Wednesday, December 31, 2003

Town of the year


Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Mac OS X on Linux? (part II)

I e-mailed John Siracusa and asked him about the plausability of swapping OS X's low-level architecture for Linux (see post from yesterday). Here's the exchange:

On 12/30/03 10:43 AM, Jeff Solomon wrote:
Hey, John. How hard would it be for Apple to swap Mach and BSD out of
Darwin and replace those bits with the Linux kernel?

Very, very hard. Trying to port Mac OS X's IOKit driver architecture alone
(with binary compatibility unless Apple wants to start from page one again
on the driver support front) would be a nightmare.

I think a Linux-based Darwin (and OS X) could be a nifty trick for Apple, and
a killer app for Linux.

There are many disadvantages, almost no advantages, IMO.

So, that's John's take. Interesting.

You know who you are...

...and you'd do well to learn from this fellow!

New in-reference: Collyer brothers.

Movies of the year

Here are my favorites from 2003, in no particular order. As I ran down IMDB's list of movies that were released this year, I realized how many potentially good ones I've missed. Resolution for next year: see more movies.

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Bend It Like Beckham (Keira!)
American Splendor
Bowling for Columbine
Finding Nemo
The Italian Job
Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle
Burning Annie
Dirty Pretty Things
Lost in Translation
Kill Bill: Vol. I

Songs of the year

Here are the songs that, in the years to come, will take me back to good old 2003:

Coldplay: Politik
Hot Action Cop: Fever for the Flava
Live: What Are We Fighting For?

What is The Matrix?

When all is said and done, The Matrix is an awesome movie that deserves to be considered part of filmmaking's cannon of greats. But, with its lackluster sequels, the Matrix "franchise" shot itself in the foot and, in so doing, diminished its ability to truly persevere in the heart and mind of the collective movie culture. (Much like Star Wars.)

Besides the original film's contribution to filmmaking, and its ground-breaking special effects, I think The Matrix will be best remembered as the ultimate "meta screen saver". Simply put: What is The Matrix? The ultimate, self-referential screen saver.

If you're running OS X, check out this screen saver, which is the best Matrix screen saver I've seen so far. For optimal movie-like effect, change the color setting to dark green.

Are you reading this?

If so, drop me a line and let me know. I'm curious as to who and how big my audience is.

Now with titles

Blogger's pretty cool. Simple, but works well for me for now.

In what language do deaf people think? Fascinating.

On Saturday, 11/8, during the lunar eclipse, I noticed some odd illuminated lights in the sky (see entry from 11/9). A few days ago, while walking down the street during daylight, I discovered that what I had seen were flocks of migrating birds. These suckers were flying very high (several thousand feet) and the ones I saw that night must have been illuminated by the light from the city below.

So that's what I saw- riddle solved. They were quite a spectacle.

The Italian Job is a good movie.

Monday, December 29, 2003

I've been getting very excited about Linux lately. While Mac OS X running on Apple hardware is still my favorite computer setup, for people who use PCs- and for the wide variety of other non-traditional computer-like devices out there (phones, handhelds, set-top boxes, etc.), I think Linux has tremendous potential. The best thing Linux has going for it is that it's free, open, available to all to use and modify, and designed to be easily ported to nearly any kind of computer system.

In many ways, Linux has paved the way for some of the coolest, most innovative computer-based devices on the market today. Tivo is a great example. Without Linux, Tivo would either have had to create an operating system for their device from scratch (a challenging and expensive proposition) or license an OS from someone like Microsoft. Thanks to Linux, we're not using Microsoft MyTV (illegal operation: can't find "Six_Feet_Under.dll;" your licensing fee has been deducted anyway; sign up for Passport!). Instead, the folks at Tivo took Linux and used it to create a new type of device that could bring the capabilities of a fast hard drive and video compression technology to consumer electronics.

Now, back to Mac OS X. It's a great operating system. One of the primary reasons why it works so well- in fact, the essential enabling factor that allowed Apple to actually create OS X- is the fact that most of what OS X "is" is in fact built on top of an existing operating system. The vast majority of "OS X-" the user interface, most of the drivers, the application programming interfaces that software designers use when they write software (i.e. the stuff that a software publisher writes a program "for" when they write a program "for the Mac" or "for Windows") is software that sits on top of a core operating system that handles the really low-level stuff, like talking to the processor, the RAM, the disk drives, etc. The OS on which OS X "sits" is a combination of Free BSD Unix and the Mach microkernel that Apple calls "Darwin" (to be very precise, the Free BSD part actually sits on top of the Mach part- lots of stacking going on here!). So, basically, since Apple created its OS on top of an existing low-level system, they were freed from the task of having to write software that deals with the most basic (and complex) aspects of software design, and allowed to focus on the more important (to end-users) stuff like creating a wonderful user interface and a number of diverse and powerful application programming interfaces.

