What's New in the BeOS
BeOS Release 4
This document provides a summary of the new and changed features that
can be found within the latest version of the BeOS. This document lists the
differences between BeOS Release 3.x and BeOS Release 4; see the
BeOS Product Datasheet
for more information about all of the features of the BeOS.
Except where otherwise noted, the changes listed below are identical on
the Intel and PowerPC platforms.
This list is current for the BeOS Release 4,
as of December 4, 1998.
Quick links to sections on this page:
Summary of Changes
Links to other useful BeOS information:
BeOS Release 4 release notes
BeOS Product Datasheet
BeOS Ready Systems
Summary of Changes
Hardware Support Changes
Major Software Changes
"User-level" changes are those changes people will notice just using the
BeOS. These are feature changes, additions, improvements, bug fixes, and
the like that you don't need to be writing code to stumble across. They
also include things that only a developer will really touch or see
directly, but which have an affect on things that might be visible to the
Note that a few of the changes described here are similar to support
that was available with Release 3, with downloaded "experimental" drivers.
The versions included here are revised and improved from those
versions. Unless specifically noted, everything listed below is considered
"supported" rather than "experimental."
Hardware Support Changes
- Intel Architecture platform support
BeOS Release 4 is the second major release of the BeOS for Intel
Architecture. We've significantly expanded our range of hardware support,
both the core systems on which you can install and run the BeOS, and the
add-in hardware (ISA and PCI cards, etc.) which the BeOS will recognize and
make use of.
Below is a list of the changes (improvements) to our Intel Architecture
hardware support. If you are interested in knowing the full range of
hardware which is supported by the BeOS Release 4, see the
BeOS Ready Systems -- Intel list.
Installation and booting
- A new boot manager, for managing your multiplicity of operating
systems. This one doesn't suffer from not being able to handle hard disks
bigger than 8 gigabytes.
- New, rewritten boot loader. The new boot loader was written from
scratch, instead of cribbed from LILO (the Linux loader), and does away with
many of the technical limitations which existed in the Release 3 boot
loader, like the 8 gigabyte and dead zone problems.
- Revised boot menu. In addition to the nicer interface, there are
also now many new options for enabling and disabling certain features of
the BeOS. These are provided to allow booting your system in cases where
something has gone wrong, probably because of software you recently
installed, and you need to disable that software to boot the BeOS
successfully. Just check out the new boot menu, you'll see what this
- We've fixed a lot of bugs that prevented the BeOS from running
on many systems. Many systems which could not boot the BeOS should
- We've added support for additional processors and chipsets. Again,
the range of systems on which the BeOS will run should be significantly
- We've created a new graphics driver architecture for the BeOS, which
should make creating additional drivers easier, and make it easier to write
drivers which take full advantage of all the features of the card.
- Because of the new architecture, we've written or updated all of our
graphics card drivers. Here's a list of the ones Be provides:
- Matrox: Millennium (I and II), Mystique, G100, G200, Marvel
- Nvidia: RIVA 128 and RIVA TNT chipset-based cards (TNT support is experimental)
- ATI: 3DRage II, 3DRage Pro, 3DRage Pro Turbo, 3DRage LT Pro chipsets
- S3: Virge, Virge GX, and Virge DX (not Virge VX)
- Number9 Revolution 3D, Imagine 128 (considered experimental for now)
- Neomagic: some chipsets, used in portables
- Trio64: some versions of this chipset (not recommended)
- Cirrus: some older chipsets (not recommended)
- The new Media Kit is described elsewhere, but we have video
input/output drivers for the following video capture cards or chipsets:
Intel, Hauppauge, Miro, Avermedia, IXMicro, US Robotics.
- The new Media Kit is described elsewhere, but we have drivers for the
following audio cards or chipsets: SoundBlaster AWE32 and AWE64, Yamaha 715, Crystal
4235, 4236, and 4237 chipsets, Opti931, S3 SonicVibes, Lucid (available online).
- Updates and bug fixes to all of our existing Ethernet card drivers,
making them all fully supported: DEC 21040 and 21041, NE2000 (ISA & PCI),
3Com 3c900 and 3c900-B, 3c905 and 3c905-B, 3c509.
- New EtherExpress Ethernet driver, supports the Intel EtherExpress
- New PCMCIA slot-based NE2000-compatible Ethernet driver,
supports PCMCIA cards which are NE2000 compatible (considered experimental).
