I do my dance in the round
I obviously haven't been able to test the brand new alpha very well; I've been testing some of the alpha candidate images, and even those left me with a very positive impression. Let me come right out and say it: the Haiku team has managed to give us an alpha release of considerable quality and stability, especially keeping in mind this is "just" and alpha release.
For this quick overview, I used a build which is clearly labelled as "R1Alpha1 Candidate Image". This means that it was not the actual alpha release (which was not yet available over the weekend) so the alpha release itself might already contain fixes that these slightly earlier builds did not yet have. More specifically, I used build 33084, on the following hardware configuration:
- AMD Phenom X4 4x2.2Ghz
- ATI Radeon HD3200, integrated
- 4GB RAM
- IDE HDD
- SATA DVD drive
- Foxconn A7GM-S 2.0 motherboard
- CMI8738-based soundcard
The alpha release comes either as a raw image, a virtual image, or as an .iso file. Since real men run on real hardware, I opted for the .iso file, put the CD in my machine, and got going. Big warning signs that this is an alpha release pop up all over the place, and for good reason: especially the partitioner is apparently quite buggy still, so it is not advised to use it to create and edit partitions (initializing existing partitions is no problem). Since I was using a spare hard drive dedicated to Haiku, I could try out the partitioner, and it indeed hang somewhere, forcing me to reboot.
After using the management console in Windows to partition the drive, I rebooted the Haiku installer, initialized the newly created partition as BFS, and from there on out, things went rather smoothly. While the tools used to install Haiku remained fairly unchanged in functionality from the BeOS days, it has all been updated a little bit to look better. Still, anyone who has ever installed the BeOS will feel right at home.
One thing to take note of is that while you can boot the newly installed Haiku partition with GRUB, the installer does not actually install GRUB. You can either install GRUB yourself, point your existing GRUB to the Haiku partition, or simply use the CD you installed Haiku from to boot. This last method is easy enough: hit spacebar during booting the CD, and select to boot from the hard drive instead of the CD.
As is to be expected with what is essentially an alternative operating system, the biggest problem is hardware support. My Apple keyboard with built-in USB2.0 hub wasn't recognised by Haiku; I filed a bug, and as it turns out, other keyboards with built-in hubs are having problems too. Not a very big deal; plug in another keyboard, and you're good to go.
The only other hardware "problem" I encountered in my machine is my video chip. My motherboard uses an ATI Radeon HD 3200 chip, and this one is not yet supported by Haiku's Radeon driver. As such, you fall back on VESA - this isn't that big of a deal on Haiku, as even in VESA mode, the operating system remains response and very, very usable. The only downside is that VESA doesn't do widescreen, so I'm stuck at 1280x1024 on a screen which has a native resolution of 1920x1080. For the rest, my machine pretty much worked out-of-the-box. Networking worked right away, sound card was properly recognised, and so on.
The interface has received a number of tweaks too. Of course, Haiku has an updated icon set compared to BeOS (including a new clever icon format), but the entire user interface has been retouched to look more modern, without departing from the original BeOS look and feel. The team achieved just that: Haiku looks surprisingly modern, but it's still clearly recognizable as BeOS. To a degree, it reminds me of Mac OS 9's Platinum, which I still believe is one of the best and cleanest designs around.
And, of course, sliding tabs return!
Are there issues? Of course there are. This is still alpha quality software, and while I would really want to limit this article to rose petals, unicorns, and sunshine, that would be unfair to you, readers, and to the Haiku project. For instance, I've experienced a number of Tracker crashes; it crashed once while trying to drag an item on the desktop while Vision was still in focus, but a simple restart desktop in the control+alt+delete dialog fixed this one.
A harsher crash happened when I inserted an 8GB Flash drive. After inserting it, Haiku attentively alerted me that this drive was not formatted with BFS, but with FAT, and it advised me to mount it in read-only mode as to prevent data loss. The icon appeared on my desktop, but after clicking on it, Tracker showed me an empty window, and crashed. Sadly, I could not restart the desktop this time.
These are two examples that stuck with me over the weekend, and if they decide to pop up more often, I'll file bug reports. For the rest though, I'm hard pressed to find any other issues. Again, I've only done very preliminary testing, so god knows what evils lurk right beneath the surface.
Application-wise, everything seems to work remarkably well. I was pleasantly surprised when I was chatting in #haiku using Vision, while at the same time downloading my email over IMAP in BeAM, and also while uploading a few CLI outputs a Haiku developer asked me to include in a bug report. I was also playing with some demos at the time, and all the while, the machine remained perfectly stable and responsive.
The developers didn't just copy the BeOS, they also improved it in a number of areas. For instance, you'll notice a Touchpad settings panel where you can set scroll areas and other touchpad-related settings, a welcome addition which some other, more established operating systems still struggle with.
Because it's all so relatively new, I haven't been able to truly put the alpha through its paces, so we'll have to settle for this for now. The next step is to buy a video card well supported by Haiku so that I can use my display to its full extent, as using a 23.6" panel on a non-native resolution is a bit of an eye-strain. Once that issue is resolved, a more in-depth look at the alpha will most certainly ensue.