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An Open Letter to Be's Jean-Louis

By Arkady in Op-Ed
Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 05:15:55 PM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)

This is a letter which I'm emailing to the founder and CEO of Be, Inc.. As you may be aware, Be's recently publicized financial problems and their recent registration of the openbeos.* domain names have raised speculation about possible plans to bring the Operating System into the Open Source world (fueled particularly by several articles at The Register). Be's J.L. Gassee responded to those speculation in a recent interview with The Merc, stating that "If I felt it was a way to make my shareholders happy I would do it in a heartbeat". In this letter I hope to convince him that there is a way to open BeOS and still benefit his shareholders and employees.


As a committed user of and developer for BeOS, I've been following the coverage on The Register and now in The Merc of hints that you folks might be willing to open the source to BeOS. As a daily user, I would naturally see such a move as massively helpful, since it'd let me fix the USB mouse driver to support my Kensington trackball much more easily. ;-)

I can, however, understand that you have obligations not only to your shareholders, but also to your employees, to only do what is financially prudent for Be as a company. With that in mind, I do think there is a path to openning the source which you may not have considered which would help Be financially while helping those of us out in userland to keep BeOS a viable choice.

I propose that you sell the operating system to a consumer cooperative composed of the BeOS's users and developers, who would then have acccess to the source to continue development. This would open the source to people who can help develop it without actually making the system "free", which may offend the more extreme advocates of Open Source, but which would allow you to fulfill your obligations to your shareholders and employees without letting the OS die. As a pseudo-commercial venture, in that it would of necessity charge membership fees, this cooperative would have the added advantage of being able to actually pay developers for their contributions to the OS.

If such an enterprise were set up, it would be reasonable to set an annual membership fee of, say, $50 with a first-year fee of $100. If the co-op were to purchase the OS from Be with an arrangement by which 50% of the membership fees were to be paid to Be until a pre-decided price were met, you would have met all your obligations to your shareholders while still keeping this great OS moving forward (and you would still be able to use this OS as a basis for BeIA).

As the OS is currently languishing, this strategy can't actually hurt Be as a company and, by re-activating development on the core OS, it should give an extra boost to your IA strategy.

Please, give this option some serious consideration. As you are French, I trust that you won't have the Americans' instinctive knee-jerk rejection of any proposal for collective action. There are many of us out here who would be seriously distraught if the OS (or Be itself) were to disappear, not to mention the massive committment of time that we would have lost to developing software for BeOS.

Thank you,

Robin Bandy


Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure


J.L.G. should:
o sell BeOS to its users 15%
o give the OS to the public 28%
o focus on the OS, not the IA market 15%
o continue as is 6%
o let BeOS die 15%
o hope & pray 19%

Votes: 73
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o the founder and CEO of Be, Inc.
o articles
o a recent interview
o Also by Arkady

Display: Sort:
An Open Letter to Be's Jean-Louis | 27 comments (24 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
I think Be dropped the wrong half of the company (4.22 / 9) (#1)
by Anonymous 242 on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 03:59:24 PM EST

  1. Plenty of realtime operating systems exist.
  2. Plenty of multi-media rich operating systems exist.
  3. Plenty of low-cost non-Windows operating systems exist.
  4. Plenty of flavors of Windows exist.
I think Be should have dropped BeOS and stayed in hardware. The BeBox was one sweet piece of kit. If instead of dropping the BeBox, Be would have worked with the appropriate vendors to make Linux, *BSD, Windows NT and CE, QNX, Palm Computing, etc. work and work well with the BeBox. Then instead of continually porting BeOS to an every growing array of moving targets (first Acorn, then PPC, then Macs, then x86, then IAs), they'd be sitting pretty putting together the hardware for the new crop of information appliances.

Imagine if you will something like the Agenda with one of IBM's low power PPC chips and a geek port.

Imagine Be producing a game console for the new Amiga or the failed Indrema.

Imagine Be in the set-top box game ala TiVO and ReplayTV.

Be's last great chance to make BeOS a player was when Apple considered buying it. They chose NextStep instead. I think that it is too late now for Be. The field has grown quite full of well financed competitors with a good deal more mindshare. I don't think that the state of affairs in 2001 was quite so obvious when Jean-Louis chose to axe the Be hardware line. At the time hardware was an increasingly cut throat commidity business and Operating Systems looked like the place to be. Consider:

  1. The free BSD systems and Linux have matured quite a bit since then and Be can't compete on price.
  2. Moore's law has eliminated much of the speed advantage over Windows on low end hardware so Be finds it harder to compete on speed.
  3. Palm, Linux, QNX, and Windows have tremendous mindshare in the IA market.
And to be honest, I still regret that I never got around to buying a BeBox. They were so, so sleek.

