Haiku OS: The Open Source BeOS You Can Daily Drive In 2024

Haiku is one of those open source operating systems that seem to be both exceedingly well-known while flying completely under the radar. Part of this is probably due to it being an open source version and continuation of the Be Operating System (BeOS). Despite its strong feature set in the 1990s, BeOS never got much love in the wider computer market. Nevertheless, it has a strong community that after twenty-two years of development has now reached a point where you can daily drive it, according to the [Action Retro] channel on YouTube.

One point where Haiku definitely scores points is with the super-fast installation and boot. [Action Retro] demonstrates this on real hardware, and we can confirm that it boots very fast in VirtualBox on a low-end Intel N100-based host system as well. With the recently introduced QtWebEngine-based Falkon browser (formerly known as QupZilla) even JavaScript-heavy sites like YouTube and retro Mac emulators work well. You can even get a Minecraft client for Haiku.

Although [Action Retro] notes that 3D acceleration is still a work-in-progress for Haiku, his 2014-era AMD system smoothly played back 1080p YouTube videos. Although not addressed in the video, Haiku is relatively easy to port existing software to, as it is POSIX-compatible. There is a relatively modern GCC 11.2 compiler in the Beta 4 release from 2022, backed up by solid API documentation. Who doesn’t want to take a poke at a modern take on the OS that nearly became MacOS?

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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.

SheepShaver: A Cross-Platform Tool For Retro Enthusiasts

The world of desktop computing has coalesced into what is essentially a duopoly, with Windows machines making up the bulk of the market share and Apple carving out a dedicated minority. This relatively stable state hasn’t always existed, though, as the computing scene even as late as the 90s was awash with all kinds of competing operating systems and various incompatible hardware. Amiga, Unix, OS/2, MacOS, NeXT, BeOS, as well as competing DOSes, were all on the table at various points.

If you’ve still got a box running one of these retro systems, SheepShaver might be able to help expand your software library. It’s not the sort of virtualization that we’re used to in the modern world, with an entire operating system running on a sanctioned-off part of your system. But SheepShaver does allow you to run software written for MacOS 7.5.2 thru 9.0.4 in a different environment. Unix and Linux are both supported, as well as Mac OS X, Windows NT, 2000, and XP, and the enigmatic BeOS. Certain configurations allow applications to run natively without any emulation at all, and there is plenty of hardware support built-in as well.

For anyone running retro hardware from the late 90s or early 00s, this could be just the ticket to get an application running that wasn’t ever supported on one of these machines. As for the name, it’s a play on another piece of software called ShapeShifter which brought a Mac-II emulator to the Amiga. SheepShaver has been around since the late 90s, too, so we’re surprised that we haven’t featured it before since it is such a powerful tool for cross-platform compatibility for computers of this era. Even if all you are hanging on to is an old BeBox.

BeOS: The Alternate Universe’s Mac OS X

You’re likely familiar with the old tale about how Steve Jobs was ousted from Apple and started his own company, NeXT. Apple then bought NeXT and their technologies and brought Jobs back as CEO once again. However, Jobs’ path wasn’t unique, and the history of computing since then could’ve gone a whole lot different.

In 1990, Jean-Louis Gassée, who replaced Jobs in Apple as the head of Macintosh development, was also fired from the company. He then also formed his own computer company with the help of another ex-Apple employee, Steve Sakoman. They called it Be Inc, and their goal was to create a more modern operating system from scratch based on the object-oriented design of C++, using proprietary hardware that could allow for greater media capabilities unseen in personal computers at the time.

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