Do You Have An Old Hitachi Computer? You Might Just Have BeOS Without Realizing It

There was a moment in the years spanning the move from 16-bit platforms to 32-bit, during which it looked for a moment as though there might be a few new operating system contenders making a mark on the desktop.

A 1990s Hitachi Flora Prius PC, from the Hitachi press release.
Does this PC look familiar to you?

This was the period that gave rise to the “Year of Linux on the desktop” meme as the open source contender just wasn’t ready for the general public, but we all know what happened. The various commercial contenders slipped by the wayside or survived by the skin of their teeth as enthusiast or niche platforms, while Microsoft Windows steamrollered all before it except for the walled garden of Apple users.

One of the players was BeOS, a powerful multimedia OS that might have had a chance if it could have persuaded OEMs to ship it on some PCs, but in that endeavour it had no luck. Or so everyone thought, but [Thom Holwerda] reports on the fascinating tale of a PC that shipped with BeOS, but not in a way anyone could easily use.

It seems that even being seen to talk to the folks from Be was enough to ensure an OEM received a visit from Microsoft goons sales representatives so even though the rival OS was offered for free it received no PC takers. This was the received opinion, but it turns out that the one manufacturer which did include BeOS was Hitachi, in Japan. Their Flora Prius PC was a Pentium II equipped white box typical of late-90s multimedia hardware, and though it booted into Windows it also had a BeOS installation on board that probably very few owners would have even realised existed. It seems Hitachi did the deal with Be but didn’t install the required bootloader to use the Be partition. A Flora Prius owner could run the software if they were prepared to follow some instructions on the Be website and download a floppy image, but it seems very few did so.

All this leads to a fascinating challenge for today’s BeOS enthusiasts, to locate a surviving Flora Prius PC if any can still be found with an intact BeOS partition, and activate the only factory PC BeOS install. We know we have readers in Japan who almost certainly have an eye for an old computer, can any of you help them in this quest?

We’ve touched on BeOS in the past on its own BeBox platform and the elusive Sony eVilla internet appliance.

43 thoughts on “Do You Have An Old Hitachi Computer? You Might Just Have BeOS Without Realizing It

  1. I actually tried BeOS at some point. It was amazing – at least for the few things I could do. I remember on Windows (95?) I couldn’t have MP3s playing on Winamp and scroll some files in the explorer window without Audio skipping samples. BeOS was smooth in everything I did.

      1. Or priorities. Get on a Celeron N3050 system that almost feels useable. Then Windows update kicks on in the background and the mouse pointer can’t even move without skipping.

      2. To be fair, Apple and Linux were no better.
        Mac OS 9 was still built upon on the same construction that originally used cooperative multi-tasking. Or in other words, it was like Windows 9x.

        And Linux? Better not talk about it. It had no proper audio system (OSS was a joke, no acceleration / mixing), used VESA graphics drivers and couldn’t use USB. MP3? Proprietary! No support. Same goes for video codecs. Linux was junk. Period.

        At the time, BeOS was the only true desktop user OS. It had fine multi-tasking, multimedia support and no *nix-nonsense. No silly case-sensitive-ness, no user levels. No SUDO. Unfortunately, it didn’t make it.

        1. Apple was the worst by far.

          Windows 3 did preemptive multitasking, just not between windows apps. Only between DOS sessions and windows. 95 was already better, 98OSR2 much better, but windows NT was already there.

          Linux was always preemptive/protected memory, just a server OS. Still true.

          MacOS was the retarded one. No protected memory or pre-emptive multitasking until it was replaced by a renamed NextOS. All while user smug was going strong as ever, and internal Apple projects to build a real OS are failing due to incompetent management (Who was the frog that ran the original 8 project into the ground, there was a book about how bad it was. Somehow he got another job. I knew someone who worked for him at HealthHero, he hadn’t learned a GD thing.)

          Which brings us back to Bee. Apple wanted to buy Bee for the OS, but Bee’s owners were smoking crack. So Apple bought Next instead. Good choice for them. Got Jobs back. Apple needs an asshole at the top or they just devolve to pure marketing. See current apple product line.

          As to the FA. Bee was a powerPC computer. At the time Bee told me there was no chance BeeOS would _ever_ run on a x86. By the time they had did the x86 port they were years dead. BeOS shipped with mac clones, but nobody even booted it once.

