BeGeistert 012 Review & Comment

This years first festival of BeOSing was held again at the Dusseldorf Youth Hostel April 17-18th April 2004. As ever it started on the Friday night and these days you can also stay the Sunday night, I missed number 11 (which I am told was the biggest ever) but I made it this time for my 8th BeGeistert.

The timing was especially apt because I had to recently give up my iBook (wasn't actually mine) so I'd just gone back to my PC running BeOS (The dodgy Dano and a perfectly legal BONE 7a).

I nearly didn't go this time after I checked the cost of the train fare but luckily myself and Francois Revol managed to get a lift from Jerome Duval who was driving. Francois came complete with a full PC in a handy (not) carry case. These days almost everyone uses lap tops, in the earlier BeGeisterts I went to (4 years ago!) it was mostly desktop PCs.

As per usual I arrived late after everyone had already gone for food but we managed to bump into most of them on their way back while we went. I think it was the first time I've been in a German restaurant without someone who speaks German so that proved to be an interesting experience.

After that it was back to the hostel to catch up with everyone and drink plenty of Alt while doing so. Alt is an interesting beer and a pretty amazing "digestive aid" but I'll not go into details of that aspect...

As usual everyone sits around to all sorts of strange hours on Friday night catching up on the news and general goings on. I haven't really been following the goings on in the BeOS world for some time now so there was a lot to catch up on - and boy did I catch up!

The BeOS world has had some problems of late and I heard various bits about this, it seems there is a lot of misinformation and rumours going around so, given what I've learned, before I go into the main review I'll comment on this.

BeOS Max
Some seem to think this enhanced version of BeOS PE (Personal Edition) is illegal which is a highly questionable view. At most it may be in breech of the PE license but since that license is with Be inc - a non-existent company - it's difficult to do anything about it. PalmSource may be able to do something but since it's not interfering with their business I doubt PalmSource could justify the cost of doing anything about it. If it was being sold (it's a free download) and thus potential source of revenue they might do something but even then they wouldn't do anything until it made some real money.

In any event all the author needs to do is split the distro in two, installing BeOS PE first then in a separate step installing the changes. I'm not a lawyer but this should clear up any potential license problems.

Zeta
I have been aware of the Zeta project for some time but this time has been something of a revelation. For some time there has been an apparent split forming in the BeOS community with some strongly against Zeta. This seems to be based on rumours such as the following:

  • They have no code.
  • They have code but it's illegal.
  • They have legal code but they're missing a big (important) piece.
  • They are going to switch to the OpenBeOS codebase.
  • They are only concentrating on eye-candy.
  • Even my own opinion of Zeta was that it was a BeOS Dano with extras and like many I assumed they would eventually base the system around OpenBeOS. However the rumours have grown to such an extent that some people have turned against it with quite some real zealotry, when bebits recently added outside moderators to remove broken or old links some took it upon themselves to remove some of the Zeta compatible software (Bebits has since suspended the outside moderation program).

    I do not understand what people have against YellowTab, they are after all trying to further the platform. Do the detractors seriously think attacking YellowTab is going to do any good? I can only assume the people perpetrating such actions are actively trying to ensure BeOS (and variants) remain dead. It wont have any good effect: When the Amiga community started diverging a lot of (still ongoing) arguments broke out and it drove many users away from that scene.

    As I said this time was something of a revelation, Zeta is not what people think. I can say with absolute certainty that zero of the above rumours are true. They have quite simply no basis in reality whatsoever. They are either false assumptions, malicious gossip or both. I think one might have been true at one point but I'm not sure about that and I know it's not true now.

    I have no reason to believe anything of Zeta is illegal or that they are missing anything. In fact I have several very good reasons to believe the complete opposite. I can say this because of things I seen, things I heard and conversations I had. The YellowTab people are notably evasive when you ask direct questions but there are always ways and means of finding things out if you really want to.

    It may sound like I was doing some form of investigative journalism but I'm neither an investigator or a journalist, I was just trying to find out more for myself and in doing so heard a lot of stuff which all pointed irrevocably to the same conclusion.

