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Review: Nautilus 1.0: Has Eazel Earned Its Place in GNOME?
Going into launch day: a quick Eazel and Nautilus backgrounder
March 15, 2001
Eazel put the final touches on the Nautilus file manager and quietly launched version 1.0 on Tuesday morning.
Eazel and Nautilus have been the subject of close examination from more than just the Linux press. The New York Times, Red Herring, and Newsweek have all featured the company and its product, which attract attention because they represent curiosities in both the broader world of computing, where the 'Linux desktop' is still considered a quixotic pursuit; and within the narrower confines of the Linux community, where the company has set about drawing on skills informed by past involvement with none other than the MacOS to build a centerpiece to the GNOME project they hope will eventually make them money as a services conduit.
"Services" are, as most have noted by now, where many companies are turning their attention. Computer hardware is ever-cheaper, as is bandwidth. Though the "Internet appliance" hasn't taken off in any meaningful sense, end users are treating their PC's as such all the same, preferring their computing experience to be as simple as possible. Selling services to these users involves providing useful 'net-mediated tools and providing a level of system management for consumers who aren't interested in the process of maintaining their computers.
In this context, the software Eazel produces is secondary to the services it hopes to sell. Nautilus is a means to an end... an investment in producing the best possible tool to deliver software and services to users. This business model will probably not prove itself any time this year. It's a measure of how hard a sell it is in the current tech economy downturn that Eazel laid off 40 workers, primarily in marketing and sales, in the face of difficulties raising a second round of funding on the very same day Nautilus launched.
The other half of the equation, though, is a test of the talent and experience the Eazel team brings to bear. Nautilus has been built to bring a usable Linux desktop experience to computer consumers: the sort of people who appreciate America Online's simplicity and consider the computer itself a simple vessel for services. The resumes of the core Eazel leadership are largely known to anyone following Eazel's story since it stepped up a funding offensive a little over a year ago: Michael Boich, Andy Hertzfeld, and Bud Tribble were all members of the original Apple Macintosh team. Several other staffers were integral to work on MacOS at some point in their careers.
Though the overall quality of the major Linux desktop environments has improved dramatically since the call first went up several years ago to provide a better interface for end users, members of the Eazel team weren't shy in their assertions that they had levels of experience in both interface design and software engineering that would distinguish their contributions to GNOME, taking it from merely solid to desirable for consumers. In an interview conducted in August with Darin Adler, Eazel's Vice President of Software Engineering, the executive/developer stressed his company's focus on quality testing and its ability to generate original interface design elements as key distinguishing factors among the largely volunteer community of developers surrounding GNOME at large.
Nautilus is no small chunk of the GNOME desktop, either. As the environment's file manager and the software controlling the X desktop itself, it forms a large part of the average end user's day-to-day experience with the computer, acting as a gateway to online documentation, Eazel's services, image previewing, a basic web browser, and, yes, a file management tool. It's the mortar with which the overall GNOME desktop environment will be held together. Nautilus will help determine GNOME's success among users.