Haiku: Reason to believe

Richard Hillesley looks at whether Haiku will get the opportunity to move from a hobby to a viable open source alternative.

Haiku is an open source re-implementation of BeOS, the might have been operating system of the 90s. BeOS had everything going for it. It was quite unlike anything else in its space, but it ultimately failed to pay its way.

BeOS was the work of Jean-Louis Gasse - formerly head of Apple's advanced product development and worldwide marketing - and fellow exiles from Apple's management and developer teams. It was conceived in 1991.

BeOS was known for its elegance and the cleanliness of its lines. It was easy to work with and popular with the usual suspects. It also featured a 64-bit journalling file system, pervasive multi-threading and pre-emptive multitasking - all concepts which were foreign to the operating systems sold by Microsoft and Apple at the time.

BeOS had an organic, co-ordinated feel to it, and saw itself as the integrated multimedia desktop operating system. It was lean and uncluttered and perfect for creative work, music making and graphical manipulation. But it also proved popular among a significant subset of developers and coders, who were enticed to BeOS by the presence of the GNU tools, BeBits and other developer-friendly channels.

BeOS should have been a contender. It really should have. Alas, it fell by the wayside because its parent company Be Inc couldn't realise a workable business model and because it was pushed aside by the rival attractions of Linux and free software. Not to mention the business muscle of Microsoft.

Gasse later summarised the story succinctly: "I once preached peaceful coexistence with Windows. You may laugh at my expense. I deserve it."

A bite of the apple

Be went out of business in 2001, amid law suits, heartbreak and recrimination. It was broken on the back of Microsoft's preferential deals with OEMS and Apple's rejection of BeOS as an alternative to Mac OS. But it was a long and slow demise. Some would argue painful, too.

Be's first setback was the failure of BeBox - BeOS on Be hardware - which was much admired by those who got their hands on one, but retired before 2,000 units had been sold. Be Inc instead concentrated on the port of BeOS to the PowerPC and the marketing of BeOS on Apple clones by the likes of Motorola.

Later came a putative deal with Apple, who had the chance of buying Be Inc and planned to replace the Mac OS with BeOS.

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