    YellowTab will most likely neither confirm nor deny my comments here but there is a good reason for this. You can pretty much bet there's an NDA been signed somewhere. Business people understand this but many consumers don't get it, having singed a few NDAs myself I fully understand their predicament they must be in.

    I asked about Zeta making use of OpenBeOS code in the future but I was quite surprised that YellowTab don't intend to make much use of it. Much of the community assumes Zeta would switch over to OpenBeOS based code at some point so again this was something of a revelation. This is another case of a rumour being completely wrong, YellowTab are working on what is going to effectively be BeOS R6, with OpenBeOS working on a replacement for R5 using OpenBeOS would be going backwards.

    I admit I'm being evasive in reporting exactly what I've heard but this is a dead giveaway. If YellowTab didn't have code or were missing anything of significance they would by necessity have to switch to the OpenBeOS source base, in fact they would probably work on it themselves to speed it's development. However since they are not doing this and have no intention of using significant parts they obviously don't have those problems.

    I for one expect Zeta R1.0 will be nothing less than what I would have expected from BeOS R6. I also expect it (or subsequent versions) will be able to handle larger memory sizes - without hacks - and indeed solve the other internal issues present in BeOS.

    Perhaps some of those who don't like YellowTab should be looking at the system rather than making up rumours, they're in for a surprise. If they don't like what YellowTab are doing then they can try developing a commercial OS themselves, it's a very difficult and very expensive business. At the same time I also think YellowTab need to work on their PR if they are to get the existing community behind them (they need developers). They are allowing a lot of patently false rumours to circulate but by not addressing them they are at least complicit in the negativity which has developed. That said they are apparently doing quite well in business circles and outside the BeOS community.

    Anyway, enough of my rant comment, back to BeGeistert...

    Saturday
    On Saturday we were awoken by the Youth Hostel blasting us with music at 8:00 AM. They didn't do that last time I was there, and a little annoying after going to bed only 4 hours previously. That said it was useful as it woke me up enough to get up in time for breakfast.

    Saturday was a beautiful day with the a good hot sun shining. Of course the sun chooses a day when everyone was inside to shine. There were several presentations throughout the day including Squeezer, Zeta, WonderBrush and generating PDFs in Python.

    Squeezer
    This is a very clever app for handling archives (Zip etc) written by a Italian guy called Massimiliano Origgi. You may think archiving is about Zipping and unzipping files but Massimiliano has taken it to a whole new level with Squeezer which allows you to arbitrarily add/remove individual or groups of files to/from archives. It also allows filtering so you could if you wished extract only files of a certain type. The example given was that of HTML files, If you only wanted the documentation you could set a filter and only the html files would be extracted. Of course you can also do the reverse so if you had packed a software product and had a last minute documentation update you could add it without re-archiving everything.

    Massimiliano also seems to be working on 10 other projects simultaneously (including OpenBeOS) and somehow getting them all done: NewsSniffer reads and displays RSS feeds on your desktop so you don't have to keep checking web pages for the latest news. MultiClip gives you multiple clipboards accessible via the function keys, this lead to quite a discussion on how the contents of each clipboard should be displayed. NetMonitor is a small tool for monitoring your network activity like the one in Windows for monitoring modem traffic. A new FTP client is also in development which will allow you to use the normal window interface to upload and download files. I think he's working on other stuff as well, quite how he manages it all I don't know!

    Zeta
    Bernd Korz gave us a demo of some of the recent changes in Zeta, There is a lot of work going into Zeta that goes well beyond fancy looking windows. The USB stack is being improved to access a wider range of devices than the current stack which is apparently quite limited, this is proving to be a challenge as the number of devices which actually implement the USB spec properly is quite low.

    The preferences system is being completely revamped with preferences displayed in a single window and many new ones being added. There is a lot of work going on under the hood so to speak and the basic applications supplied are also being enhanced or in some cases replaced with better tools - Squeezer being one example.

