Haiku Alpha 1: Rebirth of legend (Part 1 of 5: Startup and first look)

Autumn has come and with it a successor springs

As a quick recap or the ‘too long, didn’t read’ (tdlr) version of the intro to the Haiku Alpha series, Be had started life making its own software (BeOS) and hardware (BeBox) — but in the end, three things had hurt Be: struggling to compete in a Windows dominion, the lost candidacy at becoming the next generation Mac OS (and the end of Mac clones), and finally, their push into the Internet Appliance market (which failed as the technologies needed to make it attractive to consumers were ahead of Be’s time). By 2002, Be was gone (1).

Thus, in the ashes of Be’s collapse, there were aficionados of the BeOS who tried to keep the legacy going through various distributions and forks (such as Max and Zeta) — but there really wasn’t one successor to lead the way. That is… until the appearance of the OpenBeOS (renamed Haiku later in its development), which finally reached Alpha status in the autumn of 2009 on September 14 (2).

And so — without further prologue, that brings us to today’s topic: Haiku Alpha 1.

Contents

Like the BeOS reviews, this one for Haiku Alpha 1 will be split into several parts:

Part 1 of 5: This article — Startup and first look

Part 2 of 5: Applications

Part 3 of 5: Demos

Part 4 of 5: Applets and Preferences

Part 5 of 5: Tracker, Odds and Ends, and Shutting Down

Bonus: Installing Haiku R1/Alpha 1

Sector 1 of 9: Startup

As a quick visual review, the last time that we saw the BeOS back in Exp/Dano, the startup screen looked like this (and I’ll also add this same design dates back to R4.5 “Genki”):

Compare the old purple and white theme to the fresh new look Haiku presents the user with. Like we’d seen back in Zeta 1.21, Haiku decided to dispense with the top left alignment and instead opts for a centered boot splash.

Like the Be logo at the bottom of the classic boot splash, Haiku’s logo is also in color with green, orange, and yellow leaves on it. Notice that the progress bar is now made up of gray rounded rectangles or ‘blocks’ rather than orbs. Oh, and, when the icons light up from a dimmed out gray, they’re in color as shown below:

When all the blocks load, it appears like this:

This one theme would be the standard for all subsequent Haiku releases, from Alpha 2 to the current Nightly builds (as of when this article was written).

Now, the next screen that we’ll see (if we’re booting from the CD) is this one. Any time we boot into a live session, we’re prompted with a simple: “Do you wish to run the Installer or continue booting to the Desktop?” with buttons for the Desktop and Installer.

Alpha 1 not only supports booting directly from the CD (as modern media in late 2009 did), but it also allowed booting directly to the Desktop from the CD. While this is something that popular distributions (like Ubuntu in the Linux world and Max in the Be world) had already done and offered out of the box, keep in mind the classic BeOS CDs usually would boot to the Installer. So when I see this little box, I think of how Haiku meshed together the live CD era with a continuation of the past. And even though this box is simple, Haiku set a precedent for all the subsequent releases and Nightly builds.

Like in BeOS, when the Desktop loads, we get a nice shade of blue that comes up (and is still there to this day):

Now again, for comparison, this was the last time that the Be world had seen an official BeOS desktop (Release 5/“Maui”):

And as a bonus, this is what “Dano” (a leaked beta of BeOS after R5) looked like — which is really cool in more ways than one! If you are new to BeOS, definitely check out Dano! It really has so much to explore unique to itself — an experimental decor set in Screen preferences, net features in Boneyard preferences and Spy-o-Matic, and so much more.

Sector 2 of 9: Desktop exploration

Anyway… at last, we get back to the true focus of our review. This is Alpha 1. Other than a few subtle differences, you can see how Haiku truly is the BeOS reborn:

The Deskbar

Now, just like in the classic BeOS, we have the Deskbar anchored to the top right of the Desktop (and as usual, if one chooses to drag it by the handle on the right side of the clock, the Deskbar can then align to any edge or corner). 

In this version, we have the tray with desk applets (the ever useful ProcessController) and the clock, tiles for running applications (currently Tracker), and its Leaf menu. This new icon is a pleasantly blue leaf, maybe because it makes me recall the gorgeous blue Apple menu logos in Mac OS X 10.0–4. And though I’ve never used it, the blue here also is reminiscent of the MorphOS butterfly…

For comparison, here’s the Deskbar from Dano — the final BeOS. There are a few subtle differences (Haiku features gradients and a flat applet tray), but as you can see in the above screenshot with Haiku… it’s definitely the Deskbar.

i. Inside the Leaf menu

And since it is the main piece of the Deskbar, let’s switch back to Haiku and look inside the Leaf menu itself. Here, we have About This System, Find, a Show Replicants check toggle, and submenus for Mount, Deskbar Settings, Shutdown, Recent Documents, Recent Applications, Applications, Demos, Desktop Applets, and Preferences. (And if enabled, Recent Folders can appear as well; also, you’ll notice ‘Mount’ which doesn’t appear in the Be menus).

ii. Comparison to the Be menu

And once again, since Haiku (Alpha 1) is the direct successor to the BeOS, let’s compare the contents of the two menus. As you can see between the top screenshot (Haiku Alpha 1) and bottom screenshot (BeOS “Dano”), it’s very similar to BeOS… (oh, and as for the open Deskbar Settings, I’ll get to those momentarily):

iii. Configure Deskbar Menu box

Inside the Deskbar Settings submenu (which again, I’ll open soon), we have the Configure Deskbar menu box, which is pretty much the same as “Configure Be Menu” from the old BeOS. On its left, we can add a new group, and there’s check boxes to toggle Recent Documents, Recent Applications, and Recent Folders. Each has a text box which defaults to showing 10 items. On the right, there’s a pop-up menu and a menu-like pane with ‘groups’ or folders. And finally, there’s buttons to Edit, Open, Add, and Remove the listed groups.

Now… what’s always intrigued me about the Configure box is why it was made when the Be menu can more readily be edited in Tracker. This thinking is something the next Haiku release thankfully saw also— as it did away with the Configure box.

iv. Deskbar Settings

And… at last — I’m getting to the Deskbar Settings menu in Alpha 1. In here, we can opt to Configure Deskbar Menu, and set Always On Top, Auto Raise, Sort Running Applications, Tracker Always First, 24 Hour Clock, Show Seconds, European Date, Full Date, Show Application Expander, and Expand New Applications.

Now, if you scroll back up to Dano, you’ll notice Haiku adds in Auto Raise, and Show Application Expander and Expand New Applications. What this does is fold open the app tiles to show open window lists under them — which is super useful. And this is something that Zeta 1.21 featured as well if you remember it’s Deskbar pane.

And also, before we leave them, it’s worth noting this list of options would be unique to Alpha 1, as Alpha 2 and later releases would add a preferences box. It’s special to me, as it’s a final ode to the options in the menu from Dano.

Shut down in style!

Also, for the first time (that I’m aware of) in the Be timeline, Haiku Alpha 1 added a shutdown box just like the Mac OS did in System 7 onward. Awesomeness!

This Mac nerd finds this to be pretty cool 🙂

Cue a happy dance for the shutdown box! 🙂 Getting to this either takes pressing Shutdown from the menu (instead of directly shutting down or restarting the classic way with links Haiku has moved into a submenu) or running shutdown -a from Terminal (which allows this to be mapped to a keyboard shortcut to really get it closer to the Mac feeling of pressing the restart key or control+eject).

Context menus and Add-ons

Context menus in the Tracker (the file manager in BeOS and Haiku) work the same across both eras. Just like you’d expect from the BeOS, Haiku includes drill down menus, which allow navigating the system in place (and when available, this also allows instant moving and copying of files). There’s also New, Icon View, Mini Icon View, Clean Up, Select, Select All, and finally, Mount and Add-ons submenus.

And like R5, we get a clean menu rather than being fed templates, which is a nice touch. One can click Edit Templates as well for those that like their New menu to work more like Windows 95:

And… just in case anyone is new to the BeOS or Haiku, picture add-ons as being somewhat similar to services in the application menus in Mac OS 10.0+. Here, in Alpha 1, these allow you to check disk usage with DiskUsage, search for a ‘string’ of text within files, set the (desktop) Background, modify the FileType, open a Terminal window on the spot, or zip up files (via Zip-o-Matic).

And just in case anyone was wondering what’s in the Mount menu, it’s a list of disks, Mount All, and Settings.

As for Disk Mount Settings itself, it’s roughly the same two sections inside one pane as in the classic BeOS. The first (Automatic Disk Mounting) has “Don’t Automount”, “All BeOS Disks”, and “All Disks” radio options, and the second (Disk Mounting During Boot) has “Only The Boot Disk”, “Previously Mounted Disks”, “All BeOS Disks”, and “All Disks” radio options. At the very bottom are “Mount all disks now” and “Done” options.

