November 16, 2001; 4:25 pm. I shut down my computers:
4:40 pm. I turn in my key to the third floor of 800 El Camino Real.
4:45 pm. I pull out of the Be parking lot for the last time.
In April of 2000 an old friend called me up at my apartment Boston, wondering if I would pick up my tiny little world and move it across the country to help him staff Be's new UI design team. He had called before, with a similar story. This time the need was immediate, the timing was good (our lease was about to come up, and as it turned out the web bubble was about to burst all over my then-employer) and the opportunity was hard to pass up. Needless to say, Erin and I went west.
I have never claimed to have been a Be old-timer. (The BeOS community is full of diehards, and somehow I am unashamed of my BeOS naïveté: until emphatically corrected, I pronounced BeOS as bee-awce.) I joined the company after it had already shifted its focus away from its daring operating system to internet appliances (in a reasoned attempt to find some application of its technology that might generate money).
Still, in my mere seventeen-and-a-half months at Be a company that has defied all odds by existing for a whole decade on the whiff of a dream of creating a new computer operating system I have seen and experienced the essence of this place. There seems to have always been some sort of magic in this perpetual start-up: so long surviving the flameout of unchecked idealism, and untouched by the death-cloud of corporate stagnation. Perhaps there's some juju buried in the eons-old hardware littering the floors, or under the press clippings covering the walls, or in the teeth of the espresso grinder (bought by Jean-Louis himself along with the restauraunt-grade espresso machine, I believe). It might be the countless stains on the carpet ("I swear we're not getting our deposit back on this place") or the disco-ball in the testing lab. It might just be the water in Menlo Park, but it might very well be any of these artifacts of Be Incorporated; and, fortunately for you, they can be yours for a tidy (tiny) sum when the company's remaining assets go up for bulk auction.
Whatever it was, it infected me, and I spent more than a year making this place my second home. For ten or eleven months, a handful of us mostly younger Be recruits, the old BeOS developers all but gone repeatedly found ourselves at the office until the sun came up again, and again, blinking back sleep as we tried to build an internet appliance for Sony (which, as it turns out, they would never truly be happy with; the eVilla was discontinued and recalled less than a month after it was finally unveiled). We believed in the software we were building, and we believed in this tiny little company, and yet none of us was surprised when our other clients shut down their IA divisions and Be announced that it was looking to be bought. We could sense the weariness in the walls, in each other; we listened with secret jealousy as our oxygen leaked slowly out of our submarine.
We spent another six months seeking an endgame. There were months of total uncertainty; layoffs for some, a laughable message of "keep doing what you've been doing" for the rest. Then it was revealed that Be was in good shape to strike a deal with Palm, and more waiting to see if the details could be ironed out and if the greedy day-trading shareholders (all reasonable investors and institutions long since having bailed on our dollar-stock) would approve the deal.
And here we are, in November, with the first chill in the Bay Area air that's been felt since the height of the Sony project, at the endgame. On Monday, I'll start work at Palm like the other forty-odd Be engineers fortunate enough to be offered jobs at the New Company. I'll be returning to full-time software engineering, ever grateful to Chris for the opportunity to try life as a designer, and more grateful still for the lesson that it taught me about where my real talents lie and when to use them. And as for 800 El Camino Real, all the employees have removed their personal property, but their emotional property will have to remain behind: no tangible assets were part of the sale to Palm. So the BeBoxes, disco balls, hideous lunch-futons, ugly beige cubicles, BeOS beta CDs, Hobbit prototype motherboards, and QuickCams "our" BeBoxes; "my" QuickCam are gone. We won't be able to go up to the roof again to watch the Menlo police pull speeders over. Nothing will ever be thrown off the balcony again. I won't again see the couch where my wife watched me eat the food she'd brought at midnight, wondering when I would realize that I was slowly burning out.
This is the end of Be. It's a very emotional parting. I really loved being.