    YellowTab also seem to be answering their critics, the so called "Linux-isation" comments seem to have been listened to and some things are being simplified, i.e. some options have been removed from the installer and even the number of border options have been lowered.

    The talk was interrupted by lunch so I missed the second part. There was also a talk on the encryption system being put into Zeta on Sunday but it was in German so I didn't attend.

    Wonderbrush.
    Stephan Assmus showed us the advancements he made in the development of WonderBrush. It was very basic last time I seen it a year ago and has clearly came on a long way since then. It did some pretty smart stuff then but now it's even smarter with tricks like the clone tool being added. This allows you to clone an action so if you drew a red circle it would clone it and you can move it elsewhere. If you then decided you'd prefer it blue you can then of course colour it blue, the power is when you have a selection of clones on screen and you want them all blue - you just colour the parent and all the others will copy the behaviour and also change to blue. This doesn't just apply to primitives, you can also do this with tools, so you can clone a blur effect. What's more since everything is done as layers you can pick up the blur/s and move them around independent of the original image. Stephan has also added a text tool complete with anti-aliasing, it not complete yet but you can do a lot of tricks with it as well.

    Stephan also showed us a clever scaling algorithm which he'd implemented in eXposer. It outputs animations and you may wish to scale them when generating a final film. However normal image scaling algorithms tend to blur everything slightly thus reducing the quality. In order to address this Stephan added a scaling algorithm which looks for edges in the image and makes sure they are not blurred across pixel boundaries. The results of this were plain to see with the new algorithm generating much better images.

    PDFs in Python
    Charlie Clark gave another talk on Python, this time about how he used Python to generate PDFs which were used to produce the badges everyone wears. These were previously done in Gobe but because the main logo was an image they never came out very well due to Gobe's insistence on printing everything at 72dpi (you should print images at 300dpi or better).

    This time Charlie generated the badges in PDF using a short script and some PDF generation libraries. PDF is a compiled version of Postscript which is a language for describing pages. Generating Postscript can be a very complex operation due to the number of calculations you have to do but the libraries simplify this process and then creates the PDF.

    The end result was a page of code and name badges which look a lot better, though of course nobody noticed this until it was pointed out!

    On Saturday night we did a copy of last year's visit to Lupo's Pizza restaurant in the centre of Dusseldorf. The atmosphere was very good and as last year the pizza was made quickly and was absolutely delicious. At the end we all had a small cake to celebrate Eddy's 18th birthday. Afterwards we were treated to a glass of Killepitsch by Eddy and Charlie, quite amusing seeing everyone's reaction after taking a sip - it's potent stuff!

    Sunday
    Blasted by Music again on Sunday morning though this time I managed 5 hours sleep.

    More Python
    I didn't attend the talk on encryption in Zeta but myself and Giuseppe Gargaro managed to get an introduction to Python from Charlie.

    I've seen bits of Python before and I very much like the concept of a powerful but easy to use language but never really been introduced to it. Many of the concepts are very similar to Perl which I've used quite a bit but the syntax is completely different and much easier to understand. Like Perl, Python is generally considered as a scripting language and can do much of the same stuff in much the same way but can and is used for bigger projects as well. I think one of the biggest differences between Python and Perl is the readability, Perl is a nice language to use but it's very easy to make code completely unreadable, I know one person who once described it as a write-only language! Python on the other hand is designed to be readable by people who don't even know the language and this is very good for readability.

    OpenBeOS Media Kit.
    Marcus Overhagen gave us an update of the Media kit he's been working on. Things have obviously moved along here as we were shown movies being played with different codecs including MPEG 4 and Ogg. Movies can also be played simultaneously.

    One thing I was not aware of was the addition of support for 6 channel sound schemes so you'll be able to play DVDs complete with 5.1 surround sound. There's lot of work gone and going into the Media Kit and Marcus is doing excellent work. OpenBeOS is moving along, it's no easy or short progress but they have some very good developers working on it.