- Higher performance.
- Support for removeable IDE and ATAPI devices, such as Zip, Jaz, SyQuest,
CD-R, LS-120, etc.
- Support for slave CD-ROM drives without a master device on the same IDE
chain. This was a much-requested feature, as this little problem tripped up
a lot of folks whose systems were configured as such, and therefore the
BeOS could not see their CD-ROM drive.
- Support for some add-in IDE interface cards. Basically, we should
support any card that follows the standard, but few do so completely. We do work
on some Acard and Promise controller cards.
- Yes, at long last, the BeOS ships with support for SCSI interface cards. We have
drivers for cards based on the following chipsets: BusLogic, Adaptec, Symbios. See
the BeOS Ready Systems -- Intel list for specifically supported cards.
- SCSI disks are bootable devices. That is, you can install and boot the BeOS
from a SCSI drive, no IDE drive required. This is new if you were using the "experimental"
BusLogic SCSI driver, which supported accessing volumes, but not booting.
- New Epson drivers are provided in fully-supported versions. Additional
drivers will be released online (HP is at the top of our list). See
the BeOS Ready Systems -- Intel list for specifically supported printers.
- Improved, bi-directional parallel driver now has ECP support.
Universal Serial Bus
- We've laid the foundation for support for USB (keyboards and mice, initially),
and our USB software will be available from our web site in the near future.
Support for Intel MTRR (Memory Type Range Registers)
- Intel's family 6 CPUs (Pentium Pro, Pentium II,
Celeron, Xeon) have these registers. They allow an increase in PCI & AGP
bandwidth to a graphics frame buffer (graphics memory) of 2-3 times, i.e.,
Fast system call instructions
- Use of new fast system call instructions on Intel's Pentium II, Celeron, and
Xeon CPUs and on AMD's K6-2 CPU.
- PowerPC platform
Important Note: The BeOS still won't run on Apple's "G3" systems, but
the limitation is our knowledge of Apple's system design, not of the PowerPC
750 microprocessor. This is knowledge that only Apple can give us, and
Apple has consistently refused our requests. You can
read more in the
That's not an answer we like giving when people ask (and they ask a lot), but it's where we're at.
Please read the FAQs
before sending further questions or suggestions on this issue. Thanks for understanding.
Major Software Changes
Increased system performance and responsiveness
The first thing you should notice about the BeOS Release 4, if
you've been using previous releases, is that it's faster. We've worked
very hard on performance in this release, and the overall effect is
significant. These improvements come from two things:
- Performance optimizations
Key parts of the BeOS were optimized significantly. This includes
the BeOS kernel and app_server, as well as higher-level things like the Tracker.
We'll call out the notable items which were improved. These performance
improvements should affect the BeOS on both Intel Architecture and PowerPC
- Improved compiler (Intel only)
We switched compilers for building the BeOS on the Intel Architecture,
to get better optimized code (more on this below). This lead to a global
speedup of all code in the BeOS for Intel. It's hard to give specific
numbers, because it depends on what you're doing -- some things are a lot faster,
some things are a little faster, some things are the same -- but overall it's on the
order of around 25-30%.
User interface tuneup
This will probably be the second thing you notice as you work with BeOS
Release 4. Subtle (or not so subtle, in some cases) user interface improvements
abound, with the overall goals being to make the interface more consistent and to
make it easier for people familiar with other operating systems to get around
in the BeOS. Some specifics:
- Improved consistency of interface design
We've finally finished the first version of the BeOS User Interface Guidelines,
and we've applied them to as much of the BeOS as we could in the nine months between
BeOS Release 3 and Release 4.
- More flexibility
We've tried to allow more flexibility in how people can configure their systems
to behave and look. More preferences, even a few that are hidden. We're not
finished adding configurability to the BeOS, but Release 4 proves we're making
progress all the time.
- Consistency with other OSes
In particular, consistency with the keyboard modifier keys used on other
OSes. Specifically, Windows users can use the Control key as their main modifier
key, should they so choose, while Mac OS users can continue to use the Command key
(which corresponds to the Alt key on PC keyboards).
