FRAMINGHAM (04/18/2000) - For the past two weeks Gearhead has been waxing fulgently about Be Inc.'s BeOS, and there is even more of the same this week because now BeOS is free.
Before we look at the free version, let's take a look at the standard distribution, BeOS 4.5.2. Installation is pretty fast, taking about 15 minutes, but that's only if you have the right hardware. Gearhead tried to install BeOS on an AcerPower Sn PC from Acer, and you know what? Version 4.5 didn't work, at least not without major fooling around and even then, not very well.
The problem was BeOS didn't recognize either the Acer graphics card (an ATi Xpert 98) or the network card (an AcerLAN ALN-325 Ethernet card).
One might be tempted to be critical of BeOS's compatibility, but let's be fair.
Unless card vendors make the effort to supply drivers for different products, no single vendor can deal with even a fraction of the mainstream market products. In the face of the Windows market, few card vendors can be bothered with any market that doesn't represent significant volume. Ho-hum.
To find out whether your PC configuration is compatible with BeOS (or vice versa), check out http://www.be. com/support/faqs/intel.html for Intel-based hardware. PowerPC users can visit http://www.be.com/support/guides/beosreadylist_ppc.html.
Anyway, not willing to be thwarted in its effort to get the Acer to run BeOS, Gearhead downloaded and installed BeOS 5 Personal Edition (http://free.be.com/). This new release is free, although at just below 45M bytes, anyone with a slow connection will have to have patience downloading it. Of course, you can order BeOS Pro on CD-ROM for $69.95.
The Pro version is essentially the same as the Personal version, except for the addition of RealPlayer G2, more media codecs (including Cinepak, Indeo 5, raw audio, P-JPEG and MP3, and an experimental VideoRecorder application.
BeOS 5 is a little different from previous releases. To begin with, it is installed under Windows. That's right, the BeOS installer creates a subdirectory under Windows and in that directory creates a file which becomes the BeOS working storage when you boot BeOS. That installation takes five minutes.
On the Acer, the troublesome ATi video card is supported under Version 5 but alas, not with the network card. But on a Hewlett-Packard Pavilion 8485Z - which has an ATi Rage 128 VR video card and a LinkSys LNE 100TX network card - everything worked the first time.
Booting BeOS is fast (mere seconds), and once it is "up" you can mount other volumes whether or not they are in BeOS's native format (BeOS understands a number of formats, including DOS FAT16 and FAT32, ISO9660 and Mac OS HFS volumes).
At this point, you can configure networking and video as well as other system features. Here's where you'll get a shock: You can change network parameters, and then click on "Restart networking" and it does! Oh joy, oh bliss.
Next week, Gearhead will wrap up this tour of BeOS, although tearing ourselves away from such a cool product will be hard.
Thoughts on our impending separation anxiety to email@example.com.