This time, I went for the chart section on BeBits to see what everyone else was downloading. In the best rated category, the top spots were taken by crossplatform emulators – Qemu and ScummVM. Both of these are excellent at what they do, but they're hardly BeOS-specific. Further down the list you can find Vim, an audio jukebox and a BeOS version of the Handbrake DVD conversion tool. Most users seem to be using Haiku as a genuine desktop replacement, doing the same things we normally do on our Linux desktop.
There are also plenty of driver packages, including tools for Nvidia and ATI graphics cards, as well as a simple Ethernet driver. This makes me glad I'm running a virtual machine, as I don't have to worry about hardware compatibility. You can also find nearly every open source game and application you'd find in the average Linux package manager, which means there's obviously a lot of people working on BeOS conversions of popular software.
It's at this point that I stumble upon a site called Haiku Ports (ports.haiku-files.org), which seems to be the central repository for modern BeOS software projects that are being converted from other platforms and maintained on the variety of BeOS-compatible derivatives. Those derivative operating systems are listed on the main project page, and obviously include the original BeOS, as well as Haiku. But it was interesting to discover other similar alternatives, including one called Zeta.
This was a commercial continuation of BeOS development headed by a company called YellowTab GmBH. If there's one thing I've learned about BeOS, it's that there are plenty of initiatives keeping the OS alive. Zeta led me to www.zeta-games.com, which seemed a much more modern approach to BeBits, and it was there I downloaded the SDL libraries.
Unzipping this archive recreated the /home directory structure on my desktop, and I guess that this should overwrite the real location for installation to succeed. But what I actually needed to do was copy the SO files to /boot/home/config/lib. From that point, I tried several excellent SDL ports of games that were functionally identical to their Linux versions. There's a lot that's familiar in Haiku.
It's at this stage, after more than a week of playing around, that I wanted to become more productive with my new operating system. Unfortunately, there's very little productivity software available, which is Haiku's biggest problem at the moment. There's an ancient version of AbiWord that works, and the BeOS version was even officially supported for a while before the operating system went the way of the dodo. But this release is too old to be taken seriously.
There are various projects attempting to port a newer version of AbiWord, including a 'pre-alpha' release of AbiWord 2, but I couldn't get anything to work, and there doesn't seem to have been any progress in the project for well over a year. You can also get hold of an old productivity suite called GoBe Productive. The company behind this software was even rumoured to be interested in buying the operating system at one point, but these days it seems happier selling Windows software. As mentioned, you can use Google Documents through Firefox, but neither are ideal when you're used to native Linux apps.
I can't criticise Haiku. It's in a rapid state of development and no one is claiming it's anywhere near a productivity level. But it's very close, and you can't help feeling that a little user-oriented documentation and packaging could go a long way. A recent port of AbiWord and Firefox is all you'd need for most small office environments, and you'd be able to install Haiku on virtually any spare machine in the office. It would also feel quicker than most other operating systems, Linux included, and the limitations in the desktop environment wouldn't be important.