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Andy Hertzfeld Part II – Microsoft, Aqua and greed

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LinuxWorld Away from the fervour of the LinuxExpo show floor yesterday Andy Hertzfeld tooks us through Nautilus the open source file manager that's the flagship of his new company Eazel. But since we were on a roll, conversation ranged far and wide, and we reckon these thoughts from the chap who regularly rates a mention with Babbage and Shockley in some computer timelines are worth sharing with you.

The fall of the house of Bill

Hertzfeld says he really woke up to the free software renaissance when Netscape licensed its Mozilla browser a couple of years ago. But he was dabbling with computers in the late 70s, a time when most software was free - as in speech as well as beer.

Hertzfeld it was who rediscovered and published Bill Gates legendary open memo to computer hobbyists in 1976: "As the majority of hobbyists must be aware, most of you steal your software," thundered the young General Partner of 'Micro-Soft' as he (and it)then was. "...I would appreciate letters from any one who wants to pay up."

Says Hertzfeld: "The thing you notice is how obsessed by money he was. Gates mentions money about eight times."

So now that Microsoft was facing a shift towards a services revenue model, one that Eazel itself is relying on, we wondered how did he think it would be able to manage the transition without losing a significant chunk of revenue? It ought at least to survive, he reckons. "If you look at every technical dislocation Microsoft has faced so far, it's made them stronger" he says. "Don't expect them to disappoint."

But he thinks their lock on the software market is already loosening, thanks to the Internet, specifically their hold over file formats. "I'm sure they'll survive... But just doing quite well may not be good enough for them. We'll see."

His enthusiasm for software sharing is simply put: "Shared intellectual property in the software world is as big as the break from feudal societies to democracy. We're still in the feudal world, but it's changing - that's historically inevitable."

Who's the prettiest of them all?
OK, since great claims have been made for Eazel introducing Mac-like simplicity to Linux - which the company has played down ever since its launch, we were curious to hear what Andy thought of the next Mac UI.

So how about Aqua?

"It's fascinating," he thinks. "Some things are horrendous and some things are terrific." Like what exactly? Well, putting the Apple logo in the middle of each window's title bar incurred Andy's wrath. It's redundant he says, and confusing too, describing it as "just pure hubris" and "pathological."

Hertzfeld says he has reservations too about the single window mode, in which only one instance of the Finder browser is allowed at any one time. Although Nautilus too very much resembles the Aqua Finder window, you can bring another one up too.

As much of problem is that Aqua's new icons are photo-realistic, he says, rather than purely symbolic. For example a hard disk icon is represented by... a lovely picture of a shiny new hard disk. Or is it? It could be a floppy, or the underside of a CD-ROM. That's the trouble, he points out, "you just need the general details - you should make icons more abstract"

Hertzfeld adds that it's still a work in progress - the public beta is expected any day now - and Apple has already taken account of user complaints. So there's hope yet, he thinks.

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