BeOS Spin-off Bites the Dust

This is a longer rant than I intended to make. I was going to write about this last week when the news was breaking that Zeta, which purported to be the legal offspring of BeOS, had (again) bitten the dust. I decided, though, it was too trivial to mess with. BeOS hasn’t been important for years. It won’t ever be.

As much as I liked BeOS — its speed and responsiveness, its fresh approach, its novelty, and being ahead of its time with its journaled file system, being oriented for multimedia, etc. — I understood the reality that it was built on a poor business model that really put all its eggs in one basket (trying to sell or license to Apple for the Mac). I haven’t been surprised that Palm or anyone else didn’t try to resurrect it because the demand just wasn’t there for it. The nails were in the coffin the day Steve Jobs returned to Apple and OS X’s development was tied to Mach/NeXT.

I replied to some questions while ago at OS News about why Access, the company claiming it owns the old Be intellectual properties, didn’t go after the small-time players involved in Zeta or other projects. In a nutshell, because there really was no financial interest to protect and no financial incentive to go after those involved in Zeta’s development or distribution.

From a business point of view, it’s no surprise Be withered and died and that Palm never even tried to improve it. It would have cost them more and it wouldn’t have ever paid for itself. From a business point of view, it’s no surprise others have failed — and at least as miserably — when trying to resurrect Be. Zeta went through two different distributors in recent months. The business reality finally hit the fan and it appears to be dead. (For now anyway. I have no doubt someone else will either try again or attempt to license or buy the Be IP from Access. They’ll fail, too.)

Looking at it from a technical point of view doesn’t address the business issues in the whole saga. It never caught on with enough people for anyone to make money with it. Changing personnel or distribution channels won’t change the economics. For all its appeal, it was a niche OS.

I’ll admit my admiration for those who’ve tried to recreate an open source BeOS-like environment. Some of the projects, though, only replicated the interface of BeOS — using a Linux kernel with Be-like icons doesn’t translate into the Be API, Tracker, etc. It was still Linux.

Haiku is getting closer to being a legitimate operating system. I haven’t tried it because I haven’t cared to mess with it until it’s mature enough that it can load into its own partition and be booted on its own. I follow its development, but I’m happy using Linux.

I wish Haiku lots of success. I know there’s a loyal group of ex-Be (and many still using it) users who’ll love it. I’m not convinced, though, that it’s the better mousetrap to which everyone will be drawn. The future isn’t on the desktop, it’s in wireless devices.

And I think that’s one of the great ironies: Be paid no homage to the past with support for legacy hardware — BeOS was intended only for current hardware. In recreating an open source BeOS, will Haiku be relevant to our increasingly smaller wireless future or will it be relegated to our increasingly archaic desktops?

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