On the Desktop
Linux in the news
All in one big page
See also: last week's On the Desktop page.
The backup phoenix.
In fact, there is. And not just one. Last week we looked briefly at HancomLinux, which recently merged with KDE developer theKompany. Their business is booming in Asia and they're expanding to the U.S. Here in the U.S., we found another example of success: The Tolis Group. This company is nearly unknown to the Linux world as it is now, but many know it from its past. The Tolis Group is the phoenix which rose from the ashes of the EST/Atipa merger, and who continues to bring the BRU backup and restore utility to the Linux world.
The current economy has helped flush Linux startups faster than anyone would have liked. Tim Jones, President and CTO of the Tolis Group, says the problems with those companies which are failing is obvious. "They got funding, spent it fast and furious without concern on how they would produce revenue, and simply weren't cautious enough with how quickly they burned through the funding. You can't exist that way." This, he says, was the problem with the EST/Atipa merger.
EST, makers of an archival system called BRU, was founded in 1985. In 1999, Atipa bought EST as part of a plan to build a number of Internet appliances in which BRU would provide backup services. Those plans never fully developed. A number of management changes at EST, via Atipa, caused some friction with the original EST group, including Tim Jones. "Atipa allowed EST's new management team to spend too fast. They ramped up the staffing, paying some employees ludicrous salaries. Some of them were making up to $200,000 a year and did almost nothing for the company." Atipa had been called the next VA Linux at one point, focusing on hardware solutions ranging from PCs to network appliances to server systems. But they never quite got on track. Jones added, "When your burn rate is 3 times your monthly revenue rate, there's only one thing that's going to happen."
The EST/Atipa management team, which replaced EST's team after the merger, lost money every month of the combined operations. For Jones and the other original EST management, this was the most difficult part of the merger. "There had never been a red month at EST. We had been in the black since day one. Then you turn that into a company that is 3 times in the red each month, we just had to say ``enough''." Jones and the other EST originals left the company. At one point Atipa attempted to sell off EST to EBIZ (now in chapter 11). Finally, Atipa closed EST down, offering to let the new management team buy back the company, a deal they couldn't put together. Jones and his group, however, could.
Jones' group pulled back the core players which brought EST and BRU to their original success, including Bob Christ as Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and Paige Christ as Director of Marketing. They took the company, which had grown to 27 people under Atipa, back down to a core group of 7 individuals.
The financiers for the Tolis Group offered the new company a couple of million dollars up front to get a building, to hire people to handle finances and so forth. But the team didn't want to do that. "Before the Atipa merger, we got along on $1.2 million a year in revenue with 6 or 7 staff members. There was no reason to go down the pre-IPO trail." Jones says a perfect example of this problem was with the EST/Atipa product support staff. At that time they had 5 support staff members in addition to the product development staff. "They weren't in the kernel or the code so if you called with an esoteric problem they would just say it's a hardware problem." The alternative was to go up the support chain to the developers which may or may not get those esoteric problems described accurately. "Now, when you call in, you go right to my desk, or to any developer. There is no one else who knows the product better."
But that raises the question of how to survive expansion, as every successful company must eventually face. Jones says this isn't as difficult as it might sound because BRU is a very mature product. "We've got in the multiple millions of licensed packages out there since inception. The product just does what its supposed to do, so the phone don't ring as much as you might expect." Because of this, he says, he has no reason to stop answering support questions himself, and neither does the rest of the team.
Another aspect of support that they addressed was the "dumbing down of Linux," where Linux was now in the hands of people who weren't typical systems administrators. Jones says they decided to build their X11 interface using Tk and Tcl. Having a simple graphical interface allowed them to address customer requirements for less technical users. As Jones says, "We stopped developing BRU in 1995. Since then, customers have been designing it by requesting new features."
BRU can backup to devices as small as Zip disks and has handled systems as large as American Express' petabyte systems. This means they can handle devices as large as Hitachi and Fujitsu Silos. "We have no device dependencies. BRU can scale from floppy tapes up to systems like Silos". BRU is actually a mid-level package that is designed to work on its own or as an intermediary between higher level interfaces (X or Web based, for example) and the low level offline storage systems. Jones says that many NAS (network attached storage) vendors are using single board computers running Linux and BRU as the backup engine. "These vendors OEM the BRU engine because the reliability of recovery of those backups is paramount to their customers."
