Replacing horses in midstream

When AT&T shut down (forever) for the development and production of computers, Be was almost ready computer processors from AT&T, and a little more than six months before the “final settlement” with creditors who no longer wanted to wait. Even in much more favorable situations, it is customary to give up.

The verb “to be” (to be) in different contexts, can be translated in different ways. For example, “be!” is translated as “be!”. Be, Inc decided not to give up. There was no chance, but… there’s always at least a little, but a chance. It was the very last one.

Apple in these cases was hoisted over the headquarters of the pirate flag and put up posters “take no Prisoners!”, to Be rolled up. Jean-Louis managed to move the deadline to “after Agenda’95”. After the annual conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, where entrepreneurs and journalists “mainstream”, the worst of all possible audience to Be – the idea of Jean-Louis and his team even hated, I despised, and ridiculed.

But there was no choice.

Continued. Beginning, previous parts here, here, here and here.

The choice of processor

At the time, Jean-Louis put on hobbits. Steve Sakoman and Bob Herold were one of the few specialists who knew how to extract from “the halfling” (processors from AT&T were two times shorter than counterparts from other manufacturers) decent performance.

After the departure of Steve and Bob from project Newton, hobbits have become a real nightmare for the rest – especially since Apple acquired copies of these processors, not really passed even minimal testing, full of bugs and glitches. Steve and Bob were able to use them, and no one else. It’s nice to slam the door!

Now the hobbits were in the past. Three dozen Be Machine with five processors from AT&T (2 CPU and 3 DSP), and worked from morning to night the tables of the employees. What to replace hobbits?

Variants was only two, PowerPC or Intel.

Had to choose in a state of stress, and witness how it was, talk about the decision-making process in different ways. Here is a version of Jean-Louis Gasse. The final decision was taken he, and his correctness he replied almost with his life.

According to him, the role was played by the question of price. One hobbit, CPU or DSP, cost Be $ 35. AT&T has guaranteed lower prices while increasing their circulation. Intel 386 and 486 cost from 300 to 400 dollars per copy, and the expected production volumes BeBox’s was insufficient to obtain discounts. PowerPC 603 was three times cheaper.

But not price was the main reason. If, according to the study, 386/486 was recognized as the best, would have used them.

From PowerPC had two advantages very important to Be. They had a huge “raw” performance of RISC-processor, and this might not required be diluted with emulation software written for legacy architectures; and the ability of PPC, without additional hardware, to effectively perform parallel computations. Eliminated the need for DSP-processors.

In addition, a consortium of Apple, IBM and Motorola, its solidity and security, instilled the confidence that PowerPC will not suddenly die at the wrong moment. However, as Intel.

The choice of processor was a difficult process, it was everything – analysis “for” and “against” arguments and emotions. Intel ligety was in the minority, but given their arguments were intelligent and compelling. Funny: no one has left memories not admitted in the support of Intel, and in fact there were ten people…

7-processor Machine Be

In the documentation the PowerPC 603 was reported that the processor is not designed to work in multiprocessor configurations. And the production of PowerPC 604, powerful version of the PPC, has not yet begun and postponed. If Be, Inc has been a successful and well-known valley company, she would have “slept” with a dozen dosering copies, and maybe it even wouldn’t take a penny.

PowerPC 603 really could not work in multiprocessor configurations, because of the incoherence of the cache. With simultaneous treatment of multiple processors to the same memory area, to ensure timely update it was impossible.

In the PowerPC 604, the incoherence problem has been solved thoroughly and iron levels, but Jean-Louis was unable to get even a prototype. 5-year-old was considered startups in the industry “saraisniemi”, there were many – and almost all of them vanished without a trace.

Be’s engineers solved this problem, programmatically, and by reducing productivity, at the confluence of adverse circumstances. With this effect had to accept, in practice, it either didn’t happen at all or happened very rarely.

Twin-engined machine on a PPC 603, impossible in nature, earned. Confident and almost uninterrupted. The problem was not last but about nekogerentnogo could forget.

