About Page - The Chronology of BeOS

The creation and development of BeOS is tied directly with the founding and evolution of Be Inc. To see where it all began, you have to return to the year 1990.

In 1990, Jean Louis Gassée and Steve Sakoman leave Apple to create their own company. Some say Gassée was forced to leave much as Steve Jobs was at the same time. Jobs moved on to create his own OS, and Gassée opted to take the same route. This decision becomes important in the fall of BeOS. At this point, Be Inc. had not been named, but the first prototype computer was made. It was little more than a processor, logic board and serial port, but it was a foundation they could use to develop code. The fledgling company acquired several more ex-Apple employees and quickly began putting their skills to use, developing both hardware and software.

In 1991, software development was beginning. Interestingly, none of the Be team set out to make an operating system. They were intent on purchasing one and developing software on top, but none of the available operating systems at the time fit their needs. The closest was simply too expensive. It was also in 1991 that Be Inc. was named.

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Through 1992 and 1993, work continued on the core kernel and interface software that would become the BeOS. While it was little more than a shell that allowed applications to launch, work was planned for graphical interfaces and other usability features. Eventually, one of the Be engineers began work on a custom graphical system designed specifically for the Be kernel and the processor it was based on -- the Hobbit. This custom software turned out to be far more responsive than their other proposals, and led to the decision to create everything from scratch. Work continued on both the kernel and the OS.

1994 showed the first releases of the BeOS, along with an incredibly diligent eye trained to fix any bugs. This made BeOS possibly the most stable and bug-free OS of the time. Through this time, the team of technical writers helped significantly to keep everything coherent and on track. Likewise, Ming Low developed a series of developer tools that assisted the other programmers greatly.

A note about the hardware of the time. BeOS was founded on the custom hardware that, by then, had evolved into the BeBox. This hardware ran entirely on two AT&T Hobbit processors. The software was designed to work best with these processors, which led to significant issues. The Hobbit processor was predominantly used by the Eo Company in a type of tablet PC. In 1994, Eo was killed off due to poor sales. This left AT&T with virtually no market for their Hobbit processor, and Be was left with little support. Be could not guarantee a market for the processor, and so AT&T pulled out of the processor business. This left Be needing to find a new processor, fast.

Be made the choice to adopt the PowerPC processor, which at the time had a great deal of industry support. The BeBox was adapted accordingly and work began on porting BeOS.

1995 was a year of financial stress for Be Inc. The company had been through too many issues backing the wrong hardware and investing in their own custom work instead of buying a foundation. Thankfully for Be, the port to the new PowerPC architecture went smoothly. This was largely due to the work of two engineers, who made the port work from the ground up. This meant that all the software that ran on the base architecture had no need to adapt.

Even so, the company was in serious debt and decided that it was time to offer a public release of the BeBox and BeOS in order to attract new funding. The chosen venue was Agenda '95, and Be presented the package to a standing ovation. This was not without peril, however, as the initial setup of the BeBox had a number of issues. In fact, the demonstration was partially a success due to the BeOS itself, and partly due to the demonstrating engineer's skill at hiding the bugs that appeared.

Despite all of the issues, BeBox and BeOS was a success. Over 100 BeBox machines were shipped to developers and newsgroups were created to discuss the hardware and software. It looked like things were looking up for Be.

The beginning of 1996 had Be in hot water. They were still in financial trouble, and despite over a thousand developers looking to get their hands on a BeBox, Be had only created and shipped a hundred. It wasn't until a financing deal went through in April that they were able to create more of the hardware and ship the boxes off to developers. While this alleviated some problems, many of the BeBoxes were plagued with bugs or damaged hardware. Faulty sound cards and bad shipping combined to ruin many of the devices that were shipped.

Near the end of 1996, Be finally decided on BeOS as the name for the operating system. Additionally, a new iteration of the hardware was released with much more powerful processors. This proved to be both the first and the last public upgrade to the hardware.

The end of 1996 was the finishing blow for Be. Apple was looking for a new OS to replace their aging Mac OS, and were interested in purchasing Be. Be held out for as much money as they could, due to their ongoing issues with debt. Unfortunately, this caused them to be passed up in favor of NeXT, the OS created by Steve Jobs. Be fell by the wayside.

1997 proved to be the end of the BeBox. Too many hardware problems and too much debt forced the company to withdraw from hardware and focus on BeOs. They developed a personal version of BeOS and ported the whole thing to Intel x86 architecture. When this failed to drum up the interested they needed, they created BeIA, a version of BeOS for Internet appliances. Once more, this proved to be unsuccessful, and Be was purchased by Palm.

The company has since moved on to another industry entirely, and the BeOS is no longer supported. Some dedicated fans have attempted to continue development, but the only current continuation is the Haiku OS.

The original BeOS is closed source, much like most commercial programs. The developers behind Haiku needed to reverse-engineer each module of the BeOS design, releasing similar functional modules in open source. Haiku has proven to be the only continuing recreation of BeOS, and released their fourth alpha version in November of 2012. The project is still ongoing.
 

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