Open Source People
One of the first bits of advice you'll receive from almost any writer, or hear
at just about any writing seminar is to write about what you know. Well, I know
just enough about Linux and Open Source to make me dangerous (or so I've been
told). And I know a little bit more about the Midwest, my adopted region of the
U.S. When it came to writing my very first Open Source People column, combining
the two seemed like a good idea.This led me to fellow Midwesterner Jeremy White, founder, CEO, chief cook
and bottlewasher of CodeWeavers. Based
in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. CodeWeavers are the folks behind the
development of CodeWeavers Wine, a packaged release of Wine (Wine Is Not an Emulator), an
implementation of Windows APIs that allow many Windows applications to run on
"I love the Twin Cities; my wife likes to tease me that I was born a
Midwesterner," says White. Indeed, there are many advantages to working
and playing in the middle of the country, although I'm sure both of us could do
without the current heat wave. "The cost of living is very reasonable here,
there is a decent supply of good talent, and I'm halfway between Silicon Valley
and the Northeast."
My exodus to the Midwest from the San Francisco Bay Area was considerably
shorter than that of White, who was born in 1966 in Uganda ("This is fun to
tell people at parties," he says.) This was a time of national and
political turmoil for the small African nation, which had gained its
independence from the United Kingdom just four years earlier. That turmoil,
which eventually swept dictator Idi Amin to power, forced his family to leave
the country in 1969.
The next stop for White's family was the East Coast of the U.S., where they
settled in Columbia, Maryland. "Columbia is a fantastic place to be a
kid," White says. "It's a planned city - about my age. Great pools, great bike
paths, all very nicely planned. My wife, of course, is horrified by Columbia,
and thinks its just like Stepford.
You could say that White is a long-time gearhead, counting among his
most favorite memories the day he won over the computer salesman at his local
Radio Shack. "After having thrown me out of the store some weeks earlier, [he]
finally decided that letting me hack at the TRS-80 was better for business than
not letting me hack. He even let me store my programs onto my very own cassette
tape. This was circa 1977, I think. I spent a lot of time in that Radio Shack."
Young Jeremy's sessions with the TRS-80 floor model shaped his
passion for computers and coding. One of the first programs he ever created
(along with his brother) was an artillery game for that Radio Shack hardware,
complete with real-world physics like wind and gravity. His first job had little
to do with computers, however -- unless you include early 80's cash registers
within that category.
"My first job -- and only non-computer job -- was working at a Burger King. It
was great fun, but I nearly got fired for thinking that I could
invent processes that were better than the ones hundreds of other people had
figured out. This was a useful early lesson in humility."
White's attended Northfield, Minnesota's
Carleton College (class of 1987, for you alumni-seekers in the audience), where
he majored in Physics. One experiment involved dipping melons in liquid
nitrogen then dropping them off balconies to look for the blue flash emitted
when they hit the ground. "All in the name of science," jokes White. One of his
favorite college memories is playing pinball tag team with the woman he is now
C programming and assembly hacking were the order of the day at Jeremy's first
full-time job with software consulting firm Eric Nystrom, and Company, and he
credits his stint at ENC for developing skills and practices that would continue
to serve him well over the years.
"The one great thing I learned at ENC was a quality of software discipline that
I think is sadly lost to the world. I learned to document, and document
well, and I think the software world could use more of that discipline."
How true! I laughed out loud when I first read the above quote; at the time I
was on the phone with a family member who was ranting about the latest
trials and tribulations she's experienced with her computer. That computer,
running an operating system that shall remain nameless, is known far and wide
for its random crashes, and cryptic -- and undocumented -- error messages to
explain its shortcomings.
White first laid eyes on Linux in the early 90s when his company, Holten,
White and Associates, was doing quite a bit of cross-platform development work.
The company often had to create tools that would work on both DOS and Solaris.
The company couldn't actually afford to buy Sun hardware, and
few other options presented themselves. Linux ("Slackware, of course.") was
free, available, and functional. Problem solved.
In 1996, Jeremy split from his partners to form CodeWeavers, which began life as a high-tech
consulting firm. Sometimes the foundation for great ideas are laid in dreaming and
speculation. That was the genesis for the turn that CodeWeavers was about to take.
"In the middle of 1998, at lunch, we were considering what we would do if we
were to win the lottery. I speculated that I'd go work on Wine full time, as I
thought it was cool. One thing led to another, and I refocused the company
around the mission of using Wine to help bring Windows technology to Linux."
The 1999 launch of CodeWeaver, Version 2, took place at Linux World Expo, an
event that White considers to be among the most personally important and
satisfying events in the life of his young company. It did, after all, garner
CodeWeavers its first significant press coverage.
CodeWeavers has contributed much to Wine, including a
sparkly new database site that enables users to research and document how
well (or how poorly) individual Windows applications work with Wine. The company
is preparing its first software product which is, naturally, based on Wine:
CrossOver Plugin. When completed, that chunk of programming wizardry will make
all Web browser plug-ins designed for Windows work with Linux Web browsers.
Making Windows applications play nice with Linux, but without actually emulating
Windows, is no easy task: "Wine is hard. Sometimes I see the road ahead
to where I want to be, and I see how long and hard it is, I get discouraged. Of
course, occasionally, I'll look back on the road behind, and I'm reminded of
just how much we've accomplished in the past few years.
"Have you heard of
the concept of the tipping point? That's where there is incremental
change that is generally not visible in a system (say, water building up behind
a dam). But, you reach a certain point, and everything starts hurtling forward
dramatically (say the dam bursts). I'd say we're at or near the tipping point
CrossOver Plugin is part of a new wave of products that users can expect
from CodeWeavers in the coming years. Building on the ever-increasing
capabilities of Wine, White expects that his products will help bring a new
breed of home appliances and home gateways to market, doing things that people
may never have thought possible before.
"We expect to make Linux desktop users more able to truly live in an all Linux,
all the time environment."
And what an environment it will be! Check out Jeremy's vision of our very near
technological future, which will be helped along by many of the
programs and utilities created at CodeWeavers: "I want to be able to talk to my
house, have my cell phone remind me to pick up milk, be able to stream a recent
DVD release right to my home, and be able to have true video conferencing so
that my company can more readily work together as a team."
When asked why he works with Open Source, White said "I
love computers and technology and the explosion of possibility that they bring.
Further, I feel that the most exciting developments occur when software is built
around open standards. Take the World Wide Web as a clear example of that. The
barriers to entry were low on the Web, and I love the stuff that the Web now
lets me do.
"I believe that Free Software is a way to provide a similar explosion of
possibility in the wider realm of computing as a whole. If the standard tools are
open and free, a) everyone can play, b) companies like Microsoft will be forced
to *really* innovate."
More about Jeremy White
Text editor: vi (with an embarrassing love of Brief)
Operating System: VAX/VMS
Snack food: Oreos
Favorite band/album/song: Crash Test Dummies, Soul Asylum/Grave Dancers
Union, Led Zeppelin/Fool in the Rain
Book: Kerningham and Ritchie
Movie: It's trite, but it's true - Star Wars
TV show: Bugs Bunny
Vacation spot: Door County,
Person: I'd have to give my wife the nod (or she'd
Who am I and what have I done with Julie Bresnick, the intrepid journalist who
has written Open Source People since NewsForge launched last year? No big
conspiracy in effect here: Julie has decided to plunge back into the world of
being a full time student, and I've taken over the column. We wish her the best.