The Linux Tape Certification program was started by Tolis to help vendors certify their drives and equipment with Linux. Vendors that are participating here include HP, Ecrix/Exabyte, and Tandberg Data, and others. This program helps make sure that reported problems get to the vendors and driver developers as quickly as possible, which helps to get the problems fixed quickly. Jones is directly involved with verifying that the fixes are integrated into the appropriate kernels. They even came up with a Tux based logo for hardware manufacturers to use as a branding element. That use still requires more organizational work in the Open Hardware Group but Jones hopes to see the logo in use in the near term.
Tim Jones is obviously enthusiastic and adamant about his reborn company's success. Interestingly, Jones suggests that the overall success of the Linux market is not in questions, based on upcoming projects or announcements, but he says he couldn't discuss those projects due to NDAs (non-disclosure agreements). Says Jones, "These are projects that will keep Linux going for many years to come." We think he's right.
KDE 2.2.1 released. Earlier this week SuSE posted binaries for KDE 2.2.1 in their 7.2 packages list, which suggested 2.2.1 announcements would be just around the corner. That was on Monday, September 17th, which was the scheduled due date for 2.2.1's official release, according to the last schedule posted on September 9th.
Discussions on the KDE-Devel list suggested that distributors tend to either get the source tar ball from the release manager (Waldo Bastian for 2.2) or grab it directly from the CVS source, which would have explained how SuSE might have had a little jump on distributors. Interestingly, the source tarball from Bastian wasn't available prior to SuSE's packaging listing for the 2.2.1. version.
The official announcement for the 2.2 series came from the KDE development team on Wednesday. The release was described as having been focused on documentation and translations for its 42 different language versions, though quite a few bugs were addressed as well. KDE 3.0, which should be based on the new Qt3, is expected to ship in beta form by the end of the year.
KWord not for the business market?. We caught a short note posted to the KOffice mailing list from the leader of the GUI translation project for KDE regarding KWord, KDE's word processor. Apparently, he doesn't think KWord should have high end DTP features.
As to DTP: I think it's great that KWord follows a frame paradigm like most programs in this area and I also think that quite a lot of ideas could be borrowed from a well-designed DTP program like Ventura Publisher. But I'm not after heavy-weight DTP functionality in KWord, ie all the professional typesetting features, high precision output, color calibration and separation etc. This would probably best be reserved to a specialized app like the KVentura project we were talking about the other day. For KWord, most of this would be a waste of ressources which only a few users would appreciate.
Perhaps he underestimates the size of the DTP market. KWord probably has enough features to be usable to any business that doesn't require extensive MSWord document support. Import filters are still a concern, with RTF having been added only recently by developers. But most formatting features seem to be available if you are creating new documents. It is unclear if revision marks are available though, since we have not yet installed KOffice 1.1 and KOffice 1.0 didn't have them.
In any case, the KVentura project, which will surely address the same name-change problem that faced KIllustrator (now known as Kontour), is just getting off the ground. Which means KDE might not be ready for high end markets any time soon, if "heavy weight DTP functionality" is a necessity for that market.
Minutes of the GNOME Board meeting 4 September 2001. At the GNOME Board meeting this past week, discussions included concerns with making sure the 2.0 release is made in a reasonable time frame and there was a lot of talk about the roles of members of the 2.0 coordinating team.
Havoc Pennington and GConf. Havoc Pennington, one of the primary developers for GTK+ and GNOME and the chair of the GNOME Foundation, talks about GNOME 2.0 progress and GConf, the application configuration mechanism to be shipped with GNOME 2.0. "GConf makes preferences code much more manageable, since it eliminates the issue of synchronization between apps and processes and even various portions of the same process. Also, something like George's PonG - automatically generating a prefs dialog tied to GConf keys - is pretty nice. It needs to be integrated into Glade somehow to be really useful."
Noatun-Interview with KDE Developer Charles Samuels (KDE Dot News). Noautun author Charles Samuels is interviewed in an article posted by KDE Dot News. Noautun is the audio/video multimedia player for KDE. "We're working on making Noatun itself much more powerful and extensible via plugins. It's designed bottom-up to make a huge amount of features in the form of plugins, and KDE 3.0 will make this hold even more true. Multimedia-wise, support for more formats, more features, different effects."