So that’s a look at the menus on the Haiku Desktop.

Sector 3 of 9: About and Find boxes

About box

The next thing I’d like to look at here is the About box in Haiku Alpha 1. Like BeOS R5 and Dano, it has a dichotomy of quick system stats on the left side and copyright info on the right.

On the left, Version has “R1/alpha1 (Revision 33109)”, Processor shows an “Intel Core 2 Extreme [at] 2.25 GHz”, Memory shows I’ve allocated “256 MB total”, with “80 MB used (31%)”, the Kernel was built on “[September] 12, 2009 [at] 17:45:45” and Time Running is “16 minutes, 9 seconds”.

On the right, “Haiku” is shown in dark green with a copyright spanning from 2001 to 2020 (this expands to the current date). There’s also a hyperlink to the Haiku website, and a list of current maintainers. Under this are lists of Past Maintainers, Website, Marketing and Documentation maintainers, Contributors, and a Special Thanks To section. And… under this is a list of copyrights and licenses for the various open source pieces used in making the Haiku operating system, such as elements from the GNU Project and FreeBSD Project, NetBSD Project, and so on.

Only thing is I wish Haiku didn’t go with the cool black About box from R4.5 though… but that’s just me. 😉

Definitely take a moment to notice the revision here is 33109 — with the current Haiku Nightly revision or hrev at 53867 (as of this article), it’s amazing to see just how far Haiku has come in the years since its breakout release.

Find box

Okay, so as the final area of focus in this article before we head into the Applications and Demos folders in the next part — let’s take a look at Find.

In BeOS Dano, the Find box had looked like this… with the experimental Origin decor and Dano widgets:

Okay… so, maybe, the more fair thing would be to show the R5/“Maui” box:

There we go. And as you can see from both BeOS perspectives above, when we compare them to Haiku Alpha 1 (in the below screenshot), it’s pretty much the same box:

And I definitely want to take this opportunity to say look how much crisper the remastered query icon and control look is between R5 and Alpha 1. And as an extension, this also really shows that between the two UI designs, Haiku aims to model itself (both then and now) after R5 rather than Dano.

So, that said, let’s look at the rest of what’s in here. The little button in the top left of the Find box that looks like a classic Mac’s restart key in reverse in the top row is a ‘query’ menu showing the ‘default’ query and an option to “Save Query as Template”.

Next to it is the “All files and folders” menu, which allows choosing the file type to search for. And here, there’s a noticeable (and welcome) difference.

In Dano, the ‘all files and folders’ menu was a long list of MIME types, and this definitely makes searching a bit more pleasant. Huge kudos to the Haiku developer who decided to get this organized into categories (application, audio, image, text, video).

Like in BeOS, we can search “by Name”, “by Attribute”, or “by Formula”, so it’s the same as one would see back in Dano.

And as a fourth menu (or the third if you’re just counting the menus with text), the “All disks” pop-up allows changing the search scope to a particular disk, like “Haiku”.

But enough looking around the text box — let’s search for something already! I’ve made a text file called ‘maui’ for fun (since that was the name for R5), and by searching for it, as shown below, Haiku both finds the document almost instantly and makes a query for it that I can refer to later.

Search on the BeOS and what would start as Alpha 1 here with Haiku is really versatile and powerful, and I’ll definitely look at this in more detail when we get to Alpha 2.

The File menu is the standard Tracker menu (which I’ll go over in the Tracker part of this review), and in the queries or results window we get an “Edit Query” option. So again, it’s identical to what one would have in BeOS.

If we open the Window menu, we get Resize to Fit, Select, Select All, Invert Selection, and Close. This is the same as Dano, (with an added ‘Invert Selection’ option for the results window).

And Attributes include check options for Name, Size, Modified, Created, Kind, Location, and Permissions. But what I believe is new to Haiku Alpha 1 (as I don’t remember this from Dano), is that there’s an option to Copy Layout and Paste Layout.

Finally, like in the classic BeOS, queries are stored inside their own folder in the home folder (so, this would be /boot/home/queries). And as shown below, there’s both the ‘maui’ query and the ‘default’ query. As one last note, I definitely want to say: notice the detail in those icons! For a first release, you can really see the love that went into every detail here.

And that is the opening look at Haiku Alpha 1! Please join me again for the next part of this review where I will be taking a look at the Haiku Alpha 1 application set and demos.

Hope you enjoyed this article! 🙂

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Referenced Materials

1. Be Incorporated. “Welcome to Be Incorporated!”. 24 January 2002. http://web.archive.org/web/20020124162157/http://www.be.com/

2. Haiku Project, “Project History”. https://www.haiku-os.org/about/history

Retro Review: Zeven OS

Xubuntu with Be and Zeta style thrown in the mix.

(This article is on my Be/Haiku blog, Isometric Leaves, my OS exploration blog, the OS Voyager, and is also on Medium.)

Here we are at the last article in this trilogy following the BeOS review series! Originally, this article was going to be next after BlueEyedOS, but I decided to cover the “Gonx” concept first, as I knew this review was going to be larger.

And as we meet Zeven, the first thing to note is that both ZevenOS and BlueEyedOS share something in common: rather than being powered by a BeOS foundation, they use a common Gnu/Linux base. And also — where BlueEyedOS tried to offer a compatibility layer of sorts, ZevenOS does not. It is purely a Xubuntu distribution (Ubuntu + Xfce) with several cosmetic themes that take after a Be/Zeta look. Zeven does, however, include several tools that make it both useful and enjoyable, as we’ll see while looking at the system.

I’m going to try to fit today’s article into one piece, rather than splitting it into several pieces. This means this one cumulative article will be a longer read, but at the same time, I’ll also try to be more brisk when looking at some points to save space.

So, definitely get a nice hot or cold drink and a good snack, as we enter the last retro review before entering the Haiku age!

Part 1 of 7: Starting up

Okay… so the first part of diving into any review is to start up the system. It’s an Ubuntu offshoot, so we get the same ‘accessibility’ screen here where pressing a key will bring up the boot menu.

And while it usually automatically continues from here… if I happen to press a key (for the sake of the article), I’ll then be presented with a set of function key options for Help, Language, Keymap, Modes, Accessibility, and Other Options for keys F1 through F6. In front, I have a wraparound menu of languages — again, just like I would expect on a classic Ubuntu disc. I’ll go ahead and pick English.

The boot options are fairly close to classic Ubuntu as well. We can “try ZevenOS without installing”, “Install ZevenOS”, “Check disc for defects”, “Test memory”, or “Boot from first hard disk” (i.e. cancel). Since we’re focused on the main desktop, I’ll go ahead and run it as a live CD.

The boot splash is very reminiscent of classic Ubuntu. For those that may remember, Ubuntu used to load on a black screen with a bar that had an orange progress bar that would bounce from side to side when the system was starting. This is very similar… and I’ve taken two screenshots to give an idea to the viewer what this animation looks like:

Here, you can see the white line on the right of the progress bar:

Now, since we are using a Live CD session here, so the login screen won’t appear here. But, for the curious, if you are wondering what this would look like, this is Zeven’s login screen:

At the live desktop, we can see Zeven definitely has a Zeta look to it. The File System icon and the yellow logo is very reminiscent of Zeta, as is the glossy yellow button for the Zeven OS menu.

Part 2 of 7: The Zeven OS desktop

The Zeven OS menu is definitely a spin of the Xfce desktop environment menu… but as I look at it (thanks to the default theme and icons), I think of Zeta.

There’s entries for About, Catfish File Search, Settings, Log Out, and 8 categories: Accessories, Development, Games, Graphics, Internet, Multimedia, Office, and System. Below these, there is a link to the Ubuntu Software Center.

The “Deskbar” itself on the right of the menu (and screen) has a clock (in 24 hour time), the tray, and several pinned shortcuts. As applications are opened, they appear as horizontal, stacked tiles underneath all the above.

It’s also worth mentioning (as a quick side note) that Zeven includes a third party package called “Docky” as well, which is a dock widget that imitates the one from OS X:

About box

Zeven definitely sticks to its BeOS inspiration here with a box that is very similar to BeOS R5. In the little splash box in the top left, Zeven OS is in all capital letters (and in red and blue as homage to the Be logo).

And just like in BeOS, on the left side of the window, there’s Platform (IBM PC/AT or clone) — which curiously looks pasted in as a raster clipping from R5 — CPU (Intel Core 2 Duo on this machine), Kernel (3.13.0–24-generic), System Version (ZevenOS 6.0), and Running (up 4 minutes).

