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1 July, 1999 10.20am pdt
Be Assures Users: Your Ass Is Safe

by Be Dope investigative reporter
Leonard Richardson - leonardr@segfault.org

BE DOPE NEWS (BDN) We all know that the BeOS kicks ass, what with its preemptive multitasking, pervasive multithreading, powerful multimedia, positive multiculturality, pernicious multiplication, and whatnot. But the question remains: just whose ass is getting kicked here? Is it you, the end user? OEMs who refuse to offer the BeOS on their machines? How does the BeOS satisfy its relentless urge to kick ass without creating a public nuisance?

To find out, we went right to the source, speaking to BeOS developer Benoît Schillings. He was glad to oblige us, and proceeded to explain to us a fascinating aspect of operating system design.

"Many operating systems build up karmic energy as they run, which is occasionally released in a sudden, climactic event. The MacOS and Microsoft Windows often manifest these in the forms of 'crashes'. What we found was that the BeOS manifests these energy bursts in the form of Ass-Kicking Events [AKEs]."

The more often one performs resource-intensive feats on the BeOS, the more frequently AKEs occur--just as such actions cause more frequent crashes in other operating systems. Often a BeOS user, caught up in a release of energy, will let out a cry to the effect of, "This kicks ass!" But such involuntary exclamations are a far cry from an actual drubbing on one's posterior. Will the BeOS, under the proper conditions, actually kick someone in the ass?

"Absolutely," says Schillings. "In 1997, with the release of BeOS DR8, we began getting about one AKE per day per machine. At first, each of us suspected the others of sneaking up behind our workstations and kicking us in the butt, but it soon became obvious that the OS itself was causing the strange behavior.

"As the BeOS matured, AKEs became both more frequent and more powerful, until they were capable of seriously denting the stainless-steel butt guards we had all taken to wearing."

All through 1997, developers and visitors to Be, Inc.'s headquarters were in constant danger of being exposed to AKEs. The early BeOS, no respecter of rank, spared not even Be CEO Jean-Louis Gassée from its might.

"Yes," Gassée confirmed in a private interview, "the BeOS kicked my saucy French ass on several occasions throughout early 1997. I found it to be a humbling, yet gratifying experience."

It was clear that the Be team was on to something. But the ass-kicking features of the BeOS, while an excellent demonstration of its capabilities, led to user interface concerns. It was felt that just as users should be shielded from the internal workings of a modern operating system, so should they be shielded from sudden physical manifestations of its power. But how could the energy from an AKE be reduced without reducing OS functionality in proportion?

The breakthrough came in July 1997 (just before the release of BeOS Preview Release), when the BeOS developers discovered how to program the BeOS to kick its own ass.

"Once we had the basic idea, it was easy to make the change," says Schillings. "We simply trapped a hardware interrupt which was being thrown at every AKE and passed the BeOS a pointer to its own ass instead of that of the user."

Not only are end-user butts now safe from unexpected kicks, but the cumulative effect of over 10,000 self-contained AKEs has resulted in a kinder, gentler BeOS: another big win for users.

BeOS users and developers can access the BeOS' ass as /dev/misc/ass. However, they are cautioned not to try any "touchy-feely stuff".


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