A Peek at PhOS: BeOS-Dan0’s Unapproved Brother

I am one of those remaining BeOS addicts. I love the BeOS’ responsiveness, its short boot-up/shutdown times and its, well, overall feel. But no one can deny the fact: BeOS 5.0.x PE is getting old. Very old, with a kernel build-time of around May 2000.


click for a larger view Of course that’s not the whole story. BeOS may be old, but it is not that much older than, say, Windows 2000. BeOS’ major problem is of course the lack of commercial support. Palm Inc has no interest in bringing BeOS back to the desktop and Be Inc itself has gone down (as far as I know).

So, now we are dependent on BeOS Max (and some others as well) and Yellowtab’s Zeta (leaving OpenBeOS out of this list on purpose; they are far from even beta stage). Well, that is not entirely true. There is another “player” on the BeOS team: PhosphurOS (PhOS). Simply put, PhOS is Zeta’s illegal counterpart. There is one notable difference though: Zeta is a (Be Inc approved-supposedly) distribution of “a” BeOS R6 Dan0 codebase, whereas PhOS is based on the 2002-leaked BeOS R6 “Dan0” release. As far as I know, PhOS is therefore, illegal.

I am not going deeper into the legality questions here, it is not my area of expertise. Feel free to correct me though. And, I am not interested in the “Yellowtab-does(n’t)-have-access-to-the-source-code” thing either (Nicholas explained the situation well recently), the purpose of this article is to simply introduce PhOS, to give you an idea of what it is.


I am using PhosphurOS Beta 5, based on the BeOS kernel v5.2, with a kernel build-time of November 15th, 2001 (to be exact: 13:06:19).

Test system:
– AMD Athlon XP 1600+;
– 512 MB SDRAM;
– Ati Radeon 9000 with 128 MB DDR-RAM;
– CMI-8738 based 5.1 soundcard;
– MSI K7T Turbo2 mainboard;
– 40 GB harddisk (25.9 GB NTFS (Windows Server 2003); 7.3 GB BeFS (PhOS); 4.1 GB FAT32 (No OS))
– Standard ps/2 keyboard
– Microsoft Trackball Optical (USB)


Acquiring the PhOS .iso is not as easy as it seems; your best bet is to go the PhOS forum (http://beoseh.neo-programmers.com/forum/) and browse through the posts; you’ll find the appropriate .iso and the boot.img that fits your needs. Using a .cue you will be able to burn them onto a bootable CD-ROM.

PhOS’ install does not differ that much from, let’s say, BeOS Max’, they both use the well-known BeOS installer (in my experience, the easiest installer ever made). Only instead of “BeOS”, it now says “PhOS”, and the look of the tab is different (it is shiny now). Installation is straightforward; select partition, and start the install. That is all. One important note though: use the DriveSetup tool if you haven’t initialized your destination partition yet; PhOS will install over your old BeOS install without warning. Even though your system will still boot, you will encounter a number of hangs and crashes.

The install went, as you would expect from the BeOS installer, almost perfect. Exactly, almost perfect. There were a few messages (about three) about files being corrupted, but I told the installer to ignore the problem. Nothing seemed to be broken upon reboot. I already knew not to worry, the problem was addressed in the forum.

Almost all of my hardware was supported out-of-the-box (although a box was hard to find). Only my CMI-8738 did not work; this was easily repaired though, the correct drivers are available on BeBits.com.

First Impressions

Immediately upon reboot you will be surprised: you can select a username! Yes, PhOS is multi-user. Every user has their own desktop, and their own resolution. Menus are not personalized, though.

What I really like about PhOS (and Zeta has this functionality as well) are its themeing capabilities. Besides the four “standard” BeOS window decors, eight others are included. Custom decors can be made as well. Nice work.

The desktop itself is not all that different from the other BeOS distributions available; just the well-known Deskbar (for the people unfamiliar with BeOS: Deskbar is the equivelant of Windows’ start menu and task-bar), and familiar icons (trash, home and mounted volumes).

Daily Use

What immediately came to my attention was the poor choice of additional software; I missed a lot of my (read carefully: my) default BeOS applications: BePDF, CL-Amp, Seeker, BeMSN and, most notably, Beam. Of course installing applications in BeOS is as easy as 1-2-3, but that is not the point; these applications should be installed by default. Every modern OS needs PDF-support (however, Windows and PDF…?).

I find Seeker quite important as well (Windows Explorer-clone). Tracker is nice, but for advanced file-management, I simply prefer a file-tree. Beam is important as well, since I just cannot seem to get used to BeOS’ standard way of organizing email (via the file system). It makes no sense to me, but that’s probably just a matter of getting used to.

For browsing the internet NetPositive and MozillaFireFox (v 0.8) are included. NetPositive is over. The default BeOS browser is too old, too slow, and too simple. FireFox is, as we all know, a very capable browser. The only problem is that the build included in PhOS is too buggy; installing a more recent build will fix the problem. There is Flash-support, but not integrated into the browser; only a stand-alone Flash-player is installed. No IM clients are installed by default. I immediately installed BeMSN (can’t live without it).

Since BeOS was called the “multimedia” OS, it is of course interesting to see how well PhOS performs on this area. Playing DVD’s is a breeze; VLC (v 0.7) does the job quite well, but you’ll have to do with only stereo; I could not get 5.1 support. Too bad.

SoundPlay is included in order to play music files. SoundPlay is quite a capable application by itself, but the version included in PhOS (4.8.1) crashes when trying to load a music file. Also setting a different skin will crash the program (yes, some people actually care about that). A more recent version is unavailable. Too bad, again. And that is also why I whined about CL-Amp not being included; CL-Amp is a simple music player, but, as far as I know, it always works.

