The computing world has changed considerably since the first Apple in the late '70s. Processors have moved from 8-bits to 32 and even 64, as have operating systems. Prices have dropped for computers, and users can do on personal computers that which only high-powered workstations were suited for a few years ago. The software running on today's destops is different than that of yester-year, both in size and function.
As the power and capabilities of hardware and software have increased, so has the bloat that accompanies the software. Instead of clean rewrites, developers often simply add to a previous piece of software, patching here and there where necessary. They also have to take into account backwards compatability whenever a new format and/or standard arrives on the scene. Operating systems that are out-of-date and not optimally configured for either today's hardware or the multi-media programs available today often result.
The BeOS was "new"—it started from scratch, and didn't worry about backwards compatability with prior platforms. As boot, issue 15, stated:
BeOS supporters say Windows is gross and bloated, the MacOS is doomed by its past, and Unix is a big hairy mess. The BeOS, on the other hand, is fast, small, powerful, modern, simple and beautiful. [...] The BeOS was inspired by the power of Unix, the ease of Macintosh, and the powerful media features of the Amiga.
That is, Be did not grow out of any existing platform; it started fresh, and is much better prepared to take advantage of today's hardware than most of its competitors.
Be was founded by Jean-Louis Gassée, former president of Apple's product division, in 1990. First released on custom "BeBoxes" in 1995, the BeOS is no longer a "newcomer." When the BeBox did not garner much support, Be was ported to the PowerMac. For a time, the BeOS was thought to be an option for Apple's new OS, but instead Apple bought NeXT, turning NeXTstep into Rhapsody, and then OS X. The BeOS also runs on standard x86 PCs. Be made a decision to port to the Intel architecture, but the actual move was sped up when Intel "donated" engineers to help with the task.
In terms of software the particular strongpoint of the BeOS is in media—3D, live-audio and video.
In the late 1990s the BeOS was one of the most advanced OSes out there. The BeOS is fully multi-tasking and designed with extensive multi-threading in mind, making it even more efficient, responsive, stable and fast. Support for symmetric multi-processing (SMP) is another feature, something that the BeOS does better than much of its competition. Be is also heavily object oriented, the APIs are logical, and from the user interface to the programming environment, the BeOS was designed with simplicity (powerful, logical, clean, not dumbed-down or weakened in any way) in mind.
Reminiscent of UNIX, Be keeps the command line, but also has a clean-looking, intuitive GUI. Due to its POSIX compliance, it should be easy to port many UNIX programs to the BeOS, and the BeOS also supports OpenGL. There are a number of applications for the Be environment, from media to productivity products, to the internet; mozilla has been ported, for example.
The BeOS runs on (certain) PowerMacs and x86 computer. “SheepShaver” allows the MacOS (7.x and 8.x) to run under the BeOS on PowerMacs.
The BeOS faces several hurdles.
When BeOS first appeared its newness limited support for esoteric hardware, and as a relatively new platform, there were fewer applications for Be than for other OSes. Since the introduction of the BeOS other mainstream OSes have provided more and better multimedia support, improved user interfaces, etc. Apple effectively locked Be out of the Mac market, and in the PC realm Microsoft is the proverbial 900lb. gorilla.
Perhaps as a result, in 2000 Be shifted focus to "internet appliances"—the BeOS then became a free download. While this sounds like a positive development, late 2001 brought more ominous news; as the Be, Inc. site states:
At the special meeting of stockholders, held on November 12, 2001, Be's stockholders approved the sale of substantially all of its intellectual property and other technology assets to Palm, Inc.
To Be or not to Be has been answered in the negative. While you can still download the BeOS for free, the source code has not been released, and there are no planned commercial updates.
Developers liked the BeOS, as did (do!) many users.
As a result, a relatively active community of BeOS developers and users has sprung up. The BeOS is still an innovative and impressive piece of work (though to be honest one must realize that even before its sale to Palm, Inc., the BeOS was in need of updating, and perhaps even rewriting—computers and the computing world had changed a lot since the BeOS was first itroduced).
If the BeOS is something that might interest you, check out the following links.