          They were clearly smoking the PowerPC crack (as was common among Apple uses of the day). Remember how power was better because it had better FP performance, was the only thing that mattered. Until the next gen, when it was better because it had better integer math performance, was the only thing that mattered…In fact Power was better in every way, until the day Apple shipped a x86 mac, then suddenly…What can you say about MacIdiots?

          The Windows of the time of BeeOS was NT4.0 though. Which did everything BeeOS did, only better.

          Reality Bites is just repeating derp he heard somewhere.

          1. “Windows 3 did preemptive multitasking, just not between windows apps. Only between DOS sessions and windows. 95 was already better, 98OSR2 much better, but windows NT was already there.”

            Windows 9x was a stability nightmare, a mess constructed of VXDs. 98SE was one of the less worse incarcerations, though.

            Windows 3.. More or less, yes. That’saa bit simplyfied, though. Windows 3.x had three kernal types: Real, Standard, 386 Enhanced.
            DOS applications are the only type that’s being multitasked here, and only if Windows 3.x runs in 386 Enhanced Mode.

            But that part of Windows isn’t really Windows (DLLs, WinAPI etc). It’s rather the Protected-Mode Extender that does the multi-tasking here. Okay, the graphics driver, scheduler and PS/2 mouse/keyboard driver are involved into this to some degree, too, so video and peripheral can be virtualized.

            The heart of Windows 3.x is still entirely cooperatively multitasked, though, I think (it’s a message based system).

            That being said, I’ve found Windows 3.x to be pretty stable in 16-Bit Protected Mode. More than Windows 95. I’ve seen only a handful of bluescreens on 3.1, but a lot on Windows 9x. So I wouldn’t go so far and say that Windows 95 was great and superior. Like Windows NT 3.5x, Windows 3.1 had its place.

          2. My recollection is that when Motorola was in the process of abandoning Power PC development, that left only IBM as a supplier, which could provide neither adequate volume nor low enough price for a consumer PC. X86 was the obvious choice and Apple had to jump.

      3. Back in the day, Ford ran OS2 on a number of machines at their Wixom plant. It was WAY better than Windows NT, and WAY less prone to crashing. When things did go south, the application would crash, but leave every other running process unmolested. I remember seeing a vendor demo of four simultaneous video streams (I think it was the “Blues Brothers”) playing on a ‘486 machine running OS2. When I clicked to start a word processor, it cranked right up without perceptible delay.

        One of Microsoft’s greatest accomplishments, it seems, has been to dominate the market not by producing the best product, but by convincing users that mediocrity and poor performance is to be expected.

        1. Ford is your ‘appeal to authority’ regarding computers?

          Given it was Ford, I assume they were running OS2 in 2021 and the NT they were comparing it to was 3.0.

          Ford is not known for tech.

          1. Hi there. Just a minor correction.. NT 3.1 was first NT.

            Also, NT 3.x was more stable than its succesors. NT 4.0 moved GDI and graphics drivers to kernal space, for performance improvement. Back in the 90s, this caused some complaints by professionals. That’s also why the default VGA drivers was used so often. It was written by Microsoft and well tested.

            By contrast, both OS/2 and NT 3.x ran these things in user space, were they belong. So a bad graphics driver couldn’t crash the system.

            In this respect, comparing OS/2 and “NT 3.0” would have been very fair, actually. It wasn’t until Windows Vista that GDI/graphics stuff went back to user space.

            Unfortunately, Windows Vista had introduced a new DRM scheme, which required graphics drivers to respond every fractions of a second. Otherwise, the graphics drivers was reseted. This was made to prohibit hacks and unauthorized screenshots (Blu Ray players etc). AFAIK.

          2. Here’s A Funny “Ford” Story From 1986. I was at a conference, and a Ford Engineer was also there. He Spewed A Bunch of BS about the upcoming “Holographic” Memory Cube for the ignition modules. I didn’t know much, but I knew that was BS. The Intel guys there refused to speak with anyone. I’m not sure what there were afraid of. It was a fun day.

      4. Great, now I’m reminded of my old BeOS treasure trove sealed up in my basement – old retail R5 boxes, civilization, gobe productive, BeOS bible, an old beia tablet… thanks, I’m going to lose a month of free time fiddling with it all now.

    1. I loved BeOS, though it never became my daily driver. It was so much more performant than the windows of the same vintage, and was much more polished than linux at that time. I don’t remember why I didn’t run it full time, probably there was some windows-only stuff I needed…

      1. There were a few opengl hardware accelerated games on Beos, unreal tournament and one other.

        Haiku uses mesagl for software rendering, and once they have hardware acceleration, games and other applications like Medo will automatically support it without much effort, possibly just a recompile.

