Stories by Nicholas Petreley

Sun splits up Star Office

By now you surely have heard that Sun Microsystems is going to release Star Office 6.0 as open source this (US) fall under the GNU GPL (General Public Licence).

The Open Source

Cybernet Systems makes the NetMAX line of Linux-based server appliance software. Cybernet has taken Red Hat Linux and added a friendly buffer between it and the administrator. It enables people to use Linux as a firewall, VPN server, file and print server, and so forth, without having to deal with the nitty-gritty details of ipchains for firewall rules, Samba configuration files for file and print sharing, and so on.

No threat for record companies

The open-source movement has inspired countless debates about copyright issues. One such issue came to mind recently when I discovered a utility called Napster. Napster searches one of several Internet databases for recorded music. If you find any songs you like, you can download and play them anytime.

Don't jump to conclusions about Linux

It seems that someone writes at least once a week to tell me why Linux can never succeed on the desktop. Invariably, the proof they offer is in the form of a list of the problems they had installing and running Linux or Linux applications.

ThinkFree Thinks Ahead

ThinkFree is ahead of its time. Probably much too far ahead of its time. But if ThinkFree eventually rises above its competition, this will be the most likely reason: ThinkFree has the right idea about how to exploit the power of both client and server in its attempt to bring a Java-based office suite to the Internet. Because the suite is in Java, ThinkFree wants to use the portability of Java to make its office software popular in the growing Linux desktop market.

Profit Motive Will Sell Linux And Prevent Fragmentation

It is interesting that critics of Linux tend to exaggerate the potential for Linux to fragment as an argument against the open-source operating system. They usually point to the number of unique Linux distributions as evidence, because there are occasional incompatibilities among them.

General Protection Fault Awards

It's time once again for the Down to the Wire General Protection Fault (GPF) awards. Ironically, although Microsoft exhibited its most outrageous behavior ever in 1999, it only hobbles away with two awards and one honorable mention. Microsoft has lost so much credibility that much of its behavior is no longer shocking or entertaining and therefore not worthy of an award. Here's hoping Microsoft rebuilds its image and returns to its former GPF award status.

Tracking the geek migration

I don't know what you do for a hobby, but I find it interesting to track the migration patterns of the North American geek. Before I get started, I should point out that the classification "North American geek" is actually quite a misnomer. Although the North American geek is found mostly in a region called Silicon Valley, similar species can be found throughout the US and, indeed, all over the world.
It seems from my observations that each year in the middle of November the North American geek migrates to a desert area in the southwestern US known as Silicone City. For several days and nights, these geeks engage in unusual ceremonies including "ogling the gadgets", "schmoozing", "posturing" and "gambling". This series of premating rituals is referred to as Comdex.
Closer examination reveals that, regardless of their origin, there are several varieties of geeks. I have classified them into two groups: Prey and Predators. Among the Prey are Initiates, Hunter-Gatherers and Medioids. Predators include Drones, Medioids and Flatuloids. Notice that Medioids fall into both the Prey and Predator groups.
Initiates are strictly in the Prey category. They tend to be unspoiled geeks who are engaging in Comdex for the first time.
Hunter-Gatherers can be divided into at least two subclassifications: Job and Chachka. The ritual of the Chachka Hunter-Gatherer is fascinating, because this particular geek seems to know no bounds as to what it will endure to provide vendors with free advertising by gathering and wearing vendor T-shirts or caps. I have witnessed Chachka Hunter-Gatherers suffer through excruciatingly tedious presentations or humiliating questions just for a chance to get a gecko Beanie Baby or a fuzzy plastic Monitor Wiper.
Drones have many different types of observable behaviour, but all of its rituals generally boil down to one objective: grab Prey and bring it to the Predator.
The Drones have several mating calls. They include "Let me get you a press kit", "The person you want to speak to is right over here", "I don’t know the answer to that but let me have someone get back to you" and "Can I swipe your badge?" Drones tend to be the most aggressive in the presence of Medioids.
Flatuloids come in many forms but share one characteristic. They seem to have an endless supply of hot gas. Most of them vent it throughout the day onstage. Others wait until the evening and vent it mostly at vendor-sponsored parties.
Medioids are only listed as Predators as a formality to protect the cycle of Comdex ecology. It is essential that Medioids retain the illusion of being Predators — the ones who are after a story or are looking to capture the Next Big Thing. In reality, true Predators spend Comdex fattening up Medioids with hors d’oeuvres and press kits to devour their souls in exchange for positive publicity.
Although I personally fall into the Medioid classification, I am an exception. I have not been brainwashed into thinking I am a Predator. I am truly a Predator. Truly a Predator. Yes, master, I am truly a Predator.
Contrary to popular belief, most of the gambling at Comdex occurs not in the casinos, but on the show floor. Flatuloids and their sponsors pay a great deal of money betting that someone important will respond to their sales posturing. Medioids and their sponsors spend money on the possibility of getting the Next Big Story. And Drones are gambling with their health as they shake the hands of thousands of complete strangers who just hours ago sat on a plane next to two hacking people with Nyquil hangovers.
Personally, I lost my bet on finding the Next Big Thing. Comdex was only interesting to me this year because it confirmed all the trends I’ve observed for quite a while. For example, Linux had a bigger presence than ever. And people were talking about Linux everywhere. Even voice-recognition big shot Lernout & Hauspie is using Linux for embedded devices these days. Why? Two words: no royalties.
The rest of the show could be summed up in five more words: appliances and flat-panel displays. So there weren’t any new or surprising developments. But surely you figured that out by now. If there were, I’d have spent this column talking about them instead of studying the migration patterns of the geek.
Nicholas Petreley is editorial director of LinuxWorld ( Send comments to