Putting Things in Perspective

By Stanislav Kelman


Initially published in the Beetle Magazine

Also mentioned in What is BeOS? on whatis.com

Be has done more than anybody could have expected from it just a couple of years ago. Not only did they put a fast and surprisingly stable operating system out on the market, they have managed to port it to two hardware platforms. What is equally important, the guys at Be have had a good track record of delivering on their promises. Now, that's definitely encouraging, if you ask me.


To illustrate the above point, let's remember how much trouble IBM, a computing superpower, had with porting OS/2 to PowerPC. After years of coding and hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D investment, it never even saw the light of day. So, how could a 50+ person company reach a goal that the largest computer maker on the planet failed to achieve? Perhaps Jean-Louis Gassée knows something that Lou Gerstner didn't.

On the other end of the OS spectrum lies Linux. It is a unique creation of what may be the largest volunteer driven hi-tech project team in the history of mankind. By now, Linux has been ported to every consumer electronic device remotely resembling a computer. Rumor has it, there is even a version for PalmPilot, and I will not be surprised if somebody attempts to run a Pilot-based Apache webserver. Now, that kind of platform support does come at a price. Linux installation problems have become a large part of the modern day folklore and it still takes a true geek to manage dozens of scattered configuration files.


Nevertheless, there is at least one thing that OS/2 and Linux have in common. There are virtually thousands of utilities that have been written to make using these operating systems more pleasant. However, as we all know, it is not the utilities that make us productive. In fact, most utilities are simply a temporary replacement for the features that are not yet properly implemented within the system itself.

Nobody has ever asked me if there is a BeOS utility that makes the folders "splash" while opening. Not a single soul has inquired if there is an anti-virus program for BeOS. Let's face it, that's not what really matters. A hundred of the most wonderful file managers cannot substitute for a full-featured draw and paint package. Understandably, hacking the kernel is much more fun than working on the footnote feature of a word processor. Perhaps, that's why so many Linux advocates are still stuck using LaTeX.


Interestingly enough, on more than one occasion I've heard about people migrating from high power UNIX workstations to NT boxes citing a desire to use their professional apps, such as CAD, and the latest Office software on the same machine. The notion of a certain platform being "good enough" is what motivates a lot of computer purchasing decisions.

Fortunately, most hardware platforms are capable of running more than one operating system. Now that BeOS has the two most popular ones covered, all Be really needs to do is convince the masses that there is a compelling reason to run BeOS alongside of Windows or MacOS. Even if there is no BeOS-based application that matches the power of Photoshop, there might be a few other reasons to keep BeOS around.


In my case, BeOS makes a pretty good Web browsing platform. For one thing, NetPositive feels quite a bit faster than any of the three MacOS-based browsers that I have. That is not to mention the fact that it takes considerably less time to load BeOS than to launch Communicator on the Mac side. In a way, this is like having a sports car sitting next to a family sedan in your garage, even if you only take if for a spin on the weekends.

On the other hand, unlike sports cars, BeOS is known for an extraordinary ease of maintenance. This is clearly not true with Linux or, for that matter, pretty much any other OS that I know of. The ability to upgrade the kernel at a click of a button and without a single reboot is truly amazing. In other words, the effort that it takes to keep BeOS healthy and up-to-date is close to negligible.


Finally, it is nice to know that there is a single dedicated company that assumes the responsibility for continuous system development and has all the financial incentives to do so. This is most definitely not the case with OS/2 or Linux. We can only express our hope that the folks at Be can effectively utilize their advantages in the marketplace. After all, exceeding our expectations is what they do best.

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