Welcome!

Linux Containers Authors: Zakia Bouachraoui, Elizabeth White, Yeshim Deniz, Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski

Related Topics: Linux Containers

Linux Containers: Article

Linux.SYS-CON.com EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Nat Friedman, In His Own Right

Why the name change from Helix Code, how he met Miguel de Icaza, and more

(LinuxWorld) -- In August 1999 I ran into Miguel de Icaza and Nat Friedman in a gift shop not far from the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo (LWCE) in San Jose. Among other things, Friedman and de Icaza were kicking around the idea of forming a company. Later the same year they did exactly that in founding Helix Code, a company whose sole mission has been to bring the GNOME desktop to new levels of completeness, polish, and ease of use. In August 2000 I ran into the dynamic duo again at the LWCE in San Jose. This time it was at the GNOME party.

Miguel de Icaza is normally the press-magnet. His natural exuberance, demonstrative speech and mannerisms, and his brilliant work have made him one of the stars of the Linux and free software worlds. But de Icaza told me at the party that night that the idea to form a company to help make GNOME -- and by extension Linux -- easier to use was Friedman's, not his. He suggested that I do an interview with Friedman.

Well, I'm slow but I do eventually follow up on things. Here we are on the eve of another LWCE, this one in New York City, and I've just spent an enjoyable half-hour chatting on the phone with Nat Friedman, CEO of Ximian, formerly Helix Code. In fact, it was the name change that finally got me off the dime and on the phone with Friedman.

One of the more interesting things I learned during the call was that although de Icaza may get all the press, Friedman is quite impressive in his own right. He is an MIT graduate (1999) and the CEO of one the free software world's best-known commercial ventures. Not only that, he's just successfully raised $15 million of venture capital, and did it in an anything but "easy touch" market for start-ups seeking financial backing. Not bad for a 23-year-old just a year or two out of school.

I also learned that Friedman and de Icaza met at Microsoft. Friedman told me that they met while de Icaza was interviewing for the Internet Explorer team in Redmond. Friedman was -- hold on to your hats -- a Microsoft employee at the time, working on the IIS (Microsoft's Web server) project. It boggles the mind. They also met online in a network set up by and for Linux developers. Soon de Icaza was mentoring Friedman in the intricacies of open source software and the Linux kernel. Not that Friedman especially needed help with computers. He got his first computer, an Apple, when he was six. Not long afterward he began "playing around" with the Logo programming language. A year or two later a friend taught him BASIC and they began writing video games. At age 11 he learned Pascal, and a couple of years later added C to his repertoire. When he was 14 he and another friend formed a software company. Friedman said they wrote a program something like the Norton Commander utility, as well as a bunch of video games. He added that while they didn't make very much money, they did have a lot of fun doing it.

Listening to Friedman, you quickly become aware that you are talking to a very bright person. That led me to ask him this question: "Between you and Miguel, who is the smart one?" Friedman replied: "We're smart in different ways. Miguel's intelligence is the kind that is never satisfied with staying in one place. He likes to look at questions from a thousand different angles -- all at once sometimes -- so fast the words kind of like pile up in his throat and they come very quickly and all confused.... He's just never satisfied with the way things are understood now. He has this sort of ruthlessly honest intelligence, so he is really bright that way. I like to think of Miguel as our idea machine. He comes up with an idea every 20 minutes or so, and it's a new and incredible idea."

While Friedman appreciates that intelligence and finds it both inspiring and charismatic, he notes that you sometimes need a buffer between it and the tasks the company is trying to accomplish. He noted that, "You can't change tack every 20 minutes." His own intelligence, Friedman said, is different. And he left it at that.

Since I interviewed Friedman a week before the LWCE was scheduled to kick off in New York City, I wondered what surprise announcements might be coming from GNOME or Ximian. Friedman told me that although we haven't heard much from Ximian recently -- other than the name-change announcement -- we shouldn't be misled by the lull. Ximian may have a big announcement at LWCE, he explained, if the code is ready in time. But he wouldn't say whether he was referring to the appearance of StarOffice inside GNOME as Bonobo components or something else entirely. Is Ximian still working on the StarOffice components? Yes, he could say that much. He added, "That's a big deal to us, because StarOffice allows us to provide a much more complete solution to people."

About the name change: A lot of people, myself included, liked Helix Code just fine. So why the change? Friedman said: "Helix Code we couldn't trademark. Very simply, we thought we could, but we couldn't. It was a temporary name which we ended up being stuck with after a Wall Street Journal article was written about us, and then it was just too late to change it."

OK. But why Ximian? Friedman explained that basically it is the word "simian," with the leading s replaced with an X. If nothing else, it is unique enough to trademark. Like Bonobo, the new name's root (simian) conjures up the evolution of humans from the apes, except of course in this case it is about the evolution of software.

The pronunciation of words beginning with x always gives me pause, so I had to ask, "Is Ximian pronounced 'zim-ee-un?'" Friedman said yes. Then he added, "Actually, Miguel and I are thinking about putting up a funny sound file on the Website. He would say 'This ees Miguel de Icaza, and I pronounce Ximian as "zeem-ee-un."' And I would say 'No, no! Miguel! It's not "zeem-ee-un," it's "zim-ee-un!"' Miguel would say, 'That's what I said: "zeem-ee-un!"'

To allow Friedman to gauge the progress of Ximian's efforts to make Linux more accessible, I asked him when Linux would challenge Windows on the desktop. He replied: "A good question.... In the operating system desktop space, there is always an incumbent and a challenger. The incumbent is Windows, and we are the challenger, essentially. Apple is no longer a challenger; they don't have momentum or anything like that.... You cannot beat Microsoft, you cannot gain market share over them, by chasing taillights."