Additional or revamped user interface elements
We've added a variety of new items -- applications, navigation tools, preferences
apps, etc. -- to the BeOS, with the goal of adding new features, or making
accessing existing features easier. For example:
- Application switcher and window management
For people used to Windows' TaskManager, Twitcher, our new application switcher will make you
very happy. Open a bunch of applications and windows, and then press Control-Tab
to access this new tool.
To make it easier to move windows into new Workspaces, we've added a
great new window/Workspace switching shortcut. Just click and hold down on
the window's title bar when switching to a new Workspace (using the keyboard
shortcut of Alt-F#, where F# is a function key, and # is the number of the
Workspace to which you want to Twitch, er, switch) to "drag" it to
the new Workspace.
- New preferences applications: DataTranslations, Devices, Joysticks,
Sounds, and Video
- See the Translation Kit item below for more information regarding
the DataTranslations app.
- Devices replaces the old Serial preferences application, and is your
window on the devices the BeOS has "noticed" in your system, and for which
you have a driver installed. This app
also lets you tune the various device settings at the nitty-gritty level,
such as IRQs, DMAs, I/O port ranges, and memory ranges. You don't have to use
it, the BeOS should just work with your installed hardware, but if you feel
the need to fiddle, the capability is there.
- Joysticks lets you choose your system's joystick. Many more joysticks are now
supported. Gamers rejoice!
- Sounds lets you choose various sounds for system events, currently the beep
and startup sounds. This is a nice change from the past, when there was one
beep sound hard-coded into the BeOS. There are a bunch of useful sounds on the BeOS
CD, too, in the
- Video is the counterpart to the Audio (renamed from Sound) preferences
application, allowing you to set the system inputs and outputs for video.
- Revised applications: Audio, FileTypes, Magnify, Printers, Screen
- Audio is the renamed version of the Sound preferences application. It also
sports a revised, more understandable interface, and additional features.
- The FileTypes preferences application's user interface was rewritten to be
more understandable and usable, and can now handle many files dropped on it at
once (try it, you'll like it).
- Magnify was totally rewritten, with lots of new features. You'll want
to play with this one.
- The AddPrinter and SelectPrinter preferences applications have been merged
into a single application, Printers, with an all-new interface which should be
much easier to use. Another new option in this application lets you choose to
create print previews, a nice new feature of the BeOS printing architecture.
- The Screen preferences application had a user interface overhaul, making
it a little easier to use. You can also set the resolution for all of your
Workspaces at once now.
- Tracker improvements
It wouldn't be a major BeOS update if the Tracker didn't see improvements.
Release 4 is no exception, though the changes are not as visibly dramatic as
they were for Release 3. This is because one of the biggest improvements is...
- Better performance
Major portions of the internal routines that the Tracker uses to do common
tasks were rewritten with an eye for speed and reliability. You don't see this
kind of improvement, you feel it. The Tracker should feel faster and
more responsive. Additionally, some display glitches that happened under load are
- Translucent icon dragging
The Tracker is now able to drag
translucent icons around with ease (made possible by changes in the app_server, if you're interested). You'll notice that it's not just one icon
that's translucent, either. This is a subtle but surprisingly noticeable improvement,
which also brings an improvement to the feel of the Tracker.
- Better feedback on column rearranging and resizing
Resizing and rearranging attribute columns in Tracker list views is
now done with better, more live feedback, including a temporary line at
the column boundary when resizing, and immediate updating of column order
changes. You can remove columns by dragging them out of the window, and
you can right-click-and-hold on an attribute column to get a pop-up version
of the Attributes menu.
- Desktop changes
We're thinking of the Desktop a little differently these days, and the Tracker
reflects this. We've found it a little more natural to think of the Desktop as the
highest level of the disk hierarchy, at least for display. So disks now mount
directly on the Desktop, instead of in a Disks item that's placed on the Desktop.
There are also some new options in the right-click pop-up menu you get on the Desktop,
or when right-clicking on disk icons.
This new feature is configurable. For people who miss the old behavior, look for a
BeOS Tip of the Week for how to
get it back, shortly after BeOS Release 4 ships.
- Background images
Here's a change to the Desktop you'll definitely like (again, enabled by
changes in the app_server): background images are back! That's right, you
can now put an image (anything you have a Translator for) on your Desktop.
In fact, it's better than that. You can put a different background color or image in
each Workspace. No, wait, it's even better than that. You can put a
different background color or image into each individual Tracker window. Wow!