I would really like to see Be succeed, but my doubts continue to grow.

Nothing can be more pitiful and absurd than to pride oneself on one's genius
Nikolai Aleksandrovich Berdyaev, "The Ethics of Creativity"

Good Points (4.66 / 3) (#2)
by Arkady on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 04:23:06 PM EST

You raise some good points, and the only thing I really disagree with is whether there's hope for the OS. Despite not having a significant update since 5.0 (almost a year?), it's still a very usable system, and has a middling active developer base, though it's small compared to Linux', certainly.

With the source openned, even if only to subscribers, I think that BeOS still stands a chance of surviving. I honestly couldn't care whether it achieves the "dominant" position or such-like, since I've always been happy using a niche OS if I like it and it does what I want. BeOS isn't facing Linux or the others as a server OS, either, but with wider development I think it could seriously gain share as a desktop OS (which is where it excels).

And, yeah, the BeBox was a truly sexy piece. ;-)


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
Short and long term future (4.00 / 3) (#6)
by Demona on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 05:57:59 PM EST

After all this water passing under the bridge, now that we're a little closer to "software that doesn't suck", I'm hoping that people will start applying higher standards to hardware as well. Amiga, NeXT, the BeBox and at least a dozen more names all had promise; the Mac is the only "alternative" that's survived, and Apple has bought this at too high a price for me to pay by turning their machines into PC's (the day that SCSI hard drives were not the default was one of the blacker days in Apple history AFAIC, but SCSI in general I am glad to see dying now with Firewire poised as a replacement -- just as with Apple in general, the greater prices became increasingly harder to justify in terms of performance gain).

A lot of legacy hardware and its accompanying limitations have been ditched, but these advances are beginning to show an uglier side in the form of "non-user serviceable parts" at best, "use a debugger, go to jail" at worst.

They always said, you can have it fast, cheap or right, pick two. But raw speed is less and less of an issue (even in the current bullshit market mindlessly throwing more power at the problem is deemed to be "progress" and little attention, if any, is given to decreasing or eliminating bottlenecks and thereby improving the system as a whole). When the Right Thing is Right from both an engineering perspective and the end user's, somebody will figure out a way to profit sufficiently to go to the bother of providing it.

[ Parent ]

BeBox (3.00 / 1) (#13)
by nobody on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 06:29:41 AM EST

Anyone knows the specs of the BeBox? I'd like to build one for myself.

In capitalism, man exploits man. In socialism, it's exactly the opposite.
[ Parent ]
custom (none / 0) (#24)
by jkominek on Sat Apr 21, 2001 at 05:11:47 PM EST

the BeBox was seriously custom hardware. you can't build one unless you're going to have custom motherboards and such run off at a fab place.
- jay kominek unix is all about covering up the fact that you can't type.
[ Parent ]
Open BeOS (3.00 / 1) (#14)
by cable on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 10:57:15 AM EST

Apple buying up Be would have been great, but it didn't happen. Be making BeOS for the G3/G4 PowerMacs would have been great but it didn't happen.

Be now has BeIA that Sony is using, maybe something will come of that. If not Sony could always buy out Be and use BeIA in the next generation Playstation as well. :)

Remember the rumors, like Red Hat to buy out Be? Never happened, but it boosted Be stock anyway.

Be should open up the core of BeOS, but leave the other parts closed. I mean the core of the OS is given away with Free BeOS 5.0 anyway. Sort of like Apple and Darwin vs. OSX, it could also work for Be?

Only you, can help prevent Neb Rage!
[ Parent ]

It /might/ work (none / 0) (#15)
by Anonymous 242 on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 11:11:33 AM EST

The scenario you mention is certainly within the realm of possibility. I, personally, don't think it is very likely to happen, but a Free Be kernel could very well carve out a nice little niche for itself. Other projects (such as Linux, Darwin, etc.) could also greatly benefit from BFS.

But, I'd still much rather have seen that sleek Be hardware carve out a profitable niche than the system software. Of course, now the latter is the only real possibilty and a long shot at best.