So, to summarize and simplify: the really cool parts of OS X sit on top of something else (Darwin).

Now, this system works great. No major need to change. But, since OS X is built this way, what would happen if Apple swapped the key components of Darwin that are currently handled by Mach and Free BSD with Linux? I've created the following diagram, which is based on Apple's diagram of Mac OS X's architecture, to show what I'm talking about:

Assuming this is possible (and it surely is, with the proper resources and engineering), why would Apple want to do this?

There are many answers to the "why", and I'm sure Apple asked themselves this question during OS X's initial development. There's also the question "Why not?", and there are many good reasons to this question as well. I could explain several of the specific why's and why not's, and I'm sure there are many others that I could not, but I leave that for another time.

I pose the question not because I think switching OS X's inner core to Linux is necessarily the right thing to do right now, but such a transformation would offer a number of very interesting possibilities that could potentially offer tremendous benefits to Apple, Mac users, Linux users, and computer users everywhere.

The best thing Apple has going for it is their software. Apple Software (from OS X to iTunes to Safari to iSync to Final Cut Pro) is what makes Apple products more pleasurable and practical to use than the competition. Apple's hardware is great, too, as is their vision and mission to innovate, but it's the software where the majority of what makes Apple Apple is manifested.

Currently, Apple's software only runs on Apple's hardware (with the exception of certain programs like QuickTime and iTunes, which also run on Windows). This fact is both a positive and a negative: because Apple's target universe of hardware is relatively small and built by them, they can better tailor their software to the hardware- and make it work more seamlessly- than, say, Microsoft, which is forced to make their software work with a much broader range of hardware, which is difficult. If Apple were to rearchitecture OS X so that it ran on top of Linux, they could theoretically expand their universe of target systems to every device on which Linux can run, and a lot of the difficult work would have already been done.

Now, this can be done to OS X with its current architecture. Darwin currently runs on x86 (non-Apple) hardware, so porting the stuff that sits on top of it to x86 would not be difficult. However, to me, if Apple is going to take the big step of separating their software from their hardware- offering the goodness of Apple to "everyone else"- then they need to do it in a way that will attract the most attention and offer the greatest incentive for "everyone else" to check it out. And if the core of OS X were Linux, with all of its media attention, active kernel development, and portability, that would make a splash. A headline like "Apple taps Linux to bring its software to everyone else" would be a lot more exciting, and would offer a lot more opportunities to hardware and software developers, than a headline like "Apple ports its operating system to PCs, creating a new offering that now stands besides Windows and Linux".

Mac OS X running on Linux could, in effect, become Linux's killer application. And Linux, with its swelling wave of recognition, acceptance, and innovation, could be the Mac's salvation.

A few days ago, on this blog, I posed the question "What is LINKA?" I wrote that immediately after sending an e-mail to Linus Torvalds, the inventor (and key maintainer) of Linux, about an idea I had. I have not received a response from Linus (for whatever reason; though I have, on other occassions, received responses to other high-powered individuals to whom I've written). Because I believe in the idea I posed in the message I sent to Linus, and because the idea revolves around the support and efforts of the worldwide online community, I am going to publish the message now and I invite anyone and everyone to respond in any and which way he or she pleases. I think it's a good- though clearly big and vague- idea.

Here's what I sent Linus:


We are now at a critical pivot point on the timeline of computing history. The balance of power between open source and user-centric computing, versus closed and proprietary, Microsoft-centric computing can be shifted.

To make this happen, we need a compelling reason to shake up the world of software as we know it and make the benefits of open source, user-centric computing immediately available and easily recognizable to everyone. What we need, in other words, is a killer application.

Word processing and spreadsheets were the killer applications that initially brought PCs from novelties to practical tools. Graphical page layout programs, WYSIWYG editing, ease of use, and media manipulation were the killer apps that brought graphical computing to the fore. The World Wide Web and e-mail were the Internet’s killer apps.

Linux needs a killer app.

Linux needs a killer app, and the stage is set for circumstances to combine to enable Linux and the community that surrounds it to create a killer app that has more benefit to society than anything that has come before.

The Linux Killer App- LINKA- will not be a typical piece of software. This is not simply a clever program or a cool new thing. Rather, LINKA will be something that recognizes the unique benefits that Linux and open source offer over Microsoft’s products, and- even more important- taps into the worldwide community of all kinds of people that use Linux in all kinds of environments on all kinds of hardware.

I don’t know what LINKA will be yet, but imagine this: A killer app, something tremendous, that takes advantage of everything Linux is that Windows is not, that harnesses the power of a networked world and allows all kinds of people to participate. Something so revolutionary in concept that grandparents will want to install Linux on their computers so they can be a part of it, computer geeks and hackers are drawn to it, corporations and governments see a reason to participate.

LINKA needs to be simple to use and provide an immediate, fun, and empowering result for the user. It needs to benefit from the fact that a tremendous amount of resources for its own development and implementation will be made available to it- namely, the computing resources of everyone involved.

