Saturday, November 12, 2005

BeOS equals obscure geek

Yes, if you hadn't already intuited from the links and stories to be found here, not to mention my profile, I am a geek. However, the addition of two new ".gif badges" at the bottom of the right margin will now reveal to you, gentle readers, that I am not just any geek. I am of that special subset known ironically yet somehow intuitively as the obscure geek.

BeOS was and is a great operating system (OS). I say "was" because the company that created it, Be, Inc., no longer exists (be.com is now a search portal). I also say "is" because I still have a BeOS bootable partition on an old computer that I occasionally use and because there is still a user base for this OS with an online presence, however small. Be, Inc. was founded by an ex-Apple executive named Jean-Louis Gassée.

I jumped on the BeOS bandwagon back in 1995-96 using R3, the latest incarnation at the time. I updated and kept using the OS for about 3 more years and now have R5 installed on a partition in an old intel box that also has Windows 98 on it. BeOS was fun and functional, but it sure helped to have a hobbyist mentality and a sense of adventure because many applications and compatibility conveniences that Windows users take for granted simply weren't available. This meant downloading user-created applications and implementing workarounds to make some things work. I'm not a programmer, so I wasn't involved in creating functionality, but I can generally figure out what needs to happen to enable that functionality and then find, download, install and configure an application someone else wrote.

Since I was not capable of making improvements to the OS myself I had to rely on the engineers at Be to keep releasing updates that would support newer hardware and software and increase functionality. Unfortunately Be was not able to survive as a company and Be's intellectual property was sold to Palm, Inc. in 2001. That was the end of official development and improvements to the OS. It was too bad because BeOS is truly elegant and efficient, but without updates its functionality stagnated and I reverted back to Windows.

I used BeOS today to retrieve something I had done years ago and decided to explore a bit with the OS, pining for the good old days when it looked as if BeOS could survive as an alternate "media OS" to Windows. Days of idealism, practicality and for me, a hint of guerrilla-computing whereby one could achieve the goals of email, web browsing and document creation without engaging the corporate powers-that-be.

I was delighted to see some of the old Be-oriented sites were still up and people continuing to work on the OS. Several groups have tried to develop an open source version or other variation, and many individuals continue to develop applications. Their spirit is inspiring.

The .gif badges I added to my site are for:

-BeOS Radio: a still active Internet radio site. It plays a truly eclectic and refreshing variety of artists and music, interspersed with a few ads and news. The site's radio feeds are hosted on a server running a version of BeOS.

-BeBits: a software portal for developers and users. It's actually quite amazing how much is available here. The last official release of BeOS is still available here, for free download.

So there's a window into my soul.

1 comment:

Eric said...

Wow. I remember installing BeOS at work back in 1995. I worked for a book publisher and was interested in how I could use it at work. I ended up using OS/2, which was another "alternate" OS back in the day. It's nice to see these links and dedicated people.