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It Ain't ME, Babe
Francis Vale
'He thought it was his duty to punish wickedness."
- A line from the film "Kings Row," a 1942 potboiler.


This is the flick in which the ex-president-ex-movie-actor-who-could-tell-the-difference Ronald Reagan, as Drake McHugh, gets his legs hacked off by that nicely monstrous doler out of punishment to the wicked, Dr. Gordon (who also has a penchant for knocking off his patients due to a certain lack of anesthetic). Everything looks so wonderful, wholesome and prosperous in this film's turn of the 20th century mid-America town - until you start living there, and worse, are in need of some medical advice.

Somewhat similarly, Windows Millennium Edition greets you with its cheerful flag waving MS logo and its welcoming startup audio huzzah!, looking and sounding for all the world like some wholesomely clean cut all-American town. And then it proceeds to mercilessly cut your legs off every chance it gets, without offering so much as a drop of Novocain to ease your suffering. Never are the failings of this cut-off-at-the-knees system more apparent than when using an alternative Intel-based operating system, and in particular, BeOS. One is forced to wonder how U.S. productivity ever went up in the last decade as Windows (illegally, says Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson) found its way onto millions and millions of business desktops.

Windows ME antisocial behavior was amply driven home when I swapped out the motherboard on the PC I'm using for a new Asus K7V-RM unit. The Asus motherboard offers true 4X AGP go-fast support for the AMD Athlon CPU, plus has PC133 MHz RAM support. Altogether, this 850 MHz Athlon rig is a true screamer (although, it must be said, Asus technical support for its motherboards is the worst). I have three operating systems mounted on this Athlon machine; Windows ME, the latest edition of Corel LINUX, and BeOS 5.0. Both BeOS and LINUX instantly came up on this newly transplanted motherboard without so much as a whimper. But WinME? Instant verbose nervous breakdown: "Yikes! Windows just found something new! Quick! Put in the WinME CD-ROM! (sorry, Windows hasn't figured out how to get the CD-ROM going yet) No? OK, well, ooh-ooh, We Just Found Something else! Hey, where are those drivers you promised me!?" About an hour later, WinME finally calmed down, having exhausted itself like a crazed junkyard dog that had frantically sniffed out a bunch of intruders.

The single user-only BeOS 5.0 system shines bright even in comparison to a desktop LINUX system; brighter in many ways, in fact. Driving BeOS is a thoroughly modern, multithreaded, protected memory, preemptive multitasking, 64-bit OS with a new kernel design. In contrast, LINUX is bound to its decades old UNIX past. If LINUX is an 18-wheel semi capable of pulling multi-ton loads cross-country, then BeOS is a slick Porsche 911 Turbo that effortlessly zips past this tandem trailer code truck without even changing gears. The BeOS desktop user interface is also light years ahead of the standard PC LINUX offering in terms of ease of use.

I always have a palpable sense that the big LINUX-lashed Peterbilt is working away. You can almost feel a deep rhythmic rumbling permeating its X-appointed cabin and nearly hear air-gushing driver hydraulics. It creates a sense of wonder at the sheer power of it all. But the nagging sense persists that harnessing all this mighty LINUX power doesn't come without a lot of work and driver skill. Meanwhile, the BeOS-driven Porsche is just loafing along, its effortless fun keeping you coming back for more, wondering how far you can push this fabulous system before you spin yourself silly and crash. BeOS 5.0 is an Alpha Geek Must Drive.

And so you push it, constantly discovering new system driving territory, finding things in BeOS that have no counterpart in either WinME, Win2000, or LINUX. For example, its fully journaled, database-like file system supports mode-bits plus advanced system querying via attributes of any size and type. LINUX offers file mode bits ( 'r' read, 'w' write, and 'x' execute/search permissions,) but no advanced attributes, except via add-on options that can easily sap system performance. The result is the ability to do data mining with BeOS on your hard drives that blows right past the prosaic "find" commands of LINUX and Windows. Under BeOS, the hard drive, thanks to its journaled system, hardly moves at all, which is rather off-putting at first. And there are these sci-fi named things in BeOS, called "replicants," which are unique to the system. Via BeOS replicants, live views of applications can be embedded in other apps, or in the desktop, and fixed in place, even after a reboot. For example, the Be clock app can be inserted, ticking hand and all, inside a word processing document.

