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Sci/Tech: Haiku's Success and the Death of Zeta
Saturday, 24 March 2007 Written by Philipe Rubio
Pingwinek GNU/Haiku running some apps
(Click for larger image.)
Back in 2001 when the company behind BeOS, Be Inc. went bust, and its intellectual property was sold to Palm Inc, everything looked rather dim in the world of alternative operating systems.

BeOS was and probably still is one of the most “sexy” operating systems ever made, but sadly it was way ahead of its time. When Windows was still stuck with the FAT32 file system, which only supported files with no greater size than 2GB (files larger than this at your own risk of data loss), BeOS featured its own 64bit journaling file system, BFS, that supported file sizes north of 260GB.

Not only was BeOS’s file system far superior to that of other operating systems at the time or now for that sake, but even on an old Pentium powered computer you had boot times below 10 seconds, compared to Windows’ two cups of coffee and a pack of cigarettes boot time.

But what made this operating system so “sexy”? BeOS’s Graphical User Interface (GUI) actually did what a GUI is supposed to do, it was developed on the principles of clarity and a clean, uncluttered design. Which made the operating system very easy to use, it was snappy unlike the multi-second delay you sometimes get on Windows when just switching between windows. I would sit here for ages if I where to tell you about all the wonderful things BeOS offered, but I’ll spare you the time and get to the point. (Did I mention multi CPU/core support 10 years even the first dual-core x86)

Back in 2001 when Be Inc went bust and everything seemed to be so dark, a group of developers took matters in their own hands and started the Open BeOS project. The goal of Open BeOS was to rewrite BeOS from scratch and fix the bugs that were left by Be Inc in its last version of the operating system, BeOS R5.

The Open BeOS project was later renamed to Haiku, which is now in a usable state, though it is still very alpha and still not stabile enough for everyday use, but the project has had a tremendous progress. And as reported just a few days ago, Haiku has now got its first distribution. The people behind Pingwinek GNU/Linux has released the first version of their GNU/Haiku distribution which can be downloaded as here.

But the Haiku project is not the only project that wanted to keep the legacy of BeOS alive. YellowTab a German company, shortly after the death of BeOS and Be Inc allegedly gained the rights the to source code of BeOS 5.1 which was never released be Be Inc. Their commercial child of BeOS was called Zeta. But Zeta was never a success and the company went insolvent and ceased trading in 2006.

Zeta is now being developed by an independent team of which little is known, and distributed by Magnussoft. Yesterday Bernd Korz the leader of Zeta’s development team announced that Magnussoft and the development team are parting ways. As of now there is still not much information on what will be the differences. But I suspect that this is the start or maybe the end of Zeta’s slow death. The commercial incarnation of BeOS was doomed from its first release, it seemed like they had just themed BeOS 5.1 which was a work in progress, and never meant for release by Be Inc. Zeta had lost the BeOS feel, it was slow, buggy and some of the features like sliding tabs that where present in BeOS R5 was not present.

Personally I’ve never been a fan of Zeta, its first fault was to go commercial and I predict that we will see the death of Zeta in a not to distant future. But where Zeta failed, it seems like Haiku will succeed. Haiku has the look and feel of the old BeOS R5 operating system released by Be Inc and it has even extended upon it in a very BeOS’ish way. As Neal Stephenson puts it in his book “In the Beginning was the Command Line”, BeOS was the Batmobile of operating systems, and Haiku still is that same Batmobile, whereas Zeta has turned into your dad’s Ford Sierra.

Earlier this month Haiku got accepted as a mentor organization for the upcoming Google Summer of Code 2007, this will hopefully yield a lot of fruits for the Haiku project and bring it closer to a stabile release, and I suspect that within a few years when Haiku is stabile and has extended even more upon the now aging BeOS R5, Haiku will be able to compete with Linux, and possibly also Mac OS on the desktop. But for that to happen the Haiku project needs help from all old and new fans of the BeOS platform.

One way you could help the team is to do some bug hunting yourself if you are a programmer or you can report a bug to the team so they in turn can fix the bug, but probably the easiest way to help the team is to donate some hard cash to the team so they can put more man hours into the project or buy some new hardware to test the system on and develop drivers for it.