Government // Enterprise Architecture
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2/18/2009
12:50 PM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Another Line Of Haiku (The OS, That Is)

Once upon a time, there was BeOS. The brainchild of former Apple alum Jean-Louis Gassée, it looked for a time like a genuine alternative to both Windows and Mac, but its star fizzled. An attempt to create an open-source clone of BeOS, Haiku, is underway -- but to what end, you might ask? Don't we have enough platforms?

Once upon a time, there was BeOS. The brainchild of former Apple alum Jean-Louis Gassée, it looked for a time like a genuine alternative to both Windows and Mac, but its star fizzled. An attempt to create an open-source clone of BeOS, Haiku, is underway -- but to what end, you might ask? Don't we have enough platforms?

Even if here's no burning need for YAOSOS (Yet Another Open Source Operating System), what there is to be seen of Haiku even at this primordial stage is pretty impressive. It boots at warp speed -- mere seconds to a full desktop with network access -- and is now capable of running apps compiled with GCC 4.3.3 (e.g., Firefox and the rest of the day-to-day programs most of us use).

The cynic in me thinks this is an exercise in futility, since there's already Linux and its attendant wealth of apps. BeOS isn't talked about much anymore, so why restart something that barely made a dent to begin with? Possibly because tiny, light, fast and free are all in things right now, with low-end hardware being the target and every-device-as-a-possible-desktop being the stakes.

Haiku OS
The Haiku OS desktop in action.

I also sense the "Field of Dreams" strategy at work: If you build it, they will come. For one, Haiku, and BeOS before it, are as straightforward for the programmer as they are for the user. Build an environment that people will want to program for and they'll flock to it. That said, I suspect it's development tools like IDEs and not APIs themselves that draw in programmers most readily and quickly. Another key difference between Haiku and Linux is licensing. Where Linux uses the GPL, Haiku is available through the far more permissive terms of the MIT License, which asks nothing more than retaining mention of the original author's copyright notice in the source code.

(Side note. I've gotten into heated discussions with others about whether permissive or reciprocal licensing is better for the software community as a whole. The Permissive Argument run something like this: "The less restrictions on a piece of code, the more likely it'll be used by all regardless of the circumstances." The Reciprocal Argument, however, takes a different tack: "Asking people to reciprocate with their code means changes are made public, and a rising tide lifts all boats." You could go around in circles all day arguing about which approach works better and probably not get a straight answer.)

What's most important, though, is that the Haiku developers are not simply trying to pick up where BeOS left off, but make it incrementally relevant to what's going on right now. As long as it's not just a nostalgia project, it ought to bear nifty fruit. In the meantime, though, I'm sticking with Fedora and Windows as having the most immediate utility.


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