Bootups in BeOS are spectacularly fast. On my system, it takes less than 10 seconds to go from a cold start-up to doing something productive. As for LINUX bootup, well, that slow moving truck metaphor is pretty apt, even on an 850 MHz Athlon power rig. BeOS install is a snap and takes less than 15 minutes. On a Microsoft-shared PC, all your Windows drive partitions can be mounted on the BeOS 5.0 desktop and files can be read and written back and forth, plus it offers read-only access to both NT File System and LINUX ExtFile System partitions. BeOS also supports Macintosh file formats.

BeOS offers native symmetric multiprocessor (SMP) support that takes advantage of any number of processors automatically, while LINUX only recently gained SMP capability with kernel version 2.0, and in most cases, stops at quad-CPU support. (Note that under BeOS, apps do not have to be rewritten to take advantage of SMP.) The BeOS system is also a client-server architecture extraordinaire for its manifold system services. The application server, media server and network server are all used automatically, with a simple on-the-fly dynamic restart of any of the servers after making changes. And similar to LINUX, BeOS does not require a reboot when new file systems and hardware devices are added. To a religious Windows user, all these capabilities probably smack of heretical black magic as their Gates-at-the-center-of-the-universe system belches and lurches down the Information Highway like a psychedelic Cheech & Chong ex-U.S. Postal van.

So OK, where are the BeOS failings? Well, if you are an Open Source fanatic, then yes, BeOS does not fit into that politically correct category. But things are changing. Be has made the Tracker, its BeOS user interface/file navigation system, open source. Likewise, the BeOS "Deskbar," which lists the various application menus and system services, has been made open source. The Tracker is a plug-in extensible system. You can roll your own BeOS "Add-ons" to extend the Tracker functionality and other parts of the system. In contrast, LINUX apps require unique coding to support such add-ons. As for being POSIX compliant, BeOS is an unofficial yes, while LINUX is officially POSIX beatified. But as a practical matter, a POSIX compliant app should recompile under BeOS quite readily.

As for networking, BeOS supports TCP/IP via its network server, which also has built-in (single user) FTP and Telnet, plus IP forwarding. Apart from FTP and TELNET, there is no way to network a BeOS system in with other Windows boxes or LINUXes (Macs are a piece of network cake thanks to BeOS AppleTalk support). Frankly speaking, this author has found LINUX's much touted Samba support for Windows to be brain dead in almost all of the distributions he has tried, so this MS network integration score is tied as far as he is concerned.

Unfortunately, the BeOS TCP/IP stack is dog slow. However, it's slated for replacement (perhaps at about the time this article appears) with BONE, BeOS Network Environment. BONE is a complete TCP/IP rewrite based on the venerable Berkeley stack, has sockets, and all the rest of the BSD goodies. It's also supposed to be blindingly fast, and if so, Apache aficionados may have a new Web platform to consider. The automatic SMP features of BeOS could make Apache run like stink on a multi-CPU box.

Finally, Sun and Be entered into a joint pact late in 1999, and a full Sun-spec'd Java2 VM might be out at about the same time as the BONE update.

