BeOS rebuild / Haiku has a new feature / that runs Windows apps

Poetry and WINE – a heady combination


The Haiku operating system has an experimental new feature, WINE. Originally a Linux subsystem, WINE can run unmodified Windows programs on other operating systems.

Edward FitzGerald translated only 158 of the more than 1,200 quatrains attributed to the Persian Astronomer-Poet Omar Khayyám so there are probably more experimental operating systems out there than there are of Omar's rubāʿiyāt in English. Very, very few such OSes ever amount to much – a few demos, some sketchy code on GitHub, and that's the end.

Haiku is different. An open-source reimplementation of former Apple exec Jean-Louis Gassée's BeOS, the project started in 2001 and took until 2018 to make it to its first beta version. But since then, the pace has picked up a little, with Beta 2 in 2020 and Beta 3 in 2021.

Partly this is because Haiku didn't start completely from scratch. The project began right after Palm bought Be and cancelled BeOS.

Haiku uses some of the original code and its GUI is notably based on BeOS's Tracker and Deskbar, which Be released as open source in 2000 – when BeOS was already at version 5 and a decade old. In fact, that year your correspondent reviewed it. I was impressed:

BeOS is astounding. It's a glimpse of how PC computing ought to be: lightning-fast, colourful, easy and stylish.

This marks Haiku out as something different from most hobby OSes. It builds on a good, solid design and has something concrete to aim at. It uses a relatively modern programming language and it's not a one-person project or an academic curiosity. It is, gradually, getting there. Just like BeOS, hardware compatibility and support is a weak point, but it's well worth a play in a VM.

There are a handful of other quite complete rewrites of 1990s OSes out there, notably AROS. We talked about both a few years back. But Haiku is substantially more modern, with support for x86-64, SMP, and Wi-Fi, for instance.

Anyone who used BeOS acknowledged that the lack of apps was a problem. At the time of the review, what I really needed was a BeOS version of DOSemu. BeOS (and Haiku) provide web browsers, email, music players, and so on – all I needed was a handful of DOS apps for doing the boring stuff and earning a living. Working with only DOS apps is a bit trickier in 2022, but Haiku has DOSbox. More significantly, these days it has hundreds of ported Linux apps, which BeOS never did.

Your correspondent gave up Windows when XP was new, and has been mostly based on Linux (and occasional OS X) since. One app that is missed, though, is a good outliner. For this, I use Microsoft Word running on WINE.

Like Haiku itself, if you've not tried WINE in a few years, it has come a long way, and many even quite complex Windows apps just work. Along with its existing selection of FOSS apps, bringing this to Haiku could make it a much more viable proposition. ®


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