haiku falls in place
February 11, 2009 4:20 AM   Subscribe

BeOS is back! Immortalised by Neal Stephenson as the Batmobile of operating systems, it's been reincarnated as Haiku :P
posted by kliuless (57 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
oh and it might go well with netbooks...
posted by kliuless at 4:20 AM on February 11, 2009

BeOS rocked. I installed R4 on a Micron PC back when I was in college. I had added on an ATI TV tuner card and BeOS knew what to do with it -- zero user config required.
posted by ben242 at 4:35 AM on February 11, 2009

Ahead of its time
About fifteen years ago
Does it still matter?
posted by ardgedee at 4:36 AM on February 11, 2009 [8 favorites]

I remember reading that essay years ago. In retrospect, it strikes me as missing the larger point, which is that users of computers as appliances don't care about the OS and don't want to be reminded that it exists.
posted by selfnoise at 4:37 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by orange swan at 4:39 AM on February 11, 2009

A charming OS
But page lacks titular style;
All hope crashes down.
posted by stelas at 4:39 AM on February 11, 2009

it's not exactly
a brand new development
two thousand and one
posted by Super Hans at 4:46 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

BeOS and EndOS
Of operating systems
posted by pracowity at 4:50 AM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm not as up to date on BeOS as I was at one point. But when I was younger I was very cash-poor and almost obsessed with getting as much benefit out of the limited calculations my computers could give me. And other people must have been thinking along the same lines because in 2002, alternative operating systems were a hot topic on ars technica and slashdot and other tech sites. They still are but good luck hearing about anything other than a *nix.

The unreported story here is that BeOS' tragedy relates strongly to geography and egos. Granted, Gasee is very generously depicted. Lord knows why but there are a couple of software projects that are really embraced by a rather tiny group of brilliant French developers. I found it rather telling that VLC was included in the screenshots on one of these links because VLC is the textbook example of their projects. They are probably best known for their work in emulation and other reverse engineering projects.

The problem with alternative OSes is that they don't often have developers or good, useful software. BeOS was brilliant but impractical for it's lack of standardized or commonly used software.
posted by christhelongtimelurker at 4:50 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Remember when Apple was considering BeOS instead of NeXT as the replacement for MacOS? Things might have gone a bit different for Apple had Jobs never gone back.
posted by PenDevil at 5:03 AM on February 11, 2009

I only ever played with a bootable BeOS CD which ran on the Power Computing (PPC-based) machine I had at work. I remember being impressed by how smoothly it ran on that hardware.
posted by D.C. at 5:07 AM on February 11, 2009

Can someone explain this to me like I was your grandmother? How does Haiku compare to the already-well-established Linux?
posted by zardoz at 5:12 AM on February 11, 2009

Well, FWIW, my prior experimentation with Haiku virtual sessions has not gone well. And, unfortunately, the selection of software is sadly limited in both number and functionality.
posted by Samizdata at 5:13 AM on February 11, 2009

I ran BeOS 4 and 5 back in the day (10 years ago!) and loved showing how it could boot to complete functionality in 5 seconds. Yes, I was (am) a huge nerd. I remember getting bored with it because I never had to do any maintenance or upgrades, unlike my Windows and Linux partitions.
posted by krunk at 5:14 AM on February 11, 2009

And, interestingly enough, among all those 2006/2007 news articles comes the latest nightly build - From January 7th of '09. Not exactly, ummmm, nightly, is it?
posted by Samizdata at 5:17 AM on February 11, 2009

while you use BeOS
I pick boogers from my nose
and flick or eat them
posted by poppo at 5:34 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I remember downloading BeOS ISOs over 28.8k dialup. It took forever and infuriated my parents because they never got phone calls.
This isn't news, though. Haiku has been around for quite a while right now, and before that there was BlueEyedOS, which tried to offer an amount of source compatibility on top of Linux and X.
posted by dunkadunc at 5:35 AM on February 11, 2009

So is this like the Chinese Democracy of operating systems?
posted by mannequito at 5:36 AM on February 11, 2009 [4 favorites]

I remember the rumor mill was on fire right before Apple adopted NeXT. I had had a NeXT Cube at my work (strange, I know... serial number was four hundred and something) for about a year, and though it wasn't my everyday work machine, it was familiar to me. I also had a friend (even stranger, for the record) who swore by his BeOS-running BeBox, and I'd play with it sometimes when hanging out.

