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Helix Code: Beyond Project to Product - page 2

What the Guys Are Up To

  • September 11, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

"Well, once the software's out there, once people are using Evolution, what we're going to do is sell services which are bundled with the software. You can completely ignore these if you want. If you just want the software, hey, it's out there, it's free, it's a gift to the world.

"Helix Gnome is going to get passed around. We have over a quarter-million users. And in there is going to be the ability to subscribe to our for-pay subscription service. It'll be about $3 to $5 per month, and it will provide you with a number of services, built into the desktop, that will just improve the entire experience for you. For us, this is about improving the web."

An online service?

"The basis for all this is a piece of code called the Helix Gnome Updater, which updates your system and allows you to install third-party software and so on. That's one service, and we're going to provide that for free. But in addition to that, one class of services we're going to be providing is called passive information. You're sitting there, you're using your computer--a lot of people use the Web to get information. They want to know what's going on in the world. They want news. They want to know, is it going to rain tomorrow? Can I play my golf game? They want to know when Dave Matthews is playing in town or whatever--so a lot of that information can be done passively, and it actually makes a lot more sense to embed into the desktop. So for example wouldn't it be cool if in my calendar I could have concert listings appear, right in the calendar. I mean, I could opt in--this is not going to be an advertisement; we're not selling advertising space on the desktop by any means--but in the Evolution calendar wouldn't it be great if suddenly Dave Matthews is playing this Friday at the Boston whatever, and you can go ahead and click here to buy a ticket. So that's one thing. Weather reports in your calendar. Browsing the yellow pages with your contact manager. These are all the kinds of things we're going to be doing, which I call passive information.

"Other services include storing all your mail, calendar, and addressbook information offline, being able to access it through the Web. And there are a couple of others that I'd rather not reveal just yet. Those are the kinds of services, and we're going to charge somewhere between $3 and $5 per month. Of course, Gnome will be perfectly usable without them, but we hope that they'll be good enough that people will really like them and feel compelled to use them--feel excited about using them because it makes their desktop all the better."

Does this mean that Helix Gnome is going to be crippleware?

"We're not going to nag people. There may be a greyed-out menu item somewhere, but that would be the extent of it. We're certainly not going to nag anybody. The desktop is complete without the services. But it's a really great Internet desktop, one step up, once you turn them on. My image of the thing is that when you turn the thing on, it lights up, when you plug it into the services it lights up suddenly, and you've got information coming in, you've got lots of other things available to you that you just didn't have before. The software itself is free, totally free."

Miguel: Excited About the Software
Miguel de Icaza has been a controversial figure. It is said that if there were a listing in the Guiness Book of Word Records for sustained coffee consumption, he would hold it. Like his partner, he's a thoroughly pleasant fellow and eager to draw the interviewer into what he sees as the most exciting stuff imaginable. His passion right now is reusable code.

"I don't think of Gnome as a desktop. I'm more interested in Gnome as a platform. I met Nat Friedman on a trip when I went to interview at Microsoft. I was interviewing with the Internet Explorer team at Microsoft that was doing the port to Unix. The interesing thing is that I went to the office where one of my friends was working. He was just working on the Java part. And then some other guy was just working on the HTML part. But nobody was running the actual browser, together. I was like, 'Guys, how do you expect that to work someday?' They showed me how it worked, and the whole component technology. And that's how the Gnome project actually started. It began as a project to bring the component technology to Unix. We had an idea of making a component system that would work across toolkits. And that idea didn't really quite work because we didn't have all the energy to actually work on that project.

"Back then, I was working on Linux on the SGI, so these were more of my side projects, while I was actually concentrating on the X server and the kernel support for the SGI and Linux."

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