At this point in time, LINKA exists only as an answer to a question that has not been asked yet. What is LINKA? What problem does the world need solved? How can an army of millions of computers, all running the same OS on different hardware, help solve it and provide an immediate benefit to the user?

Linus, I have been inspired by the way that Linux is changing the world. The key to its success so far has been its openness and usefulness for those who need a great OS for free that they can do whatever they want with. How can we take the powerful forces that have made Linux such a success within a subset of all computer users and apply them to all computer users- and to people who have never had a reason to use a computer before?

I don’t know the answer off the top of my head, and I don’t expect you do either. Arriving at the answer is part of the process, and will require the thoughts and collaboration of many inspired people. I am writing to you to express my firm belief that now is the time to ask, “What is LINKA?” And to be prepared to listen to the answers, because they will come in.

And from there, the project takes off.

I would love to know your thoughts on this topic. If you are interested in the idea of “blessing” this project- of pointing people to a web site, for example, or contributing your own ideas- I would be thrilled.

Mostly, however, I wanted to write to you and share my sense of inspiration. Millions of people across the globe, so many and yet so connected, are surely destined to create something wonderful.

-Jeff Solomon


Go Israel, go!. Go Linux, go! Down, Microsoft, bad!

Happy holidays, and Happy New Year! 2003 was one of those "big years," both in terms of my personal life and the grander stage of world events as well. On the personal front, I got engaged, found and fell in love with a staff job at a really cool company, produced several video projects of larger-than-ever scope, traveled to Florida, California, Minnesota, and Salt Lake City, and learned some valuable lessons about life. My brother graduated from college and moved back to New York, my friend Jordan bought an apartment right down the street from mine, and Clara started a new job and graduate school classes. And those are just the highlights that have come to mind in a few moments.

America saw another Space Shuttle disaster, a war in Iraq, loud and continued internal political discord, the beginning of a heated presidential election, the end of Saddam Hussein... Again, that's just off the top of my head.

Mac users were treated to the G5 processor; newer and cooler iPods, PowerBooks, iBooks, and iMacs; Mac OS X 10.3; iChat AV; Safari... The iTunes Music Store fired the first, loudest, and (in my humble opinion) best-aimed shot in the new online music war. Cell phones got smaller, color screens and cameras became common features. Wireless access points spouted up in households, Starbucks, airports, McDonald's... On-demand digital movies streamed to cable boxes... DVD burners everywhere... Broadband galore... The Matrix (bad) and The Lord of the Rings (good) concluded their trilogies... Linux kernel 2.6.

For Windows fans, Microsoft... scrambled to fix an endless parade of security problems, released no new version of its desktop operating system (nor had it done so in 2002), and proudly announced that- get excited- the next version of Windows will likely not ship until 2006, at the earliest. That's 5 years- best case scenario- between Windows XP and Windows "Longhorn." That's an awfully long time, considering all of the progress that most other, non-Microsoft, non-"they're forced to use our software, so why should we continue to improve it now that we've locked them in?" companies will be making.

Macworld San Francisco is coming up shortly. I am grinning with excitement, and thankful that my favorite computer company knows that to keep me happy, to keep me coming back, to keep me in love with their stuff, they've got to keep inventing new stuff, improving old stuff, and making great stuff.

We're back at orange alert now. Several Air France flights have been cancelled- certain passengers failed to show up (one of them possibly a pilot)... A terror plot on a Saudi Arabian runway was averted... Pakistan's president has survived two recent assassination attempts... Each of these acts (and many more) would have been MULTI-COLUMN FRONT PAGE NEWS if they'd succeeded, but instead have been eclipsed by Michael Jackson (innocent, probably, IMO) and Mad Cow hysteria (overblown). Funny how the "losses" in the "War on Terror" are given more attention than the "victories." Say what you want about our government's response to September 11 (and I'm not sure exactly what I want to say, at the moment). Criticize the profiling and the wiretapping and the spying and the prying. Condemn the unilateral actions of war and reconstruction. But praise, too, the valiant efforts of those who work every day at jobs more important than our own, and who have given their lives so that we don't have to. Those people, and their leaders, are doing a lot of things RIGHT, too.

2003 was a big year. It was a hard year. It was a good year.

Friday, December 19, 2003

He can dance! (But can he sing?)

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

What is LINKA?

Friday, December 12, 2003

*** EXTRA *** EXTRA ***

This entry contains GOOD STUFF

*** EXTRA *** EXTRA ***

Check out this video clip. It's one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Unfortunately, it's only available in Windows Media Video format, so you'll need to either view this on a Windows machine or download Microsoft's Windows Media Player for Mac OS X.

Friday, December 05, 2003

Here's a fascinating glimpse into the motivation behind the creation of Adobe's Photoshop software.