      2. BeOS was my daily driver when I went back to college in the late 90’s -early 00’s. R4.5 for the win baby!

        Lacking an Office port from Microsoft was perceived as a big problem at the time, but GoBe Productive was a fantastic alternative.

        Eventually I picked up a laptop so I could run some OS-specific CAD tools (I am a computer engineer, no one made any subject matter relevant software for BeOS)

        I miss that OS like it was a person who mattered an awful lot to me. Still use it as an example of software statemachines when mentoring younger engineers: Windows includes a state where the mouse cursor turns into an hourglass; MacOS has the pinwheel of doom… in these states the system isn’t capable of accepting user input so you can’t even click ‘cancel’ to abort the task that caused this state to be entered… BeOS didn’t have such a state. Sure you could drop into kernel panic or something, every OS can crash, but not ever OS includes an intentionally designed “I’m too busy to respond to the user” state and BeOS is the only one I’ve known to fully avoid it :)

    2. BeOS was pretty as I was a fan of isometric since the days of Ultima, but I felt it didn’t add much that we were already able to accomplish with a Video Toaster (at least for my needs).

  2. i remember BeOS, and microsoft behaving like gangster criminals to prevent OEMs from shipping anything other than MS_Windows which basically killed BeOS, my first PC was a Gateway with Win98se and in less than a year i had Linux Slackware-8.0 running on it,

    1. They have been ruthless from funding SCO to attack commercial _users_ of Linux to going after the One Laptop Per Child project by spending many millions of dollars to sign exclusive Windows contracts with every Department of Education worldwide which had signed MOU’s with the OLPC group. Everything which wasn’t running Windows was/is a threat to them and they attack with billions of dollars if necessary to protect the position of their OS.

    2. Be was two years dead before they did a x86 port.

      You can blame MS for a lot, but Be’s death was self inflected. They were all set to be bought by apple (as planned), but greed. They priced themselves so Apple could just say F it and buy Next instead. That was the moment Be died. It just shambled on for a while, looking for brains to eat.

  3. There never was any doubt the worst OS would win, bill gates the robber baron made sure of it.
    Sad that the time wasted by bill’s ever present uselessness can’t be invoiced to the epic failure.

  4. I have an old ThinkPad from the 90s that I installed BeOS on back then. It still runs and I still take it for a spin once in a while. Even on an ancient machine like that it is still way more responsive than most of what passes for GUIs today

    The thing with BeOS is that it did not work with some sort of central event loop. It consisted of C++ processes and message passing architecture AFAIK. That is why it is so snappy.

  5. Watch out…. The M$ fanboyz will be here any second and take names. They
    will be sending nasty letters that mention lawsuits.
    I moved to linux F/T over 13 years ago and NEVER looked back.

    1. Concur. The only thing that has changed for me is the distros I use. Started with debian and still use it on certain computers, but my main ones are either Manjaro or Arch (just depends how lazy I want to be on the install)

    2. Do you remember the court documents which included emails stating that Microsoft executives had lists of email accounts which they put onto SPAM lists as a way to punish those people for not being friendly to Microsoft? The rotten nature of anti-competition was/is embedded in Microsoft. When they paid members of their Microsoft Partners program to join the ISO org to stuff the vote for MS OOXML as an ISO standard it was the last straw.

  6. “Microsoft Windows steamrollered all before it”

    Not Microsoft. Well, not directly.
    There was never a real competition between “alternative” OSs and Windows.

    Most people ran what the OEM installed. For most that’s just all there was to it. Windows, in the late 90s easier to install than Linux or BeOS? Give me a break. Maybe easier than Slackware but not easier than anything actually made for new users. There wasn’t much to installing Be. And Linux users had Mandrake.

    Windows was easier to use? How many times did each of us have to answer the question.. “yes, you have to press start to shut down…”

    Then if someone did try.. Adobe. Flash was the web. Try to use the web without Flash and good luck. Even simple menus that should have been plain html buttons were Flash cause web developers of the day were assholes. Adobe bought Flash and discontinued all but their Windows and Mac flavors. And who could forget their flagship? Hell will freeze over before Adobe releases Photoshop for an OS that doesn’t suck.

    1. That’s what this story is about – Be were courting OEMs to get BeOS installed along side Windows, but Microsoft threatened to revoke their ability to install Windows if they did so, thereby ensuring that WIndows was the only OS OEMs would install.

