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  • The BeOS Reintroduction Effort

    Until the dissolution of Be Inc. in November 2001, BeOS was the most stable, quick-booting, and comfortable Operating System to run on x86 hardware. Be spent a great deal of time, effort, and money making their superior product. Unfortunately, when Be Inc. had their initial public offering, it was near the end of the 'Dotcom Boom', or 'Internet Bubble'.

    Due primarily to the smallness of the company, and the early lack of wide-spread commercial products for BeOS, when the 'Bubble' burst, it took out many high-quality companies, inlcuding Be.

    I have been a fairly avid BeOS supporter from the early days of PR2 (Preview Release 2) of the OS. I was a member of the BeOS Devloper Group, a collection of private and commercial developers who were trying to write software for BeOS. As a member of the Developer Group, I was sent copies of the OS to install, test, and write for until a final, commercial version was available. That commercial version became available with the release of 4 for Intel/PPC. While Apple never provided the internal configuration data needed to run BeOS for PPC on anything newer than a PowerMac 9600, Be kept chugging along, ensuring their OS would run on the older PowerMacs. With R4, Be also introduced support for Intel/x86 hardware. For those of us who were unfortunate enough to have to run Winxx on x86 machines, BeOS was a great switch.

    The design goals of BeOS were simply to make an 'ideal' media OS, taking full advantage of modern multi-processor computers, and to provide for 'infinite' future usefulness. The native, internal messaging language of the OS is TCP/IP, familiar to anyone reading this article as the standard communication protocol in use on the internet. In addition to utilizing the fully fleshed-out TCP/IP standard, Be's 64-bit OS utilized OpenGL for all of its graphics handling, making my old Cyrix 300Mhz MII processor and S3 4Mb video card perform at a level typically seen with 500Mhz+ systems running 16Mb video cards. BeOS was designed from the ground-up as a new Operating System, keeping familiar paradigms and analogies (folders, trees, icons), but discarding old methods of thinking. With the last official incarnation, 5.03 Pro, BeOS reached the exact stage Be had been shooting for all along: a stable, media- and graphically-rich, fast, clean Operatng System.

    I had the pleasure to run versions 4, 4.5, and 5.03 on my old machine, and would have completely left the Winxx world, had it not been for the small issue of commercial application availability. Some games, including Civilization Call to Power, were brought over to BeOS, and ran fantastically on it. For office productivity software, gobe and their GoBe Productive suite was fairly impressive, but, at the time, did not have the cross-format compatibility I needed to maintain with MS Office.

    Developing for BeOS had some hiccups when it came ot making anything more complicated than command-line applications, as there was not yet a good Integrated Development Environment (IDE) available. While IDEs are not necessary to creating visual applications (ones requiring the use of windows, menus, and other controls), they are certainly very helpful in the process. Be did have fairly extensive reference materials available to members of the Developer Group online, but needing to keep web browsers open to view examples while trying to code in another window is not very convenient.

    Another area, though, in which BeOS excelled, was at handling network connections, and as acting as a (somewhat limited) server. Bundled in the package was Poor Man, a decent web server, and one with which I first began self-hosting my web site over a dial-up connection. Of course, the address changed with every logon, but that was OK, as it was mostly for demonstrating the capabilities of the OS. Other, more potent web servers were available, including Robin Hood, that handled CGI better, and never complained about load or network capacity, but rather acted like a server should, in replying with 'Server Busy', rather than just dying under heavy loads. PostgreSQL has been ported to BeOS (requiring only the make command be run on extant source code). In light of this, BeOS 5.03 Pro would make a nearly ideal, inexpensive, low-maintenance webbase server.

    The only real drawbacks to using BeOS in a production or server environment are that Be Inc. has gone out of business. As the dissolution papers discuss (available at Be Inc.'s old website), Palm bought Be Inc. for $11 million in Palm stock, which Be then sold to pay off existing obligations. However, since Palm now owns all of the assets of Be Inc., including all of the source for the OS, it is yet possible that it will be rereleased to the public.

    The goal of this article is to get you to assist me in petitioning Palm to either release the source code as an open source project, or to reintroduce it as a viable alternative to Winxx.

    If you are as interested in continuing choice in the marketplace as I am, please contact Palm Inc at the following address:
    PalmSource, Inc.
    1240 Crossman Avenue
    Sunnyvale, CA 94089
    Phone: (408) 400-3000
    Fax: (408) 400-1500
    Email: webmaster@palmsource.com

    Thank you very much for your time, and help in this endeavor.