At the time I really felt Apple made the wrong choice. BeOS was friendlier, prettier, and generally just felt more Mac-like. Its emphasis on multi-processors also seemed like space-age wizard magic at the time, and most of the programmers I knew loved this BeOS thing. NeXTStep, on the other hand, seemed labyrinthine and user-hostile, and what was the big deal about this "Unix", anyway? Wasn't that just some big-server software thing from the sixties, like those VAXes we had down in the basement? What did that have to do with modern personal computers, really?

I was, like, kinda wrong.
posted by rokusan at 5:49 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

BeOS would never have gone away if it had been open source(d). Seven long years of effort have recreated many of the ideas.
posted by DU at 5:50 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Like krunk, I ran BeOS back in the day - hard to believe it was almost 10 years ago! Obviously krunk and I had different computers since mine had Windows, FreeBSD, and BeOS partitions.

There was something hugely charming about BeOS - the interface, the icons, the error messages in haiku form. It was my OS for "fun" computing, while Windows was for the dreary office-related things. And it didn't require the endless twiddling of Linux, which I gave up on after it kept failing to recognize my network card despite repeated kernel recompiles and what not.
posted by needled at 5:51 AM on February 11, 2009

Would like to use it.
But then I remember the
Amiga fan base.

My absolute fave thing about BeOS on the original BeBox was the CPU control applet, which showed you load on the two CPUs. You could also turn one CPU off, and see the load migrate to the other CPU. You could then turn it back on and turn the other CPU off, and watch the load build on the other CPU. You could then turn one cpu off, and then the othe
posted by eriko at 5:59 AM on February 11, 2009 [20 favorites]

BeOS was a neat vision of what computing could possibly be. In using it, the biggest thing that struck you was its sheer speed; BeOS was really fast, and it multitasked extraordinarily well. It was designed primarily for speed, reliability, and simplicity, roughly in that order. Further, it was truly multiprocessor from the ground up, which was about 10 years ahead of hardware; multi-CPU machines didn't become common until this last year or so.

The big problem with it was a lack of driver support. You more or less had to custom-build a machine to run BeOS properly. At the time, computers were still very expensive; a P3-300 would set you back at least a couple grand. And, ideally, you wanted a double-CPU machine, which were rare and much pricier. The chance of BeOS working completely and properly on a machine you already had was near zero.

It looked kind of Unixy on some levels, but the underpinnings were pretty sketchy. You had the basic Unix commands, but no true concept of multi-user use, and no security at all. It was almost completely open, sort of like a modern Amiga; you were protected from programs crashing, but not from programs actively misbehaving. BeOS would have been an extremely fertile ground for malware, although that concept was several years further out.

Speedwise, it beat the shit out of everything else. Just clobbered it. The time from starting the bootloader to having a working desktop was just a few seconds. You could start and switch between programs at incredible speed. It was easy to run more than one video window at the same time, on a single P3-300. (I think it started bogging down at about four, which considering the speed of the processor involved, was remarkable.) And it seemed quite stable, although I never truly beat on it.

So what killed it? Three things: Microsoft, Linux, and Gassée. Microsoft stomped all over vendors who tried to bundle BeOS with their computers, absolutely went apeshit, so that nobody could buy a BeOS computer that also ran Windows. So they had no ability to grow their market that way. In the relatively small subset of people who are willing to install OSes on their own, Linux had a very great deal of mindshare. The underpinnings were better, but even today, ten years later, the X Window System is a pile of dog turds next to BeOS. But there were many more drivers for Linux than for BeOS -- which, if you're familiar with the sorry state of early Linux drivers, should at least raise an eyebrow.

