While I was up in the mountains this weekend, I missed the greatest news since Duke Nukem was launched: Haiku Beta 1 just went live. Naturally enough, as soon as I had a free evening, I had to boot it up.
The install screen that greets you after booting the Haiku beta is not too surprising. It’s a small, self-contained installation program of which I wanted to grab a screenshot for you, but the installation process took far less time than it took me to reach for the screenshot app.
Seriously, it took about five seconds to install the whole thing, which includes the entire operating system + sources, a set of command line tools that should be familiar to any Unix user, and a bunch of applications, including a surprisingly able WebKit-based browser, WebPositive.
It takes a similar amount of time (i.e. seconds) to boot into the system. The BeBook shortcut is bound to bring back some good memories.
Unsurprisingly, so is the BeBook itself.
The BeBook is a large reason why such a small community of developers managed to produce so many applications. Graciously released by ACCESS Co., who hold the BeOS IP (whatever it is they might be doing with it), the BeBook is an extraordinarily well-written, concise and yet comprehensive guide to the Be API. Back In The Day™, BeOS’ developer documentation was second to Windows alone; and it was pretty much the only material you needed to get started writing BeOS applications. It took 15 year-old me about three or four days to whip up a primitive Paint clone, at a time when it could take three or four days of reading GTK source code to figure out where to start writing a primitive Paint clone.
BeOS used to have remarkable real-time capabilities. I have not yet tried Haiku’s latest beta on real hardware, so the attempt pictured above is not very relevant, but I figured it would be a sacrilege to write something about a BeOS-family OS without linking to that demo.
Haiku has a remarkably large application base. Last time I tried must have been 2009 or 2010, if not earlier, and while many older applications were available, the selection was definitely smaller.
There is a central AppStore-like thing called HaikuDepot, which does everything an AppStore would do except track you and annoy developers. Pictured above is yours truly preparing to install ALE, which could as well be called “How an independent developer writing stuff in their free time wrote the tool that the web industry can’t write yet despite being the only tool it desperately needs like yesterday”.
Is Haiku important today? It is to me, and to many other hobbyists, absolutely. It’s not a matter of resurrecting BeOS, a system which has been dead and burried for nearly twenty years now, and which never had much of a chance to begin with. It’s a matter of programming for the sheer joy of programming; not polishing CVs, not gathering Github contributions, not gathering material for holier than thou art posts on HN and Reddit.
It is also a remarkable proof of just how much an independent community can achieve, in an era when there are few such communities left. Today, when well-funded foundations can employ full-time developers, UX designers and IP lawyers to work on free software projects, it’s eye-opening to see how much a team backed by virtually no commercial interests can bring to the table, working on nothing but passion and nostalgia.
I have not written Be API code in about fifteen years now. Perhaps it would not hurt to see if I still remember anything.