WebRef Update: Featured Article: BeOS 5 Bounds onto the Scene - Part 2 | WebReference

WebRef Update: Featured Article: BeOS 5 Bounds onto the Scene - Part 2


BeOS 5 Bounds onto the Scene

The Downsides, & Getting Started

The Cons

Ok, if it's so great, why isn't everyone using it? Well, admittedly, it's not all roses and multi-threaded moonbeams in Be-land. There are some definitely cons to the BeOS, and for many people, these may be enough to keep them from even trying it.

Software and Hardware Support.
This is the big one. BeOS, being the "little kid on the block," doesn't have anywhere near the software support of either the Microsoft or Macintosh OSes. It's the catch-22 of any new operating system - if the OS doesn't have any applications, it won't attract any users. And if it doesn't have any users, no one will want to write applications for the OS. And if it doesn't have any applications...you get the idea.

This is not to imply that there are no applications available for BeOS, just that the number is far lower than on other platforms. A quick glance at the BeWare Catalog (www.be.com/software/beware/), or at sites like BeBits (www.bebits.com) will give you a good idea of range and scope of available applications. Being both media-optimized and programmer-friendly, Be has software available from several big names in the the audio/video/image software community, including MetaCreations, Steinberg, Arboretum, eMagic, VideoWave and more. Most importantly, much of the software available seems to be high in quality, which might make the total number of choices less of a concern.

Hardware support is good, but not complete. While the company and existing user base has done an admirable job of writing drivers and keeping Be compatible with most major hardware, there are definite gaps. As with the software catch-22, most manufacturers won't spend the time and money to develop drivers for a platform with a small user base. On the plus side, BeOS does a wonderful job of automatically recognizing the hardware it does support, so installation of new (supported) devices is extremely easy. For speed demons, the OS also has multi-processor support built into the kernel. More information about currently supported hardware can be found at: www.be.com/products/beosreadylist.html

Ease of Use/Learning Curve.
This isn't necessarily a con, as much as it's just a fact of life. BeOS 5 is a complete and independent operating system, so learning to use it will take a little time. Elements of the interface can be changed to more closely resemble other OSes and there are aspects of the interface that will make users migrating from Windows, MacOS or Unix feel more comfortable. The core is distinctly Be though, and to get the most out of it, a new user is going to have to realize that there will be a learning curve. This is especially true for new features like the powerful attributes system that don't have a clear equivalent in other existing OSes.

Getting Going with BeOS 5

I found BeOS 5 to be a breeze to install. After downloading the installation archive (which, at 40 megs, is somewhat large for modem users, but still smaller than most game and application demos these days), I walked through a fairly brainless and painless install process. The new version simply installs itself and it's file structure as a one 500 meg file in your existing system, so there was no need to worry about repartitioning, dual-boot voodoo, or file system changes. Booting into BeOS is just as easy - just click on an icon on your desktop. Your OS shuts itself down, and Be pops up. Since I'm running Windows NT, I did have to make an additional boot floppy, but that was equally painless.

Final Words

I have no vested interest in the BeOS - I don't own stock in the company, and had never used it before this review. Though I get as grumpy as the next guy about the foibles of Windows, MacOS and the various flavors of Unix that I work on in any given day, I have no major grudge or agenda against any of those platforms or their parent companies. So bottom line - will I continue use BeOS 5 in the future? My honest answer is a qualified "maybe". The OS itself seems great: it's zippy, looks nice, and "feels good", if that makes any sense. Though I'm certainly at the start of the learning curve, and need to get much more familiar with the details of the user interface, I like what I see. Every time I use BeOS 5, different elements of the design jump out at me and small but elegant features come to light.

For me, the deciding factor will ultimately come down to software support. Will the available software allow me to accomplish my work? Perhaps more on point, will it make life easier for me, and make up for any time I need to spend learning to use a new OS? I'm not entirely sure yet, but I enjoyed BeOS 5 enough to invest a little more time putting it through its paces and surveying the available software. I'd recommend anyone with an interest in alternative, well-designed operating systems to take a look.

For more information on BeOS 5 and download locations, check: free.be.com

Previous: The Pros

This article originally appeared in the April 20, 2000 edition of the WebReference Update Newsletter.

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Comments are welcome
Written by Eric Cook and

Revised: April 21, 2000

URL: http://webreference.com/new/beos5pt2.html