Both systems suffered from "OK, I installed it, so now what do I do?", but Linux had a lot more software available, even back then. UI design on X software was uniformly horrible, but the actual software underneath tended to be pretty solid. BeOS just didn't have very much. The little bit that it did have looked great and worked well, but a large library of ugly software was, at the time, better than a tiny library of nice-looking stuff. So it didn't get much traction with the enthusiasts, either. You had to be well-heeled AND very patient AND willing to port your own software AND think that free software wasn't as good. That universe probably consisted of just a few thousand people.

Finally, Gassée held out for too much money when Apple wanted to buy BeOS and make it the basis of OS X. If he hadn't been so hard-nosed, modern Macs might look very different. There's a lot to like about modern OS X, but it's not fast. It's quite sluggish, in fact, particularly on disk I/O and under a heavily threaded workload. Those were the two things that BeOS got more right than any other OS has, before or since, and I strongly suspect a BeOS-based OS X would be screamingly fast and even more visually impressive than what's already there.

Most likely, though, it would be horribly insecure, and Apple wouldn't have gotten Steve back, so they made the right decision, overall.
posted by Malor at 6:07 AM on February 11, 2009 [14 favorites]

A friend of mine had a BeOS machine, and I tinkered with it once. The only thing I remember is the CPU usage meter. I thought it was so cool that you could see two CPUs and how much each was being used, and you could actually turn one off. Awesome! Then I tried turning both off and, of course, the machine instantly stopped. I've since used that as a parable to explain many of my own design decisions. It shouldn't be so easy to metaphorically turn off both CPUs.

On preview, nice to see I wasn't the only one who tried that, eriko.
posted by scottreynen at 6:08 AM on February 11, 2009

I remember installing BeOS (R5? the one that let you install it as an application within Windows) back in the day. I really liked it, but never went beyond toying around with it, because I had a WinModem which BeOS couldn't use.

OK two questions.

1) In the FAQ it mentions that it uses the GNU toolchain, but not stuff like GTK+. Does this mean that it will be able to run some Linux software? Perhaps with a recompile? (I only know enough to recognize these things, without knowing what they do.)

2) I noticed that the pre-alpha includes Firefox. How is this accomplished if not through some kind of *nix compatibility?
posted by oddman at 6:16 AM on February 11, 2009

Oh wow, the memories... I was thinking about BeOS just last night when I ran across my 5.0 CD whilst digging around on a few spindles of old CD's.

I actually did phone and email support for BeOS for a while back in the day. It was a great-looking OS, such a nice clean look to it, and pretty easy to learn and use. Even the quirks were charming -- my favorite was that, on a multiprocessor system, you could opt to turn off specific processors with a simple click of their respective on/off toggles. For some reason, you had the ability to turn ALL the processors off at the same time, at which point you were pretty much done! There was also a bit of goofiness in an amusing kernel function to check if the computer was on, and one to check if the computer was on fire, heh.

I never really had much opportunity to use it outside of work, though--I didn't have much reason to run it at home, and as a third party call center, we logged all our support calls with a Win98 box anyway.

Proudly, you can find an example of me being all customer servicey, immortalized for future generations on Usenet, by searching Google Groups for the terms BeOS, manly, rugged, and handsome :)
posted by Jinkeez at 6:20 AM on February 11, 2009

> 1) In the FAQ it mentions that it uses the GNU toolchain, but not stuff like GTK+. Does this mean that it will be able to run some Linux software? Perhaps with a recompile?

You would probably have to painstakingly compile a lot of dependencies before you could run anything grand. And without GTK+ or Qt ported, non-GUI apps only, and even then there's a strong possibility the code would need modifications to work on Haiku.
posted by shadytrees at 6:32 AM on February 11, 2009

Well, FWIW, I am currently posting this from a current Haiku nightly build (Oooooh! My arrow keys don't work!) using Firefox First off, I needed to get the version of Firefox installed via an awkward wget session. (Just discovered it only uses the numpad as arrow keys, not the inverted T arrangement). Then it took me several minutes just to reach MeFi, login, and get back to the main page, Amusingly enough, I can even outtype the screen refresh.

