Interview with Frank Jahnke

by Dru Lavigne

Related link: http://www.bsdnexus.com/petition.asp



If you keep abreast of BSD news, you've probably already seen the announcement
for the petition requesting CodeWeavers to port its CrossOver Office productivity tool over to *BSD operating systems.

I recently had a chance to talk with Frank Jahnke regarding his reasons for starting the petition and why you should sign it if you haven't already.

Dru: How is the petition moving along?

Frank:

The petition started circulating on Monday morning with an announcement I made on the PC-BSD board. OSNews provided a link (I know one of their editors), and we were off. It was picked up quickly by the DesktopBSD people, who started distributing it on the German sites: their own, of course, and the larger BSD boards as well.

It's been a week since the original posting, and we have collected nearly 800 signatures. There are still some important sites that have not been contacted, so we are not done yet!

Not all of the signatories are would be customers, but there are about a dozen committers and developers of FreeBSD, DragonFlyBSD, DesktopBSD, PC-BSD and MirBSD who have signed. More importantly, the CEO of CodeWeavers, Jeremy White, has noticed, signed the petition, and contacted us directly.

Dru: Why are you interested in seeing a commercially available product providing support for *BSD operating systems?

Frank:

I'd like to give you a tangible example that might help to explain to people why this product is necessary and why it fills a niche not provided by an Open Source product such as Wine.

I am starting a biotechnology company that will manufacture biological tools. Part of my funding will come from the National Institutes of Health, which invests quite some money a year in grants to further its interests in promoting health and curing disease. Part of the grant application process is a boilerplate, which identifies the company, what you are doing, the budget you are requesting and its breakdown, your people and their background, and so forth.

A 15 page proposal will typically have 45 pages or so of boilerplate. For a young company such as mine, each application will be different, and the boilerplate changes. And of course this is the last thing to be done before the grant goes in, since it includes pagination and a Table of Contents. Yes, these are all still submitted on paper, with an original and 6 to 8 copies that need to be delivered by the closing date.

The boilerplate forms are available in .doc and PDF versions only. The .doc files are extremely cumbersome, and Open Office does only an OK job which I don't think is good enough. The PDFs work much better. Unfortunately, the Reader cannot save information entered into forms. You can enter them and print, but you cannot save them. For forms this long, it is silly to use the computer as a simple typewriter. It also does not allow you to recycle any portions of old applications.

Adobe Acrobat, the complete version, can save this information. You can enter it, save it, go back and edit it, and print it out. It works very well (including automatic summation of budgets), and does not require the latest, greatest version of Acrobat (I use 4.0). If there is an OSS way to deal with this, I sure haven't found it.

So I have next to my dual processor, dual monitor FreeBSD machine an old PIII Win98SE box that I use primarily for these sorts of Windows applications. It is slow, the monitor is small, and the work flow is awful. I'm constantly sending files from one to the other and moving around between machines to do tasks on each. And that is with an impending deadline looming.

Acrobat 4.0 works flawlessly under Wine (I use 20050725 patched to remove the Heap error). The distiller portion does not, but gs works fine for my conversion to PDF. And when I say "flawlessly," I mean everything: fonts, help files, menus, and placement.

Acrobat 4.0 is very old -- about 6 years. The newer ones add some features, but overall they are not crucial. I think that's true for a lot of business software -- it is pretty mature, and the latest and greatest is often not needed.

If you have used Wine, you know that it is very inconvenient when programs are less well-behaved. You have to play with .DLLs, try this, try that, and often you don't get very far. It would be worth a lot to me to have someone else do this sort of testing for me, and deliver something that works reasonably and gives me a guide on which programs work and which do not.

I'll stop here (there are more stories and examples) but that may help give others who are interested in "entertainment" -- web surfing, videos, p0rn, games, music, messaging and the like -- a sense of real-world needs.

Dru: Why should others be interested in this petition?

Frank:

One thing to point out is that this is not simply a petition -- it is the first step in a process of bringing potential customers and the company together to see if we can't work together for our mutual benefit.

As I mentioned earlier, CodeWeavers' CEO Jeremy White has signed the petition, and has requested people to go to the company web site and use their internal process to get this done. However, I think we are much stronger if we stay together as a group, rather than having the company deal with each of us as individuals. I've prodded CodeWeavers a few times to release a BSD product, but I've never gotten very far. And indeed, in none of my correspondence did anyone ever mention the route that White now
suggests.

Dru: Did you learn anything surprising as a result of the petition?

Frank:

You may find it interesting that the three of us doing the petition have never met. Scott Robbins is in NYC and has helped to get the word out to quite a number of sites and provided very useful advice and insight. Phil Pereira is in England; he's doing the IT work (he coded the petition) and is hosting the petition. I'm in a rural suburb of Sacramento, CA, and have been the public face, writer, driver, have done the strategy and nearly all of the follow-up and damage control. Daniel Seuffert, while not part of the original three has done a wonderful job on working with the European sites, giving feedback and generally helping out.

I've also heard from others regarding their frustration with efforts similar to this: lots of people will say they want software, but most of those same people will not pony up the needed cash to make it happen. With all due respect, this is a REAL problem with the OSS community: unwillingness to give monetary value to software that is closed source.

But as I see it, I need to do certain things now, and if I have to pay for that, it is OK with me. As long as the software is worth it -- and certainly not all of it is -- it is a cost of doing business. I'd much rather use BSD for most everything, and use CrossOver Office with whatever Windows product I need for those times when I need something that is not available in OSS form. Since many of those needs are not particularly exotic, that should work for me.

Dru: Where do you plan to go from here?

Frank:

We will continue to get the message out with the petition. There are still a lot of communities that have not heard about it, and I would like to continue to raise awareness and signatures. I will soon talk with the CEO of CodeWeavers to see what sort of arrangement can be made with him.

Much of what can be done with that depends on the sort of company CodeWeavers is, and what sort of people have signed the petition. I've spent about half my career in strategic partnering with technology concerns (though not in computers or software). If there is something that can be worked out, I'll do my best to facilitate it. That so many BSD developers and committers have signed I'll take as very positive.

I want to show that I'm not just throwing out a petition and waving it at a company and demanding cool software for free. I'm committing a lot of time to this for which I'm not getting paid (and neither is my company, I'm afraid). I'm doing this because I think it can work, and it will help me and the larger community to solve real issues that bedevil the OSS community.

No, not all (or even most) of the 800 signatories to date will pay for anything. But I bet enough will that it can work.