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I went, I Be'ed, I was conquered!
By Ed Musgrove firstname.lastname@example.org
[Yes, I know, this isn't BReport, it's Amiga Report. But there are some
neat thing happening in the third floor Be offices, and they're worth
keeping in mind--if for no other reason than to keep Amiga Tech on their
Yesterday I attended the Be users' group meeting in Bellingham, Washington.
Two members of the Be corporate staff were on hand to give a 6 hour
seminar! After the usual hassles of getting everything running and
displaying on the auditorium's projector we were given a very informative
set of talks about various subjects of interest to compu-holics hearts.
Mark Gonzales (Marketing dude at Be) and Peter Potrebic (Software support)
were both ready with a slide show (overhead projections) and demos running
on the BeBox itself. First, a note about non-disclosure; I asked about
this in regard to the info we get from the web sight and from the employees
who attended the users' group. I was told we were expected to disclose all
and everything--in fact, the more folks who want in on the ground floor the
better, "so spread the word, nothing is secret!" is the current watchword.
Julie Petersen is an Amigan of great renown. It was she who brought all
the pieces together to solve the "A3000 screen sparkle" problem. She has
become a very major enthusiast in the Be world. It was she who formed this
users' group and was instrumental in launching this meeting with Be
professionals. She gave the welcoming speech and entertained us with a few
choice tidbits from here past and from her recent Be experiences.
Mark gave us some interesting statistics about the computer industry in
general, then tied them together to explain Be's marketing and design
philosophy. One interesting factoid was that there is an installed base of
250+ million personal computers worldwide, an additional 68 million will be
sold this year alone! He showed some of the "new rules" which Be is trying
to operate under, the first and formost is to break the old rule which said
"CPUs are expensive, no one needs more than one", Be's rule is "one is not
enough!" Another (which might not seem too clear from this) is "learn from
the past--the mistakes and the successes", but don't necessarily
(willy-nilly) just go with the past successful solutions.
There was one interesting rule, "assume the future, and build it in".
Combined with "ride the industry cost curve", these might seem a bit at
loggerheads, Mark was able to synthesize the two into a seemingly
reasonable business and technical plan.
Peter gave us a guided tour of the more interesting apps and abilities of
the machine. Remember, this is a machine in it's infancy, the software was
startling, considering that real software development was only just begun
last year. Peter was subjected to a wide range of technical questions
(some of which ended up answered by Mark who is quite capable of explaining
system level hardware and software issues in complex detail--not common in
a Marketing person!)
Let me give you a quick overview of the hardware and software from a naive
users' point of view (that's me--naive.) Some may have seen a posting which
mentions that the developer's machine currently ships with no front panel
(bezel), this appears to be accurate for the first few hundred machines
shipped, as the case (a medium dark blue very close to the Zip drive color)
seems to be an industry standard box, but the folks at Be have been working
to design an attractive, functional front panel. This has resulted in the
folks there trying their hand at modeling in various mediums. The result
which they displayed yesterday was interesting, slightly different (though
not obnoxious), and only a trial run, first attempt. The final unit will
have twin LED arrays which will display each CPU's current load rate--kind
of a Starwars wannabe.
The software (the OS, a complete CLI-driven development system and a few
home grown apps) was impressive. The OS takes all the good stuff from
AmigaDOS, Windows95, and MacOS; all the bad stuff from them seems to have
disappeared. As this is not only a true multi-tasking machine (like the
Amiga), it is also an n-expandable multi-processor system (hardware limits
not inherent in the machine seem to limit cost/price/return to about 8 PPC
processors.) The current board supports only 2 603e's, but they seem to
handle everything with ease. The CLI is a "bash" which I think stands for
"Bourne Again SHell", but don't quote me! It looked exactly like an Amiga
shell with the exception that it was a full blown app window (menus,
scrollers, gadgets like iconify, help.)
Help--ah yes. They have a totally rad concept on context sensitive help,
the exact details of which escape me, but basically you select a "help"
icon then select something on the screen (an icon, a running app, a gadget,
a blank area of a window--whatever tickles your fancy). The machine then
checks if it is a system resource for which help is required and if so does
it's really nice thing. If not it passes the help request on to the app
which has a built-in OS standard way of responding which may be used,
modified or ignored.
Back to the "workbench" (as we Amigans know it), I can only wax ecstatic
over the desk top environment. It has only one drawback for Amiga-aware
folks--it has no way of displaying multi-resolution screens simultaneously
(like if you pull down the Amiga's Workbench screen to display something
running behind it.) As I understand it, this is possible by using a
graphics card which will do this--and at least one is available at a very
high cost. So it is not so much a system problem but a cost thing--but
don't quote me on this either!
When you drag a window somewhere the entire window display moves and
uncovered screen area is redrawn (as opposed to the Amigas drag a simulated
rectangle method.) The 2 processor system is so fast it is doing all this
in *software* doing constant *total* screen redraws, not just clip region
fix-ups. It is so fast that even with an insane work load the process was
not in the least affected. Remember, this machine has no custom ASICs
(custom graphics or sound chips like our blitter/Agnus/Paula stuff.)
The desk top supports the standard Amiga functions like drag and drop,
clipboard, multi-select (uses the shift key or select draw boxes just like
the Amiga.) The OS is completely "hot linked", any change of anything in
the file structure immediately updates all references to that thing. For
instance, you have your favorite paint program running and open the file
requester displaying a list of file, one of which is the infamous "foo".