Visit the BeDope Media Center
for cool images you can use as backgrounds.
- Still more changes
The Tracker has a host of other improvements, which we'll only briefly
list here: improved Drag-and-Drop support (doing even more intelligent things
with whatever is dropped), refinements to the Find panel interface, templates for
new folders and query windows (look for a
Tip on these, too), and other
changes and reliability improvements.
- Networking improvements
We've made a lot of changes to BeOS networking, with the primary goal
being making using it easier and more reliable. We've found time to add a few
small features, though. ;-)
- Complete revamp of the Networking preferences application, to make
configuration of TCP/IP networking easier than ever. Of course,
the BeOS still comes with that great "no rebooting" feature for making
changes to your networking settings.
- DHCP is integrated. No longer an experimental item, DHCP moves directly
into the Networking preferences application, making it extremely easy to use
- AppleTalk now works on Intel Architecture systems. We fixed the bugs that
made this not work, so now you can print to AppleTalk networked printers from
both PowerPC and Intel Architecture BeOS systems.
- Lots of reliability improvements and performance tweaks.
- Also, coming in an online update, a client for Microsoft Networks.
That's right, you'll be able to log into Windows 95, 98, and NT systems
which have been set up to share files.
- PPP improvements
Hand in hand with the networking improvements are improvements to PPP
- PPP networking is now called "Dial-Up Networking", and has its own
preferences application. Breaking out dial-up networking in this way makes
configuration much easier to do successfully.
- Other new dial-up networking widgets and interface improvements,
including a Deskbar menu icon, which
allows you to manually initiate your PPP connection.
- Lots of reliability improvements and performance tweaks.
- NetPositive improvements
NetPositive is now on version 2.0, and you'll definitely notice the
difference. The version in BeOS Release 4 is also improved from
the NetPostive 2.0b1 public beta we released in July 1998. Here are the
overall changes from Release 3:
- SSL support for encrypted, safe Internet transactions (in
an online update to NetPositive 2.0)
- More character encodings for foreign language web pages
- Better frames support
- Support for floating tables
- Full support for colored tables and table cells
- Improved font face support
- Improved GIF graphics support
- A "remember password" feature for password-protected sites
- Greatly improved performance
- Improved Bookmarks organization features
- A Go menu to access recently browsed pages
- Lots of new preferences
- New commands in the right-click context sensitive menu
- Other interface revisions, including menus reorganization and a Home button
- Many bug fixes
- BeMail improvements
BeMail's been worked on a fair amount, too, with an eye towards
refining the user interface, rather than adding new features:
- Improved handling of URLs and attachements (you can
drag-and-drop them out of messages now)
- Improved command keys for managing messages (forward/back
one message at a time, maybe a few others)
- User interface cleanup (removing the "secret" right-click menu, and
exposing its features in the main app, rearranging
menus/items, adhere to the Be user interface guidelines)
- A couple new menu commands, to save e-mail addresses and manage
- Better support for different character encodings
- New preferences in E-mail preferences application
- A slew of bug fixes
- PoorMan improvements
PoorMan continued to receive improvements. He's definitely middle class now; check it out:
- More interface revisions
- A new maximum connections preference was added
- You can now specify the name of the default file for a directory
- You can now choose whether to display a directory listing if there
is no default file in that directory
- And (of course) many bugs were fixed
- New input architecture
We're created a new input architecture, with the goal of being able to support
the myriad of different input devices out in the world, i.e., things besides keyboards
and mice. We'll be able to support Wacom tablets, for example.
Another consequence is support for different input methods. Some languages
naturally use the keyboard, but many others, like Japanese, have difficulty mapping
a single character (glyph, really) to a single key, since there are thousands of
characters in the language. With BeOS Release 4, we include a Japanese
input method created by ERGOSOFT, a world leader in input method technologies.
Input methods for other languages will follow in future releases of the BeOS.
