Interview: Michael Phipps on OpenBeOS

After Palm announced the buyout of Be, Inc.’s intellectual property & Technology and after some consequent indications from several key people that Palm has no interest at Be’s products and especially in BeOS, a number of the BeOS believers tried to find a new home. Some found confort in AtheOS, others joined BeUnited’s effort to license the BeOS source code, while some developers formed efforts like OpenBeOS and BlueOS. OpenBeOS (OBOS for its friends) consists from a number of BeOS developers who are trying to recreate the BeOS Kits in a form of a new, complete and open source Operating System that has source and if possible binary compatibility with BeOS 5. One of the most important people in this effort, Michael Phipps, also part of the kernel team, is here today for an interview to OSNews.1. The project started almost two months ago. Was any serious code written so far, except the kernel contributions?

Michael Phipps: Much serious code has been written. We haven’t posted much to source control. For example – the printing kit is pretty close to done. The screen saver kit is nearly done. The interface kit is well underway.

2. What are the bigest obstacles you have encountered so far? Undocumented APIs, not enough developers or something else?

Michael Phipps: Lack of developers is certainly an issue. Many people believe that this is a job that is not realistic and/or are pinning their hopes on a licensed BeOS from Palm.
I am trying to point out to people that Be used to re-write pieces of the OS for every release. From bfs in DR9, up to BONE/OpenGL for R6. Even if the code does get licensed, our work would not be/is not in vain.

Personally, working with Sourceforge/CVS has been the largest problem. It works … sporadically on my machine/setup. Sourceforge and I are working to resolve that.

3. Does OpenBeOS have any ties with BeUnited or the two projects are completely independant?

Michael Phipps: I am in touch with BeUnited. I fully support their efforts to license the code. There are several reasons for this. One is that backward compatability would be MUCH easier that way. 🙂 Another is that some of the things that we want to do would be aided a great deal by seeing the code (bfs, for example).

4. Who is working currently on the NewOS/OpenBeOS kernel except Travis Geiselbrecht and yourself? Does lot of changes have to be made to achieve BeOS compatibility?

Michael Phipps: The kernel is an interesting story. It gets the most volunteers, actually. 😉 To some degree, Travis’ kernel is exceptional because it sprang from one mind. For that reason, he and I agreed that he would do the design and major development. Until, that is, he reaches a certain point where he wants to take the kernel into decidedly
non-Be like directions. At that point, we will fork the code. But that is a long way off. I took a little time off of kernel to do screensaver. One reason was to prove/disprove the binary compatability issue. Another was that we needed a completed kit or three to inspire and serve as examples. Shortly I will be returning to the Kernel with tons of things to do and ideas.

5. Has work started for the App_Server and the Interface Kit clones? Are there any working/alpha code on the CVS to be found for these two kits? Are these kits going to be written from scratch or alternatives like QT 3 may be considered (QT is a GUI Toolkit that resembles lots of the BeOS API functionality and C++ OOP coding style)?

Michael Phipps: Work has started, and these will be from scratch. Several ideas were batted around concerning where to begin. Nothing seemed to really completely fit the BeOS model. So we started from scratch.

6. If Palm decides to continue support of BeOS and maybe even release a new version (however it seems extremely unlickely), will the OpenBeOS team continue working on the project?

Michael Phipps: Yes. Even if Palm makes 1 new release, will they make 2? 3? 9? I don’t think that many people in the BeOS community really want to trust another company like that again – especially a small, underfunded company. :-/

7. Has OpenBeOS tried to approach ex and Be engineers to help in the difficult task?

Michael Phipps: Yes. Unfortunately, there are two issues here. The first is NDA – how much could they really help? Second is real life. The events at Be were not really very pleasant the last year or so. And most of the engineers are either burned out on BeOS or are super busy getting their post-Be lives together.

Having said that, I would be *THRILLED* to have ANY former Be engineers help.

8. Are you mostly interested in source or binary compatibility with BeOS 5? Also, are you going to implement the bugs of the OS? (it seems necessary, if you want to achieve perfect compatibility)

Michael Phipps: We would prefer binary compatability. Early results seem to bear out that this is possible. If we really hit a bad problem, we will reconsider. But there is no reason to give up without a fight.

As for the bug issue, I guess it would depend on the bug and the impact. Many bugs can be fixed without breaking any compatability. For those that can not, we will decide as the time comes.

9. Why don’t you use a forked AtheOS as the base of the project, as AtheOS is already quite far down the line, and lots of its API is already similar to BeOS?

Michael Phipps: This was another possibility that was considered. Design decision were made in AtheOS that make it different from BeOS, internally. Also, AtheOS is GPL’ed and OBOS is not.

10. Are you going to implement BeOS exactly as we know it, or you may introduce new elements to the system, for example new widgets and functionality?

Michael Phipps: Yes. 🙂 The goal for R1 is 100% compatability. Some things that would not effect that (new widgets, for example) could be added if time permits. But we are focused on getting a release out, not improving R5. Some things will be better as a result of the rewrite (the kernel and bfs come to mind).
But wait until you see R2. 🙂

You could help the OpenBeOS team if you are experienced C/C++ coder. You can subscribe to their developer’s mailing list by sending an email to [email protected] with ‘subscribe’ in the Subject field or by logging into the web interface at FreeLists.


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