Now, just for fun, you go to the desk top, find foo's icon, and change
foo's name to the much more reasonable "bar". As this is a single screen
design, the paint program's file requester was left visible off to one
side, and you notice that as you change the files name it's entry in the
file requester changes instantly and automatically from foo to bar. For
the programmers this can even be set up so that code which opens a file
will get the file even if the name has been changed!
The file system is just one part of the built-in database tool. You can
search the entire database of all volumes (or just one or more volume(s) or
directory(s)) using very sophisticated search criteria on one or multiple
fields. Any user may extend the definition of what a file is on their
system. If they want file comments, they simply add a new field to the
database's file record, If they want user protection they can add a field
like rating, and rate the files (x rated files would not be available
without a password or something.)
Menus are handled about like on the Amiga--pull or drop down (did not see
which) uses Amiga-key keyboard shortcuts. I did not know clone keyboards
had Amiga keys, but the keyboard shortcuts were all shown as a stylized "A"
+ <key> and menu entries looked just like on the Amiga. Menus stay
attached to the active window, as opposed to the Amiga's way of always
sticking them at the top of the screen. There was a user preference to
configure everything it seemed, but they did not go into details (we only
had 6 hours and could have used twice that!)
Mice, gadgets, windows, icons, directories and files all will be totally
comfortable to the Amiga user. The user interface is very similar to that
of the Amiga (and Mac and Windows95 as well.) Currently scroll bars are not
proportional, but the release being shipped with new machines has
proportional scroll bars, just like we do. What they have done with system
standard gadgets makes GadTools and even MUI look pale by comparison.
If you don't develop software you can stop reading here and skip to the
conclusion at the end.
Be claims to have about 1000 registered developers in North America and
about another 300 in Europe. From the traffic on comp.sys.be I would guess
this to be true. They offer an astonishing deal to developers. If you
have any track record at all in the electronics industry (even a tiny PD
utility on an obscure platform) you may become a registered developer with
all rights and privileges pertaining. The price is right--nothing!
Developer support is in place and functioning well. Support is INet based
by preference, though they might answer a letter.
The system is almost completely POSIX compliant (some multi-processor
issues need to be worked out, but they claim 99% compatibility.) They will
be CHRP (or whatever it is called today) compliant when the standard is
"set"--they maintain very close compatibility now, but the standard is
still being changed so they will not buy in until it has a firm base.
The developer's text-based material is all available for free on their web
sight (www.be.com) in multiple formats (HTML, Postscript, Acrobat) and
includes the "Be Book" which is like the RKMs with the exception of the
Style Guide (for which they are seeking a tech writer to design and write a
"style" by which we may be guided.)
The functions all have very similar names to the functions in AmigaDOS
which do similar things. Porting most Amiga programs will be a simple
matter of running it through a spell checker with a "dictionary" composed
of the function call names. (Well, it might be a tiny bit more
Executable files on the BeBox are very small. An app which opens a screen
and window then prints "Hello, World!" in a program specified font compiled
to 7k. On the Amiga it takes 3k.
At the present, the only real support for software development is via
MetroWerks CodeWarrior running on a Mac. The GUI is being ported to run
natively on the BeBox, or so we were lead to believe, though some question
remains about MetroWerks devotion to the cause in the eyes of a few users
The box ships with an interesting suite of apps (but absolutely NO printer
or formatted parallel output) most of which come with source. They are
considering the question of library source code for developers, but
currently do not supply this. All the most critical apps are in place in
at least rough form (web browser, terminal, paint, programmer's text
editor, etc.). Apps may be coder defined as "take over the machine, single
task, no OS desk top", "multi-copy of the same code", or "fully re-entrant,
and re-executable" just as with the Amiga.
In conclusion, I would like to describe what they did in order to
demonstrate multitasking. All the following were going at the same time,
all were running at full speed, no degradation of the screen update
occurred (and they claimed that if we had had an INet connection they would
have had 4 sessions going at once as well.) All windows could be moved, or
sized at will, doing realtime screen refreshment.
Running a panel which looked like a 16 channel sound mixer, but was a midi
controller, they played a long 16 instrument midi file (using a midi
synthesizer, not software emulation for now.)
Using the built-in CD-ROM drive they played a stock (Blues Brothers was
obtained from an audience member) title via a very familiar looking CD
Using the built-in sound generator they played a long sound file directly
off the hard drive.
Running the included paint/animation program they opened two examples of
the same anim file (King Tut is out--Nephertiti is in) and had each rotate
the image (one clockwise, one widershins.)
Using a demo program which takes a bit of text then displays it in a window
in various sizes and styles, while cycling through the entire directory of
fonts, one font at a time, they exhibited the font rendering engine. It
does all sizing and style (bold, italics, rotate, shear) change in real
time, using the CPU.
Two versions of a program which calculates and displays Mandlebrots were
going, but they went so fast that even with major window sizes and and tiny
magnification areas to re-compute they had a hard time keeping them both
working as opposed to waiting for input.
Pulse (SnoopDos for the Be) was showing 300+ processes running
A CPU monitor program was running.
Windows were dragged, iconified, and sized as quickly as they could go from
one app to another.
The file system was queried using very extensive search criteria with
multiple queries going at once (again it was hard to keep this going to
load the system, as these calls get a high priority, adjustable just like
on the Amiga.)
Even more was going on, but I could not get it all down to give any more
details. No real OS intensive things like formatting or disk copying were
going on, but at least one app was streaming data from HD to the sound
All this took place with only a barely perceptible slow down.