Post BeOS-5 download: first impressions


After the long wait (and download)

Last night I spent a few hours downloading the rather large BeOS v5 personal edition from the website. Here are my first impressions of the 'revolutionary' Be Operating System. This is MY own first impressions of it, and in no way represents a full, in-depth trial.

The monster download

The download itself is around 43Mb in size (with an additional 20Mb for the development tools), so people with a slow modem and those (like myself) with a 56K modem will probably be making a few trips to the cookie jar to fetch some food while waiting for it to download.

I strongly suggest using Gozilla, GetRight or some other software which allows a download to be resumed (you wouldn't want to reach 39Mb and then be disconnected... would you? ;)).

You may experience some problems accessing the Be website; I guess lots of people are trying to download the OS at the same time. But once you can access the free-Be download page pick a suitable download site and then prepare for a long wait.


Well, it was smooth, simple and reasonably quick. When I say quick I mean quick as in "you don't have to re-format your drive/parition" and not quick as in a 15-second file copy. The free personal version of BeOS v5 chews up about 512 Mb of your C: drive. There were no 'hardware-detection' wizards or complicated settings/driver installation. It detected my TNT2 3d video card without any problem, but strangely failed to detect my original SoundBlaster16 card. This meant I am unable to see how good/bad the sound related applications and driver are.

Boot time

I'm sure most of you have seen the "20 second" boot description on the Be Inc. website. After testing this on my PC (Intel Pentium II - 350Mhz) it looks like that 20-second remark is almost true. The boot from floppy it took 50 seconds (from the BIOS beep to Be desktop) and from double-clicking on the BeOS icon from the Windows desktop it took 25 seconds to shut down Windows and display the Be desktop. Remember this is running on a FAT32 drive C, which is more than half full of other junk, like Windows and my proggies. ;) I imagine if you are able to reformat your C drive using some custom BeOS utility then perhaps you might reach the 20-second benchmark that they state on their website.

The desktop/GUI

The appearance of the desktop was nice enough, some nicely drawn, colourful icons and most of the usual window navigating controls looked and worked exactly like Windoze. In some cases you could easily think that you were still using Windoze, with options like 'Small icons', 'Large Icons' and 'Details list'. Once in the list you soon recognize the column heading tabs like 'Filename', 'size', 'path' etc.. and yes, they can be swapped around and clicked on exactly the same way as Windoze.

There seems to be a strange lack of a full drive-path function. Each folder window only displays the current folder/sub-directory name and not the entire path. This is something I found quite irritating, especially because lots of folders on the 'BeOS' drive (the 512Mb section of my Windoze C: drive) used exactly the same name. So there were many 'bin' and 'documentation' folders but no way of telling where you actually are on the BeOS drive; was the 'bin' folder for application A, B, C, .... Z?? You simply had no easy of telling where you are!

The navigation through the various folders and sub-folders was a little clumsy compared to (I hate to admit it) Windoze. The now almost standard Internet-Exploder (hehe) VCR like controls and path-URL display box were nowhere to be seen. IMHO this, or something similiar, would have made searching through the many folders so much easier. When you eventually do discover that a right-click allows you to explore the many sub-folders using pop-up menus you may be a little more forgiving towards Be.

I still think that the entire navigation system could be much better. It doesn't have to follow the VCR-like control method of Windoze, there are other more-graphical ways to do this. An good old tree would be, IMHO, better than the countless pop-up menus and vast number of windows which seem to litter the BeOS desktop.

Speed-demon or lead-slug?

Well to be honest the much hyped speed was.... was... difficult to confirm or deny. The personal edition of BeOS v5 only has a few applications and demos, with no real software to really test it. So whether it is the true revolutionary multi-media OS is very much open to question. It will take some time before we start to see anything which will push BeOS and test it's limitations. The usual selection of 3d games (like the Quake-2 fps tests) are nowhere to be seen, but according to the Be website a handful of software companies are developing games and other demanding applications for the Be platform.

A change of font?

To be honest the fonts all looked identical (see for yourself). The selection didn't have enough variety and their maximum sizes were really too small. This is really strange when you consider that the entire OS is labeled as a "new multi-media" product, but appears to lack any of the innovation or ground-breaking features that Be Inc. would have us all believe from their blurb.


From my limited testing and general 'push every button' sessions with BeOS it gave a few alert boxes and nothing else. It never showed any signs of bombing out or locking up. It's always good to use an OS which you doesn't make you feeling like you're playing Russian Roulette every time you move the mouse or launch an application. Whether it is as stable as many people report it to be is still open to question, until more users get their 'grubby mits' on some really demanding applications like image processing tools or 3D tools/games/demos the power of BeOS remains untested.

The favourite 'You must reboot your system for the changes to take effect' message is also, allegedly, rarely seen; instead the OS runs through a re-init sequence (which I imagine sends messages to the applications using that particular device telling it that a device is no longer available).

The file system

I've heard from a number of BeOS users (using version 4.xx) telling me that the file system used in BeOS is good in terms of reliability. As far as I know it's a 64-bit file system using something called 'file journaling' (if I remember correctly), which I imagine records files instead of simply overwriting the old file as soon as it is saved to disk. One person even commented that you could easily turn the machine off during a file save operation and still be sure of a fully working FAT/directory structure (hmmm.. not sure that I personally want to test that theory ;)).

By clicking on the top-right BeOS desktop menu/icon you can access the various "Start menu" like functions, like launching applications, configuring your machine and all the usual menu operations. By going to the DriveSetup item you can mount or un-mount drives. By clicking on your C: drive you can happily read or write data from a FAT, FAT32 or NTFS partition. Yes, you can explore your Windoze drives.

The biggest disappointment for me was the speed of the un-zipping of the 20Mb development tools, which seemed to take ages and ages, and had NO progress bar whatsoever. The reason for this lack of speed could be due to the fact I was unzipping the BeOS dev-tools from my c:\Windows\Desktop, so it's probably going through some slow Windoze FAT32 --> BeOS --> FAT32 translation (or perhaps the .ZIP decompression utility just sucks ;)).

Back to Windoze?

Yeah, it sadly seems that way. BeOS doesn't recognize my modem (so I have no other option than to return back to Windoze98 to access the net) and the lack of support for my SoundBlaster16 and absence of any real applications or tools means BeOS is likely to become another "Hmmm.. maybe when it has more support/tools it might be good" piece of software on my drive.

Closing words

As you can tell from my first impression of BeOS I was a little disappointed. It really needs lots more support, more software, a good, easy to read "beginner's user guide" and a few killer applications to attract the attention of new users. But I have a feeling that most new BeOS programs will simply be ported versions of Linux, or more likely, Windoze programs. Whereas Linux has lots of interest, lots of software, BeOS is sadly trailing far, far behind.

On the good side it was far, far, far easier than Linux to install, get working and to use. There are lots of 'inspired by' features in BeOS which will look very familiar to Windoze users, so this will help make the learning curve that little bit less steep. In fact the learning curve looks like a straight line with a few steps here and there.

I hope Be and BeOS go on to make a truly new OS with some new innovative features, and a much easier method to navigate through the mountains of data that current day coders/users are faced with. Maybe I was expecting too much. There simply wasn't any feature which jumped out and impressed me about BeOS, for an brand new OS I don't know whether this a good or bad thing. You decide.

My final thought?

Most of the time users only notice the application they're using...

... they only start to notice the OS when it goes wrong.

Hmmm... this explains a lot about about M$ Windoze. ;)