The right side reads: “This is ZevenOS based on Ubuntu 14.04 / Thanks Canonical for Ubuntu. Thanks Debian Community for Debian and many useful Tools. / Zeven OS Team: Alex, Anatolij, Fredreichbier, Stefan, Lubomir, L33k, Leszek / Thanks to all testers and the community” in the first visible part.

The second part reads: “Special Thanks to: Eppo, Hiob10hiob, rolan, zedc / ZevenOS (including tools) released under the terms of GPL or BSD”. This last part most likely refers to the Zeven tools (like the Magi utility).

Catfish 1.0.2

After the About box, the next entry on the menu is Catfish: a search tool usually included in distributions that use Xfce. (In other words, this is not authored by the Zeven team).

Catfish is pretty simple. There’s a location drop-down, a search bar, a list or icons toggle, a gear menu with settings, etc. and the window’s main body for Filename, Size, Location, and Modified.

It is set by default to a live home folder, so there’s really not much to search for. How about ‘documents’? And as shown below, here’s what this looks like in a tiled icon view (Documents, 40 bytes, /home/zevenos, Today):

Now, inasmuch as I so wish Zeven had its own search box with a Be theme… Catfish is a good choice. It isn’t processor intensive, it’s simple to understand and use, and it does support basic indexed search. Options in the gear menu on the right include searching for Exact Match, Hidden Files, and Fulltext Search. It’s also possible to “Update Search Index” and pick the type and date modified through a “Show Advanced Settings” option that toggles a sidebar on the left.

Last but not least, “About” reveals this is Catfish 1.0.2, GPL licensed, and from what I gather from seeing the two authors, it was written by Christian Dywan and Sean Davis.

Moving down the menu from Catfish File Search, the settings in Zeven OS are mainly the Xfce 4 set. And as shown below, the Settings menu has a link to the (Xfce) Settings Manager and a list of settings.

These include (not all visible in the screenshot): About Me, Accessibility, Additional Drivers, Appearance, ARandR, Bluetooth Manager, Desktop, Display, File Manager, Input Method, Keyboard, Keyboard Input Methods, Language Support, Light Locker Settings, Menu Editor, MIME Type Editor, Mouse and Touchpad, Network Connections, Notifications, Panel, Power Manager, Preferred Applications, Proxy Settings, Removable Drives and Media, Screensaver, Session and Startup, Settings Editor, Software & Updates, Theme Configuration, VPNC-GUI, Window Manager, Window Manager Tweaks, and Workspaces.

And because Zeven OS is based on Xubuntu, we have the Xfce Settings Manager, which is an all-in-one settings manager similar to what one would find on Mac OS 10.0+, Gnome 3, and others. There’s a search filter, an All Settings and Close button, and the main body of settings are divided into 3 main sections (or 4 if a user counts “Settings Editor” in Other):

  • Personal has Appearance, Desktop, File Manager, Notifications, Panel, Preferred Applications, Screensaver, Theme Configuration, Window Manager, Window Manager Tweaks, Workspaces.
  • Hardware has Display, Keyboard, Mouse and Touchpad, Power Manager, Removable Drives and Media.
  • System has Accessibility, MIME Type Editor, and Session and Startup (and again, Other has Settings Editor).
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Part 3 of 7: What’s inside the menus

There’s 8 different categories or menus here, thanks to this using the Xfce Desktop which organizes applications this way. The layout coincidentally is very similar to what the Max distribution, Zeta, and others have done… and so, even though this is Xfce, to me, this really also gives the system another touch of Zeta.

In going through what’s in each…

Accessories includes: About Xfce, Application Finder, Archive Manager, Bulk Rename, Calculator, Catfish File Search, Character Map, Clipman, Docky, File Manager, MAGI, Menu Editor, Mousepad, Notes, Orage Globaltime, Run Program, Screenshot, Task Manager, Terminal Emulator, Thunar File Manager, Xfburn, and Xpad.

Development has one lonely item, Geany.

Like the previous folder, Games just includes Mines.

Graphics includes: Document Viewer, GIMP Image Editor, ImageMagick (display), Inkscape, Shotwell, and Simple Scan.

Internet includes: Claws Mail, Firefox Web Browser, Liferea, Mail Reader, Pidgin Internet Messenger, Remote Desktop Viewer, Transmission, VPNC-GUI, Web Browser, and XChat IRC. (And as a quick note, as for Web Browser, this appears to open Firefox when I tested it).

Multimedia includes: Audacity, Audio Mixer, DeaDBeeF, Encode, GNOME MPlayer, OpenShot Video Editor, PulseAudio Volume Control, Xfburn, YAVTD.

Office includes AbiWord and Gnumeric (a word processor and spreadsheet application), rather than a larger office suite like OpenOffice.org or LibreOffice. There’s also Dictionary, Document Viewer, Orage Calendar, Orage Globaltime… and yes, in real Be nostalgia, there is People.

System is the second largest category in here. Like Accessories, there’s a lot to list here. Items include About, Bulk Rename, Compmanager, GDebi Package Manager, Gigolo, GParted, Htop, Install ZevenOS 6.0 LTS, Log Out, Network, Printers, Software Updater, Startup Disk Creator, Synaptic Package Manager, System Profiler and Benchmark, Task Manager, Thunar File Manager, Time and Date, Users and Groups, Windows Wireless Drivers, and Xfce Terminal.

Part 4 of 7: Xfce’s file manager

Next in this look at Zeven I wanted to take a look at the default file manager it comes with.

And, since we are looking at menus, let’s go ahead and take a look at the set of menus here… and think of Tracker (the file manager used on Be systems) a bit along the way. First, I’d like to open up the Go menu. Like on the Mac, the Go menu in Xfce’s Thunar allows the user to open the home folder, desktop, file system, network, or a location based on its path. A person can also browse templates and the trash can, and navigate back, forward, or to the ‘parent’ or enclosing folder. This is something that Tracker didn’t offer… and something that I do find useful.

And secondly, unlike Tracker, Xfce’s Thunar has a Help menu. This is something that I have often wished (maybe as a Mac fan) that Be applications included (although because the overall idea of the Be desktop was to let users feel power and discover the system as they used it, it makes sense).

As for View, we can Reload, choose options for Location Selector or Side Pane, toggle hidden files, status and menu bars, Arrange Items (per a submenu), Zoom In, Zoom Out, or view as Normal Size, and choose between View as Icons, Detailed List, and Compact List. Overall, in Thunar, we have a few novelties like a sidebar, a reload option, and zoom options… where writing a hypothetical clone of Tracker wouldn’t have these features built in (although as two examples, Haiku and Zeta do feature icon scaling, which works to zoom in and out nicely).

Edit in Thunar is pretty standard. It has options to Cut, Copy, Paste, Move to Trash, Delete, Select all Files, Select by Pattern, Invert Selection, Duplicate, Make Links, Rename, ‘Configure custom actions’, and open Preferences. However, one thing I did notice is that even though several options are inside an Edit menu, and not in the spots they would be in Tracker (in versions past R5), Thunar does include them, like the ability to Select by Pattern. So this is roughly equivalent in that respect.

And finally, here’s the File menu. One curious thing I’ve always liked about free desktop environments is that long before the Finder on the Mac had tabbed windowing in 10.9 Mavericks, free file managers had this years before. Beyond New Tab and New Window, there’s Create Folder, Create Document, Open, Properties, Close All Windows, Close Tab, and Close Window.

Thunar’s File menu also includes links to Open Terminal Here, Add to playlist, Open as root, Send with Bluetooth, and Search.

And the default home folder looks like this. We have a neat Zeta like Desktop folder (and pretty much all the icons take on this theme). The rest of what is inside the home folder includes Documents, Downloads, Music, Pictures, Public, Templates, and Videos. Kudos to the icon theme author for including the righteously retro red notes and BeBox in Music!

But despite all the stuff that I truly believe makes Thunar a good fit for this distribution, there’s one big feature that I think every Be reader out there can feel is missing here. I’d be remiss to not mention this. It would be like talking about a NeXT or Mac distribution without mentioning Miller Columns in the file manager. And as anyone who’s used BeOS knows, the feature I’m referring to here is drill down folders…

As shown in the above context menu, yes, Thunar has a Send To menu like Windows/ReactOS, but there’s no drill down functionality in it.

And beyond Send To, the context menu (shown above) includes the same links as the File menu (such as Create Archive, etc.), can summon “Properties” (the PC realm’s equivalent of Get Info), and do the usual open, copy, cut, and delete operations on the file. But again, no drill down fun.

