A BeOS-inspired desktop operating system

Installation

The Haiku development team uses Buildbot – an automatic tool for building nightly OS images. Downloading and installing a nightly image is preferable for new users, because this offers the latest hardware support and the most recent software additions. For example, all recent nightly builds already have HaikuDepot – a software store and a graphical front end to Haiku's package manager. The aging Alpha R4.1 version doesn't have HaikuDepot, which is why it might not be the best choice for new users.

A Haiku nightly image is about 600MB. The download page offers two flavors: the anyboot image and the raw hard disk image. If you want to burn an image to a CD/DVD or write it to a USB thumb drive with dd or various ISO image writers, choose the anyboot image.

Booting from Haiku installation media is usually very fast. The installer starts with a language selection screen that has two buttons: one for booting to a Live desktop session and another for proceeding with the installation. The live session is a perfect way to see if Haiku has detected all of the machine's hardware, such as a WiFi or an Ethernet card.

If you decide to install Haiku on your hard drive, you only need to complete a few steps with the installation wizard. Choosing a target partition is similar to the macOS installer: You start with no available targets, invoke the DriveSetup utility (Figure 2), prepare a partition, close the utility, and then select the newly formatted partition as your target. The installer then transfers the core package set to your hard drive, installs a bootloader, and finishes – all steps require just a few minutes. After rebooting the system, you will immediately see the Haiku splash screen with a progress bar with BeOS-inspired icons. Interestingly, Haiku has been making steady progress in UEFI support since 2016, which means that you'll most likely not have trouble booting a Haiku nightly image in the UEFI mode as well.

Figure 2: Haiku coexists with many filesystems, including ext3/4, HFS+, ZFS, and some niche systems. The default DriveSetup utility is friendly and functional.

The Haiku desktop boots in just a fraction of time compared with an average systemd-based Linux system (which is not slow at all, by the way). The desktop is a faithful copy of BeOS; therefore, it may look a bit archaic at first. Although it is unlike anything you've seen on Linux, the Haiku desktop is tailored for productivity and ease of use. Instead of panels along screen edges, a Deskbar resides at the top of the screen. The Deskbar acts as an all-in-one system tray, applications menu, and task switcher. Other notable features are the desktop with icons and windows with tabs instead of header bars. Most desktop elements cannot be changed, reflecting a design approach similar to macOS.

Getting Acquainted

It takes a little time to get used to Haiku. You can populate your desktop with application launchers by creating links. To do so, open Haiku's file manager, Tracker, navigate to the applications folder, right-click on an app you want to add to the desktop, and select Create link | Desktop. By default, Haiku ships with a small set of apps, most of them remakes of the original BeOS titles. For instance, WebPositive, the default basic WebKit-based browser, mimics BeOS' NetPositive. HaikuDepot also offers other more capable WebKit-based browsers, such as Otter Browser (Figure 3) and Qupzilla.

Figure 3: Otter Browser, a modern WebKit-based browser inspired by the Opera 12 UI, runs on Haiku.

In fact, HaikuDepot is a treasury of apps that brings this OS nearly on par with Linux, or at least very close. HaikuDepot is a pleasure to use. On one hand, it is a robust package manager, similar to Synaptic (Figure 4). On the other hand, its Show only featured packages checkbox filters Haiku repositories to a curated list of productivity and multimedia apps – similar to elementaryOS. Additionally, HaikuDepot lets you rate apps with stars. If you don't have a Haiku community account, you can create one right from HaikuDepot. Becoming a Haiku app reviewer could not be easier!

Figure 4: The HaikuDepot app is the easiest way to add open source software your system. Register to become an app reviewer right in the app within just a minute!

2018 has been the year of dramatic improvements to Haiku's repositories. Now you can install apps, such as LibreOffice  6.x, Calligra Suite 3.1, Krita 4.x, Scribus 1.5, and more. Apart from LibreOffice, you may notice that the rest of this list is Qt-based software. Gtk is not ported yet for Haiku, meaning neither are Gimp, Inkscape, Firefox, Thunderbird, and most other notable Gtk-based apps. Truth be told, lots of open source apps have yet to be ported to Haiku. Despite this, compared to where Haiku was just a few years ago, the present day Haiku is a vast improvement. In the end, those mentioned Qt5-based apps are often underestimated by end users. A good example is KolourPaint, which has almost everything for image manipulation that an average user needs.

A curious user might wonder how the Haiku team made LibreOffice look like it was using a Gtk VCL plugin in the absence of Gtk itself. The answer is that Haiku, at the time of writing, has successfully built a bleeding-edge KF5 back end of LibreOffice 6.2, so that each app from this office suite uses Qt5-style widgets and looks native in Haiku (Figure 5).

Figure 5: The LibreOffice addition to Haiku makes the OS even more appealing.

Of course, having the latest versions of open source apps can be a double-edged sword. Although you can easily install these new versions with a few mouse clicks in HaikuDepot, they often have not been tested properly. Even rolling-release Linux distributions, such as Manjaro and openSUSE Tumbleweed, undergo more serious continuous package testing to ensure stability. Haiku is missing that right now. Additionally, the core Haiku system is only approaching beta quality. For a regular user, this can result in sporadic system freezes and lockups. You can also find yourself in Kernel Debugging Land (KDL), Haiku's built-in kernel debugger, where you can at least gather some useful debug information and try to google it.

Conclusions

Despite the aforementioned caveats, Haiku is still worth a try. Although Haiku is a relatively small project, it stands on the shoulders of BeOS, a perfectly designed, well-tested, and polished operating system, which is why Haiku feels like a finished product. Haiku is perhaps the only non-mainstream OS that offers unexperienced users such a great variety of available software. Furthermore, it is not Unix-based and attracts geeks, tech enthusiasts, and anyone who feels adventurous.

Infos

  1. Haiku website: https://www.haiku-os.org

The Author

Alexander Tolstoy is a long-time Linux enthusiast and tech journalist. He never stops exploring hot new open source picks and loves writing reviews, tutorials, and various tips and tricks. He was a lucky Linux fan until his fortune | cowsay told him that his own qualities will prevent his advancement in this world. What bad randomness!

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