BeOS = Wow
By Fred Langa
Imagine an operating system that combines some of the better qualities of Linux, the Mac, and
Windows, and you'll have an idea of the huge potential of the BeOS. And the demo version costs
It's been a long time since any operating system gave me an honest-to-goodness "wow"
experience. I'd had high hopes for Linux, but the 5.1 version of Red Hat Linux was more of an "ow"
than a "wow," with numerous rough spots and incompatibilities. (See
story here and
I have the 5.2 version of Red Hat in my "to do" queue, along with new versions of FreeBSD and
Solaris, but last week was Be's turn.
Be Inc. has been lurking in the background of the computer industry since its founding in 1990 by
former Apple executive Jean-Louis Gassee. With release 4.0, the BeOS is finally hitting its
I installed the BeOS on the same Intel-based system that had given Red Hat's Linux
implementation so much trouble. But rather than take a week of part-time fiddling to get things
working (as was the case with Linux), the Be system installed smoothly and ran almost
immediately: The total elapsed time from start to finish was minutes instead of days.
Although the BeOS version I had was a beta, it still recognized and worked with all my system
peripherals. In contrast, the shipping version of Linux I tried failed to recognize my network
interface card and sound card.
And, unlike the hobbyist-quality boot manager and partitioning software that ship with Red Hat
Linux, the BeOS ships with a full commercial-quality partitioner (actually, a custom version of
PowerQuest's excellent PartitionMagic) and a polished, bulletproof boot manager. In fact, you can
simply insert the BeOS compact disc on a machine running Windows 9x, and the partitioning
software will offer to install itself and set up a dual-boot Be partition for you, automatically. It
couldn't be easier.
The operating system itself is lean and makes the most of your hardware with extensive
multithreading and a 64-bit file system. The bundled demo applications (almost all of them
graphics-intensive) run smoothly: Be's forte is high-bandwidth media applications.
The interface is polished and reminds me of a hybrid between the Mac and perhaps one of the
newer X-based interfaces. It's a pleasure to use and not at all difficult, even for an inveterate
Windows user to quickly feel at home.
BeOS 4.0 is priced at $100, and that's one area in which free and low-cost operating systems
have an edge. But the extra $50 that you pay for BeOS instead of, say, the $50 Red Hat Linux, is
well worth it for the polish and "fit and finish."
But you don't have to spend $100: You can test drive a BeOS demo for $3.95. (It's $9.95 if you're
outside the United States.) At that price, you can't afford not to at least take a look. (See
I'll continue to explore and discuss the BeOS this week (see the threads area for the ongoing
discussion), but I'd love to hear your opinions, too. Grab a demo CD or visit the Be home page and join in