It may have fallen in place, but I don't think the place is the right one,
posted by Samizdata at 6:43 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Would it be inappropriate to say something along the lines of "The Batmobile lost it's wheels..."?
posted by Samizdata at 6:45 AM on February 11, 2009

I used R4 and R5 on my primary computers. It was so amazingly fast. Yeah, the drivers were tough (although I got it all working on an IBM Aptiva without having to compile anything), there wasn't a ton of software out there and the yellow drove me nuts, but it never crashed, was faster than anything I've used and was *stable*.

Like my two previous OSes (Novell DOS 7 and OS/2), it went away. 10 years later, I still miss it. I still miss OS/2, also. Novell DOS 7...not so much, although it had a cool game.
posted by QIbHom at 6:54 AM on February 11, 2009

For a short period, I contributed an occasional article or two to a friend's BeOS fan website during the late 90s. I believe I first jumped on the bandwagon around BeOS 4, and although I have a copy of R5 that I picked up used, I might have never installed it. I remember that there were a few things, like the TCP/IP stack, that were nonstandard enough to make software porting difficult.

Although it's sad they're gone, a lot of the talented programmers who worked at Be moved on. If I'm not mistaken, Be's filesystem engineer now works at Apple, along with a few others.
posted by mikeh at 6:57 AM on February 11, 2009

A current version of Minix is also alive and kicking, and not very practical for daily use (not much in the way of drivers or applications.)
posted by Zed at 7:26 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I remember buying a very specific set of hardware to be BeOS compatible and running my own BeBox for a year or so. It was such a fun little OS at the time that I was sure it would end up dominating Macs or PCs, so I convinced my friend to buy some stock in the company. I have never again given unsolicited investment advice.
posted by ejoey at 7:28 AM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

Ahem. Yes, BeOS was wicked fast. But remove all the applications from any other OS, and you'll notice it looks pretty fast too. Just saying.
posted by rusty at 8:20 AM on February 11, 2009 [3 favorites]

"As obvious as we think it is, it bears repeating that an operating system is
useless in itself."

- Jean-Louis Gassée
posted by mikepop at 8:26 AM on February 11, 2009

Perhaps also:

"For God's sake, don't compare us to Next. We want to be a better tool for
developers, not to be tasteful. We don't cost $10,000. We have a floppy drive. We do not defecate on developers."
JLG, Red Herring, December 1996
posted by mikepop at 8:33 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

But will it make your nipples hard?
posted by redbeard at 9:05 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Cool. I'm glad to see they licked that critical "not open source" bug, took quite some time, but seems like that problem is solved.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:16 AM on February 11, 2009

The only device driver I ever wrote was to get my sound card working on R4. Good times!
posted by bigschmoove at 9:53 AM on February 11, 2009

Cables have been cut
Southwest of Northeast somewhere
We are not amused.

Why Haiku? Thanks to the error messages from NetPositive, the default browser that came with BeOS. All the NetPositive errors have been listed and archived, for your reading pleasure.

First snow, then silence.
This expensive server dies
So beautifully.

posted by filthy light thief at 9:58 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hm. Like christhelongtimelurker, I was interested in alternative OSes - like Plan 9 & hurd. Now I'm curious what apps are available on it, but I'm guessing "nothing unique," & I'm actually annoyed that there's no live CD.
posted by Pronoiac at 10:00 AM on February 11, 2009

Oh, BeOS, how I miss you. You were the one with promise, the one who let me believe my little Pentium 2 was actually capable of neato keen stuff by opening every video I had all at the same time -- probably thirty or so. Which was pretty freaking amazing.

And I'm glad Haiku took up the reins. Except. The Haiku team wanted to have a decent amount of apps available right out of the gate, so they decided to make it fully compatible with the R5 release... which came out in 2001. Those apps they're ready for right out of the gate are now eight-and-a-half years old, which in computer years is a lifetime. So my feelings are mixed. Still, BeOS RULEZ KTHXBAI
posted by waraw at 10:04 AM on February 11, 2009

It had an instant-search system based on metadata that could be used to perform all sorts of tedious tasks other operating systems (still!) need separate programs for

OMG OMG I wish every day that Windows had a place to put comments in for files. So I would not need a photo management software, or use a photo management software to keep track of CAD files, or all my other files.

