Originally Published: Tuesday, 17 April 2001 Author: Jeff Alami
Published to: develop_articles/Development Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

If You Don't Know Perl, You Don't Know Dick

Linux.com Section Editor Jeff Alami takes on ActiveState founder and CEO Dick Hardt in this new interview.

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To a Linux developer, or any developer for that matter, there's nothing better than finding out ways to make the job easier. One company has made this their mission, using well-known open source technologies, while supporting Linux throughout.

The name of the company is ActiveState, and its business is providing solutions that make it easier to program in languages like Perl, Python, and Tcl. These solutions include quality-assured distributions of languages, user-friendly development environments, and a programmer network with information and tools.

Linux.com caught up with Dick Hardt, ActiveState's founder and CEO, to discuss what ActiveState does and what its plans are for the future.

Linux.com: What is ActiveState's primary revenue model?

Dick Hardt: A great deal of our revenue so far has been around the "bottled-water" business model, where we provide quality-assured versions of Perl for vendors that want us to have Perl work well or better with a particular technology of theirs. In this case we almost always invariably roll that out as open-source technology. So, a lot of our revenue is mainly around those types of things: Perl, then of course we recently moved into the Python space, so now we're generating revenue with Python.

Linux.com: What do you find your clients use as operating platforms?

Dick Hardt: We have to several types of customers, including vendors like Microsoft, Intel, Rational, and HP. Obviously with Microsoft it's for the Windows platform, and our Perl works with a number of their products. Rational doesn't ship much on Linux. As for Intel, we did work for the Itanium; Linux on Itanium was one of the platforms to which we ported Perl. It was actually the easiest port to do of all of the ports.

We have a number of very large enterprise customers, a number of which I'm visiting this week while I'm here. Many Wall Street companies are our customers -- they tend to be users of Linux and Windows, so Linux is a platform for them.

Linux.com: What makes Perl and Python target languages for ActiveState's developer products?

Dick Hardt: Perl is the most popular open-source scripting language. It's the primary programming language on the Internet. There were fewer people around working with it in the early days, back in '94 when I started one of my first companies around software technology. I was paid to make websites and most people were using Perl to build Web sites. Perl didn't run on Windows, so I helped port it over to the Windows platform, which is how I got involved in the whole Perl community.

Linux.com: What made ActiveState look into Python?

Dick Hardt: We were looking at where else we could expand. Python was growing, and we're looking all the other open-source programming languages, so we hope to be able to - at some point - make announcements around both Tcl and PHP, and Ruby.

Linux.com: Your IDE product, Komodo, uses Mozilla as a platform. What do you find is the most challenging about using Mozilla?

Dick Hardt: So we're targeting two different development platforms -- the Visual Studio development platform and the Mozilla platform. Developers have said that the Visual Studio platform is an extremely well-documented "black box," while the Mozilla platform is a very poorly documented "white box."

One of the challenges is that Mozilla doesn't really run that well on a Linux machine, which is unfortunate, because you'd think more effort would be put on making it run well on a Linux machine as opposed to a Windows machine. But the Windows machine is really where it runs much better. There are a number of people who would like to fix that, us amongst those people, so hopefully the community will rally more around it -- particularly as we have Komodo and other apps. working on it.

Linux.com: Do you have any permanent Mozilla developers on staff?

Dick Hardt: That's who's working on Komodo. A number of the pieces of technology that we've created have gone back to the Mozilla tree, and we've fixed bugs in Mozilla. There's been a number of patches that we've done, some of which have been applied to the tree. We created Perl and Python bindings to XPCOM, so you could call XPCOM from Perl and Python, as well as create XPCOM components from Perl and Python.

Linux.com: What exactly is the nature of ActiveState's deal with Microsoft?

Dick Hardt: Oh, you know, we sleep with them every night. (Laughs)

We're a company whose mission is to make it easier for people to program, regardless of platform and regardless of language. We are big believers in open source technology; we think the best languages are open source based languages, and we don't want to go out and invent a new language. So our mission is really to find ways to enable people to make it easier to program using those existing languages.

All of our developer tools are set to do remote development. Linux is a very popular server platform, and a lot of people have Windows as their desktop device. We're making it very easy for people to go in and target the Windows server from our tools running on say, a Windows desktop, or a Linux desktop as well, so we have Visual Perl tools to use, even though they're plugged into Visual Studio. You can use that tool to target a Linux server and do development on, say, an Apache server, or a script just running as from a command line.

Linux.com: How will ActiveState work with .NET?

Dick Hardt: Microsoft really raised the bar on the functionality of the modern operating system with the .NET framework, and I think some of that is just starting to be understood by the Linux community. A lot of people have said "oh, it's Microsoft" and didn't really look at it, which I think is a real mistake. Microsoft has submitted the .NET framework, at least the core parts of it, to ECMA, in the hopes of standardizing it. There's the potential ability for someone to go and create an open source implementation of the .NET framework, which could run on Linux and other Unix machines.

Linux.com: Implementing .NET on Linux... is that what ActiveState is doing?

Dick Hardt: It's something that is very much of interest to us. We haven't announced anything, though.

Linux.com: ActiveState is known by many to have a rather unique office environment. How would you describe the company's office environment and corporate culture?

Dick Hardt: There are several things we see as key factors in making a successful company, and the first one is creating a great place to work. So we've done a lot to create an office space where we have a lounge with a pool table, and showers. We really encourage people to bike, run or walk to work, or take transit; a very small number of our employees actually drive to work, and as such we're very environmental. We have a hot tub up on our roof deck. You'd think that no one would use it, but actually it's used about four or five times a week, with people going there after work, hanging out, and chatting. That's what we want to create -- we want to create places within the company where people can go and hang out and talk about things.

Linux.com: What kind of people is ActiveState looking to recruit?

Dick Hardt: Smart people who believe in the mission. People who want to make it easier for people to program and create software. That's why we have a lot of the top developers in the world onsite working right there. We have top people in Perl, a number of people who commit to the Perl core, and who've created some of the more popular Perl modules. The same is true over in the Python space. We're recruiting for other programming technologies right now.

Since I talked to Dick Hardt, ActiveState has made several announcements, including: official support of Tcl, along with the release of the ActiveTcl distribution; the release of Komodo 1.0, which remains in beta testing for Linux at the moment; and the launch of ASPN (ActiveState Programmer Network), a source of information and tutorials for making development easier.

If you're in Vancouver area, be sure to check out their complimentary lecture series at the ActiveState HQ. On April 18, Senior Developer Paul Prescod will be discussing XSLT, the XML transformation language.

Jeff Alami (jeff@linux.com) is the section editor of the Develop section of Linux.com. He will most likely be sighted at ActiveState's next lecture session to find out just what XSLT is all about.

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