The good news, however, is that Xfce 4.10 itself does allow directory menus in the panel — which means the Zeven Deskbar can have similar functionality, akin to using docked items (or later Stacks) in the Dock in Mac OS 10.0+. It’s not a total replacement for drill-down folders as it just allows looking… but it at least fills in some of the missing functionality I’ve been pining for.

As for what version of Thunar that this distribution is using, it appears it is Thunar 1.6.3, which per the about box “is a fast and easy to use file manager for the Xfce Desktop Environment”, with copyrights given to Benedikt Meurer, Jannis Pohlmann, and Nick Schermer.

And furthermore, it appears that we are using version 4.10 of the Xfce Desktop Environment in Zeven. The About box lists the about info for Xfce here, mentioning “Xfce is a collection of programs that together provide a full-featured desktop environment”. And… to save a lot of reading and writing in this article by quoting everything in the box, here is a link to the Xfce About page.

Part 5 of 7: The Magi Configuration tool

Okay, so that was a look around Xfce’s Thunar file manager, the Catfish search tool, the various menus, and some stuff around the Desktop.

But… since we are here to review Zeven, let’s get back into actually reviewing Zeven! The Zeven OS includes a configuration utility called “Magi” and I’m not quite sure what it means or stands for, but I do know the Magi from a historical perspective were magicians and/or priests in various religions, and also from a Biblical perspective that this also can refer to the ‘three Kings’ or the ‘three wise men’. So if I had to guess what the meaning here was, I’d say from both definitions, Magi would denote a feeling of wisdom or power within the distribution, maybe as a ‘smart’ tool for managing the system.

There’s four tabs in here, and its layout really does give me an ‘inspired by Zeta’ feeling. Back in Zeta, there was System, Copyright, Team, and Thanks. Here in Zeven, there’s System, Personal, Hardware, and Network.

The first stop is System. Here, we get a big BeOS kernel icon, and minus the memory usage meter, platform, and uptime stats, we get very similar info. Here, there’s Version (ZevenOS 6.0), Kernel (3.13.0–24-generic), CPU (an Intel Core 2 Duo), and Memory (1026008 or about 1 GB).

Below the info is a line of links to settings or preferences. I’ll open some of these, but for the sake of time, can’t get to everything. These include Users, Time & Date, Update, Softwarecenter, and Services with crisp icons and names below them.

Next is Personal, which just has 8 settings links in here for Desktop, Workspaces, Appearance, Language, Panel, Compositing, Autostart, and Windowmanager.

Hardware likewise has 8 settings links. These include Printer, Mouse, Keyboard, Screen, Powermanager, Sound, Devicemanager, and Drivermanager.

Lastly, Network has 5 settings links to Network, Ndiswrapper, Share, Proxy, and VPN.

Okay, so with our trip through Magi, let’s look at a few of the appearance settings on the system…

Style, icons, fonts, and mice!

First, here’s Theme Configuration. Here, we can specify custom highlight, panel, and menu colors with a sliding on/off switch. Text and background colors can be set for each with color well buttons, and from there, we can Revert or Apply per two buttons on the bottom. By default, we get a nice shade of sky blue, and R5 style grays.

Appearance has various Gtk chrome styles or themes that apply system (or rather desktop-wide) to applications, with a whole list of themes. By default, this is set to “Haiku”, which curiously doesn’t follow Haiku’s color scheme. It’s similar to how the curved title tab decor was named “Haiku” back in PhOS.

Zeven also ships with the “Be” icon theme by default (which isn’t actually the classic BeOS icons, but rather is more of a Zeta inspired set in nature), and also has the high contrast, Humanity, and Gnome icon sets from Ubuntu.

The default font here is “Ubuntu”, size 10 (set with a pane by clicking the button with this info on it). Xfce’s Appearance settings also also toggling anti-aliasing with a check box, as well as changing hinting, DPI scaling, and sub-pixel order through various controls, as shown below:

And also, Zeven comes with several X.org mouse schemes, like Redglass, Whiteglass, and Handhelds, but also comes with black and white DMZ mouse themes, Adwaita (from Gnome), and by default, has the BeHand (BeOS Like cursor) set enabled. On the right, there’s a box to scale the size up or down (set to 24 here), and a preview pane of the set, showing the cursor in its different states (like moving, busy, link, etc.)

Default backgrounds

Next up, I wanted to quickly show the thumbnails at least for Zeven’s default background set. Here, we can pick thumbnails for desktop backgrounds (called wallpaper here) quite nicely. The first half dozen in the set are roughly shown here:

And here’s the next batch:

And two more at the bottom. Xfce’s Desktop preferences also allows changing Menus and Icons settings as well via tabs, and we can pick different folders, background styles, or gradient/color solids through pop-up menus. Colors can be set through color well buttons, and it’s also possible to set a timer to cycle through backgrounds, or use check boxes to “Apply to all workspaces” or shuffle the pictures.

Compositing

The “Compmanager” dialog is pretty simple. There’s two check boxes for “Fade-In” and “Shadow” and buttons to Deactivate and Activate.

If I choose to turn on everything, I get nice fades and a very deep shadow on application windows.

To show just how deep this throws shadows, here’s an example of the main menu open. The shadows give the illusion of elevating it above the Magi window, and the Magi window itself appears to be hovering over the desktop this way. Overall, these shadows are definitely deep and dark, and while I love shadows in GUIs, not everyone does. Really, the only thing I wished (as I’m guessing this is xcompmgr) is that the settings box would have had a shadow depth setting to it.

As another example, look at how much shadow is cast onto the page white background of Thunar under the Magi window. It really does give the desktop a different sense of depth than with compositing turned off.

Part 5b: Miscellaneous settings picks

Now, beyond our quick look at the appearance controls, I don’t have the space in this article to open and go through every preference in here, but I did think I should go through the highlights, so here’s a quick look at 17 settings picks:

Settings pick 1 of 17: Xfce Power Manager

This one I had to pick to illustrate one big advantage running Xubuntu (what Zeven is based on) has over the classic BeOS. Not only can the power manager here “put [the] display to sleep” and turn it off, with sliders for both (as shown in the Monitor tab below), but it also can perform an action when the battery is really low, put the computer itself to sleep, and also has options to tone down how much power traditional hard disks and the processor uses in the Actions tab. And notice that in between General and Extended in the sidebar on the left, there’s “On AC” and “On Battery”; it’s possible to have two power profiles here if someone is using a mobile computer.

Of course, in General and Extended, there’s several more options available here, like to also lock the screen (which BeOS can do per ScreenSaver preferences), show the ‘tray icon’ (desktop applet in Be parlance), choose what happens when power buttons get pushed, and whether to be what manages power (since Linux has multiple DEs, power managers, etc.) The point, however, is that when comparing this to ScreenSaver preferences in BeOS (which sort of doubles as its basic energy pane), it’s pretty clear that Xfce’s Power Manager has more to offer to the end user here.

Settings pick 2 of 17: Users

Now, again, because this is based on Ubuntu, there’s yet another advantage that several distributions in the post-Be era tried to work on: multiple users. Here, each person added to the system gets their own home folder and environment to play with.

A list appears on the left with the ‘full name’ and ‘username’ (in this case, “Live session user” and “zevenos”) and we can Add and Delete users as well as Manage Groups with several buttons. On the right, we have an icon (currently a Be person), “Live session user” again, Account Type (Custom) and Password (which is “Asked on login”) with links to change these settings. There’s also an Advanced Settings button — and beyond the nice frontend here, it’s worth adding Linux has excellent tools for managing users that aren’t shown in this review.

Settings pick 3 of 17: (Ubuntu) Software Updater

The next highlighted feature in here is Ubuntu’s “Software Updater”, which means that ZevenOS can receive updates to the system quickly and easily… although it’s worth pointing out that because this LTS (long-term support) release is aged, the repositories will more than likely need to be updated to the newest Ubuntu LTS in the configuation files inside the /etc/apt folder to keep receiving the latest updates. But still — this is definitely an additional feature that Zeven offers, as its plugged directly into the Ubuntu universe.

Settings pick 4 of 17: Languages

The next settings pick I wanted to show is a “Language Support” box. While it does need to fetch language packages to be useful, the point is that one can pick the “language for menus and windows” from a list here, “Apply System-Wide” and “Install/Remove Languages” via buttons below the list as well. It is also possible to choose the “Keyboard input method system” with a pop-up menu; Regional Formats allows changing money, thousands, and the usual regional settings.

And my point here is that while the classic BeOS (R5) had some language support, it really wasn’t until the post-Be era where distributions like Vimba, Max, and Zeta began to work together that the Be desktop had better translation. 

And today, of course, modern-day Haiku has great localization support. But from the perspective of R5, this would’ve been cool to see.