And when all is said and done, I'd rather see JLG pull a magic rabit of some sort out of his hat than not. As my old biology teacher used to always say: variety is the spice of life.

Nothing can be more pitiful and absurd than to pride oneself on one's genius
Nikolai Aleksandrovich Berdyaev, "The Ethics of Creativity"

[ Parent ]

The New BeBox (4.00 / 1) (#16)
by cable on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 02:22:54 PM EST

Yes they need new hardware. Get something like a new BeBox. Base it on the ATX form factor so others can build systems based on a motherboard bought from Be (The BeClones) and the user can transplant the BeBox into a new case if possible.

Include Geekport, USB 2.0, Firewire, and Parallel and Serial ports. Use USB for the keyboard and mouse, sell optional PS/2 adapters to use older hardware. Or include PS/2 ports if you think it won't add too much to the cost?

Make the motherboard Dual Processor, with a processor upgrade card that can add in more processors (take a clue from the Amiga 2000/3000/4000)

Create a virtual boot machine to run any PC (Intel X86) OS inside of BeOS. That way the BeOS user can also run Windows, Linux, etc stuff in a virtual machine mode. Or give the users the option to dual-boot.

Also make deals with Gateway, Dell, IBM, Compaq, Acer, HP, Sony, and others to pre-install BeOS on their new systems if the users want it.

Create a PowerPC BeBox, use CHRP/POP standards so it also can run Linux, OpenBSD, and others. market it towards Mac users, get it to run Darwin as well. Get a version of BeOS with Server apps and features, get Sybase and other stuff ported over to it. See if Oracle wants to make an Oracle database for it. Get Sun to port StarOffice/OpenOffice to BeOS. Work with the Mozilla group to get Mozilla running better with BeOS.

Give Free BeOS away, but have a CD to sell with the applications from the Pro version that can be used with it. Don't make the applications open sourced, just the core OS.

Only you, can help prevent Neb Rage!
[ Parent ]

If I were JLG for a day (none / 0) (#17)
by Anonymous 242 on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 03:02:19 PM EST

I'd create an instant prototype using IBM's Open (and unutilized AFAIK) PPC reference board. I'd just drop it in a sleek box similiar to the old BeBox with some commodity peripherals for video, sound, io and networking.

The next generation would be dual proc and (hopefully) done as a joint project with IBM to keep the mobo design open.

The third generation would add some sort of modular architecture so the end user could drop in as many CPUs as they please as well as use a funky daughtercard that accepts multiple processor types. Want to run ARMLinux today? No problem. How about upgrading to an EV6? Bring it on. . .

Daydreaming can be fun, but I don't see it happening.

Nothing can be more pitiful and absurd than to pride oneself on one's genius
Nikolai Aleksandrovich Berdyaev, "The Ethics of Creativity"

[ Parent ]

Re: If I were JLG for a day (2.50 / 2) (#25)
by ryancooley on Sun Apr 22, 2001 at 02:01:39 AM EST

And if I was JLG for a day, I'd transfer all the company's assets to an anonymous Swiss bank account that I could withdraw from later. So much for wishing huh?

[ Parent ]
Which is why you aren't JLG (4.00 / 1) (#26)
by cable on Mon Apr 23, 2001 at 02:56:22 PM EST

I don't think that the employees and investors would like that very much. I hope you where joking. But then with the K5 crowd, it is very hard to tell sometime.

If I was JLG, I would think about the new BeBox and make it so that it can be made from standard parts for the case, etc and then make a custom motherboard to fit in that case. Using standard parts should help keep the costs down as they can be bought from anywhere. ATX cases, PS/2 or USB mice and keyboards, IDE hard drives, SCSI hard drives, AGP video cards, PCI cards, etc. Then get the hardware companies to make BeOS/BeIA drivers, or at least work with the major ones.

Only you, can help prevent Neb Rage!
[ Parent ]
It was a joke (none / 0) (#27)
by ryancooley on Thu May 03, 2001 at 11:31:37 PM EST

I'm just annoyed by people saying 'if I was him for a day' and then say something boring. If I could be someone else for a day I'd do something crazy and why not? 24 hours later I'm me again. Go rob a bank and stash it in your save deposit box. He'll be serving time in jail and you'll be rich!

To me, all this sounds like someone saying 'if I was invisible for a day, I'd go swimming', just ignoring the great potential of we actually had an amazing opportunity.