Stupid fucking Windows. Stupid fucking Microsoft for wasting time on bullshit instead of making the most awesome operating system ever. The fact that Google Desktop even exists is a most resounding damnation of Microsoft failure. It's a crying shame that Google Desktop is a POS itself.

Marketing > all. They should have put that on the gates of Auschwitz instead of Arbeit Macht Freid.
posted by Xoebe at 10:10 AM on February 11, 2009

Stop both processors?
I will let you continue.
But not very long.
posted by team lowkey at 10:31 AM on February 11, 2009 [5 favorites]

Marketing > all. They should have put that on the gates of Auschwitz instead of Arbeit Macht Freid.

Because what Auschwitz really needed was a better motto?

posted by snuffleupagus at 10:58 AM on February 11, 2009

Should I feel bad when I zero out a Windows partition? Because I have to say, I really enjoy doing that.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:54 AM on February 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

"After over six years of development, Haiku is very close to being a full replacement for BeOS."

Pshaw. Call me back when they have a full replacement for OS/2 Warp.
posted by ALongDecember at 1:03 PM on February 11, 2009 [2 favorites]

I'm looking forward to this, and have been following it for a few years now. I use my computer for a limited selection of focused tasks, and am looking forward to an os that can fulfill those basic needs extremely efficiently and with a minimum of tinkering. I think a more stable Haiku could be the answer.
posted by jellywerker at 1:10 PM on February 11, 2009

BeOS's main selling point was pervasive multithreading support at a time where almost nobody owned such a thing, and all apps that used this idea were custom built. In contrast, ffmpeg only gained mulitthreading support recently, a few years after the Core Duo / AMD x2 introduction.

I think Linux was simply better able to optimize developer time for what was important today. SMP was nice, but didn't scale. You can do two or four, but anyone with serious computation wanting more needs something like beowulf clustering. Ironically, Linux is more of a BeoOS than BeOS. Now that dual core is common, there's reviving interest in using the power that's already there to run software we generally already have.

As for why BeOS failed to take positions from Apple or Microsoft, well others have stated that far better than I can.
posted by pwnguin at 1:10 PM on February 11, 2009

Pronoiac - Haiku is not supposed to provide new magical possibilities for unheard-of programming options, but usable at these early phases. Here's a list of retail applications for BeOS/Zeta/Haiku. The wiki list of BeOS programs is significantly longer, though many programs have no wiki page to date, making the list less than ideal. Of course, you could attend the closest HUG, or join an e-HUG, and ask for more details.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:14 PM on February 11, 2009

no WasOs joke yet?
posted by mhh5 at 6:22 PM on February 11, 2009

BeOS: when you are really-really worried about not getting malware.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 8:09 PM on February 11, 2009

Out of curiosity, and not to troll too much here... how much brilliance should we attribute to a sci-fi author who was so terrifically wrong on BeOS?

For the record, I've only read In the beginning there was the command line, and the dude can frickin' write, but, I've never read his fiction.
posted by The Giant Squid at 8:40 PM on February 11, 2009

How was he so terrifically wrong on BeOS? In the middle of '99, the other choices were Windows 98, Mac OS 8, or Linux in the early days of KDE, Gnome or XFCE. Considering BeOS the pick of that litter doesn't seem so wacky to me. He did note that its future was uncertain (and has since switched to Mac OS X.)
posted by Zed at 10:35 PM on February 11, 2009

Once you installed BeOS, what could you really do with it? It was a fun geek toy, but not really very useful for real-world applications.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:06 PM on February 12, 2009

I think I spotted an inexpensive video editing app for it on a store shelf around 2001, which impressed me.

I can't find an active local HUG (*groan*). I'm curious about its status about libraries - it doesn't have GTK+ or QT, which seem portable, but if it has legendary multimedia stuff built in to the OS (I'm aware I might be thinking of the Amiga here) then it can be a good platform to build a prototype.

I guess I'm wondering about the difficulties of porting apps to & from it.

Here's the slashdot discussion. They might be less cranky - they note its amazing responsiveness too.
posted by Pronoiac at 2:10 PM on February 12, 2009

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