yellowTAB was so kind to provide OSNews with several review copies. Mensys NL shipped mine, a clean DVD case, containing the disc, a quickstart manual and a card containing serial number and license key. The package looks professional, with a clear description and some screenshots. Minimum and recommenced system specifications are listed. The quickstart manual is bilingual (English and German) and is very easy to understand, even for newcomers to the BeOS platform. The serial and license keys are needed after installation; when you first boot up, a dialog pops up asking you for the keys.
The installation procedure is different from the old BeOS. First, the installer asks you which out of 25 languages you want to use (includes Russian, Chinese and Japanese). On faster computers, this change is instant, however, on my older PII 400 Mhz, switching languages took a lot longer (but that's not surprising). After agreeing to the EULA, the partitioner loads up. This partitioner is powered by Paragon, but the functionality is limited. You can only resize partitions when there's unpartitioned space available to do so (or when you only have one partition). You can't delete partitions, which I find rather odd; especially taking into account that the partitioning engine is based on Paragon software. They should definitely improve on this.
A complete installation of all software on the disc takes up about one gigabyte. You can tweak the installation per package, so more experienced BeOS users can probably trim the installation quite a bit. When all packages are installed, which shouldn't take more than about 15 minutes, the installer asks you if you want to install the BeOS bootloader. This procedure is the same on all flavours of the Be, and it's easy to use. It will correctly identify Windows partitions and make them bootable; however, BeBootMan cannot boot Linux without putting GRUB or LiLo on the Linux root partition (as far as I know, that is).
After all this, the installation is finished, and the CD is ejected and your computer rebooted. This is when the fun starts.
The first thing that anyone notices who's not familiar with the Be, is boot time. Or better yet, lack thereof. In that sense, Zeta hasn't changed a bit since r5. Booting is a matter of, say, 15 seconds, completely blowing away any Linux, Windows or OS X install. The short boottime is something that has always been a huge selling point for the Be to me, as I hate slow-booting operating systems (luckily OS X has good sleep/wake functionality, else it would be such a pain to use). The Zeta bootscreen is basically the same as the old r5 one, just the graphics have changed a bit. In fact, the row of icons is still the same; from the atom to the BeBox.
Upon first boot, Zeta presents you with the new preferences application. This application is the complete opposite of what we BeOS users are used to: instead of having one panel per preferences group (ie. network, appearance, etc), you now have all the preference panels loaded into one application. I'm not entirely sure if I like it or not; one of the things I liked about BeOS were those individual panels. However, I think that one application where you can configure everything is a must these days, it's something the computer user will be looking for. I, myself, prefer having individual panels. But that's mostly a matter of taste. My hardware, which isn't all that fancy (cmi 8738 sound chipset, Ati Radeon 9000, RTL-8139 network chipset), was all working correctly out-of-the-box. Even my internal IDE ZIP-drive worked like a charm.
The preferences application itself has grown a lot when it comes to stability. In previous versions of Zeta it could be quite a buggy experience, but it seems that the developers at yellowTAB have taken that criticism to heart: it's stable as a rock now. You now change your resolution, and configure networking. The latter is something that should be done during install, as far as I'm concerned. There is no warning or whatsoever telling you that your network isn't configured.