Issue 5-8, February 23, 2000

Be Engineering Insights: BeOS on Windows

By Allan Anderson

I'm assembling the free beer distribution of "BeOS 5 Free Version", the BeOS-in-a-file that can be installed onto and run from a Windows partition. It's an interesting way to use BeOS, not to mention a clever use of disk space: Rather than having to repartition, you simply download a the entire BeOS as a single "image" file and launch it using the BeOS bootloader. If, later, you decide that BeOS is just for freaks, you can simply Remove Programs...and you once again have room for the Thief II demo.

Want to make an image file yourself? Follow me.

Making an Image File

Creating the BeOS image file is simple. So simple that you can create your own Beer-in-a-File right there at home. To create an image file, you have to enter Unixland for a minute. Do this:

$ dd if=/dev/zero bs=5M count=50
$ mkbfs "BeOS in a File"

This creates a 250 meg file full of zeros (50 times 5 megabytes), and transforms the file into a BFS volume. The file *must* be named -- the bootloader depends on it.

Next, create a mount point and mount the zero-full file:

$ mkdir /bif
$ mount /bif

Now you can copy stuff into /bif using Tracker (or cp). For the Brie Fear version, I want the core OS but no extra, so, I copy over everything but the develop and optional directories. I also want to make the User's Guide a seperate download to save space, so I'm gonna just delete it from /bif/beos/documentation after I'm done copying everything, right? wrong -- there's a gotcha. Part of the point of using a file full of zeros is that it compresses well—we're going to distribute this over the Net, after all. If you copy files into the image and then delete the files, the filesystem doesn't go in and clear the space where the files just marks it as available. So, you'd still be compressing a lot of data that you don't even want. Instead of copying grossly and deleting finely, you have to copy *exactly* what you want in the first place.

Loading and Launching

Now, create a /BeOS directory at the root of your Window partition, and copy your file into it. Boot into Windows, and launch your file by running the R4.5.2 bootloader. If you don't have the bootloader handy, here's a copy:

So How's it Work?

If you mean the technical details, I don't know—I didn't do it. If you mean how *well* does it run, it's fast. The only bummer is that due to the state in which Windows 9x leaves the machine, BeOS-in-a-file only sees the first processor on your machine.

But why would you want to do any of this? Because sometimes a machine is used like as a dedicated appliance that runs a single app—you don't need an entire OS, all you (or your fans) want is a custom installation of only the pieces of BeOS needed to run your app, all in one small package. For example, a complete sound editing suite could be assembled and sold on the Windows market. Smaller scale efforts could be done ala the old demo scene. Larger efforts could be something like NewTek's VideoToaster bundled with a couple of Firewire cards and complete software—perhaps even with a dedicated RAID for video storage.

The Great Internet Appliance Hoax

By Jean-Louis Gassée

This may come as a shock, but you will never buy (or borrow or steal) an "Internet Appliance". Because, to put it bluntly and in one breath, The Internet Appliance Does Not Exist. Let me explain...

The "IP on Everything" assumption means most objects in our daily lives, from phones to refrigerators to cars to watches [1], [2]. will end up with some kind of Net connection, with or without wires. Besides being merely amusing, the Thing+Web game is instructive, for when we line up all of our fantastic devices (the WebPencil, the WebRiceCooker, the WebPadAtEyeLevelAboveTheUrinal), we see that the "Internet Appliance" label is, simply, a checkbox. Net connection is a feature, not a "thing". And, despite some shared DNA, the thing it mostly is not is the PC.

Identifying a PC—pointing to an object and saying "That is [or is not] a PC"—is a sensible observation. PC identification is further simplified by its dearth of variation: They only comes in two colors, Redmond Teal and Cupertino Rainbow. It was, of course, not always so. If we push back a few decades, we'll recall that the mini and microcomputer world was filled with names such as MITS, Cromemco, Alto, South West Technical Products, Sinclair, Tandy, Commodore, Atari... Furthermore, the products these companies built weren't as philosophically rigid as their inheritors would become—just remind yourself that twenty years ago, IBM was shopping for an OS for its 8086-based computer that was a clone of the Apple ][ design, down to the cassette player interface.

If we look back at the mess of mini/micro players from those lost days, and then look into our drawer full of WebPaperClips and WebBreathMints, and then look up at the two-religion PC world today, and then over and into the Internet Appliance future, it's tempting to draw the conclusion that as it did shake out then, so it will shake out tomorrow. That whereas we can't point to a thing and say "that's an Internet Appliance" today, we will be able to in the future—because, as we saw in the PC evolution, the Internet Appliance space will be dominated by two or three surviving breeds. Tempting, but erroneous.

At its roots, the PC is a multi-purpose tool with most of its flexibility coming from the application software it can run. As a result of its software generality, the PC came to assume a small number of hardware forms. An Internet Appliance, on the other hand, is a task-specific device (or, less protestantly, a "pleasure-specific device") that draws upon the flexibility of the contents and applications served up from the outside through the Web. The individual specificities of these appliances necessitates a large number of very different incarnations. Thus, thinking of appliances in the same way we think of PCs misses an important distinction: There is no such "thing" as an Internet Appliance, at least not in the way there is a thing called a PC.

A final thought: When looking at this vast, clouded space of Internet ApplianceS (emphasis on the plural) one must wonder: Will the evolution of appliances, more than just avoiding the narrowing ruts of PC history, spawn life forms that are completely unanticipated? I don't know, but I hope so.

[1] If you think the idea of a net wristwatch—a W-W-Watch—is pushing it, just take a look at the combination watch/beeper you can buy today, add some computing power, and your watch now fetch your updated schedule, messages and download street directions. And so is Dick Tracy reborn as Vint Cerf (inventor of TCP/IP), midwife'd by Nicolas Hayek

[2] Nicolas Hayek heads the watchmaking consortium SMH, the very Swiss Société de Mouvements d'Horlogerie, and is widely credited with inventing the Swatch, originally for Sw(iss W)atch. SMH owns a galaxy of brands such as Omega, whose high-tech appliances are promoted in James Bond capers.

Creative Commons License
Legal Notice
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non commercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.