Settings pick 5 of 17: Printers

Another setting here is Printers. There’s Server, Printer, View, and Help menus, and a toolbar with an Add button/menu, Reload, and Filter (a search box). Of course, because we’ve started from a Live CD, “There are no printers configured yet” and we’re offered an Add button.

And my point with showing this one is that (again, compared to the classic BeOS), Ubuntu supported more new printers out of the box.

Settings pick 6 of 17: Panel

I wanted to pick this one because it offers a huge amount of customization and to show how the ‘deskbar’ in Zeven OS 6.0 is setup. Xfce offers what are called ‘panels’ which can be customized to behave like the BeOS deskbar in “Deskbar” mode (set in Zeven), like a dock, or like a taskbar. And there can be multiple panels as well. There’s check boxes for “Lock panel”, “Automatically show and hide the panel”, and “Don’t reserve space on borders”. Below these, there’s also sliders to set both row and panel sizes and the number of rows.

Setting pick 7 of 17: Mouse and Touchpad

As shown below (thanks to the Device pop-up menu), yes, I am using VirtualBox to run Zeven. And there’s sliders to set Acceleration and Sensitivity, a checkbox to enable it or not, another to “reverse scroll direction” (i.e. enable natural scrolling), as well as radio buttons to set it to “right-handed” or “left-handed” mode.

But aside from describing what’s in here, what I hope to show with this settings box is that until the arrival of Haiku, having the ability to manage a trackpad and the ability to choose devices in Xfce definitely had functional advantages over classical BeOS. (Although… I will openly say as a fan of both Apple and Be desktop design, this window is a lot uglier than the old BeOS Mouse preferences!)

Settings pick 8 of 17: Keyboard

Next up is Keyboard. It’s possible to set shortcuts and the layout in the other tabs. This is kind of a staple of traditional desktop computing, so I had to show the Keyboard box. Here, there’s check boxes to “restore num lock state on startup”, “Enable key repeat” (with repeat delay and speed sliders), and “Show blinking” (with a ‘Blink delay’ slider under it):

Settings pick 9 of 17: Time and Date Settings

But around this point of the exploration I also began to really feel the difference between Xfce and the Be preference set more.

Here, in Time and Date, there’s pop-up menus for Configuration and Time zone, -/+ value pickers for hour, minute, and second, and a calendar widget underneath… but really, even though it gets the job done, it’s not the same. Things feel different here and it makes me miss the BeOS version.

Settings pick 10 of 17: Workspaces

Opening the “Workspaces” settings in Zeven will open one pane of the ‘Sawfish Configurator’ for the Sawfish window manager. On the right, there’s drop down menus to choose workspace behavior, a list of workspace names, and a checkbox to “preserve outermost empty workspaces”. Very different again from how Workspaces are managed on the classic BeOS.

Settings pick 11 of 17: PulseAudio Volume Control

Here, we have a piece of PulseAudio… a graphical volume control box from the pavucontrol package. Here, it’s possible to change input and output volume, playback and recording devices, etc. through the 5 tabs at the top.

Settings pick 12 of 17: Display

There is a “Display” settings box in Xfce (and by inheritance, in Zeven) which has a list of displays on the left side, and on the right, there’s pop-up menus to set Resolution, Refresh rate, Rotation, and Reflection. Again, like with Time and Date (or really the settings we’ve explored so far), it’s really not the same as in the classic BeOS. And also, I’ll add that Ubuntu does handle the displays differently. However, in adding a positive note before moving on, I will say it’s at least nice Xfce has the screen options on the right side.

Settings pick 13 of 17: Ubuntu Software and Additional Drivers

Now I wish I could go into full detail on software-properties-gtk, but we’re limited on time. But in short, the first four tabs of this window allow specifying locations where packages are fetched within the Ubuntu repositories, from extra sources (like the CD or Zeven’s repo), what sources and how often to check for updates, and keys for package repos.

As for the fifth tab, because this is Ubuntu, some modules may not be installed by default as they may contain non-free areas. And so “Additional Drivers” comes in useful for finding and installing said modules to get (mainly graphics or wireless cards) working. Here, as noted, “No proprietary drivers are in use.”

Settings pick 14 of 17: Network Manager

And here is a quick peek at the pretty Gtk window for network-manager. We can Add, Edit, or Delete connections using the buttons on the right, and on the left, there’s a list with “Ethernet” expanded out to show I’m currently using a wired connection, last used ‘3 minutes ago’.

Settings pick 15 of 17: Ndiswrapper

Ndiswrapper (or rather the ndisgtk frontend to it shown below) I thought was worth covering, because it allows using Windows drivers for wireless networking cards with Linux. At the moment, the list on the left is empty. Here, it’s possible to install or remove a driver, Configure Network, or close the window using the buttons on the right.

Settings pick 16 of 17: Shared Folders

“Shared Folders” would normally allow connecting to shared folders across the network on machines running Gnu/Linux or Windows… but as shown below, this is one of the annoying parts of not using the classic BeOS, despite the advantage that Ubuntu offers here. In order to use “sharing services”, we have to install these packages, as shown below:

Settings pick 17 of 17: System Information (hardinfo)

Last but not least, hardinfo (what the System Information tool is here) was a great choice to include. Again, because I’d like to keep the main body of this review in one article, I can’t go through everything this does, but this not only lists good info, but provides several graphs and benchmarks as well. Overall, I think it’s a good choice.

Part 6 of 7: A look at a few applications…

Now, like the BeOS distributions I had looked at back in the post-Be part of the BeOS series, there’s not enough time to go through every application that’s included here. So, like with the settings in the last part, I’m just going to pick a few out of the set it comes with:

People

Per Zeven’s Be inspiration, I wanted to start by opening an original app on the system: People. Now, every time I tried to start it on Zeven OS 6.0, it wouldn’t open… not sure exactly why at the moment, but People 0.2 from Zeven OS 5 does start just fine, so I’ll go ahead and launch it from there.

And… wow! People is very close to its Be counterpart. Here, we have File (with New, Open, Save, Save As, Export as vCard, Quit) and Help (with About) and text fields for Name, Nickname, Street, Zip, State, City, Country, E-Mail, Homepage, Tel (telephone), Mobile/Fax.

And per its about box with a nice People icon in there, it’s People 0.2, “A clone of the famous BeOS People application”, copyrighted to Leszek Lesner in 2009, under the BSD license.

Ubuntu Software Center

Ubuntu Software Center is the default application center on Zeven, as it is an Ubuntu distribution. There’s not much to say here about the app itself, other than it’s pretty much the standard app store of the era. There’s File, Edit, View, and Help menus and back, forward, All Software and Installed (with side menus), History, and Progress buttons, with the package storefront in the main body of the window.

But one thing I can say is that because this is an Ubuntu distribution, it has full access to the world of Ubuntu packages and the Aptitude package manager (inherited from Debian), which means that in addition to the packages and/or the software titles that are bundled in Zeven (like GIMP, Inkscape, Firefox, etc.), it is possible to choose between and add thousands of packages.

And as shown by the about box for Ubuntu Software Center, this is version 13.10, with a copyright of 2009–2013 by Canonical, which shows the age of this copy.

Xfburn

Next up is the bundled Xfburn application Zeven OS 6 comes with (version 5 had included Brasero instead). And… there’s no burners available to the system… oh well. But I did want to keep this here to illustrate the rather gorgeous BeOS alert icon though… look at how crisp that is!

Xfburn is pretty easy to understand. There’s File, Edit, Actions, View, and Help buttons, “Welcome to xfburn!” and four big buttons in the center for four main operations: Burn Image, Blank Disc, New Data Composition, and Audio CD.

Geany & Mines

Next up is Geany, an IDE for Gtk environments, and the only game included in the distribution: Gnome Mines (a clone of mine sweeping games on other platforms).

Evince

Also, here is the default PDF “Document Viewer” that comes with Zeven, Evince. While I don’t have any PDFs to open here, the about box reveals it is copyrighted to The Evince authors from 1996–2012 (and today as well).

GIMP & Inkscape

Next up we have the GIMP, which really needs no introduction. This is the alternative to Adobe Photoshop on free desktop environments. An example screenshot of it with a blank main window and tools palette is shown below:

This distribution also includes Inkscape, a definite essential to anyone doing graphics work in a free desktop environment.

Claws

Next up we have Claws Mail. Upon first starting it, there is a “setup wizard” box that pops up, and since we’re taking the express route through looking at applications, I’ll just mention this takes the user through the standard mail setup.

