What is Haiku? According to its website Haiku OS:
Haiku is an open-source operating system that specifically targets personal computing. Inspired by the BeOS, Haiku is fast, simple to use, easy to learn and yet very powerful.
The main clue here is BeOS. I get many people now know nothing about what is BeOS, or what it was back then, take a look at wikipedia’s page on BeOS to learn a bit about what it was.
When talking operating systems, most people think about Windows, MacOS, and Linux, though not all its variations. Regarding Linux, most people know Ubuntu, Mint, Fedora and OpenSuse, but the list is so big that is pointless to put it here. If you are curious, take a look at distrowatch, where they keep track of all Linux distros available. Back then, in the last 20 years of the XXth century, there were plenty of OS that didn’t make it to the XXIst century, Spectrum Sinclair Basic, Sony MSX, Commodore 64, Amiga OS, Amstrad CPC… I had the chance to play around a bit with them at that time and, until I saw a Macintosh Plus at a Radio Shack store back in 1986. Never had a Mac Plus, but years later I had a Macintosh Performa 6400 180, with Macintosh OS 7.5.3. Later on, I put my hands on a BeOS CD bundled with a “Macwatever” magazine, so I got it installed on that Performa for some time and gave it a try.
I had to ditch BeOS for educational reasons and lost its track for some years; later also ditched crApple stuff for other reasons not worth mentioning. It wasn’t until recently when I found Haiku on the internet searching again for BeOS, maybe under an episode of crazy nostalgia, and started to follow it. Though at the beginning, I just checked how it was evolving, some screenshots, what developers were doing, and that it is now an Open Source operating system. This open source thing got me, as being a linux user since 2003 (not that I haven’t used Linux before – slackware back in the day) I am into the open source way of computing, so I decided to give it a try in a virtual machine on Virtualbox.
The feeling while using Haiku (R1 Alpha4 nightly 64bits) is the same as when using BeOS back in the “old times”. Everything that I can remember is still there, the icon theme, the deskbar (which you can move around and place it wherever you want), the multiple workspace, replicants, and all the apps, though some are missing from the 64bit build, some due to compatibility, some due to licensing, as only that software whose code has been released as open source did make it to Haiku.
Warning: Alpha 4 is alpha. For those who don’t know what this means, it means that there are bugs, there are issues still to be solved, and some things may go wrong. That said, I’ve been using Haiku for a couple of weeks on a daily basis and find it quite stable for general purpose.
I also decided to try it on real hardware as, well, Virtualbox is, as the name says, virtual. Knowing that I would find issues, I did install it on an old laptop powered by a Core2Duo with 3GB of RAM and a 160GB HDD. Trying Haiku on this machine is more of a real use case for Haiku, and it proves to behave quite well though showing some issues as pointed out before. Right now that laptop is only Haiku powered.
There is also a Haiku Video on Haiku running inside VirtualBox, with VESA drivers, and it proves quite capable.
Reading pdf files is easy with BePDF, and is quite fast to start. LibreCAD allows 2D CAD drawing, and until now it has proven reasonably stable.
For office suites, there is the Calligra Office as well as LibreOffice. Both still show some issues and get some lock producing strange behaviors and rendering issues (maybe partly due to the VESA driver). LibreOffice crashed when opening Draw, after opening Writer, Calc, and Impress, with some strange yellow boxes floating at the top of the screen, related to font type, size…. Calligra Stage crashed too and wasn’t able to be closed… So thanks we have kill.
Some multimedia apps are there too. Album does not draw the thumbnails properly, but then again, it might be an issue with Virtualbox and the VESA driver. Avidemux is there, a color picker (Colors!), Clockwerk to make video clips, and BurnItNow, well, for burning CD and DVD.
Haiku provides quite a bit of development tools, from simple editors to IDEs, KDevelop is also present and QtCreator too. In fact, Qt toolkit has been ported and integrated into the system so Qt apps look like native apps inside Haiku. Haiku native are fast to load and responsive, even on low memory settings (tunning VM settings reducing memory), while those Qt based they need some more time.
Plenty of KDE apps are alerady in the repos, so it is easy to find any “everyday use” app. Even there are these apps available, the difference with the native apps is quite big regarding startup time and responsiveness, at least inside the VM and the Core2Duo laptop.
There is also a broad group of internet software available too. WebPositive is the default Webkit native browser, and it shows some issues rendering some sites. There is also Qupzilla, Ottobrowser and Dooble. IRC chat, Telegram, Instant messaging, managing a blog, Torrent, and of course, the classic old email. All are available and working.
Right now there is plenty of software available already for Haiku, and most of it is stable enough for everyday use, though a bit of tolerance and patience might be needed at certain moments. Understanding that Haiku is still in its Alpha stage, it is understandable.
Well, that is the big question. With the three mainstream operating systems available, Windows, MacOS and Linux, why would anyone pick Haiku?. Actually is the freshest of all, the one with the newest tech inside, and even though right now the Developer Team is trying to get Haiku as last BeOS R5 (circa 2001), its evolution looks more promising than others’. It is as fast as an XFCE linux distro, even faster at some tasks. And of course, there is the appeal of using BeOS in 2018, and the appeal of being sort of an outsider.
Recently I read a comment of a developer saying that Haiku is a niche OS so he/she thought it is not worth it to develop for the Haiku platform, oh well… While I understand that development effort is proportionally related to the number of platforms a team develops to, I do understand too that users should have more choices regarding operating systems. I recall what once Henry Ford said about the model-T, “you can have it in any color you want as long as it is black”. I don’t see anyone telling others that you only can drive Ford, Mazda or Volkswagen. Yes, automotive market is different from software market, I know. It is just a metaphor, but you get the point.
Can I use Haiku as my main everyday driver?
This is another big question. At work I mostly use LibreOffice, Scribus, Inkscape, email app, web browser, LibreCad, Gimp, PDF24, Calendar, Onedrive, Dropbox, task management app, note taking app… If Haiku developers fix the VGA out issue I have with the laptop, it is going to stay with Haiku from now on, as long as Impress works well, network file sharing starts to work and some system security login is added, which hopefully will in the near future. And hopefully, network printing too.
On my free time I mostly use besides those stated before, Unity3d game engine, VSCode, MyPaint, MakeHuman, Octave, Blender, Virtualbox, which as far as I know, are not available or doesn’t work yet on Haiku. I’ve read that Godot Game Engine is or will be available on Haiku, though I haven’t had the time to check it out yet. If that turns true, and stable enough, the door is open, and happy to hop in.
Haiku still is, as of today, a fresh operating system, more than 20 years after. Even its window management offers options not available anywhere else today. It keeps and evolves the original ideas BeOS had years ago and, while the interface still resembles that of BeOS R5, it is improving. Features are being added, polishing is being made, updates are coming everyday, new apps are jumping to the HaikuDepot too, so it looks like a promising future for Haiku and those who use it, including me.