Programming the Be Operating System

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail
Published by: O'Reilly & Associates, go to the web site
Requires: BeOS r4.0 or higher, approximately 4 weeks of study
MSRP: US$34.95, Cdn$51.95

The Be operating system (BeOS) stumbled into public view in 1992 in the guise of something called the BeBox. The BeBox was a dedicated Mac computer (Motorola-based) with a brand new operating system. Be Inc., was founded in 1990 by Jean-Louis Gasse (formerly, president of Apple's products division). Be, Inc. is a software company focused on developing and delivering an operating system designed for digital media applications and Internet appliances. BeOS allows users to simultaneously operate multiple audio, video, image processing and Internet-based software applications while maintaining system stability, media quality and processor performance. Using C++ in the Code Warrior development environment along with "Programming the Be Operating System" should provide most programmers with a fascinating and satisfying look at the rather robust Be operating system.

Dan Parks Sydow is the author of Programming the Be Operating System. He's a computer programmer, consultant, and writer based in the U.S. (Milwaukee, Wisconsin). He has worked on a variety of software engineering projects in areas as diverse as software control of the on-board nuclear reactor of the Seawolf submarine, to heart image display software for a hospital's medical imaging department. In the last few years he has written over a dozen programming books.

Historical data on the evolution and development of BeOS is less than voluminous. It's a shame too, because BeOS takes quite a novel approach to computer operating system design. Programming the Be Operating System provides a solid foundation on which to develop strong applications for this robust OS. For the record (according to Frank Boosman, VP business development at Be, Inc.) the name of the operating system is pronounced Be-O-S.

So who cares about BeOS and why should anyone bother developing applications for it? MGI Software (which develops and markets award winning software such as PhotoSuite III, VideoWave III), MetaCreations (Bryce), Opera (web browser) Maxon (Cinema 4D), and several dozen other serious multimedia companies are all porting some of their main products to BeOS. There's no reason why they shouldn't because Be, Inc. is making it easy for them to do so. According to Reid Ellis (who worked on the VideoWave II for BeOS project at MGI Software), technical and developer support from Be, Inc. is quite good. If you're a vaguely decent C++ programmer you should consider cranking out a few small utilities for BeOS too. You'll be surprised at some of the more interesting 'names' (in addition to the big guys named above) who are associating themselves with Be. There are even a couple of hardy souls touting BeOS as an alternative to Windows 98 and 2000. And since BeOS runs like a top on most standard (and plenty of not-so-standard) Intel and Mac-based machines, and also features a heavy dose of cross-system file compatibility, it's probably worth considering a dual-boot setup with BeOS and Win98 or 2000 on the same machine (or even a triple- boot setup if you're also brave enough to tackle Linux as well). What you'll end up with is a stable new OS that's pretty to look at, boots up in 15-20 seconds, and performs multimedia chores such as audio, photo, and video editing like a champ.

So what about the book under review here you ask? Well there's not much to say about it. The principle premise is well met. The author has taken a dry, detailed, and well organized approach to his subject. The publication was reviewed by Be, Inc.'s own Stephen Beaulieu, Manager of Developer Technical Support, so there's certainly no question about the accuracy of the instructional information. The main caveat is that you need to be something more than a totally novice C++ programmer in order to wrap your head around the concepts which are presented in the book. That stated, the book is structured in a way that provides measured guidance through several programming projects. Most important of all, the book clearly emphasizes the strong points of the BeOS. The author does not attempt to present BeOS as Windows 'killer', but rather as a superbly viable alternative for programmers focused on multimedia application development.

Cons: Although it's been around for a few years, only since 1998 has Be, Inc. really been pushing hard to attract strong developers. Be, Inc. did not do a good job of ensuring that developer links and contact information were included throughout the book. If a company truly wants to spread the word, it must use every means at its disposal to do so. There's also some concern about the fact that Be, Inc. doesn't seem to be pushing OS sales to the general public very hard as yet. Makes 'ya wonder.

Pros: BeOS costs a lousy 60 or 70 bucks. Buy it, install it, and try it. You'll be shocked at how good it is. Check out the Be, Inc. web site at If the book does nothing else, it will get you into an awfully nifty, new-ish OS. Programming for BeOS, while not exactly a pure joy, doesn't have to take legacy OS versions and applications into account. Like most things new, there's little or no aggravating history to contend with. Since BeOS was designed from its beginning to support C++ applications, everything you've learned in C++ to date will have a place when you're programming for BeOS. The book emphasizes this and is true to its premise. The book won't completely take the place of a developers kit from Be, Inc. itself, but it will get you most of the way there.

(Ed Note: As of November 2001 BeOS - the Be operating system - was sold to Palm Inc. Maybe it will show up in a PDA one day? It's a very nice OS - lots of potential and tons of great features.)

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