    Marcus has however had his own share of controversy recently when he decided to charge for a gigabit ethernet driver he's recently developed. Some have asked why it was not free but Marcus's reply is that it took him around 40 hours work to develop the driver and wanted to earn something back for it, he's not exactly going to sell truck loads of licenses so it's not as if he's going to get rich of this.

    People seem to be under the impression that drivers are free, this may be the case for open source stuff but the majority of drivers have been developed by paid developers, you pay for this as part of the hardware or OS cost so you don't generally see this. Marcus is perfectly entitled to charge for a driver, if people don't want to pay for his hard work perhaps they should try working for free and see how they like it.

    Digital Annoyances
    As ever I had annoyed everyone by taking pictures of them but this time I had a better camera so I was a better quality annoyance at 6 times the resolution. Everyone seemed to have a digital camera this time so it'd be pretty hard to avoid having your picture taken.

    Of course with film cameras when you run out of film you just reload, no worries about needing to download your pictures or recharge your batteries. My CF card was nearly full on Saturday night but not having a computer with me I had to get the pictures off it. I knew Macs could recognised my camera without any special drivers so Peter and Nadia Stegemann allowed me to use their iBook to download the images. Then I had to find a way of keeping the images but their iBook didn't have a CD-Burner so I transferred the pictures to Marcus' PC, he didn't have a burner either but he did have a FTP server so I could then move the pictures to anywhere else. Eventually I found Francois had a burner so I got the pictures transferred again and finally burned to CD.

    Why am I telling you all this? Because on Sunday afternoon I got talking to Jan-Rixt Van Hoye who had written a plug-in for Exposure (an image downloading program) which happens to speak PTP. PTP is a recent protocol for communicating with digital cameras and it turns out my camera speaks it.... aaaarrrrrrrrrrgggggg!!!

    Another developer I got speaking to is Oliver Tappe who wrote the Beam (BEware Another Mailer) mail client. Having recently switched back to BeOS I needed a new client as BeMail can no longer log onto my mail server. Beam works fine in this regard and also handles multiple mail accounts which BeMail couldn't. I was wonder why it couldn't send Word attachments and he suggested that BeOS had not correctly identified the .doc and gave it the wrong mime type, when I got home I tried changing the mime type and low and behold it works fine.

    Closing
    Sunday afternoon most people started to pack up and go home, in the evening those remaining moved to a smaller room and stayed there for a while. Some of us went for a meal at a nearby restaurant which, like Saturdays meal was plentiful and absolutely delicious. Eventually most of the rest left for home leaving only those who were remaining for Sunday night (our car and the YellowTab guys). As usual we sat up most of the night chatting though I was a lot more talkative than usual (I can be after a few drinks), I think one of us remaining had a few too many drinks though - you know who you are :-)

    Eventually even us stragglers went home the next day, I slept most of the way back and Jerome managed to deliver me almost to my door. Once I was back I went back to sleep, then I got up had something to eat and went back to bed again, think I tired or something? Thankfully though my dinner didn't try and kill me this time.

    All in all BeGeistert was a fun and informative event, as indeed it always is. It is also becoming increasingly international with I think 7 nationalities present this time including groups from Italy and France.

    By physically getting people together you find they get on and discuss things much more rationally than on-line where the lack of emotional content means comments are very often taken differently from the way they are intended. Many developers attend BeGeistert, these are the real backbone of the community and are not the people spreading rumours. You have people from YellowTab, OpenBeOS and users and developers of various systems all in one room and it's a very productive and fun environment.

    The Pictures (6 pages)
    As mentioned I took quite a few pictures at the event, I actually took around 200 but don't worry, I've since selected the best, sorted, cropped and generally tweaked them. I even tried to name people this time (Thanks to Marcus Overhagen for putting names on his site!) - Enjoy!

    There are quite a few other sets of pictures and reviews out already and some of these proved rather useful for remembering the details of talks etc - Thanks!

    Other Reviews:
    French
    English
    German
    Turkish (with Pictures)
    Itialian (with Pictures)

    Other Pictures:
    Marcus Overhagen
    Begasus
    Don't know who took these
    Jerome Duval