I just posted this on BeNews. Re-posting here because it summarizes my thinking about the operating system that was one of the most important things in my life for the past four or five years. I’ve had to go through a lot of gear-gnashing to come to terms with the current state of things. This sums up where I stand with it today.
Many people seem to misunderstand my current position on BeOS. If my words and my actions seem contradictory, it is because of the apparent paradox of these two true statements:
1) The BeOS _marketplace_ is extinct, done for, and beyond hope of resurrection. This fact would not change even if a major new BeOS release appeared (which I feel is highly doubtful) — it’s far too late for that and too many businesses have been burned by attempting BeOS development. There is no money to be made on the platform. Without either monetary incentive or open source momentum (we have neither), the future growth and evolutionary potential of BeOS and BeOS apps is extremely limited.
2) Despite its shortcomings and missing mature applications, BeOS is the best desktop operating system ever developed, period. So good, in fact, that people will continue to enjoy finding uses for BeOS despite the truth value of #1.
I am bitter because of #1, but I still (sometimes) use and promote BeOS because of #2.
Just off the top of my head:
– When doing a net-based install, it hangs waiting for confirmation for some things (like if it couldn’t find a designated package on the ftp server). Which means you leave it running overnight, come back, and it’s been sitting there waiting for confirmation for 7 hours.
– When it was done, went to reboot and got “boot signature not found”. But I know I set the BSD boot partition to bootable. Booted from floppies, went back into the slice editor and found that my “active partition” change hadn’t taken. Looked at the readme and found that it said I had to commit the change. But “commit” was buried down in some other menus in the installer where I couldn’t see it. Alternatively, you can use W in the slice editor. But W isn’t shown as one of the menu choices. It’s a “secret.” Retarded.
– Went through the whole rigamarole to set up X and everything seemed to go well. It launched a dummy screen in my chosen resolution, let me tweak the horiz and vert placement, etc. Even had the mouse working. Let it go ahead and link these settings to X. But once booted into BSD, running startx fails with some utterly cryptic message I haven’t gotten around to writing down. More research required.
– Set up a regular user account and booted into it. But it wouldn’t let me su to root. Not a password issue – it says I’m not in the right group to do that. So then I couldn’t shutdown or su to root to shutdown. Had to ctrl alt del. Later, killed that account and recreated it and specifically invited the new user into “wheel”. That worked, but was that the right thing to do? No idea. Felt kludgy.
– Ran /stand/sysinstall to have another go at configuring X. When I exited sysinstall, it went out onto the net and started grabbing the whole /bin directory again. I didn’t want that and I didn’t choose that. And there’s no way to cancel out of the net download process. Once it starts, you’re stuck in it. Let it go through the process, then found that the user I had finally set up properly had been erased and root login didn’t prompt for password. WTF?!
And that’s just off the top of my head. Status: Can boot from Be’s bootman now. Can log in as a regular user. No X running. No time to work on this again for a while. Grrrr. Unixland prides itself on being user-unfriendly, that’s one thing. But bad design is another. What I don’t get is why some writers have praised the FreeBSD installer. I want to send those people BeOS install CDs.
Turns out that the problem probably wasn’t that the cylinder boundary was too high. Well, it may have been, but once I got everything moved around I found that the FreeBSD fdisk wanted me to delete the BFS slice and re-create it as a FreeBSD slice. Previously, I had only tried to change the filesystem type from the main fdisk menu. The errors it gave were misleading and led me down a garden path. So much for usability. That’s the flipside — I always complain that no one has ever made things as easy or as logical as Be has. And when I spend half a day trying to get sound working on a Linux machine, I gripe and grumble. But I have to confess that my inner tweaker actually derives some kind of perverse pleasure from twiddling all the knobs. That’s Be’s secret Achilles heel – it’s too damned easy to install and configure. You get the satisfaction of using a coherent system, but not the satisfaction of banging your head against the wall for an hour and then solving something. Banging your head against the wall makes you grow as a person. I think that’s why Linux is so popular. Because it’s so hard.
Anyway, everything is humming along now. Downloading and installing FreeBSD at the same time. Gotta hand it to ’em. Net-based installs make sense. Everything should be that way. Start with a floppy, get it going, go eat dinner, watch some of the made-for-TV-movie about the legendary tenniss battle between Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King, and you come back to a fresh-baked operating system. Pretty cool. Only it’s going kind of slow – 9.4KB/sec – 1/4 of my bandwidth. I think they meter it intentionally.
It’s nice to have a small break. Back from Mom’s place, doing a lot by phone now. The pace at work has slowed down dramatically – actually working sane hours, getting home while it’s still light out. Just turned in my last Byte column. Taking care of odds and ends that have gone ignored for months.
Trying to install FreeBSD in the background, but running into partition problems. It’s partitioning utility won’t let me install to the fourth partition on secondary master… cylinder too high. I’ve got so many disks and partitions, it gets confusing. Now using a little known feature of Be’s brilliant Installer app to copy the entirety of the BeOS boot drive on the first partition to where I was going to put BSD. Will then reinitialize the first partition on that drive and try again. It amazes me… read these articles about how “impressive” the BSD installer is, but it’s so arcane. No better than the Linux installers I’ve seen. Is Be the only company every to have gotten OS installation right? But what’s the point? The world never cared.
Must eat something. Maybe there’s a box of rice pilaf I can make. Amy is teaching tonight and I fend for myself. Bachelor chow.
“Woke up and smelled the coffee. Awaiting further instructions.”