Once that’s done, Claws opens it’s main window, which looks like the standard mail clients of the 1990s and early 2000s. There’s File, Edit, View, Message, Tools, Configuration, and Help menus, and a toolbar with big Get Mail, Send, Compose, Reply, All, Sender, Forward, Trash, Spam, and Next buttons at the top. The left side has a Mailbox tree with Inbox, Sent, Drafts, Queue, and Trash. From there, the right body of the window has a message list with Subject, From, Date, etc. and a preview pane on the bottom that shows From, To, Subject, Date, and the letter itself. To save time (yet again) with the about info, here’s the page for Claws.

Firefox

The default Web browser included here is Firefox. And really, this doesn’t need an introduction — it is, by far, one of the most powerful modern Web browsers out there. It’s an older version that uses the curvy Australis design, with round tabs, a big back orb, the ‘awesome’ location bar, search, bookmarks, a more button, and the ‘hamburger’ menu on the right side. Here, the page is set to the “Ubuntu Start Page”.

And here is Firefox’s about info, which reveals it’s age as version 34.0. This is definitely a big upgrade from Zeven OS 5, though, which if I remember right had Firefox 17 in it. The about box itself has a big Firefox logo, Firefox, the version and “Mozilla Firefox for Ubuntu canonical — 1.0”, along with various links and a summary of who builds it. And so, again, to save time in this aspect, here’s a link to the Mozilla Firefox webpage for the interested.

GNOME MPlayer & Audacity

Next up, I’ve put both GNOME MPlayer and Audacity in the same screenshot to save room.

  • GNOME MPlayer has File, Edit, View, Help menus, back, play, stop, and forward buttons, a time slider, volume control, and fullscreen button. Overall, it’s a very simple frontend to MPlayer. And in the interests of moving forward, here’s a link to the MPlayer info page.
  • Audacity is basically a digital audio studio, where someone can cut, mix, edit, record, play, etc. audio files. It’s got File, Edit, View, Transport, Tracks, Generate, Effect, Analyze, and Help menus, and a toolbar set full of buttons. There’s pause, play, stop, previous, next, record, editing buttons, volume meters, volume and mic/input sliders, a set of buttons for cutting, pasting, and zooming in on audio, etc. and menus for choosing audio sources. Below all this is the main body of the window, where all the audio tracks appear. And as I’ve been doing so far, to save time saying more, here’s the Audacity webpage.

AbiWord

The little word processor included in Zeven is the nimble AbiWord by AbiSource, as shown below. It’s Word compatible and very easy to use; on the free desktop, it’s easily one of my personal favorites. Across the top, there’s a traditional set of menus (File, Edit, View, Insert, Format, Tools, Table, RDF, Collaborate, Documents, Help) and the standard and formatting toolbars one would see in word processors of the late 1990s and 2000s. The About box shows this is version 3.0.0, credited to “Dom Lachowicz and other contributors”.

Gnumeric

Of course, where there’s AbiWord, usually Gnumeric accompanies it as a simple spreadsheet app. Overall, I have to say that including this and AbiWord was definitely a good choice for the distro, as OpenOffice.org or LibreOffice would’ve made it heavier.

As shown below, there’s a band of menus, a standard bar, and a formatting at the top similar to AbiWord. There’s also a forms bar as well with several widgets, like one would see inside an app builder.

According to the About box, Gnumeric 1.12.9 is running here, and “is the result of the efforts of many people”. To save time here, here is a link to the Gnumeric webpage.

Orage Calendar

Here is the very simple Orage Calendar that is part of the Xfce Desktop… which basically is just a Gregorian calendar with clickable days, File, Edit, View, and Help menus, and month and year navigation widgets:

GParted

And here is GParted, which is the de facto disk utility for the Gnu/Linux desktop. It somehow looks different in its Zeven appearance, and yet instantly familiar. We have GParted, Edit, View, Device, Partition, and Help menus on top, and a toolbar with new, delete, resize, copy, paste, undo, apply, and a disk selector pop-up menu. Below that is the usual drive ‘window’ and list view showing the Partition, File System, Size, Used, Unused, and Flags. And as I’ve used it over the years, I’m really thankful for it being included in this distribution.

Startup Disk Creator

Because Zeven is an Ubuntu distribution, it has the luxury of inheriting all the good tools from Ubuntu, like their “Make Startup Disk” or Startup Disk Creator utility. The premise is simple. Simply choose a source medium or image in the list chooser at the top, choose a destination disk in the list chooser below that, choose how much space to keep for persistence (so files aren’t lost in the live disk) via a set of radio buttons and a slider to set the amount. Once all done, click “Make Startup Disk” and Ubuntu usually will automate doing this for you.

Synaptic

Next up — I had to pick this one! Synaptic. The “Quick Introduction” dialog is a bit lengthy to cover here, so I won’t. But in paraphrasing what’s in it, it’s like a cheat sheet card that basically explains what packages are, what the purpose of the app is, how to highlight packages with it, and a little advice.

Ah… the nostalgia. Synaptic definitely feels like a relic from before the application store age… and in a way, I miss it. I remember installing stuff with it (and granted, it’s still around, but not as popular as it used to be). Here, packages could be picked and managed from the columned list on the right, with info usually showing in the right quadrant. The left side has buttons for Sections, Status, Origin, Custom Filters, Search Results, and Architecture, and there’s a list that usually allows narrowing packages in the right list by category.

And as shown here, this is Synaptic version 0.81.1 made by Connectiva S/A and Michael Vogt.

Installer

And speaking of installing stuff, this is the ZevenOS installer. Or rather, the Ubuntu (graphical) installer. This version starts with a Welcome page where it’s possible to pick a language from the sidebar and read the release notes, then Continue from there or Quit. There’s also a Back button as well. And basically… I won’t cover installation in this article, as the steps are pretty much the same as in Ubuntu (14.04).

Xfce Terminal

Last but not least, here’s a really quick peek at the Xfce Terminal. I’m sorry we don’t have more time for it today, but I really am hoping to fit everything into one big article (with an installation extra) rather than splitting it up into 4 or 5 pieces this time.

But as shown in the above screenshot, we have the usual live Ubuntu list here: bin, boot, cdrom, dev, etc, home, lib, media, mnt, opt, proc, rofs, root, run, sbin, srv, sys, tmp, usr, var, initrd.img, and vmlinuz, the contents of the home folder (Desktop, Documents, Downloads, Mail, Music, Pictures, Public, Templates, Videos), the Ubiquity installer on the Desktop, and the lsb-release file contents (with the distribution ID, releaes, codename, and description reading Ubuntu, 14.04, trusty, Zeven OS 6.0).

Part 7 of 7: Shutting down

And so, at last, we are ready to shut down the system. To do that, I’ll go ahead and click “Log Out” from the main menu. From there, Xfce presents a box with a check box to “Save session for future logins”, Cancel, and five big buttons with icons to Log Out, Restart, Shut Down, Suspend, and Hibernate. And since it’s time to wrap up the review, I’ll go ahead and shut down…

And at last, we’re asked in live Linux CD fashion to “please remove the installation media and close the tray (if any) then press ENTER”.

Closing thoughts…

ZevenOS is a really cute distribution in a nostalgic sort of way. It’s classic Ubuntu with a zing of Zeta and BeOS in the mixture that (in this geek’s humble opinion) makes it fun and enjoyable to start up and explore. While it is certainly different than having the real, vintage BeOS running, and doesn’t have all the advantages of the BeOS, it definitely is something that I really wish would be resumed someday. From what I can tell, it appears dormant, as there’s been two LTS releases since 14.04 as of when this article was written. And overall, I hope you enjoyed this look at ZevenOS 6.0. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll come back again as we enter into the world of Haiku!

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Retro Review: Gonx (Be concept)

A really cool idea that sadly never got to grow into a system.

Originally, I was going to cover Zeven OS first, then look at Gonx — but since I really feel that Zeven is meant to be a ‘grand finale’ review before we enter the exciting new era of the autumn and poetry themed OS that would take over where BeOS died, I thought I’d take a look at this environment first.

The only thing I wonder about Gonx to this day is… who made it, exactly? Well, to be honest, I’m not completely sure — but we might have a very good clue, as it existed at cotito.free.fr back in its time, and the site is archived on the Internet Archive today, with beautifully preserved links to its index, ‘see more’, and ‘in action’ pages. Thus, from what I can gather from these pages, if ‘cotito’ was the author’s real or screen name, then it would be my best guess that Cotito is most likely who designed it (and who deserves full credit for his work). So, from here, I’ll refer to the author as Cotito.

A while back on the Haiku forum I’d explored Gonx a bit with the hope that the great ideas in Gonx could inspire Haiku to add new features in its future. And from the first time I’d seen this concept, I can definitely say that I’m a fan of it. But despite all the stuff I love about Gonx and some of its ideas that I only wish were in Haiku today, I also see where some things would need a bit of fine tuning to be better. So today, we’ll be looking at both sides of Gonx through the 9 concept shots or ‘screens’ that Gonx had to demo to the world. Ready to have some geeky fun?

