WebRef Update: Featured Article: BeOS 5 Bounds onto the Scene | WebReference

WebRef Update: Featured Article: BeOS 5 Bounds onto the Scene

BeOS 5 Bounds onto the Scene

Amid the on-going furor of the OS wars, one contender has often slipped under the radar of most users - the BeOS. This is a shame, really, because the BeOS is one of the most powerful and well- designed operating systems available today. And now, to sweeten the deal, Be Inc. has taken a clue from their Linux competitors, and have started offering up the Personal Edition of the new BeOS 5 for free download.

Some have called this offer a last-ditch attempt to generate popularity for the OS. To be honest, they may be right. Be Inc. was founded by ex-Apple exec Jean-Louis Gassee in 1990, and though its OS has garnered a good deal of critical acclaim since then, it's never developed much of a user base. That might be changing, however. Since BeOS 5 was posted on the Web on March 28, there have been over 870,000 reported downloads of the 40 meg base installation from partner sites - maybe not enough to scare anyone in Redmond, but by no means a shabby number! The freely downloadable Personal Edition of BeOS 5 is fully operational; the BeOS 5 Pro edition is available for purchase for $69.95, and comes bundled with additional development tools, software and add-ons.

Let's take a look at BeOS and see what the buzz is about.

So What is it?

The BeOS is just that - a whole new operating system. Built from the ground-up in the 90s, Be sought to leverage the fact that they did not have to support a large number of legacy applications like other existing OSes. Though each new version of the MacOS and Windows adds additional features (and slowly removes some of the support for outdated system calls, features and hardware), they still have a lot of their history embedded in them, either in the form of actual code, or in philosophical approach. Since Be was starting from a blank slate, they were able to design their OS to use modern hardware to its fullest potential, as well as incorporating the latest developments in OS design. It's this modern design that gives the BeOS some of it's most appealing features.

The Pros

So what are those appealing features?

First off, the BeOS is remarkably stable. Though individual applications may crash, it's exceedingly rare for the whole OS to go down. (Chalk up a point for truly modern threading and memory management!) One popular BeOS screensaver points to the chutzpah that Be users have about system crashes - the BSOD screensaver mockingly simulates the Windows "Blue Screen of Death", as well as system crashes on SCO Unix, Sparc-Linux, AmigaDOS, Atari ST and Mac OS.

It's also a fully journaled OS, which means that you can pull the plug out of the wall at any time and not lose any information. Nor will you have to spend several minutes running checkdisk or rebuilding your desktop next time you boot up.

Speed & Media Optimization.
As a newcomer to BeOS, I immediately noticed the speed at which the OS boots up (and later, how fast it shuts down). The lack of the standard Windows "almost there, almost there" boot up/shutdown song and dance, and the endless parade of extensions on my Mac's startup screen were not things I missed.

BeOs has an internal 64-bit pipeline, and has been built from the ground up to deliver extremely fast response for file access and for a large variety of multimedia types. The typical reviewer remark about this is "imagine playing 6 Quicktime movies at the same time!" I decided to take a different approach, and played 11 MP3 files simultaneously. It was a heck of a sonic mess, but the OS mixed all the output in realtime without flinching.

Every file system saves some sort of information about the attributes of individual files. For most operating systems, this information is limited to the name, size, date of creation and perhaps ownership/access permissions for the file. Under the BeOS, attributes are enormously customizable, and new types can be created by the user. These new attributes can contain data of almost any format, and powerful database-like search and sort functions can be performed system-wide (MP3 files could be sorted by information embedded in their ID3 tags, to offer one very simple example). The OS and your applications can also use attribute information to automate a large number of tasks.

POSIX Compliance.
The Unix-like kernel is accessible from a powerful command line running bash, a command shell which will instantly be familiar to Linux users. Mac and Windows users need not be afraid - the GUI is great, and you'll never have to deal with a command shell if you don't want to. Since the kernel is almost fully POSIX compliant, recompiling existing Unix applications is much easier.

Cross-Platform Support.
You can run BeOS on both Intel and PowerPC platforms and there's specific support for Pentium III enhancements build into the OS. This is great for programmers, since you can immediately start developing for both sets of hardware. BeOS can also mount, read, and write to any FAT16, FAT32, and Mac HFS formatted discs.

You can't, however, run BeOS on Apple's recent G3 or G4-based Macintoshes (such as the iMac and iBook). Apparently Apple is reluctant to allow a competing OS run on their hardware, and so the Apple system ROMs in these newer Macs aren't compatible with BeOS. It is possible to run BeOS on G3 and G4 processors, however - by adding a G3/G4-class PowerPC processor/daughter board to an older Macintosh.

For more information on cross-platform support, check the BeOS Hardware Compatibility FAQ.

Next: The Cons & the Final Word

This article originally appeared in the April 20, 2000 edition of the WebReference Update Newsletter.


Comments are welcome
Written by Eric Cook and

Revised: April 21, 2000

URL: http://webreference.com/new/beos5.html