March 22, 2005

Zeta OS is rising from BeOS ashes

Author: Jorge G. Mare

Today, several years after BeOS developer Be Inc. went out of business, the small German company yellowTAB GmbH is getting ready to release Zeta 1.0, a successor to BeOS.

BeOS was a lighweight but full-fledged operating system designed from the ground up to be a desktop OS with strong multimedia capabilities. Its claim to fame was the real-time response of its graphical interface, even on low-powered hardware. Its minimalistic approach made it easy to use even for beginners. Its database-like BFS file system with indexed attributes made file searches a breeze. All of this in a system that could boot in 10 to 15 seconds on most hardware, and that was as stable as a rock.

Zeta inherits all of the above, and also takes advantage of the enhancements that Be Inc. had slated for the next version of BeOS, which was never released, including the kernel-land BONE networking environment and a better media kit (one of the several kits that comprise the object-oriented BeOS API). Here is a good selection of Zeta screenshots for those who have never seen it.

yellowTAB has just announced details of what is to be expected for Zeta 1.0. The list includes an updated kernel and virtual machine (VM) manager for speed increases of up to 40%, breaking the 1GB memory barrier, fixes to BFS, an NDIS wrapper that is expected to greatly improve wireless networking support, a CUPS port for much improved printer support, and a new non-destructive partition manager for easy installation of Zeta on machines that already have Windows or other OS installed. Zeta 1.0 will also come with numerous development tools, including Python 2.4 with a working Bethon (Python modules for Zeta), GNU bash 3.0, GNU coreutils (5.2.1), OpenSSH, and Bash autocomplete with Zeta-specific completion templates.

From the Zeta release candidates made available so far, it is clear that yellowTAB has improved support for modern hardware, and developed some new features that were not available in BeOS. Zeta has a new USB2 stack that adds support for mass storage devices and a SANE port for image scanning; the latest release candidate also adds support for hard drives larger than 128GB. Also on tap are a locale kit for multilingual support (most bundled apps are localized into many different languages), support for scalable vector graphics throughout the system, and a new media player with support for more audio and video formats than BeOS offered, plus better streaming capabilities.

yellowTAB bundles many applications with Zeta, including an office suite called Gobe Productive that includes word processing, spreadsheet, graphics, and presentation applications; the Firefox Web browser; an instant messaging client for AIM (clients for MSN, ICQ, Yahoo, and Jabber are available separately); a CD burner and DVD player; numerous games; a PDF viewer and writer (you can create PDF files from any Zeta application that can print); a scanning front end; several emulators (BeBochs, DosBox, BeUAE, and others); and development tools. Zeta also benefits from the fact that most of the third-party BeOS applications found on Bebits.com can run on it as-is.

Eugenia Loli-Queru, the former editor of the old BeOS news site BeNews.com (and current editor-in-chief of OSnews.com), says, "Zeta is in a very interesting position to actively develop a non-Unix/Linux operating system that's both more lightweight and multimedia-driven than any Linux distribution out there that opts for the desktop. If yellowTAB manages to develop truly powerful and stable versions of much-needed applications (for example, a powerful mail client, and a faster, stabler Firefox port), it has a good chance of grabbing a good portion of the geek alternative OS market."

According to comments attributed to its CEO, Bernd Korz, Zeta is slated for official release in the May to June time frame. Zeta is a commercial product, and although no pricing information for version 1.0 has been announced yet, it is expected that it will sell for approximately $100 plus tax.

yellowTAB has shown a lot of perseverance by coming this far. What once was thought to be a dead OS is now showing signs of life. Time will tell if yellowTAB can turn Zeta into a success story.

Jorge G. Mare (a.k.a. Koki) is a marketing consultant with a passion for computers. Born in Argentina, he is the founding member of the Japan BeOS Network, a BeOS/Zeta user group in Japan, his second home. Jorge currently operates Zeta Zone, a site for Japanese Zeta OS users.

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