    2. “Not Microsoft. Well, not directly.”

      Of course it wasn’t direct, Microsoft put a lot of effort in avoiding a fair fight. They threatened OEMs to ensure they didn’t offer alternatives.

      “Most people ran what the OEM installed”

      You make it sound like the OEMs had a choice. Microsoft made sure they did not.

  7. Do you have an android device? If so, it probably runs code that was written by ex-Be software engineers.
    Be was sold to Palm in August 2001 (and that’s when I got laid off from working there), Palm changed to PalmSource which was bought by Google.

    1. And vendors who had Windows contracts were threatened if they sold even PDAs with anything other than WindowsCE. No doubt that include PalmOS devices. A project manager from one of the top PC hardware vendors once told a group of us that his team had made a PDA which ran JAVA on the hardware, cleanroom Java OS, and a full PDA software stack on top of that but he was told to shut the project down because they would lose Microsoft ad funding if they shipped it. Microsoft charged $$ for a Windows license shipped on a PC but they kicked back more $$ when you advertised they were Windows PCs. The days of baby “does anyone remember Windows” Bill Gates and dance monkeyboy dance Steve Balmer and crew.

      1. Oh wow. I remember those circumstances. I was at an event at their offices in Manhattan a very long while back when that came up. Someone there, raised a doubt on that issue and suffice to say the response was much the same.

    2. We know the long list of dumb decisions the Palm people did to sink their company. Sell off the operating system that only runs on one platform, then refuse to license the next version? Thus screwing themselves out of sales of PDAs and smartphones with Palm OS 6, screwing ACCESS out of license fees from Palm for OS 6, and screwing all their customers and software developers out of a platform to write apps for.

      Run off the people who started Palm, they form Handspring and start making better PDAs than Palm. Get them to come back, kill off their better product line.

      Send out review units of the Lifedrive with a 5 gig Seagate Microdrive *with cache RAM* and get good reviews, but ship it to retail with a 4 gig Hitachi Microdrive with no cache and get savaged in the reviews for how slow it is. Bait and Switch backfires. (I have one, with a 4 gig compact flash.)

      Have several PDAs with WiFi *capable* of WPA2-PSK but only release a WiFi driver for ONE of them, the Tungsten T|X and only for “Enterprise” users. I’ve tried putting it on a LifeDrive and a Tugnsten E2. They have WPA2 capable hardware but the T|X driver won’t work.

      Split the company into hardware and software divisions. Again, One OS, One Platform. Easiest to make it work when everything is under one roof.

      Start making PDAs and Smartphones with an OS from The Enemy. Microsoft.

      Do a pivot and create an all new OS but do *one* smart thing and include an emulator to run the many thousands of Palm OS 5 apps. The customers are happy. The future looks bright, and they can still ‘wear their old shades’ while waiting for new WebOS versions of old apps.

      Apparently continue to piss off ACCESS who yanks the Palm OS 5 license for the emulator in WebOS. Thousands of apps that formerly worked on Palms new phones no longer work. Nobody cares enough to even try hacking the emulator back in from the previous version.

      Palm customers flee to Android, iPhone, Blackberry, possibly even some to Windows Phone. They’re tired of being jerked around by the gang of fools at Palm.

      Sell out to Hewlett Packard which almost immediately mercy kills Palm. FIN

      If nobody has dug into all the mess of Palm Inc and written a book on how to destroy a company, step by step, someone should.

  8. Huh.
    Ironically I managed to get Be, its personal release number 5 something to run on my Dell Dimension. I’d also managed to find an amazing treasure trove of details on a (now closed) mirror based in Australia. Those items were successfully used to make Be run properly for a while on that same computer. It also runs and still runs Slackware Linux, currently it runs version 11 properly. They also practically insisted that the user make a boot disk for that to work properly. Be got short shrift thanks to Microsoft being overzealous, and typically why I lump them in with a certain Empire, I’ll work them but that’s al.

  9. The system I tried BeOS on had an AWE32 ISA sound card. AWE32 was on the supported hardware list. What that list did not mention was the *first version* of the AWE32 wasn’t supported. Only the PnP versions. They would not put a note to that effect on their supported hardware list, nor would Be or anyone else working on BeOS drivers do anything to make the Non-PnP version work.

    At the time an ISA non-PnP AWE32 wasn’t too old of a card to flat out ignore, or at least say wasn’t supported.

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