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BeOS Release 3.1
reviewed by Shawn FitzGerald

I was fairly excited when my review copy of BeOS came in the mail. I was interested in alternative operating systems for the Mac. I'm not displeased with MacOS, mind you, but I've been reading the rumors about the new MacOS for some time. Apple was thinking about buying Be as the core for the next generation MacOS.

BeOSA bit of history for those living under a rock: Apple has been plagued with problems developing a system to follow System 7. Sure, System 8 is nice, but it isn't exactly what they had in mind when the started. System 8 includes things from a project code-named Copland, but Copland is a bust. Apple had spent millions on it, and they weren't getting anywhere fast, so the guys upstairs decided they had to buy something quick. They were presented with three choices for the core of the new Macintosh OS: BeOS, NextStep, and (god help us) Windows NT. As you are probably aware, Apple purchased Next and acquired NextStep. They also reacquired, for good or ill, Steve Jobs.

But this really has nothing to do with BeOS does it? Well, yes it does because I wouldn't have been as interested in BeOS if I didn't know about all that other stuff. So, I came to Be with high expectations. Let's just say I was impressed with its power and its uselessness.

Okay, so calling Be useless is probably unfair, but for anyone other than a programmer it is little more than amusing. In these reviews I normally include things about installation and various trivial technical things that I find interesting. I won't bother this time because I wouldn't recommend anyone paying money for Be.

An OS is little more than a way for your computer to run programs, and there really aren't any programs for Be. Imagine how much you could do with your Mac if you only had the Finder to play with. True, Be does come with a small number of preinstalled applications, including a text editor and web browser. The browser, however, is not Netscape. It isn't even Internet Exploder. What it does, it does lightning fast (and I mean FAST!), but it doesn't support HTML 4 and it doesn't support any of the usual plugins.

I spent most of my time with Be in its web browser, looking at the Be site, trying to find something interesting to download. I downloaded several small applications, which were impressive but little more than ways of showing off what you could do with Be if you were a programmer.

I'm not a programmer but I can speak the lingo. I looked at the BeBall application that is included with the OS installation. BeBall makes a window with a ball bouncing around inside of it. It's the kind of thing you might learn how to code up if you read C++ for Idiots. "Look Ma! I made a ball bounce around!" You can open additional copies of the BeBall program, running simultaneously, and the ball will bounce from one window to the next. I'm just enough of a geek to be impressed by one object (the ball), being shared and passed between separate instances of the same program running in their own protected memory allocations. But really, as impressive as this is if you're a geek, it's still just a ball bouncing around on your screen.

Shawn's Recommendation:

BeOS, it was nice knowin' ya. I enjoyed almost frying my monitor into oblivion when you provided me a way to change my scan rate to anything. (Ever hear of 82.48Hz? No? Neither did my monitor) It seems, however, that we must part ways, because I just can't seem to do much with you. It's not you, it's me. I'm lazy and prefer my software written for me.

As an alternative OS, Be is certainly interesting. If you want modern OS performance on your Mac, however, you should just wait for MacOS X.

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Shawn FitzGerald is perhaps best known for his counter espionage work during the Cold War, placed in deep cover behind the Iron Curtain, and known only to the East Germans as der Raumdrache. While crediting Mr. FitzGerald solely with the collapse of International Communism may be stretching things, it is certain that you can thank him for the current revival in the preparation and eating of spaetzel.

The writer of this article welcomes your comments: