Joi's Diary

Back to Contents of Issue: January 2000

Swapping tips and arranging bits

by Joichi Ito

Joichi Ito is the founder and CEO of Neoteny (, an IT investment and operating company. He has created numerous Internet companies, including PSINet Japan, Digital Garage, and Infoseek Japan. In 2000, he was ranked among the "50 Stars of Asia" by Business Week and commemorated by the MPT for supporting the advancement of IT.

Last month was yet another busy one. On November 21, Shobi Gakuin hosted Infowar-a conference based on last year's Infowar symposium at Ars Electronica. Shobi Gakuin has started a new school, working in the field of media and policy. This intersection between the arts and policy is very important. Having participated as a member of the jury in the .net category for Ars Electron-ica for the last five years, I have come to appreciate how important the work of artists is in pushing the envelope of technology and focusing attention on the social and political impact of technology. Ars Electronica has also put together a very good series of speakers and a wrap-up panel. This year, Ars Electronica is recognizing Linus Torvalds for his creation of Linux.

I also went to Silicon Valley this month. I spent a few days at Infoseek, a day at a new school called Ex'pressions, where I serve on the supervisory board, and spent the rest of the time zooming around the Valley, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones. Hector Saldana, co-founder of enCommerce and a former Apple exec, was my guide for most of the trip. Hector, several of his partners, and I have been trying to come up with a plan to network consultants to help startup companies globally. He introduced me to the idea of consulting for equity, which is becoming exceedingly popular as a business model. He introduced me to Jeff Webber of RB Webber-a very successful consulting firm that offers consulting services to startups in exchange for equity. He now manages funds as well. Jeff is a funny, smart, and practical fellow whom I would like to have known when I started my first company. I think Netyear's Sonny Koike, Kiyoshi Nishikawa of NetAge, and myself should strive to become the Jeff Webbers of Tokyo.

I spent some time at Be Inc., now shifting its attention to the Internet appliance market. The BeOS is, I believe, absolutely the best operating system for broadband multimedia and appliances. I won't get into the techie details here, but it is truly multitasking capable and highly optimized. It runs very fast and audio won't skip, even if the CPU is loaded at maximum capacity. It is perfect for low cost, home Internet devices that need to do audio and video. Anyway, I'm very enthusiastic about this OS, and I've agreed to join Be as their first advisory board member.

I've also been spending a lot of time working with my Linux team. We are putting together a Linux portal to help users figure out which software works on which hardware. There will eventually be a strong community component to this. Linux has taken off in the U.S., but is starting to slip in Japan. The main reason is that since it is not a commercial OS, there is no "official" support for it. The distribution companies like Red Hat and Turbo Linux provide some support, but they're unable to cover all of the hardware platforms and related hardware developments. We are setting up a group to try to provide some basic information so that people can start providing support. I think this may be key to saving Linux in Japan.

I also met Mr. Honda of Plathome for the first time. For those who don't know him, he's a legend in Akihabara-Tokyo's famous electronics shopping district. He's been pushing new technologies forever and was one of the key players in getting PCs, the Unix OS, and now the BeOS into the Japanese market. Needless to say, he is quite a character. He is currently the distributor for the BeOS in Japan as well as a leading figure in the Linux community. We decided over sake and yakitori in Akihabara that we will support each other in our ventures.

Finally, I swapped e-mail with Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation. Richard pointed out to me that what is now called "Linux" was just the kernel portion of the operating system-really just a small portion of the whole OS (some say 3%). When talking about the operating system, the correct thing to say is GNU/Linux. GNU stands for "GNUs Not Unix," and it is a freeware version of various Unix tools. I agree with Richard. The media have warp-ed the word "hacker" to mean computer criminal, when it really means someone who likes to make cool things on computers. The media have also warped the term Linux to mean the whole operating system, when in fact it is more accurately just the kernel. But, like with the word hacker, it's probably too late to reverse this.

Note: The function "email this page" is currently not supported for this page.