Let’s go! 🙂

Screen 1 of 9: More than the usual login

The very first impression I really feel Cotito’s Gonx concept communicates to the audience is that it was different than any Be desktop at the time — and I think can say that this distinctive feel would have even surpassed the unofficial Zeta fork.

The login box (where I wanted to start this review from, since on most systems, it’d be the first thing we’d see) definitely reflects this is a step above BeOS R5:

As an example of the innovative stuff inside it, Gonx had a movable sidebar where one could exit Gonx, (and if I am looking at the hollow hand on this widget correctly, it appears it would have been able to be moved and docked to different corners of the screen if it were made into a working system). Like other elements on the login screen, the floating sidebar is a standard part of the Gonx concept that reappears throughout the interface.

Also, there’s another standard Gonx feature here that’s more complex than it first seems — a sidebar, but not in the sense of the first one. This one is more or less another layer that sits under the desktop, and appears like an indented folder tab where the desktop is cut away or peeled back in a very svelte way around it. And it is quite beautiful; I think this is one of the things that has me a bit obsessed with the Gonx concept alone.

And on it there’s a Help button (nice!) — which is something that the BeOS didn’t have in applications, as the BeOS was designed to let people discover on their own how to use the powerful system that sat ready for action (with a stack of on disk documentation for reference). But an onboard help feature is definitely quite welcome to have. And there’s also an Environment button here as well, which is highlighted to show where we are.

Finally, as for what the Gonx “Environment” box looks like, it doesn’t have a tab at all like a BeOS window usually would which makes it really intriguing to me; instead it has a vertical bar with the word “Environment” oriented sideways, reminiscent of something out of early 2000s Microsoft design that one would find on the really early Pocket PCs, Neptune, or Whistler (the beta name for XP). And like a usual login box, we’re prompted to “Select your identity and tip your password to enter!” (I think the author meant to say ‘type’ here). Under this is a black box with white sans-serif text that reads: “You should see here some thumbnails… symbols of the registered identity” and the usual User Name and Password fields (with an Enter button) that are standard login box features. Users can also be picked with an arrow, interestingly on the right side of the Users box. And finally, in the cool Gonx fashion of introducing experimental widgets, we have upside down tabs that are anchored to the bottom of the window: Identity (where we currently are) and Power.

And for the sake of retro reflection, I’d like to stop there a moment. Phosphur, Zeta, and others had at one point tried to have a multi-user setup with a login box, but (at least in this geek’s opinion) nothing out there so far in the Be family looks as smooth as the the login box Gonx could have had (if it would’ve been made real).

Screen 2 of 9: Workspaces cubed

And if some of the proposed features (like the cutaway sidebar) from Gonx haven’t made you go “Whoa…” yet in a retro sort of way already, the WorkSpaces concept here might. Yes, BeOS (and the X Window System) had Workspaces, which was innovative of itself, but this is more than just 2D planes of windows or a mere replicant.

Honestly, this looks like something taken right from QuickDraw 3D on the Macintosh or an [SGI] Irix demo!

Today, it’s easy to take this ‘for granted’ as pretty much every modern operating system is easily capable of this. In fact, a few years after this concept (from 2001), Quartz Extreme capable Macs not only had Exposé, but also had rotating cube desktop switching with the introduction of Mac OS X 10.3 “Panther” in 2003— and Compiz on GNU/Linux soon had plugins for 3D desktop spaces as well.

Nevertheless, this is quite cool to imagine in action! Notice that again, the desktop appears sunken in on the left face of the cube (in the three faces we see). From this, my personal guess is that the Gonx author was more than likely envisioning a layered, 3D desktop. And that idea is what makes me stare at this in amazement. It’s not just the usual cube switcher. If my theory is right, there’s a lot of power behind it (think of a hierarchy of layers, dynamic rendering, shading— possibly with a desktop compositing engine to power it).

A few more things here…

And of course, while the cube was clearly the author’s main focus here, there’s also some more stuff I noticed in this concept as well. For one thing, this does not use a BeOS title tab, but instead has white text standing on the top of the window frame that reads “WorkSpaces”. There’s no background to it; it merely floats. I find that quite interesting… although on a non-solid desktop, that’d present quite the visual challenge. A snippet of how this appears along the mock window’s edge is shown here:

There’s also a Settings button. I’m left imagining what it could do or change. Would it offer a choice between 3D and classic 2D workspaces? Would it change the background, cube lighting, perspective, opacity, or size? And lastly, there’s two tabs tucked on the bottom of the window — Environment and ‘down…’ Guessing from the icons, where Environment appears to be a free cube, and Down has a brown cube inside a translucent box, it would appear to me this would pin the cube down and also lock it into position, (which would be helpful, as it would prevent it from being accidentally moved while moving windows between the faces of the cube).

Screen 3 of 9: Gonx had a personal wheel idea

And if anyone remembers the cool mouse wheel pop-ups that some mice (and add-ons) offered in the 1990s, this is a perfect example of what one of those ring UIs would’ve looked like. From studying this, it looks like it’s invoked by clicking “Perso” in the floating sidebar, under Settings and Maui (the name for R5). This most likely meant the user could switch back to R5 — which would be quite cool indeed). Whether just a warm restart (where services, etc. would switch) or a cold reboot would be needed is unclear, however. Also, “easy mode” shows in the sidebar while the wheel is invoked; (from reading description on the archived site, apparently, the “easy mode” hides disks, etc. from the user). Curiously, I never saw the Disks stack or any disks on the desktop for any of the concept pictures that make up Gonx… so it’s really strange to me that the Gonx author would have included that.

When summoned, the “Perso” wheel would show Pictures, Audio, Web Files, Work, and Downloads folders that are positioned in a ring around the Perso star, with the main home folder on the inside.

Truly fascinating… and a definite relic of the late 1990s to early 2000s. Honestly, had Gonx been actually developed, I think I would’ve used this feature out of nostalgic fun, but then or now, as much as I am a fan of this concept (and of the BeOS) — in my humble opinion, I feel this needed more freedom to really be useful.

For example, if I could hold down option and control while clicking (or for three button mice, a wheel click or middle click) to bring this up like a heads-up display (HUD), I could see where instantaneous access to the home folder (and the folders in it) would’ve been quite handy.

Screen 4 of 9: Exploring a new Desktop

And that brings me to actually exploring the Gonx Desktop — and believe me, I’m going to explore every millimeter of this next picture.

As mentioned in the last section, the sidebar on the left still has Settings, Maui, and Perso. This is shown in this “screenshot” as well.

More side applets

On the layered cut out sidebar on the bottom right), in addition to Help, there’s also News, “off Line”, WorkSpaces, and Temp. Would the Offline feature work like a cache area? That’d be my best guess. News, I think, is self-explanatory. Temporary files more than likely apply to the default browser, although there are other possibilities for this as well. (And since I’m writing a lot between screenshots, here’s a snippet of what this looked like up close):

While the Mac and Windows somewhat had similar ideas to this sidebar at the time, it definitely was a first for the Be world, and definitely was something that was ahead of what other systems would do later with the panels that would pop out of the top or right sides of the screen.

Applets here are free of a Deskbar

Also, up on top, there’s desktop applets and a clock — free of any Deskbar, Menubar, or anything of the sort… which honestly is nice, (except that the clock needs some sort of background around it to be readable on non-solid background). Overall, I really like this idea though… it’s a definite different perspective from the usual Be desktop.

Pretty much the same Find as in Dano…

Cotito’s Gonx in many ways is a reimagined version of Dano. When I look at the controls and the way widgets look, etc. I see Dano throughout the interface. For reference, here is the real Find box as it appears back in BeOS Dano, (with its “All files and folders”, “by Name”, “All disks” pop-up menus, search bar and button, query proxy and name, and search options):

As shown below, in Gonx, Find is pretty much the standard BeOS box. There’s an interesting take on the active buttons in applications, however. Notice that in Gonx, the active button (Search) has a drop shadow and a blue glow around it’s edges. And as I just noted, because it does make use of several post-R5 or “Dano” elements, this would more than likely would pulse if it was real. The pop-up menus and the text fields have a gentle shadowed hover as well like Dano, but the colors are set to a pale gray. Because Gonx doesn’t have Colors in its preferences set, it’s safe to assume this can’t be changed out of the box.

Preferences in Tracker + window chrome

Again, in Dano (the last release of BeOS), a Tracker window (in this case, Preferences, since that’s what is what is showing in the Gonx concept) appeared like the one shown below.