- New Media Kit
BeOS Release 4 features the premier of the BeOS Media Kit, the new, very high
performance way to deal with all different kinds of time-based media, such as
digital audio and digital video. The Media Kit features a flexible data streaming
design and a modular architecture. Codecs and file format readers and writers
will be continually updated online, so that BeOS users will have access to the
latest and greatest available on the BeOS:
- Codecs: Cinepac, MPEG1, MJPEG, Indeo and others via download
- Media file formats: QuickTime, AVI, MPEG, and others via download
- Developer tools improvements
We've made some major changes to our development tools, which you can
read about in detail in our Development Tools Switch
pages. The first and most important effect is that BeOS development tools
for both platforms are now free, and come on the CD. Other primary
effects to the BeOS for Intel Architecture ONLY are:
- New development tool chain, based around gcc from Cygnus
- New symbolic debugger and gdb command line debugger (PowerPC keeps CodeWarrior debugger)
- New format for executable files (applications, add-ons, plug-ins, shared libraries, etc.)
- ELF format replaces the PE format
- BeOS Release 3 applications and libraries are not compatible with
Release 4 on Intel Architecture
- app_server improvements
Like the Tracker, the BeOS app_server (the part of the BeOS that draws on
the screen) sees improvements in every major BeOS release. Many are not noticeable
to end users, but a few are, and BeOS programmers love improvements to the app_server.
Here's what's new or improved in BeOS Release 4:
- Significant performance improvements
- Postscript Type 1 font support (with some limitations)
- Graphics driver architecture re-write
- Improved character spacing in B_CHAR_SPACING and B_STRING_SPACING modes (text looks better on-screen)
- Transparency (B_OP_ALPHA)
- BViews can now have background bitmaps
- BView "parents" can now draw over their "children"
- Extensions to allow asynchronous controls
- BFont now has a way to get the outline of a glyph as a path
- Deskbar improvements
The Deskbar gets a slightly new look, with the status area moving to be above
the application list. You can also now toggle between the data and time by clicking
on the display. And as you add additional Replicant widgets to the status area, it
will grow to accommodate them. There are lots of new Replicant widgets in R4,
so this ability is pretty useful.
- ShowImage improvements
ShowImage now supports Drag-and-Drop with the Tracker; you can
drag a selection to the Desktop to create a clipping file of the selection, thus
restoring a capability Rraster had. It
also supports converting (saving) images into other graphics formats, anything
you have a Translator installed for, thus giving you basic graphics format
- Terminal / shell improvements
The big news here is that the BeOS shell is now GNU bash 2.02.1(1), upgraded from
Release 3 which used 1.14.4(1). Fans of shell scripting will probably get very excited
about that! We've also improved various terminal emulations, added a few command line
tools, and of course, fixed bugs.
- Windows (FAT) file system access
BeOS Release 4 can read and write to FAT16 and FAT32 file systems, the volume format
used by Windows 3.11, Windows 95 and Windows 98. Write access is the new part, and
should make moving files between Windows and the BeOS much easier.
- Replicant interface improvements
Replicants can now be deleted by dragging them to the Trash -- the way you
always thought they should be deleted (we're listening!).
- Translation Kit improvements
A new DataTranslations preferences application allows you to set
system-wide default preferences for data translations for your installed
data translators. We've also added a few more data translators, including a
styled text translator, and a couple of new graphics translators.
- OpenGL improvements
OpenGL has been much-improved, and software-only OpenGL should see a noticeable
improvement on all systems. In addition to performance tuning, bug fixing,
and optimizing the code, we've laid the foundation for hardware acceleration of OpenGL,
something that everyone is looking forward to (QuakeGL, anyone?).
- Human interface guidelines
As mentioned above, Be's Human Interface Guidelines have been written (finally).
We've included some of the preliminary documents on the CD; the full version will
be on the Be web site; check the
Developers section to get the link.
- Improved driver architecture
We've re-written and improved our hardware driver architecture. Not
something the end user is likely to notice, but it lays the foundation for
a number of things end users will notice, like USB, FireWire,
CardBus, and other bus interfaces that the BeOS will support now or in the
future. It should also be easier for manufacturers to write drivers for
their new hardware, something every BeOS user will appreciate.
- Various other BeOS improvements and bug fixes
As if the above was not enough, there were literally hundreds of other
changes large and small. Most of these were bug fixes or additions that
only developers will take advantage of -- except that they'll write better
software faster, and that's something worth getting excited about!
See the BeOS
Release 4 release notes for extensive information of the changes in the BeOS relevant
to developers (e.g., API additions, etc.). You will also find current information about
BeOS APIs, including new APIs like the Media Kit, in The Be Book.