun on the
Amiga, and on NT it's a Nightmare. The Be OS does it the way
it should be done -- very, very easily."
What about the BeBox business proposition? "We don't plan on
making a profit on the BeBox just yet. That will come later,
when the BeBox takes off as a powerful, low-cost film/video
post-production machine. That's why we're interested now:
Having a solid offering early on in a new platform's life
could prove to be very lucrative down the road."
"I'd like to see the BeBox achieve a respected position in
niche markets, particularly (and selfishly) in the video
market," Daniel says. "Ideally, the machine will take over
where the Amiga left off, before Wintel machines have a
chance to get a stranglehold."
Currently, Make It So is developing freeware utilities and
drivers for the BeBox; their projects include a simple Font
Manager and a driver for the Perception PVR video
record/playback card. After they become more familiar with
the system, they plan to rewrite Digital Fusion for the
BeBox, with an anticipated availability in 6 to 12
Summing up, Daniel says, "The BeBox is a clean new machine,
with a rich feature set, for a reasonable price. It's far
better than Windows (including NT), and has much brighter
prospects than Apple and Amiga. Aside from that, it's an
intriguing machine in its own right."
For more information on Make It So Pty. Ltd. or their
products, send e-mail to
To find out about the current MS-DOS version of Digital
Fusion, see the 4DVision Web page at
The Meaning of DR7
By Jean-Louis Gassée
DR7 (our latest developer release) leaves me with mixed
feelings. Not that I'm unhappy with it, on the contrary.
It's just that it reminds me of the Sysiphean task of
building system software: There's always so much more to
But let's focus on what DR7 accomplishes, for a moment. A
little over three months after DR6 shipped, DR7 shows the
most significant amount of progress between releases -- so
far. (Please refer to
details, the list is too long for this column.) I'll skip
quickly over bug and feature fixes. Fixing annoying bugs in
a serial driver or allowing support of bigger than 540 MB
IDE drives is good hygiene. It's only revealing when you
don't practice it.
One of the harder things in our business is arbitrating
between the urge to move forward, adding features, and the
nagging feeling that something needs to be rethought, and
perhaps redone. The need to ship and the need to do it
"right." Put another way, it is exceedingly rare, or
foolish, to think a piece of software is absolutely right.
Some features are either good or amenable to a
straightforward fix. For some others, we have to go back and
rebuild in order to avoid unfixable problems later, or
The file system changes fall in that category. Not
surprisingly, we liked the idea of a dual-fork system as
found on the Macintosh: It offers nicer creature comforts.
What we found out, however, was it made it difficult to
coexist with other file systems. In order to better
interoperate with UNIX and Windows systems, we're going back
to a single-fork file system and, in future releases, we'll
improve the integration and performance of the combined file
system and database engine. I fully expect we'll have other
such painful but healthy "opportunities" as we move forward;
they'll make a difference to our long-term success. A number
of changes in the user interface were the result of comments
we received on comp.sys.be. Very early, we got vigorous
feedback for our passe scroll bars. Nobody, but nobody wants
to be seen with nonproportional scroll bars these days. So
there: Customizable scroll bars and arrows to suit (almost)
every taste. One of the most conservative members of the
technical team finally blessed them as more convenient
"because they're larger." De gustibus... The more serious
point with improvements such as a better architecture for
drivers, 32-bit color, multiple IP support, and many others
is we're "excited," sort of, when someone takes the time to
criticize our work. Especially if it hurts, because it
usually means the gentle reviewer is striking a nerve, a
painful pointer to an opportunity.
As DR7 exposes a larger area of our work, there will be no
dearth of new darts. We also added features that were not
quite in the grand plan for the Be OS. The Posix layer is
one example. From the very beginning of Be we made extensive
use of UNIX tools and utilities. Programmers know them, some
even love them, many are freeware floating on the net, why
re-invent the wheel when the value we add is under and above
the level at which these tools operate? As stated before,
this doesn't mean we're in the workstation business. We just
want to ease the migration path to the BeBox for some tools
and applications relevant to our business. Multiple
workspaces represent another idea that occurred to us as we
compared the workings of some UNIX desktops and of Windows
and Mac systems. Our implementation of workspaces picked up
on the idea of grouping applications and documents by
affinity and switching between contexts with a mouse click,
or a keystroke. We added a few twists, such as switching
screen depth and resolution on the fly when moving from one
workspace to another, and using drag-and-drop moves on a
miniature representation of the workspaces. It's not the
most important improvement we've made, but it is one of the
more immediately pleasing to those of us who have cluttered
desktops. If you check our web site you'll be invited to
test-drive the development environment. This points to
perhaps the most important improvement: CodeWarrior DR 1 is
now available on the BeBox. It's the native version of
Metrowerks' award-winning IDE. CodeWarrior DR1 makes writing
code for the BeBox a more pleasant, faster, and less
expensive experience as the user interface improves
dramatically and the need for other hardware -- such as a
Mac or a UNIX system -- diminishes or vanishes
In an earlier column, I made the point we were in the early
phase of the life of this platform. As a result, we were in
a period of increasing returns while older systems were
showing signs of slowing down. Hopefully, DR7 buttresses
this contention. And I'll hasten to say we're painfully
aware of the task ahead of us. We know the feedback we'll
receive from DR7 users, old and new, will keep us as focused
and grateful as we are today.
Be Demo Tour: New York City
Be will hold three demos in New York City on May 1st and
Wednesday, May 1st, from 7:00pm to 7:45pm
NY Mac Users' Group. (NYMUG).
NYMUG's general meetings are held at Martin Luther King
School, at West 65th Street and Amsterdam Avenue in
Lincoln Center complex. The auditorium is on the lower
We will share this evening meeting with Casady &
featuring C&G President, Terry Kunysz.
Thursday, May 2nd.
The first NYC Be User's Group will have two
4:15pm to 6:00pm
Demo at Advanced Digital Networks
Advanced Digital Networks
1140 Ave. of Americas (6th Ave)
6th Ave & 44th St
7:30pm to 10:00pm
New York University
100 Washington Square East
Enter from Waverly or Washington Place
For more information about the demo tour, please check
out our web site at: