BeOS reborn: 30 days with Haiku

KDE to Xfce

If you do decide to live in the world of Haiku, it's the desktop environment that's going to have the biggest impact on your routine. It's akin to switching from KDE to Xfce, for example. The file manager is an important part of any desktop environment, and I found BeOS very reminiscent of my Amiga days. Like Workbench and Gnome's spatial mode, each folder click opens a new window, as do all the application and preferences windows. Window borders are small, and desktop space is used very efficiently.

This was important 10 years ago, when screen real-estate was expensive, but it seems overly frugal in the era of high-resolution, super-cheap TFT monitors. The tiny dock in the top-right of the main window, for example, is similar to an old Amiga application called Tool Dock, and all this efficiency can take a little getting used to, as do other little quirks. Similar to Apple's OS X, applications don't quit when you click on the top-left 'close' icon, for example. Instead, they tuck themselves away in the small toolbar, and can be brought back to life at any moment. To quit an application, you must click on the toolbar icon and select Close from the pop-up menu.

The advantage to all this minimalism is speed. Windows are quick to open and move. Most applications and tools load immediately (an exception is Firefox), and the whole system can reboot in under 10 seconds. Real hardware will be even faster. This is the computer desktop we should always have had.

After a couple of weeks of Haiku sitting on my desktop, I've found dipping into another operating system strangely refreshing. It shows that there are other ways of doing things. There's more to open source software than the Linux kernel, and alternative operating systems like Haiku offer valuable choices, reminding us that Linux isn't the beginning and end of the free software world. And surely that can only be a good thing?

First published in Linux Format issue 111