Glen Adler, engineer at hardware, familiar with PowerPC, has created a draft version of this device for two weeks, working 20 hours a day. So it is impossible, but not otherwise worked.

DualPPC 603 BeBox, as officially called this model (later), came to light in the form of a conventional printed circuit Board connected to the experimental Be-1. Now it was seven-processor computer (2 of the hobbit, 3 DSP from AT&T and 2 PowerPC 603). However, the hobbits and DSP was used, when run in process included, by turns, both PPC. Now they, and not the hobbits, was a CPU 0 (which started first and had collected data to run the system) and CPU 1 (connected at the second stage boot).

Have it Be its own software for version control and bug tracker developed by a talented programmer of Chinese descent Min lo. Now he had to add to compilers C and C++ from AT&T the ability to generate code for PowerPC.

This was another critical point in the plan. Min lo did more; two products were moved first, him debug the compiler detected the problem (something that should be paid attention to when porting programs written for the AT&T hobbit). The version control system and bug tracker. And “early beta” code generator for PowerPC.

If the assemblers for CISC was written with an eye on the person (many have written on them, as it was hard, but rewarding, work, gives an incredible permissiveness), machine languages RISC processors (all I saw) inhuman in principle.

“As the Chinese written language for Europeans” – like, so modest Min lo answered curious and dropped in over his shoulder at the screen. He felt the PowerPC 603 as a continuation of himself, almost talking to him.

Thanks to the C-centric nature of hobbits, virtually all even on the lowest level of the operating system was written in C and C++. Of course, none of the modules, and none of the programs were not able to just recompile. Even in the easiest cases, the transfer and the subsequent testing and debugging took dozens of hours. Some products, spending on them hundreds of hours, just rewrote from scratch.

Porting software from one platform to another is called porting. And this is a very accurate title: good case “ports” is not called. Code from this port, always and without variants. It’s like translating poetry into another language.

Debugging and optimization, 24 hours a day is worse than hell. For nearly a year. They were in time.

Performance in front of a hostile audience

Team Be arrived in Scottsdale, Arizona, four days before the “event”, taking with him everything he could need. As they saw it. They were wrong.

Proven and well-working appliances in California, suddenly, ceased to even start. In Arizona flew specialists in the hotel room turned the branch Be, Inc – Jean-Louis looked at this waltz in a detached and indifferent. Sailed…

To late to fix all the issues failed.

Before the “cannibals” were Jean-Louis, second in the world the presenter (the first was Steve jobs). It was his best performance. The laughter and muffled roar in the hall was silent, it was listened to in absolute silence – what he told me was unbelievable. But all they said was confirmed on the giant screen, for the first time in history, lived a graphical user interface of BeOS, and it was fine.

For the “leverage” of the technical part of the presentation were Steve Horowitz. The problem was, but he did all that in the hall had not noticed them. Several times the system would crash in the debugger, but Steve quickly removed from the screen incomprehensible to onlookers. Nobody paid attention to it.

Them clapped. Standing. The applause grew into a standing ovation. In the long history Agenda, this happened twice. It was the second such case. What was the reason first I couldn’t get, and didn’t even try.

It was a triumph, the more unbelievable here, where emotions were inappropriate.

Great talker, Jean-Louis Gasse, for the first time, had nothing to say.

He wanted to thank the audience (90% consisted of haters of projects like Be, and this Be particularly) for the warm reception and standing ovation – but stuck in my throat lump, and he was silent.

Sale BeBox was to begin in 1996, prior to the end of the year everyone who registers as a developer of software for the new system, Jean-Louis has promised to sell the prototype (in the normal case, handmade) for 1 600 USD.

Steve wrote that a week after returning from Arizona the company was “on the ears”, got drunk even Min lo, first time in my life. And over a Desk, Jean-Louis appeared a photocopy of the cheque for 4 million dollars, brought directly to the hotel before leaving Scottsdale.

And then, instead of 30-40 who want to become developers in GENERAL, and to 1 for 600 $ then that will cost 2 500, only the first week, to Be turned three hundred people.

The trouble came from not waiting, but that’s another story.

About it in the sequel.

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