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Haiku - Stealin' back to my good old used-to-be

When BeOS first arrived on the scene, around 1994-95, it was quite unlike anything else in its space, featuring a 64-bit journalling file system, pervasive multi-threading and pre-emptive multitasking (which were still unknown to Apple or Microsoft). It also had a modular microkernel, written in C++, featuring bash and GNU command line tools alongside a generous helping of user side utilities.

BeOS was slim and graceful, easy to work with, and popular with the usual suspects. BeOS could often be seen dual booting alongside Linux, although it was neither free software nor open source, and had a thriving community of users and developers who offered their titbits on BeBits, where a wide range of downloadable applications, fit for BeOS or Haiku, can still be found.

Rewriting an operating system from scratch is a massive undertaking, but that hasn't stopped Haiku rising from the flames of the long and complicated afterlife of BeOS. BeOS spawned several free and open source software imitations, the best known of which was Blue Eyed OS, which has since disappeared. Haiku is probably the last hope for the BeOS community, having just reached its first official, albeit Alpha, release, after eight years in development and over seven million lines of contributed code.

The biggest problem for those who wish to replicate an operating system such as BeOS is not the sexy embellishments on the desktop, but the lower level stuff that does the donkey work. Haiku hasn't taken the easy option and used an existing kernel, but is written from scratch.

Zoom Haiku screen shot
The problem is not compatibility with BeOS or replication of its features. Haiku looks and feels like a slightly more polished version of BeOS, and uses the open sourced versions of the BeOS Tracker and Deskbar. Haiku is almost there, but as you might expect from an Alpha release, is prone to occasional mishaps and application crashes, has bugs to be fixed, and suffers from a lack of drivers for some devices. Haiku is released under an MIT style license which the developers hope will eventually make it more attractive to manufacturers.

Unless you have supported hardware the most reliable way to run Haiku at present is in a virtual machine using for example VMware or Virtual Box, and even then Virtual Box will only support Haiku on some architectures and doesn't support sound, so for the moment, Haiku is not yet quite where you want it to be. You can run Firefox in its last BeOS iteration, send email and download supplementary applications from BeBits and use AbiWord for word processing, so it isn't so far away.

The interesting part of Haiku may be the steps the developers take after Haiku achieves its initial goal of becoming a full release of BeOS, which may take BeOS closer to its might-have-beens of ten years ago, and be the opportunity for a new beginning.

Next: Linux - a Minix lookalike

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