As promised, I'm writing this from behind the wheel of DR9. Well, not quite DR9, actually. This release, called Advanced Access, was handed out at the Be Developers Conference in San Jose, on May 10 and 11. It's a preview of DR9, released so that developers can start preparing their applications for the public release of DR9, which is to be officially called the Preview Release. Confused yet? Good. As promised, this release represents a major upgrade from DR8. The Be team worked feverishly for months in preparation for last weekend, and it shows in every aspect of the system, both tangible and behind the scenes. The result is an operating system that's not quite mature, but neither is it in its infancy anymore. BeOS is now in its teens and shooting up like a weed.
The devil is in the details, and it's the attention to detail that's adding up to something that's starting to feel, if not quite polished, at least very well sanded and buffed. As promised, the file system has been rewritten from the ground up and is now fully journaled. That means no more rebuilding database indices upon reboot. And that, in turn, means that the operating system does indeed boot in four seconds. I'd like to say that it does that even after a nasty crash, but I haven't been able to crash the OS in the two days I've been hammering on it. We've known that this system was built to be close to crashproof, but in DR8, it didn't seem like it. All that has changed as the scaffolding is removed one plank at a time and the elegant architecture beneath is revealed. Oh, another thing about that file system -- it now handles files up to a petabyte (a thousand terabytes) in size. Put that in your multimedia pipe, and smoke it.
More video modes are supported, more Mac models are supported, and more file systems are supported. Networking is improved, file typing is fully based on MIME types (hurrah!), printer and internal-modem support is all there, and a component architecture is in place (meaning applications can communicate with one another -- demonstrations of this technology have to be seen to be believed).
More superficially but no less important to the success of BeOS are the interface improvements. Fonts are anti-aliased, courtesy of BitStream; the Dock is gone; you can put icons on the desktop (Be gave credit to MacUser's own Henry Bortman for goading them into this!); the NetPositive Web browser is much improved, Tracker (the file manager) has been upgraded with many usability enhancements... this is starting to look like an operating system you can get things done on. Except that, unlike the tired and rickety old OS you're using now (and that goes for everyone), this one kicks butt.
Since DR8 binaries aren't compatible with DR9, I wasn't able to test any applications under Advanced Access that didn't come packaged with the operating system. I did, however, have a great time setting up a home network, telnetting into the BeBox from across the room, getting PPP up and running, installing fonts (the BeOS works with TrueType fonts, so I was able to FTP some of my favorites over from my NT box), admiring the OpenGL demo of multiple rotating teapots being rendered in real time, and trying hard to tax the system with multiple simultaneous multimedia streams.
Advanced Access isn't quite the full Preview Release, and we can expect even more enhancements by next month or so when that rolls out. And, of course, there are still plenty of small things missing that we've come to take for granted in our current OSs. But we need to remember that Be has spent the bulk of the past few months getting the architecture really nailed down and dialed in and that from here on, it's basically about refinements and adding support for whatever developers and the public want.