Almanac: 4 December 2000

By: J.D. Hildebrand

Abstract: Eazel in the news. Making money in the open source world. Highly reliable software. And all the usual nonsense.

Almanac: 4 December 2000

By J.D. Hildebrand

Greetings! Today is the 339th day of 2000; 27 days remain in the year.

December 4 is a fine day in the history of romanticism, the artistic movement that is occupied with significance, meaning, and idealism. Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto in D Major made its world premier 119 years ago, on December 4, 1881. Legend has it that the concerto was written to ease the pain of Tchaikovsky's broken marriage, which lasted less than three months.

Romantic poet Rainer Maria Rilke, a champion of lyricism, was born 125 years ago, on December 4, 1875, in Prague. Track him down on the Web; even in translation his voice is pure. Of the provenance of art, Rilke once wrote, "Works of art always spring from those who have faced the danger, gone to the very end of an experience, to the point beyond which no human being can go."

Musician Frank Zappa died seven years ago at age 52.

Today's birthdays: Model Tyra Banks turns 27 today. Game-show host Wink Martindale turns 66. And the marvelous singer Cassandra Wilson turns 45. I have all of Wilson's CDs and I've caught her live two or three times. Her work always leaves me breathless. Celebrate her birthday by nabbing a copy of her breakthrough recording, New Moon Daughter, or my favorite, Blue Light 'Til Dawn. You will be astounded, I promise, to hear what a soulful jazz singer can wring out of Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey" or the Monkees' "Last Train to Clarksville."

I am back from Scotts Valley and recovered from the chest cold that laid me low for a week or so. Sorry about the lack of Almanac columns while I was busy brainstorming with David I., John Kaster, and the rest of the crew. I stayed up late working in my hotel room every night, but I never really got anywhere.

We did some good brainstorming about new features for the Borland Developer Community site, including some irresistible new features that tickle me, they are so clever and nerdy. The best of the new ideas are huge, of course, too huge to implement in a week or a month. We haven't even begun to assess their impact on the timelines and budgets that support our work here. There's a lot of work ahead of us. But I always feel great when I participate in the excitement of a shared vision and commitment to a project I believe in. The visit really recharged my batteries.

But enough about me. I have some stories to tell you about today.

EAZEL IN THE NEWS. The guys at Eazel should give their public-relations firm a bonus. I can't think of another company that gets so much favorable press -- and on the basis of so little product. It seems like every couple weeks I get overflows from the flack buffers at ZDNet, Linux Today, and CNet. I swear, Bud Tribble can't buy a new car without CNN rushing a special report onto its Web site.

The amazing thing is that the news is almost always positive. In fact, before today I had never read a word about Eazel that was even slightly discouraging. Reporters treat the executive team -- most of them members of the original Macintosh development team at Apple -- with the kid gloves and wide-eyed admiration usually reserved for rock stars and bishops. You'd think that Nautilus was the second coming of Lotus 1-2-3.

 Well. Here's the daily dose of adulation:

  • Screen wars: The folks who gave PCs mice and menus are back with some new tricks. This MSNBC/Newsweek story by Stephen Levy starts with the Mac-development legend and continues with a fairly informative comparison of the Mac's new OS X Aqua interface, Microsoft's proposed MSN/Dot-Net UI, and Nautilus.
  • Eazel readies graphical environment for Linux. Must have been a slow news day. InfoWorld published this article, which reports that Eazel still intends to complete its work on Nautilus.
  • Eazel on down the road. This Linux Magazine article offers an in-depth discussion with the Eazel team. The story's from September which makes it rather old for news, but I've neglected to share it with you until now. Read and enjoy.
  • The Herring 100: 10 to watch. Red Herring identified Eazel as the 10 most promising companies in high-tech, based on funding, management, vision, and other factors.
  • Dell gives Linux a bigger hug. eWeek broke the news that Dell is investing in Eazel and bundling Eazel's software with its Linux PCs. eWeek couldn't resist playing the Gnome-versus-KDE "holy war" angle <yawn> along the way.
  • Dell invests in Linux-for-the-masses company. This straightforward report from CNet covers the same ground as the eWeek story.
  • Dell seeks to make it easy with Eazel. LinuxProgramming.com's Lou Grinzo wrote this story for Linux Today.
  • Dell fumbles open source desktop gambit. After encountering all these read-alike stories, it's downright refreshing to blunder into The Register, where writers are apparently encouraged to speak plainly. Here's what The Register's Andrew Orlowski said about the Dell-Eazel deal: "...this carefully leaked, desperately optimistic newscrumb did its business duty. We confidently predict that the more gullible wires will be awash with 'Dell endorsing Linux' stories...but let's take a quick reality check..." Now that's writing!

CAN YOU REALLY MAKE MONEY IN OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE? The collapse of the high-tech stock market has increased the pressure on dot-coms and Linux firms to generate revenue and show profits. Predictably, journalists and pundits are using the occasion as an excuse to do a little navel-gazing about the big picture. Can Linux firms ever make money? Or is the whole thing a house of cards?

The great thing about opinions is that everyone has one.

MAYBE WE SHOULD JUST HANG IT UP RIGHT NOW DEPT. SiliconValley.com is on the verge of discovering embedded systems.

In a report by the San Jose Mercury News's Chuck Carroll, sv.com shared the news that NASA, Carnegie-Mellon University, and a number of corporate partners will form a "high dependability computing consortium" in Silicon Valley.

The purpose of the consortium is apparently to research and promote techniques for writing highly reliable software for use in embedded systems. Because they're fed up with the way they're always having to reboot the antilock braking systems in their cars, I guess.

The story just seems wrongheaded to me, maybe because I'm more aware than most people of the countless computers that surround us in daily life, all spinning away with a quiet reliability that puts PCs to shame.

Or maybe it's because of the statistics. Carroll quotes a Stanford Research Institute scientist who says the Y2K bug cost businesses $1 trillion worldwide -- far more than any other estimate I've read. And Carroll reports that software "typically has from six to 30 errors per line of code."

I never claimed to be a superprogrammer (well, once), but I doubt I ever squeezed six errors into a single line of code, much less 30 errors.

Oh well. Here is the story.

Keep hacking.


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