About Page - The Chronology of
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
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
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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