posted by Eugenia Loli on Mon 2nd Jun 2003 06:10 UTC
IconNo, BeOS is not dead as many will speed to the forums and proclaim. YellowTAB's Zeta is the true inheritor of BeOS 5's fortune, as it is based directly on Dano/EXP's codeline (which was supposed to be BeOS 6 but was never finished as Be sold its IP to Palm). At last, I got my hands on Zeta Beta-5a, and here is what I found and think of it so far. You might need to have some experience with BeOS in order to follow this article, but screenshots are included to make it easier for everyone.


YellowTAB rewrote BeOS' installation procedure and the result is called the "ZetaInstaller". It is similar to the BeOS installation application except for the fact that you have a few more options to take care of and manually tick, for example, selecting which kinds of applications you want installed (emulators, office, development, games etc.). There is also a new button named "language," which loads a window with rather weird options for an installation procedure (I still don't understand what this "Strings" tab does). Check the first screenshot regarding this new window. (Update: I got word that this will be replaced by a simple drop-down menu for language selection - better that way).

Click for a larger version It takes about 15 minutes to install Zeta and it is not difficult at all. However, it is more involved than Be's original Installer and in my opinion, it shouldn't have been. The fact that the user has the ability to select applications one by one to be installed might seem as "power to the user" to some, but for me it is completely unnecessary and it brings a dreadful Linux-like feeling to the installation (the whole OS is less than a gig when installed anyway, so I see no reason for such selections).

With this new installation, YellowTAB fixed something that didn't need fixing and left the real install limitation of BeOS still unfixed: during installation, the user can only "initialize" partitions as BFS in order to install BeOS, but can't create, edit/resize partitions. This is a huge limitation for most new users and plagued BeOS back in the day, and it will continue to do so, unless the user already has a free partition waiting for Zeta. YellowTAB should have concentrated on fixing this limitation of BeOS' Drive Setup instead of adding useless features like "Stings", application selection and "GCC version choice" that only bloat the installation and do not follow the paradigm that Be had and everyone loved: "keep it simple".

Another thing with the new installer is that it doesn't (yet) support point to point installation as the older installer supported. This feature allows a user, while booted into an already installed BeOS, to set as "Source" the CD or any BeOS hdd partition and as "Destination" any partition and BeOS would automatically get installed to the new partition without needing to boot from the CD. This feature was as life/time saver for most users!

Overall, the installation IS good and simple, simpler than most Linuxes and Windows that is. But not better than the original (except the language setting which is indeed useful).

First Impressions

The Zeta boot screen is a bit different than BeOS'; the same really, but with Zeta's logo. However, what is immediately disappointing is that Zeta takes 23 whole seconds to load on this machine (a machine which has had BeOS 5 on it forever and loads it between 9 and 10 seconds). I did a little research and found a few of the reasons for this slowdown. First and foremost, Zeta comes with some 400 fonts. Personally, I find this ridiculous. BeOS/Zeta never even had a DTP application written for, let alone a pro graphics package that would justify the decision to come with so many fonts. I see no reason to bloat the default installation with 400 fonts when they won't be used by most users, and especially the kind of users that will buy this product, who want BeOS for speed-speed-speed. The other reason is the startup sound, which is 1.3 MB (original Be startup sound is about 140 KB). I am sure there are other reasons for the slowdown but these were the only two that I was able to isolate (Update: YellowTAB is looking into the problem, might be Tracker's new SVG capabilities that create the problem). Other than that, the first boot in this beta version of Zeta greets you with two dead replicants, but that's easily fixable (as long you understand what a replicant is, which is a concept that new users have trouble with).

Click for a larger version From startup on, the OS feels a lot like the legendary leaked version of Dano/EXP with most of the BeOS 5 apps able to work (about 8% of the BeBits' ~2900 BeOS apps won't run on Dano/Zeta because they are too old and the API has changed a bit). YellowTAB has changed the Deskbar folders from 'Applications' and 'Preferences' to Demo, Bookmarks, Software and Preferences. Software now has a number of submenus with application launchers, like games, office etc. I like the order found on Software's hierarchy, but now that YTAB decided to put subfolders there, maybe the "Demo" folder should go under Software too, in order to avoid clutter in the root window. As for the "Bookmarks" submenu, it would only have been useful if these were the same bookmark-set as the ones NetPositive (BeOS' browser) creates instead of a completely different set of bookmarks files. I see no point having these 5-6 bookmarks there linking to YTAB's sites and friends, while it doesn't use your own Net+ bookmarks at all. It defeats the purpose of having a bookmarks menu, at least in the way KDE and Windows use this feature.

On the good side of things, you will find that YTAB has worked on their themes and they got it... more right than in their past attempts. They include a number of window manager themes, but most are just variations of the same theme, so overall there are about 8-9 different window manager themes to choose from. I got fond of the "Smoke Decor" to be honest. It has its problems but it seems to be the most carefully designed of all.

Another great thing that I love about the Dano/EXP codebase -- now found at Zeta -- is the "smooth window dragging", which is explained here better (only visible on CRT monitors, LCDs won't feel the difference). MacOSX is the only other OS that has this feature (and in fact it does it better than the BeOS, as the BeOS' way is a bit of a hack since the Be engineers didn't have the full specs of the graphics cards they were supporting in 2D mode back when they were implementing this feature. Under BeOS there is some tearing when moving windows, on OSX it is "clean"). Other new features include flicker-free updates of windows, more color sensitive UI, non-rectangular window support and more.

Table of contents
  1. "Installation, Impressions"
  2. "Applications and Usage"
  3. "Problems, Conclusion"
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