It's hard to believe it has been four years. In early 1997,
Power Computing announced that they would ship the BeOS with their
clones. An upstart cloner shipping an upstart OS, if you will. This
was big news, since the BeOS fixed many of the problems that faced
System 7. The discussions from then sounds all too familiar
BeOS offered preemptive multitasking that would improve the user
experience over the Mac's cooperative multitasking. BeOS had
protected memory for increased stability. BeOS could easily use
more than one processor at a time. BeOS had a dock. BeOS even had a
Posix compatibility layer so it could run Unix programs that were
recompiled for it. Whew.
But BeOS has more buzzwords that Mac OS X doesn't have.
For example, BeOS is pervasively multithreaded. Multithreading
is what allows the Finder in Mac OS 8 to copy a file while you open
a window and empty the Trash. BeOS automatically does the
multithreading for everything. Because it is built into the system,
any program for BeOS automatically makes multiple threads that can
be run on separate processors. That way all programs take advantage
of multiprocessing without any special programming techniques
BeOS also had a journaling file system. With it's file system
(which is the equivalent of HFS+ on the Mac), BeOS keeps a
"journal" of all the reads and writes it plans to do to the drive
so it can recover if there is an error. By building this extra
level of security in, it virtually eliminates the need for programs
like Disk First Aid or Norton's Disk Doctor. The file system is
protected from corruption, and the multithreaded input/output even
protects the disk from fragmentation. Instead of building in a Disk
First Aid check, like Apple did with Mac OS 8.5, Be eliminated the
problem with their initial design.
Be's file system is also database-like. You could search and
sort files in BeOS just like you have FileMaker
Pro built into the
operating system. One advantage was that over time, the properties
of files could allow you to do things that the Mac OS can't do
easily. For example, an MP3 collection could have your ID3
information like the artist or album name. Or your email could be
viewed with it's subject or sender. Sure, your programs do that but
in BeOS, the "Finder" can do that as well.
Because BeOS was written as a native operating system for the
PowerPC, it's amazingly fast. When I used BeOS 4.5 on my StarMax 3000/200, it was easily twice as
fast as the Mac OS on the same hardware. It boots up in 15 seconds.
Applications launch almost immediately. I could do four things at
once without slowing my computer down. It really made me appreciate
how great the PowerPC chip was and how much the Mac OS was holding
it back. The beauty of BeOS was that it was designed with a focus
on performance. It almost didn't matter what your hardware was,
because it would always be responsive and quick.
By designing the BeOS on a clean sheet of paper (Be never
worried about backwards compatibility), they were able to make an
Operating System that is technically as good as or better than Mac
OS X. But here's the catch: Be did that with a fraction of the
money and time that Apple invested in Mac OS X. If Apple had
bought Be instead of NeXT in December 1996, we would have already
had these modern features for a couple of years.
If you own a low end Power Mac with PCI, there's a good chance
that it's compatible with BeOS. You won't get Mac OS X's lickable
interface, but you'll get a modern architecture that will boost the
performance of your computer. You can find more detailed
information about BeOS at Be's website. The BeOS white paper is
persuasive today in describing how an OS ought to work.
You might want to wait until next week before trying to get a
copy of the BeOS. Next week I'll explain why I always returned to
the Mac OS after using the BeOS.