[ Parent ]
J.L.G. Responds! (4.87 / 8) (#4)
by Arkady on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 05:09:44 PM EST

I actually emailed the letter yesterday, though I only posted it here today, and just a few minutes ago I received a reply! Here's Jean-Louis' response:

From: "Jean-Louis Gassee" <jlg@be.com>
To: <krystal@devnull.net>
Subject: Re: a future for BeOS?
Date: Thu, 19 Apr 2001 13:16:55 -0700

Good idea, thanks, food for thought, that's all I can say at this time...


"Moderation in excesses, but no excess in moderation.
De la modération dans les excès, mais pas d'excès dans la modération."
Jean-Louis Gassee

Now, receiving any reply to this sort of email to an OS company's CEO is astounding, much less getting one that's not a form letter. Getting one that's timely is on the border of insanely great! ;-)

(I still think this should post on K5, even though the letter has already received a response. Though open letters like this are mainly a way of convincing the recipient to listen to what you want to say, they're also a way of getting the letter writer's perspective out to the public. Also, it's always good to give credit to someone who replies. ;-)


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

JLG is really cool. (4.00 / 2) (#9)
by BigZaphod on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 10:21:44 PM EST

I've e-mailed him a few times and I've always received a personal response in a matter of hours to a day or two. VERY impressive. The only other important people I know that do that are people I happen to know personally. :-)

"We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
[ Parent ]
that astounding? (2.00 / 1) (#18)
by stepson3 on Fri Apr 20, 2001 at 11:32:44 PM EST

Now, receiving any reply to this sort of email to an OS company's CEO is astounding, much less getting one that's not a form letter. Getting one that's timely is on the border of insanely great! ;-)

Is it that astounding? I get timely email from my company's CEO all the time. Although its usually of the "why is the web server down? why doesn't my laptop work?" sort of thing.

Oops, I just saw that you wrote "OS company". Why is that a big deal? I can't really think of any Pure OS companies off hand .... Theo and Linus (OpenBSD and Linux) aren't really companies, MS does a lot more than Windows these days ... that leaves the Linux Distro type guys. Hmm... maybe JLG just sits around, trying to think up ways to make money .... BeOS is quite nice, but it just doesn't have the popularity or momentum of Linux, or the big corporate backing of Mac OS X (which is quite nice, but I'm OT enough ...)

[ Parent ]
Um. (5.00 / 3) (#19)
by fluffy grue on Sat Apr 21, 2001 at 12:09:46 AM EST

Robin doesn't work for Be or JLG. JLG doesn't know Robin. For the CEO of a company to respond to an unsolicited opinion letter sent by someone with absolutely no direct affiliation to that company is a rare occurence at best. It'd be somewhat like you sending an email to Steve Jobs and getting a personal response.
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Good idea. (4.33 / 3) (#8)
by BigZaphod on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 10:17:22 PM EST

I was actually thinking about writting some sort of editorial about this subject. I'm not so concerened about the open sourcing of BeOS as I am about its future. My thoughts are that Be should sell the rights to BeOS to a 3rd party that would focus on its development full time.

Yes, Be didn't have too much luck when they tried to sell BeOS, but some would argue that they didn't try to sell it very hard. I think a fresh new company could probably pick up the rights to BeOS pretty cheaply which would leave a lot of funding to marketing and deal making which Be's massive R&D costs really didn't allow for.

Anyway, that's just my $0.02 as one of the guys behind BeBits. :-)

"We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
BeBits? (4.00 / 1) (#10)
by Arkady on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 10:29:38 PM EST

You're one of the folks behind BeBits? Cool!

I like BeBits. ;-)

Since you find the idea of a buyout attractive, what do you think of the idea of a buyout by the user/developer community? And are you interested in helping to organize it if JLG decides to looks at it as a serious option? I do have _some_ experience with this kind of organization (as one of the folks who started the OpenNIC), but a broad base of experience is _very_ useful.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
I like it (5.00 / 2) (#11)
by BigZaphod on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 10:47:07 PM EST

Personally, I'd like to see BeOS go this route. A group of users and developers who have a vested interest in keeping development alive could help assure the future of BeOS. The part about slowly buying the rights is a nice touch, since that makes the plan much more realistic and possible. Heck, it even gives Be another revenue stream.