I already knew attempting to retrieve images from my Canon PowerShot S50 digital camera would be useless; I still gave the included “Camera” a chance though. It failed, Canon cameras were not on the “supported” list. It would be futile to test other BeOS image retrievers; I already gave them a chance when I was still running BeOS Max v3. Too bad, once more.

The greatest problem on BeOS is of course the lack of a decent office-suite; Gobe Productive is a decent piece of software, but, after checking out there website, I came to the conclusion that they do not offer Gobe Productive v2 anymore (it is included in Zeta, though). So, we are kind of forced to use AbiWord. No, there is no alternative. You will have to…. Well, you will first have to install it; AbiWord is not included in PhOS. Weird. The available version is an old one though… Version 1.0, while the most recent stable release is 2.0.6. Anyone interested in maintaining AbiWord for BeOS? Or even better, anyone interested in porting OpenOffice to BeOS? Please…? Spreadsheet functionality is available as well for BeOS (Sum-It), but, Sum-It also isn’t included in PhOS…

When it comes to stability and responsiveness, no one can beat BeOS/PhOS. The UI is so responsive, that it takes some getting used to when you come from a Windows or Linux world.

System Settings

Maintaining a BeOS system was easy. PhOS is no different; literally. A few changes here and there though; the most important one of course being BoneYard. Since PhOS uses BONE instead of net_server, the configuration tool is different as well. BoneYard is also easy to use, though.

Another addition to the “Preferences” menu is the “Control Panel”. Here, you can add/remove users, and switch between Development-kits (PhosphurOS/BeOS R5). The CP is far from finished though; it says: “It would appear I am STILL not doing ANYTHING cool here :-/”. More to come, I am sure of it.


PhOS is a very good “distribution” of BeOS. Even though I have been pretty negative about the whole system throughout the review, I would still say that I am more satisfied with PhOS than I was with BeOS Max (not to say that Max is a bad product though).

It takes some work to get a decent system up and running, you need to download a lot of applications, but it is worth it. The overall feel of PhOS is just more “up-to-date” than Max’ feel.

But that is me talking; a BeOS fan. How about the average user? Well, to be honest, the average user cannot do much with PhOS (or any other “free” BeOS distribution, for that matter). With the lack of a decent Office Suite, BeOS is no viable option. I must say that I have not yet tried Zeta.

So, for whom is PhOS a good choice? Well, for anyone running an “older” version of BeOS, who does not want to buy Zeta (yet) and who is not offended by the legality issues.

To clarify, I decided to give grades on the different aspects of the OS:

– Install: 9/10 (without the glitches a 10/10 would have been possible)
– Hardware Support: 5/10 (my hardware already presented problems, let alone more exotic stuff)
– Ease Of Use: 8/10 (this is purely the use of the OS)
– Speed: 10/10 (no clarification required)
– Overall Polish: 9/10 (the UI is very consistent, and I just love tabs)
– Functionality: 3/10 (PhOS is useless. Only people like me enjoy it, in a production environment, it is useless)

About the Author:
Thom Holwerda is a regular visitor on OSNews.com and has contributed more than once. His first computer experience dates back to 1991 (a 286 entered the household). Over the years he has played around with several computers, but it wasn’t until 2001 that he really started to experiment OS-wise with computers. His favorite operating systems are Windows Server 2003, Mandrake Linux, BeOS. He also has an affinity for the QNX Neutrino RTOS. Thom also contributes to the SkyOS project, being responsible for the Dutch translation.

If you would like to see your thoughts or experiences with technology published, please consider writing an article for OSNews.


  1. 2004-05-05 7:11 am
  2. 2004-05-05 7:11 am
  3. 2004-05-05 7:34 am
  4. 2004-05-05 7:46 am
  5. 2004-05-05 7:47 am
  6. 2004-05-05 7:50 am
  7. 2004-05-05 7:58 am
  8. 2004-05-05 8:39 am
  9. 2004-05-05 9:48 am
  10. 2004-05-05 9:48 am
  11. 2004-05-05 10:16 am
  12. 2004-05-05 11:31 am
  13. 2004-05-05 11:32 am
  14. 2004-05-05 12:18 pm
  15. 2004-05-05 12:26 pm
  16. 2004-05-05 12:41 pm
  17. 2004-05-05 12:42 pm
  18. 2004-05-05 1:28 pm
  19. 2004-05-05 1:55 pm
  20. 2004-05-05 2:00 pm
  21. 2004-05-05 2:01 pm
  22. 2004-05-05 2:20 pm
  23. 2004-05-05 2:34 pm
  24. 2004-05-05 2:38 pm
  25. 2004-05-05 3:03 pm
  26. 2004-05-05 3:08 pm
  27. 2004-05-05 3:20 pm
  28. 2004-05-05 3:32 pm
  29. 2004-05-05 3:35 pm
  30. 2004-05-05 3:40 pm
  31. 2004-05-05 3:44 pm
  32. 2004-05-05 3:44 pm
  33. 2004-05-05 3:46 pm
  34. 2004-05-05 3:53 pm
  35. 2004-05-05 4:06 pm
  36. 2004-05-05 4:25 pm
  37. 2004-05-05 4:29 pm
  38. 2004-05-05 5:16 pm
  39. 2004-05-05 6:05 pm
  40. 2004-05-05 6:05 pm
  41. 2004-05-05 6:45 pm
  42. 2004-05-05 6:51 pm
  43. 2004-05-05 9:22 pm
  44. 2004-05-06 3:32 am
  45. 2004-05-06 9:25 am
  46. 2004-05-06 1:38 pm
  47. 2004-05-06 4:30 pm
  48. 2004-05-10 11:11 pm