I have every reason to suspect that my story is a rather typical
one and therefore might serve as a good example. Hence, I would like
to start with a brief account of how I became so interested in the
If memory serves me, my love-and-hate relationship with BeOS
originated in early 1997, while I was still a big OS/2 advocate and
a proud member of Team
OS/2 (may it rest in peaceÖ). At that time, a group of
enthusiastic representatives of Be, Inc. was touring the country
showing off their brand new dual PowerPC 603e machine called the BeBox.
Everybody who happened to come to their on-campus
demonstrations was blown away by its capabilities. It was a
desktop supercomputer that simply had no equal.
About a year later, it became crystal clear that OS/2 Warp 4 was
a total flop. Desperately seeking a new refuge from MS Windows, I
decided to switch to MacOS (a totally separate story that I have meticulously
documented elsewhere). Subsequently, as I was just a poor
grad student, I got myself a basic Motorola StarMax 3000/240 "clone"
machine. It also so happened that BeOS PR2 came out around that
time. Knowing that it was compatible with my new computer and still
remembering my original impression of BeOS, I downloaded and
installed it. Needless to say that once again I was amazed by its
speed and power, even while running off a Zip disk.
Shortly thereafter, I joined a local BUG (Be Users
Group) and became an active crusader for the cause. In fact, at the
time we were so convinced that BeOS was "The Next Big Thing," that a
friend of mine and I organized a little start-up business venture
called BeShop, Inc. I
also moved my personal site to a new domain, LetItBe.org, which was
supposed to become a double tribute to BeOS and the Beatles.
Anyway, in late March 1998, when BeOS Release 3 first came out
with support for both Intel and PowerPC platforms, many of us
thought that Be has accomplished the impossible. For a brief moment
it seemed that advanced multimedia desktop computing was about to
become accessible to everyone. And, Iíll tell you, it almost felt as
if the whole PC revolution of the late seventies was happening all
Exactly 24 months ago, still being overwhelmed with all
the potential for BeOS taking the market by storm, I wrote a
little editorial piece singing praises to the operating
system and its developers. The article was originally presented on
August 10, 1998 in the Beetle Magazine online.
Unfortunately, from that point on, it pretty much all went
downhill.Part 2: The Fall
It wasnít long before it became obvious that, despite all the
efforts on the part of Be, the developer support was not gaining
critical mass. Commercial quality applications just didnít
materialize, and those that came out did not offer much of a reason
to switch to BeOS. Worse yet, while at some point there were as many
e-mail clients in development, nobody seemed to be taking
full advantage of the media capabilities of BeOS, something that it
was supposed to excel at. The "Killer App," that we were all hoping
for, was nowhere to be found.
Even those companies that originally focused exclusively on BeOS
software started to move their efforts to other platforms. BeatWare, which was once
one of the largest BeOS-only shops, has recently dropped BeOS
development all together. Most smaller vendors and one-person
operations seldom delivered on their promises and those that did
quickly found out that the market was simply too small to be viable.
And the BeFund, a mysterious venture capital firm that was supposed
to finance BeOS software development, disappeared without a
To make the matters worse, Steve Jobs was already back at Apple
as an "interim" CEO. As he started phasing out MacOS "clones," he
was also making it next to impossible for Be to support any PowerPC
hardware. This alienated a lot of the long-time BeOS users, who were
also hardcore Mac fans. In a few short months, the Intel crowd
simply crushed the PowerPC fraction, but the platform war had its
toll - the BeOS user community became deeply subdivided and
It didnít help when Be became a publicly traded company, and as
such could no longer afford to be as friendly and forthcoming as it
used to be. For months they had to refrain from any "forward-looking
statements." Meanwhile, we were starving for news and gradually grew
impatient. In absence of any information coming from Menlo Park, our
expectations became unreasonable. We also started to hope that now
that Be has taken a big chunk of cash from the public markets, it
would be able to move faster and continue to "under-promise and
over-deliver" as they used to do in the early days.
Regrettably, on the x86 hardware front things were not moving all
that well. Even as Be was releasing revision after revision (3.1,
3.2, 4.0, 4.5, and 5.0), there was still an endless sea of stuff
that they did not have enough resources to support. None of the
major component manufacturers offered much assistance, so it was
inevitable that it would consistently take months to develop drivers
for things that worked under Windows from day one.
Even more depressing was the fact that none of the large OEM
computer makers expressed much interest in pre-installing BeOS.
Looking back, this was probably the biggest obstacle on the way of
BeOS going mainstream. Indeed, this became painfully obvious in
February 1999, when Jean-Louis Gassťe made his last effort to put
Crack in the Wall." In essence, he offered unlimited
*free* BeOS licenses to anybody who would "load the BeOS on
the hard disk so the user can see it when the computer is first
booted." But even these extreme measures didnít bear fruit as not a
single one of the first-tier manufacturers took him up on this
offer.Part 3: BeOS is out. BeIA
By now we could have admitted to ourselves that the game is over,
only true geeks donít give up that easily. So, to this very day, I
visit BeNews on a
regular basis hoping for a miracle. But, there is hardly ever
anything new up there. In contrast, MacCentral is always
full of surprises, most recently reporting on all the trendy new
hardware that was announced at MacWorld 2000. Among the most notable
items was a dual-processor G4 tower, which might as well be the
modern version of the BeBox. Once MacOS X ships, the "window of
opportunity" for a powerful and easy-to-use alternative "MediaOS"
will be forever closed. Believe it or not, the "dark days" of the
Mac are now just a fading memory.
But, even in an unlikely event that MacOS X does not live up to
the expectations, there is simply too much buzz around the
open-source Linux vs. proprietary Windows debate. This makes it
really hard to promote a "has-been" technology, such as BeOS. So,
the only way for Be to survive is to pursue other markets, which
they seem to be doing quite well in the Internet Appliance area. I
could only wish them good luck at that. Honestly, however, I miss
the pre-IPO Be, when the VP of marketing was just a phone call away.
Also, I am not interested in getting a dummy Web tablet. Simply put,
I am no longer a part of their target market.
As sad as it might sound, neither my aging Motorola StarMax, nor
my new triple-boot
dual-Celeron PC, is running BeOS all that often anymore.
Nowadays, I use MacOS for most daily tasks, Windows for cutting-edge
Voodoo-accelerated games, and Linux for occasional database
development. Unfortunately, with BeOS still lacking a stable
All I can say at this point is that it is really, really
depressing that great technology alone is never enough. But then
again, being a degreed engineer, I should have learned that a long