I have been a big fan of BeOS since the Creative Labs OS Championship Team dumped it on me in 1999. At the time I was working technical support in Dublin and they had some guy looking after support for BeOS who really could not care less. He had never even installed it! I was deputy Linux champion and generally considered interested in OSes so they said “Hey, Stevo! Wanna be a champ? All you need to do is get this OS installed and play with it a bit.” So, needless to say, I did and I was hooked.BeOS in its current form
I was very disappointed when Be decided to discontinue the development of BeOS, selling it to Palm, and I always wished that they could have open-sourced it. But all is not lost. Since the announcement, I decided to re-acquaint myself with BeOS while I await OBOS. There are a few versions floating around that are being maintained by various groups of programers on the net (BeOS Max, Zeta and the developer edition come to mind). These are all based on BeOS R5 Personal Edition, which was the free version of the final release, and various open source tools and apps. The big problem with Personal Edition is that it could only be installed on top of either Linux or Windows. These updated editions usually come as a downloadable ISO file which can be burnt to cd and installed on its own partition. The version I chose, the Developers Edition 1.1 by the BeOSOnline team, is the most advanced of these releases at the time of writing, so I thought I’d base this article on it.
I visited the BeOSOnline website, registered and downloaded their 1.1 edition Zip file. I unpacked it and quickly found out that it included two files. Back to the site after 3 failed attempts at burning both files at the same time. The HowTo said that the burn software that I was using, Nero, needs something called a .cue file. This file describes to Nero how to go about burning two images one after the other (thus the file extension). I had never had the…um…pleasure of writing a .cue file before but luckily enough they had one prepared for me. All I needed to do was copy the details off the webpage, paste it into notepad and save it as pain_in_the_ass_deved1-1.cue in the same directory as the two unzipped files (the name, buy the way, is optional). After I opened the .cue file in Nero, I was able to burn the CD without a hitch and got ready for the next step.
After fixing my partition table that I seem to have fouled up somehow (don’t ask!), I inserted the cd into the drive and rebooted. A definite plus of modern BIOSes is the option to boot from CD. This option allows you to use the CD-ROM as if it were a bootdisk. In the case of the BeOS DevEd CD-ROM, the bootup brings you to an installation screen which lets you choose which partition you wish to use for your installation, which filesystem you want to use and which kernel suits your system best. The kernels come in three flavours: Standard, Pentium 4 and Athlon/AthlonXP. The standard kernel seems to work just fine but the alternative kernels have great support for things like SSE1, 2 and 3DNow! extensions. As I have an Athlon 1200MHrz, I went for the Athlon kernel. I chose a 3G partition, formatted it for BeFS (that’s the BeOS’ journaling filesystem) and returned to the main screen to start installing my new BeOS. The whole thing took about 10 minutes and was rather painless. The only real issue I have with the whole setup is your inability to choose which packages you wish to install, but as the CD amounts to only +-300MB, it’s not really a space concern.
After the package installation, I was asked if I wanted to install the Be boot loader. Now, I’ve seen this boot loader in the past and let me tell you something, it’s ugly. I use LILO (that’s the Linux boot loader) and it comes with some nice pictures you can use to make your boot screen look nice (weeeee!). So I chose not to install it. If you’re running Windows it’s a good idea to install the Be boot loader as it allows you to choose which operating system you would like to load at boot time. If, like me, you are running Linux and know how to configure LILO (or GRUB for that matter), I suggest you stick with it. As the installation was finished, I exited the install screen, rebooted into linux, updated my LILO and was ready to boot into BeOS.
BeOS in all its glory!
One of my favorite things about BeOS is it’s incredibly quick bootup time. In under a minute I was looking at a fully functional desktop 800x600x32 thanks to the BeOS GeForce driver. A quick look in the preferences menu and I found the screen configurator which allowed me to change my settings to 1024x768x32 (I’ve only got a 15″ screen 🙁 ).
I have an adsl connection here at home and this is where I ran into my first problem. There is a package for BeOS called PPPoE which lets you connect to any adsl provider that uses the PPPoE protocol. Of course, I installed it, configured it and dialed up my ISP. I get a connection, but only for about 3 seconds. Major pain in the ass! So I looked through the readme file, changed all the appropriate settings and still no cigar. “Well”, says I, “It’s time for the old tech support forum!” I rebooted into an OS with a decent PPPoE implementation, logged onto BeOSOnline and found an interesting thread in their forum suggesting I use BONE 7a. BONE stands for BeOS Networking Environment and is of fairly dubious legality. It was supposed to be part of the last release of BeOS, just before it got sold to palm but was supposedly never officially released. As Be was selling BeOS, some developer(s) on the project decided to leek BONE onto the net. Good old hacker disregard for authority!
Finding BONE is not easy, but once I downloaded it I was supposedly ready to go. How wrong I was!
I downloaded BONE to my windows partition as I already knew BeOS can mount, read and right to Fat32 partitions. I unpacked the Zip file, opened a terminal and ran the install script. Time to reboot. This is when the shit hit the proverbial fan. Instead of looking at my nice new desktop I was faced with the textual garble that is the kernel debugger! absolutely fabulous
Much hacking later…
I got the feeling BONE deals with the standard better than with the updated Athlon/Pentium4 kernels so I tried again, this time with success. I am now able to connect to my adsl provider without hassle. I understand that the updated kernels are coded by part time programers and I should not expect too much. Still, It’s seems like a lot of hassle to go to just to get my adsl connection working.
Not much has changed from the days of Personal Edition 5. The BeOS desktop is still clean, easy to navigate and most important, fast! It still makes a superb multimedia OS and (in my opinion) the best web developer platform you could ask for. But as far as flexibility goes, there is still a far way to go. If the people at OBOS are not careful, the Web developer seat that should be BeOS’ by default could go to Linux.
There are some nice additions, most notably Mozilla, but at the end of the day I feel that until OBOS reaches release 1.1 or you are not a serious OS hacker, do not touch! having dealt with Be’s previous superb and polished OS, I feel a bit sad that the same is no longer true. Still, at least it lives on.
Editor’s note: Another “distro” of BeOS is BeOS Max Edition.