Gdkxft 1.2 released. Gdkxft is a library which transparently adds anti-aliased font support to gtk+-1.2 in existing applications. XFree86 4.x is required (4.1 is recommended, but not required). Note that A botched install of gdkxft has the potential to make your X configuration unworkable, so be sure to read the documentation closely to avoid serious problems.
KPart demonstration. A tutorial on KParts and embedding KDE components describes the code required to get items such as an HTML browser or text editor in as part of an application.
KOffice 1.1 Rolls Out (KDE.News). KDE.News carried another review of KOffice 1.1 this past week. Their conclusion is that the interface is slick, but KOffice still has distance to cover. "But, with all due respect to the diligent work of the filter developers, the biggest obstacle to KOffice right now is the filters for MS Office documents. So while I will make KOffice my primary office suite, someone who (1) has a repository of .doc files; and/or (2) receives many .doc files by email; and/or (3) needs to collaborate on document production with someone tied to non-KOffice formats, and/or (4) has unusually demanding office needs, will likely not be happy with KOffice as their exclusive Office Suite (yet -- things are improving quickly!). "
KOffice falls short of Microsoft Office standard (ZDNet). ZDNet says KOffice 1.1 doesn't quite meet MSOffice users' needs, though KPresenter does seem to be very useful. "KOffice is the result of a volunteer effort, many features found in other office productivity suites are either not functional or are missing entirely from KOffice. For that reason, while KOffice 1.1 represents a significant step in the right direction for the future of Linux, its usability in corporate or other environments with serious information-processing needs is, at best, problematic."
Mentalix imaging software gets the picture for Linux users (ZDNet). Mentalix's proprietary Pixel!FX integrated graphics package is reviewed briefly by ZDNet. "The database segment of the package, Pixel!FX Image Album, uses thumbnails to display existing images. It can also manage non-image objects and launch third-party software to handle them if you've previously defined them."
And in other news...
Linux as a Replacement for Windows 2000. This very detailed description of one consultant's work to migrate a client from Windows 2000 to a mixed Windows/Linux/KDE environment says that Linux is a viable alternative and shows that by migrating to Linux a savings of $10,000 was possible for the client. "When it become clear that Linux could provide most of my clients requirements, especially the intranet database application and almost US$10,000 could be trimmed off the IT budget, it was an easy business decision to implement Linux Red Hat as a replacement for Windows 2000. Linux would be deployed on the server for file, print, database and Web services, and on 20 workstations, it would replace Windows NT as the desktop OS."
The work includes detailed charts showing which Linux applications match up to which Windows applications, costs associated with migration, hardware compatibility comparisons and a long list of good and bad points about Red Hat Linux. This may be one of the most detailed analyses of a real world migration we've seen. It also raises some important design considerations for future desktop features. "When copying files under Linux, original timestamps are replaced with the current date. So the "date last modified" file attribute becomes "date last copied". This becomes a nightmare for anyone dealing with many files - how can you keep track of when a file was last modified. You can force the original timestamps using cp -p., but this means not using the GUI file manager. Very poor Linux design feature!"
Linux Invades Hollywood (Computer Graphics World). Computer Graphics World reports on the wholesale conversion to Linux by the visual effects industry. "For flipbook playback of high-resolution movies, ILM [Industrial Light and Magic] has ported its Irix Quicktime-compatible player to Linux. Generally speaking, the players that are available for for Real, Quicktime, MPEG-1, and AVI don't do well above 320-by-240 pixels. But with Linux, says Hendrickson, "we've got flipbook playback of movies working at 1280-by-700 pixels and 24 frames per second-as wide as the typical monitor. We're hoping to bring that to full 2K-by-1K soon." ILM plans to release its flipbook movie player, internal file formats, and batch job scheduler as open source." Dreamworks, Pixar, ILM - just about the entire industry is moving to Linux. And they're doing it on both the server side and the desktop side. (Thanks to Anand Rangarajan)
Xi Graphics releases Beta 3D Graphics Drivers. Xi Graphics has announced the Beta release of Version 2.0 of their Accelerated-X 3D Linux Graphics Drivers (LGDs).
Trolltech releases Qt PalmTop 1.4. The new release of QT provides basic palm-top applications along with a complete graphical interface that can run on handhelds running a version of embedded Linux.
IBM developerWorks Announces Theme Contest Winners. IBM developerWorks announced the winners of KDE theme contest.
Section Editor: Michael J. Hammel
September 20, 2001