FRAMINGHAM (04/10/2000) - Last week, Gearhead started enthusing about BeOS, the multimedia operating system from Be Inc. This week, there is more of the same excitement because this is an operating system that deserves a closer look.
In our survey of features, we covered BeOS' preemptive multitasking with pervasive multithreading and support for eight processors (operating symmetrically), and Gearhead bets you were left thinking, "Tell me more!"
Did we mention BeOS uses protected memory? It does. And crashes caused by applications trying to access memory they aren't allowed to access don't cause the system to fall apart.
When Gearhead saw a demo of the latest release of BeOS (Version 4.5) some months ago, the presenter, who was running BeOS on a twin 500-MHz processor system, grabbed six movie files and dropped them on the desktop where they all started to play simultaneously . . . and playing as they should. Pretty cool, but the best was yet to come.
After switching processors on and off without a blip of any kind in the playback of the movies, he dragged each of them onto the pages of a book animation and then proceeded to turn the pages with the movies still playing in the pages. What was amazing was that the movies conformed to the page shape as they played and as the page turned.
Another feature that will make your mouth water is the BeOS File System, otherwise called BFS. Designed to be big - nay, huge - BeOS' BFS uses a 64-bit multithreaded file system with full journaling. The reason for 64-bit operation is to allow for gigantic storage. BFS can support a maximum file size of 18,000,000,000,000,000 bytes (that's 18 petabytes, my friend).
A journaled file system means that BeOS keeps track of all file system changes to the journal before they are written to the disk, and it does so in real time - as the system runs. This journal is kept on disk so if anything goes wrong, BeOS can reconstruct the file system after a crash. Neat.
And multithreading the file system ensures that it provides the best possible performance for all file system services, including journaling, without reducing the processing capability of the PC any more than absolutely necessary. Note that you can't do journaling without taking a huge performance hit if you don't have a multithreaded file system.
The file system is also built to be "database-like," which allows arbitrary attributes to be appended to files and used in searches. BFS' focus on database-like operation makes searching for files and their attributes fast, but unlike a regular database, the results of searches are lists of files rather than data tables.
So we have a big, bad file system underlying an elegant processing architecture, but surely there's more? You bet.
There's POSIX compliance, which makes a programmer's life easier (porting from a multiuser time-sharing system to BeOS is said to be easy); object orientation in just about every aspect of the system's architecture and operation (that's what dragging the videos onto the book animation is about); a ton of applications; and the list goes on.
Next week we'll look at getting BeOS running. Be there at email@example.com.