So how do you do it? As Friedman explained his view to me, I felt as if I were caught in an eerie remake of "The Graduate." But instead of an older man giving Dustin Hoffman advice about going into plastics, it was the recent graduate Friedman explaining to the old-timer about appliances.

He told me: "We are going to do an end run around them, sort of. And I think we are going to come at them through a lot of things, like Internet access devices, the notion of appliances. If you look at the industry generally, you can say with some confidence, I think, that in five years we're going to be looking at a world with many more appliancelike computing devices, low-cost sort of specific-purpose communications appliances. And that's what we're gearing GNOME up for in many ways."

Finally, I asked Friedman if -- as the Ximian CEO -- he was worried about the number of open source companies foundering on the bottom line. He told me that what concerned him more than anything was that so many of the companies were "blind to begin with." Ximian is not yet profitable, though it is producing revenue. It won't be profitable this year, either, but it may be in 2002. He added that the downturn in the sector "does make it harder to raise money when the capital money gets a little soft. But we just raised $15 million and we are in a very strong position cashwise."

Whether you like the recent name change or not, you have to like the chances of a company led by not one, but two brilliant and motivated young men. Personally, I like the chances of Linux displacing Windows from the desktop a lot more with those two around.

More Stories By Joe Barr

Joe Barr is a freelance journalist covering Linux, open source and network security. His 'Version Control' column has been a regular feature of Linux.SYS-CON.com since its inception. As far as we know, he is the only living journalist whose works have appeared both in phrack, the legendary underground zine, and IBM Personal Systems Magazine.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


IoT & Smart Cities Stories
In his general session at 19th Cloud Expo, Manish Dixit, VP of Product and Engineering at Dice, discussed how Dice leverages data insights and tools to help both tech professionals and recruiters better understand how skills relate to each other and which skills are in high demand using interactive visualizations and salary indicator tools to maximize earning potential. Manish Dixit is VP of Product and Engineering at Dice. As the leader of the Product, Engineering and Data Sciences team at D...
When talking IoT we often focus on the devices, the sensors, the hardware itself. The new smart appliances, the new smart or self-driving cars (which are amalgamations of many ‘things'). When we are looking at the world of IoT, we should take a step back, look at the big picture. What value are these devices providing. IoT is not about the devices, its about the data consumed and generated. The devices are tools, mechanisms, conduits. This paper discusses the considerations when dealing with the...
Bill Schmarzo, Tech Chair of "Big Data | Analytics" of upcoming CloudEXPO | DXWorldEXPO New York (November 12-13, 2018, New York City) today announced the outline and schedule of the track. "The track has been designed in experience/degree order," said Schmarzo. "So, that folks who attend the entire track can leave the conference with some of the skills necessary to get their work done when they get back to their offices. It actually ties back to some work that I'm doing at the University of San...
Bill Schmarzo, author of "Big Data: Understanding How Data Powers Big Business" and "Big Data MBA: Driving Business Strategies with Data Science," is responsible for setting the strategy and defining the Big Data service offerings and capabilities for EMC Global Services Big Data Practice. As the CTO for the Big Data Practice, he is responsible for working with organizations to help them identify where and how to start their big data journeys. He's written several white papers, is an avid blogge...
Dynatrace is an application performance management software company with products for the information technology departments and digital business owners of medium and large businesses. Building the Future of Monitoring with Artificial Intelligence. Today we can collect lots and lots of performance data. We build beautiful dashboards and even have fancy query languages to access and transform the data. Still performance data is a secret language only a couple of people understand. The more busine...
If a machine can invent, does this mean the end of the patent system as we know it? The patent system, both in the US and Europe, allows companies to protect their inventions and helps foster innovation. However, Artificial Intelligence (AI) could be set to disrupt the patent system as we know it. This talk will examine how AI may change the patent landscape in the years to come. Furthermore, ways in which companies can best protect their AI related inventions will be examined from both a US and...
Enterprises have taken advantage of IoT to achieve important revenue and cost advantages. What is less apparent is how incumbent enterprises operating at scale have, following success with IoT, built analytic, operations management and software development capabilities - ranging from autonomous vehicles to manageable robotics installations. They have embraced these capabilities as if they were Silicon Valley startups.
Chris Matthieu is the President & CEO of Computes, inc. He brings 30 years of experience in development and launches of disruptive technologies to create new market opportunities as well as enhance enterprise product portfolios with emerging technologies. His most recent venture was Octoblu, a cross-protocol Internet of Things (IoT) mesh network platform, acquired by Citrix. Prior to co-founding Octoblu, Chris was founder of Nodester, an open-source Node.JS PaaS which was acquired by AppFog and ...
The deluge of IoT sensor data collected from connected devices and the powerful AI required to make that data actionable are giving rise to a hybrid ecosystem in which cloud, on-prem and edge processes become interweaved. Attendees will learn how emerging composable infrastructure solutions deliver the adaptive architecture needed to manage this new data reality. Machine learning algorithms can better anticipate data storms and automate resources to support surges, including fully scalable GPU-c...
Cloud-enabled transformation has evolved from cost saving measure to business innovation strategy -- one that combines the cloud with cognitive capabilities to drive market disruption. Learn how you can achieve the insight and agility you need to gain a competitive advantage. Industry-acclaimed CTO and cloud expert, Shankar Kalyana presents. Only the most exceptional IBMers are appointed with the rare distinction of IBM Fellow, the highest technical honor in the company. Shankar has also receive...