I would like to see something like the Apache group form for BeOS. If that were the case, I'm sure I'd be interested in being a part of it. :-)

As I said before, open source is not as important to me as BeOS simply being assured a future. I think a group of users and developers could work because then there is a legal entity to transfer ownership to. It also allows licensed code to be kept under control until it is either opened, purchased, replaced, etc. And it also allows for the group to sell, advertise, raise money, and deal with hardware manufactures as well.

"We're all patients, there are no doctors, our meds ran out a long time ago and nobody loves us." - skyknight
[ Parent ]
EXACTLY! (5.00 / 1) (#12)
by Arkady on Thu Apr 19, 2001 at 10:55:57 PM EST

Sorry to use caps there, it's just very pleasing for someone to actually understand the concept. ;-)

Actually, the dealing with hardware makers was something that hadn't occurre to me, but that's a great idea.

"Open Source", as Perens sees it, isn't that important to me either. Open source code, so the users can fix its problems is very important. To take one of my biggest annoyances with BeOS as an example, the system seems to have a hard limit on semaphores and I tend to hit that limit before I use more than 1/4 of my memory (512M). This really restricts the way I can use it, since for preference I'd have 20 or sho ssh sessions running to machines I'm responsible for. With pervasive multi-threading, that many sessions use too many semaphores. I could have fixed this if the kernel source were available (at least to registered users).

Let us hope that JLG &co. will give this some serios thought. I haave propsed something similar on the developers' list in the past (when they announced the IA refocus), but Be's financial condition is a much greater threat to the OS' continued viability than the company changing focus was.


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
An advantage to an open BeOS (3.50 / 2) (#20)
by PresJPolk on Sat Apr 21, 2001 at 02:10:18 AM EST

An open BeOS would be accessable to more people, because drivers could be ported from Linux.

I'm impressed by BeOS. But, even if I wanted to run it, I can't. There aren't BeOS drivers for my hardware. However, all of my hardware supports linux well.

Since Be's target market is obviously people who don't value source to their software, why not free the OS, and charge for applications? Be would make the OS more accessable, increasing the application market.

A shareholder (4.50 / 2) (#21)
by jkominek on Sat Apr 21, 2001 at 05:03:01 PM EST

I am a shareholder (a mere 0.004% of the company, yes, but still...) and it would make me happy to see Be do something open sourceish with BeOS.

I tried very hard for a long time to develop software for BeOS, because I liked what the API had to offer... the problem is that it only offered it, it wasn't documented anywhere at all. (And I searched hard for a very long time.) If I would've been able to dig into the kernel code, I could've ported half a dozen Linux drivers... *sigh

Opening the source to BeOS loses Be, Inc nothing. Their architecture appears to be sufficently different from everything else out there that its not like anything could be successfully stolen and added to other OSes. (Except for maybe supporting BFS better, but that would only help BeOS's popularity.)

I'd so love to be able to use BeOS again. Maybe if the code is opened I can make it work on my laptop, and then I'll be in heaven.
- jay kominek unix is all about covering up the fact that you can't type.

oh yeah... (4.00 / 1) (#22)
by jkominek on Sat Apr 21, 2001 at 05:08:12 PM EST

Since I became a shareholder, my investment has dropped to maybe 30% or less of its original value... As a shareholder I want to see the management doing something more creative than firing people to increase funding. (in all except the largest companies, lay offs just seem like a sign of the end, not increased profitability.)

I think if Be opened the source in a very open BSD-ish way, and provided the community with a task list of things that they need to happen to the code (instead of just saying, "here it is, have fun"), they'd be able to have their developers concentrate on purely BeIA tasks.

Maybe some computer science professors, with their fetish for using exotic operating systems for teaching OS design might have students work on BeOS. (long shot, but something that just occured to me while I was typing.)
- jay kominek unix is all about covering up the fact that you can't type.
[ Parent ]

Yeah! (4.00 / 1) (#23)
by Arkady on Sat Apr 21, 2001 at 05:09:01 PM EST

Please, please (OK, enouugh grovelling) drop JLG a note about this to encourage him to do it. He seems open to the idea, and commentary from shareholders, even extremely minority ones, could push the decision over the edge.

Personally, I like the collective idea even better than normal Free Software, since it lets the programmers get paid for programming.

So, if they go for it, what say we (the BeOS users at K5) set up our own distro of BeOS? ;-)


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere Anarchy is loosed upon the world.

[ Parent ]
An Open Letter to Be's Jean-Louis | 27 comments (24 topical, 3 editorial, 0 hidden)
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