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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
> User-Level Changes
> Developer-Level 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

Miscellaneous Changes


User-Level 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 end user.

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 means.

    Platform Support

    • 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 work now.

    • We've added support for additional processors and chipsets. Again, the range of systems on which the BeOS will run should be significantly broadened.


    • 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)

    Video Capture

    • 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 card.

    • New PCMCIA slot-based NE2000-compatible Ethernet driver, supports PCMCIA cards which are NE2000 compatible (considered experimental).

    Rewritten IDE/ATA/ATAPI

    • 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., faster graphics.

    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 BeOS FAQs.

    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 platforms.

    • 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 /optional/sound directory.

      • 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 now gone.

    • 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 this feature.

    • 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 networking:

    • 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 NetPositive 2.0.1, 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 messages
    • 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

Miscellaneous Changes

  • 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 conversion capabilities.

  • 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!


Developer-Level Changes

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.

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