February 10, 2009

Suffering from BeOS Nostalgia? The Haiku Project Can Help.

In 1996, Apple was in freefall and the Macintosh was in trouble. As many Mac fans clung to their Performas and PowerBooks in vain, we prayed for a savior to swoop in and save the Cupertino company from what at the time seemed like certain doom. And before Steve Jobs and Next came in to provide Apple with its next generation operating system, there was a different white knight we expected to keep up the fight against Microsoft and Windows. The white knight was the Be operating system, and its founder, Jean-Louis Gasée. As history now shows, Apple's not choosing Be pretty much killed the OS and the company - as it faded into operating system history, alongside Amiga and others whose time has come and gone. But for its time, it had some intriguing features, which live on in the Haiku Project, which you can try out today.

Inspired by the BeOS, Haiku looks almost exactly like the older operating system, featuring the trademark yellow tabs atop floating windows, featuring a Linux-like terminal, and true multi-threading to take advantage of multiple processors.

And the Haiku project is more than a series of intriguing screenshots. You can actually run the project today, by downloading a virtual image from their Web site, popping into VMware, with or without a full set of applications, from Mail to Firefox to a PDF viewer and a Paint application.

I downloaded the VMware image with the latest nightly build, and sure enough... 1996 all over again. But it wasn't an OS running on a Zip Drive on a 603 or 604 processor. It was a virtual machine running on my MacBook Pro. Quick. Fast. Elegant. Not very useful, of course, but an interesting science project. It works.

So if you want to toy around with an elegant OS and you want to kick the tires or just scratch that nostalgia itch, check out Haiku. See also: OS News: BeOS Lives: Haiku Impresses.