Friday, October 30, 2020

25 Years Ago: BeOS

Benj Edwards (via Daniel Sandler):

BeOS was unique among the computer operating systems of the ’90s due to its lack of legacy code. By the mid-’90s, Windows, Mac OS, OS/2, Solaris, Linux, and even NeXTSTEP, were evolutionary operating systems with at least a decade of history. With BeOS, though, Be dared to create an entirely new operating system from scratch to meet the needs of the era: multimedia and internet support.


BeOS supported multi-threaded applications and included support for multiprocessor machines from the start. After an upgrade, it also included a multi-threaded, 64-bit journaling file system called BFS. This had a built-in database designed to support digital multimedia recording and playback, which was novel in the mid-’90s.


Today, you can download and use a functional modern descendant of the desktop BeOS called Haiku. This free, open-source project is still in beta, but it’s compatible with legacy (and new) BeOS applications. It’s a joy to experiment with, on either a virtual machine or as a direct install on Windows-compatible hardware.

Bill Bumgarner:

I was on the pre-order list until I got the dev docs.

Everything C++ — OK.

Every app starts as one window w/three threads; main, window draw, window event handler.

“Concurrency is difficult. Use locks sparingly. Good luck.” was basically the docs.

No, thanks.

Alastair Houghton:

I keep looking back at screenshots of the old Mac “Platinum” UI, the BeOS/Haiku UI and a handful of others of similar vintage and thinking that they’ve aged remarkably well by comparison to newer UI designs (XP, Aero, early Mac OS X).

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I completely agree with Alastair. I could mostly go back to using Platinum and be fine with it. The user interfaces that have been shipping lately are very blank compared how things were 20 years ago. Desginers have taken away all of the excitement, so I don't see the need to continue to iterate on the design of the user interface. In all seriousness, they could have, and should have, stopped the interface redesigns at 10.4.

Under these contemporary conditions for which we find ourselves, Platinum will do.

I really like the UI of Haiku. They have enhanced it (Noto Sans, and subtle yellow gradients), but also kept it true to its roots. Haiku grafts on functionality and capability from the Linux and BSD projects, but the Linux and BSD projects could take a big hint from Haiku about desktop environments, in particular how snappy it feels. Why can't gnome or kde be feel like this?

I agree with Alastair and Ben. The Platinum interface would be a welcome change compared to current UIs; I don't like the flatness and the excessive use of whitespace found in modern UIs.

I've never used BeOS (though occasionally I boot up a Haiku VM), but it turns out that BeOS's interface has a lot of similarities to some of the UI mockups for Taligent back when IBM/Apple still envisioned Taligent as an operating system instead of the C++ API it became later.

Looks like Robin Silberling of Taligent didn't go on to work at Be, but maybe some other Taligent project member did?

As for UI, Big Sur annoys me in its dullness. Aqua (toned down after a while) and Yosemite's style (with things like vibrancy), I enjoyed. I'm still nostalgic for Platinum, perhaps in part for a number of unrelated reasons (my age at the time, and the way it appeared in the 'Aaron' system extension long before it actually shipped in Mac OS 8). But Big Sur, and generally the current flat/low-contrast style? I don't think that'll age well.

> “Concurrency is difficult. Use locks sparingly. Good luck.” was basically the docs.

Well, this looks like a more complete documentation than the one provided by Apple for too many APIs these days.

Anyway, considering the front piece of the BeBox was provided after the 3rd party developers received their units, it's not surprising the documentation was late.

@someone: With detachable panels, obviously their manufacturing process had a race condition. That's why Apple switched to unibody construction.

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