Meanwhile, if your office suite needs are modest or that of a medium power user, then GoBe Productive, which supports MS doc formats, is all you'll probably need. The $79.95 GoBe Office Suite is fast and slick, just not in the office suite powerhouse category of MS Office or Corel LINUX Word Perfect Office. This suite has all the usual word processing, spreadsheet, graphics and presentation capabilities (the latter does not support the PowerPoint format, however). Because GoBe Productive was also designed specifically for BeOS, this office suite is like no other you have ever used and also has a number of unique aspects. For example, photo image processing, enabled by some BeOS-ported GIMP components done by GoBe, is part of the graphics package. Also most unusually - and most unlike MS Office - the various programs in the GoBe suite are not run separately; i.e., you do not start a distinctly different program for a spread sheet, a WP doc, etc. Rather, each of these suite functions works within the same document window. In other words, open a photo image; use one of the GIMP filters GoBe image processing employs; tell GoBe Productive to insert a word processing frame, and voila! The tool bar riding on the top of the document window instantly changes to show the WP functions. Very cool.

For doing really creative graphics work that may also include photos, there is Easel, a 2-D painting freeware for BeOS program that was expressly designed to make the difference between traditional and computer painting fade away. Easel employs a unique technology to fully mimic the behavior of natural painting tools commonly in use by artists. In Easel a stroke is a stroke, not a succession of artificial bits. Easel also incorporates an implementation of the GIMP filters on the BeOS platform. Although an incomplete BeOS implementation of GIMP, you still get filters like Apply Canvas, Cubism, Mosaic, Oilify, Motion Blur, Pixelize, Blinds, Apply Lens, Noisify and Spread. All of Easel's manifold digital canvas creation capabilities can be equally applied to photos, which has no problem importing image files in Photoshop format. You can use Easel's Gaussian blur, unsharp mask, etc. with your photos, and then wreak creative havoc. Easel, although freeware, is easily the equal of programs on the Mac or PC costing hundreds of dollars.

There are also several really nice BeOS e-mail clients. "Mail-it" is free, about on par with Eudora Pro and imports from same quite easily. You can also add Spellswell Plus spelling services to Mail-It, as well as to other BeOS apps. And Opera has a port for BeOS with JavaScript support, which you can use until Be ships its own Opera-licensed variant soon. To see what else is out there for BeOS, visit www.bebits.com.

As for printer support, I had no problems hooking a Lexmark Optra S 1855 Postscript printer up to a BeOS PC. I randomly picked an Apple Postscript model on the Be printer menu and away we went.

Finally, BeOS 5.0 is also a terrific developer platform. All in all, BeOS is an extremely satisfying, amazingly quick, highly stable environment.

But end of the day, what really separates BeOS from all of the Windows, LINUX, BSD, and Macintosh crowd (it's going to be a very interesting match-up with Apple OS X, if/when it ever ships), is Be's incredible multimedia support. It's audio and video performance and capabilities are simply unbelievable thanks to the pervasive multithreading of BeOS, which is much finer grained and much more efficient than LINUX threads (AKA, "processes"). Due to the archaic roots of UNIX, LINUX will never catch up in this threaded regard.

Bottom line, BeOS is the best commodity PC multimedia OS on the market. Yeah, it has all the CD burner/MP3/etc. stuff. But it can do all this media work simultaneously, with no discernible effort - Even if you happen to have five or six easily resizable video windows all up and running, and you are also downloading several files at once, and you are also working on a document, all of which occurs without any video judder or audio stutter. This applies even on an old PII 450 MHz PC that I tried!.

BeOS is set up in such a way that WindowsME/9.x, etc. can easily coexist with BeOS on the same Intel box. They have made it painfully easy to see how Mr. Gates and Co. have illegally pulled the wool over the eyes of the PC consumer for so long. To see what I'm talking about, go visit GoBe, the North American publisher for the $69.95 Pro Edition of BeOS 5.x, or download the free personal edition of BeOS 5.x, available at www.be.com/products/freebeos.

Once you have tried BeOS, you will be hard pressed not to find yourself wondering how quickly you can join the nearest Microsoft class action suit starting up soon nearest you.

Yep. It's all sadly true. You've been had, real bad, by those smiling folks up in Redmond, WA.

Don't get mad. Get Be.

Copyright 2000, Francis Vale, All Rights Reserved

 

21st, The VXM Network, http://www.vxm.com

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