After years of quiet but steady development, Haiku OS finally has its first public alpha. Here comes a new competitor for the desktop -- not just with Windows or OS X, but Linux,too.
The Haiku Project rose from the ashes of the widely-admired but commercially-unsuccessful BeOS. There was a lot to admire: it was clean, lean, ran fast, had great programmer friendliness and had been written from the perspective of end-user access. And then it died, and what seemed like a great project came to very little indeed. Years later, the original BeOS APIs were reincarnated in the Haiku Project -- but as a starting point for something with potentially greater reach.
I've been following Haiku's progress on and off for a couple of years now. It's still very limited in terms of hardware support, applications, etc., but the pace of development is starting to pick up. Both the OS itself and the apps for it: a surprising amount of material has been ported out of the wealth of open source software available for Lin / Win / Mac. Firefox (in its Bon Echo 2.0 incarnation) "ships" with the current B1 of Haiku itself, so you can at least get connected and do some basic web-based work with it. (Not that you'd want to do anything production-quality in Haiku yet; this is an alpha-quality OS.)
The original incarnations of the OS didn't even have an .ISO image for end-user tryout: you had to download a disk image, put that into a VMware instance and boot that, and then hope whatever hardware configuration you had in your VM was compatible. The current alpha provides an actual bootable .ISO with an installer, so you can burn it to a CD or just boot it up directly in a virtual machine. (Other disk image formats are also available.)
Two things about Haiku stand in stark contrast to Linux. The first is the licensing -- it's far more liberally licensed than Linux, and so lends itself to being shaped and implemented in far broader ways. The other is how Haiku is developed -- as a total desktop stack, rather than a kernel plus userland tools plus windowing system plus window manager, etc., etc. It's already made a great deal of difference in terms of the way the whole thing feels and works. It embodies elegance, even if some of the individual windowing/UI metaphors are a bit aged and could use some slicking-up.
I'm looking forward to a 1.0 release of Haiku with the kind of enthusiasm that many people exhibited for the Windows 7 betas. In a few days I'll be writing once again with some details about getting it running on minimal hardware (another of its selling points) and in a virtual machine.
InformationWeek has published an in-depth report on Google's upcoming Chrome OS. Download the report here (registration required).