With the Origin decor enabled, tabs wrapped around the top left corner with a vertical area sticking out of the side for the first time — and a border across the top of the window with a trio of small hide, zoom, and close buttons. Dano had added some minor shadowing, and came with 23 preferences.

But in Preferences in the Gonx concept, there a few subtle features that Dano does not have. Toolbars had handles, indicating they could be moved, and the path field is a combo box, with an arrow for a pop-up menu on the right. This would have meant, if Gonx would’ve been built, that one could navigate backwards with the menu from the present path. Nice. 

Oddly, Attributes is showing in the Tracker menus next to File and Window, despite being in icon view. And here, scroll bars are empty if inactive. And as for differences in preferences, Gonx curiously has what appears to be a Release 5 set (not the later Dano set, which it appears to be modeled after). Nevertheless, it does have a few extras: Plugins, Locale, and “SpicyKeys” chili pepper preferences that join the R5 set. Boneyard and Colors from Dano aren’t there.

As for the title tabs in Gonx, it has a weird twist on Origin from BeOS Dano. Shown below are snippets from Find (title tab active):

… and Preferences (title tab inactive):

In Gonx, the close, hide, and zoom buttons (in the same clump of three as in Origin) are next to the title tab and are given more chrome. Notice also that the default chrome is a lighter, slate blue in Gonx. However, just like in Dano (when Origin is enabled over the R5 decor), the rounded title tab wraps around the top left corner of the windows and we get a roughly similar design.

But… for all the cool things about Gonx that I enjoy looking at, the only thing here (and the same applies to Origin) is that the window elements are too small to be practically useful. There are ways that could solve this, (like perhaps adding in magnification that would adjust for mouse position), but this is one of the areas I wish Gonx could have improved on.

Screen 5 of 9: Connection

The “Connection” dialog that is summoned through the cutaway sidebar on the bottom right is meant to be a way to quickly manage network connections. A pop-up menu would have allowed setting profiles, and it also looks like for here, we’re using dial up networking. And while these settings would’ve definitely applied to the system, I’m also guessing it would have been tied into apps like IM (instant messenger) and IRC (Internet relay chat) clients. If so, that would’ve been really nice (and innovative) if this concept was imagining itself being able to do that. To explain, QuickTime on the Mac used to have a control panel where Internet speed could be set to determine stream quality; imagine if all applications had this advantage!

And from looking at the box below, it appears that in addition to setting connection options in the first pane, this would’ve also had connection statistics (per the mini dock with a Statistics option that looks like it was meant to zoom on hover on the bottom of the window).

But I think the cool part of this (for this reviewer, anyway) is that Cotito’s Gonx had the idea of being able to connect or disconnect with the literal click of a switch. Remember this was 2001, before all the mainstream mobile and desktop environments out there began putting an easily accessible “Airplane Mode” button or slider in them.

Screen 6 of 9: BeShare

Now, this one really isn’t anything new. In the forks that I looked at after Dano, you probably remember seeing BeShare, a file sharing tool for the BeOS, and in the Gonx concept, it appears again.

In this concept, BeShare has the same File, Attributes, Settings menus as the actual app does — and the same file list pane with File Name, File Size, Kind, etc. columns, an info log box, downloads section, and yet another list box with user Name and ID columns. But what’s different here is that Server, User Name, and Query have icons, with the first two in the menubar (more on this in the next part). There’s also several other little tweaks to the UI that show when compared to BeShare in the distributions as well…

Where Deskbar menus went…

On the bottom of several of the Gonx screens, we can see the Dock, but it’s only in the BeShare mock-up screen that the author shows it in it’s full potential. The Gonx Dock would have had magnification like the Mac OS X Dock did at the time (and as of this writing, macOS (Catalina) still has magnification). What this was meant to do was expand or enlarge items when hovered over and show a label (here, for Tracker, it is shown inside the Dock to the right of the icon). And context menus allowed closing, hiding, expanding, and switching between application windows. Today, on Haiku, this has been implemented as DockBert.

Screen 7 of 9: A unified mailbox

This supposedly was meant to be an improvement to a mail client on the BeOS, visually proposed through the mockup shown below.

And here, notice something else that again, makes Gonx really cool. Around Mavericks or so, the Mac began to ‘clean up’ application windows by consolidating items into the window frame (something that I think has pros and cons to it) and Gnome 3 did the same sort of thing in its applications. And Google and Microsoft started doing the same sort of thing as well — but this was ahead of them all in 2001.

To explain what I mean, in the background window that shows a list of messages and a preview pane, there’s the usual toolbar, where up, down, reply, and other buttons are visible (either fully or partially). But next to the menus (File, Edit, Mail, Message, Attributes), there’s new, send/receive, people/contacts, and query buttons. And in the New Message window in the front, next to the File, Edit, Message menus, there’s send, compose, save, and print buttons — which in that window completely eliminates the need for a separate toolbar. Under this is the usual To, carbon copy, and subject fields, along with an Account pop-up menu, and of course, the main body where the letter would go (with tabs for Mail and Enclosure).

And before moving on to the last mock-up screen of Gonx, what’s interesting from a Be perspective is that here, there’s a side window that reveals mail can be zipped up in an archive and is no longer in folders. One of the cool things about Be’s mail client lost in modern times is that it was a full part of the filesystem. So, everything in the inbox, etc. was fully indexable and visible by the Tracker.

Overall, however, the idea of minimizing space by compacting the bars in 2001 was quite cool, and definitely something that was new to the Be universe.

Screen 8 of 9: NetOptimist

And in keeping with the Internet focus that Gonx had in other areas, it also had its own ideas for what the default browser should look like. Loosely modeled after NetPositive, “NetOptimist” sports a new look.

It starts with File, Edit, and View menus, but like seen before, Gonx uses its slim toolbar idea and has Go, Bookmarks, and Query menus with nice icons. Now, while it’s not hard to imagine what the first two menus do from Net+, Query has a search box next to it, and this — if it only would’ve been made into a working system — would have been very cool. Imagine the ‘awesome bar’ from Firefox years in advance, where not only could it search the Web, but also search history and bookmarks, and tie that into the metadata and indexing capabilities of Be. It would have been gorgeous to look at in action!

Next to this is Downloads with a drop-down arrow next to it (which I imagine would open a menu showing downloaded items). In the toolbar, we have Location, back, forward, stop, reload, and print.

And lastly, the main body of the window has two sections. The first is a sidebar made up of two collapsible panes: Bookmarks and Downloads… which, unsurprisingly, include bookmarks and downloads. To the right is the ‘cotito!’ page in French, a nice nod from the author of his Gonx concept.

Screen 9 of 9: A new media player

Finally, we’re presented with what Cotito had called the “nifty player” from the Gonx page that showed the ‘fakes’ or concepts. Still, I personally wonder whether the name was chosen as a nice play on the popular mPlayer on Gnu/Linux distributions back then and today. But… that’s just me.

It’s got File, View, and Help menus, and a Bookmarks menu with a heart icon that reminds me of the Finder in 10.0–2 somewhat… and this idea would have been really nice. Imagine being able to listen to Web radio and stream videos and go back to them with a few clicks from the default player — that would’ve been nice to have. Under this is a Location bar, and back and forward buttons that give it a Web touch. Under this is a video of a “singularity” or a pretty blue to purple black hole, and the same pale green seek control MediaPlayer had in BeOS. The buttons (previous, rewind, stop, play/pause, fast forward, and next) are all different though with just their symbols. The navigation ones are amber, stop is red, and play is green. There’s also a volume and mini control here, although the speaker is blue.

Also, like BeOS, the concept illustrates this player would’ve had a mini mode (where the player collapses into a mini version). Here, we just have a play/pause button, seek control, and a switch to bring us back to the full mode.

And that concludes our retro tour of Gonx by Cotito… one of the best BeOS concepts ever made. There’s a lot that I believe can be gleaned from this and that both Haiku and app developers for the Haiku operating system can learn from and admire.

In short: too bad it was all a dream…

Now, again, all Cotito’s Gonx was remains a concept of a future BeOS, much like how iOS, Android, Windows, Ubuntu, etc. fans in more recent times create mock up photos and videos. It’s geeky dreams of what could be next or what someone imagines their favorite OS environment will be or look like.

And it really shows just how good having fun, imagination, and dreaming can be when designing an environment for an OS. I think if there’s anything I could end this retro review with, it’s this: too bad all these ideas didn’t have code to power them as a distribution and make Gonx real. In many ways, seeing Gonx, enjoying it, then coming back to reality is like waking up from a good dream — and realizing that a dream is all it was.

But from here, the next place is Zeven OS, our last stop before we get into what everyone in the Be universe was dreaming of for years: an open source successor to the BeOS, Haiku!

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