Good News for BeOS Aficionados

eLABorations: OpenBFS beta could bring new life to the innovative operating system.

Yesterday, the file system team from the OpenBeOS Project (one of several current efforts to bring the BeOS back to life as open-source software) announced that the fruit of their efforts, OpenBFS, has reached beta stage and is ready for testing.

Its been a while since Ive maintained a partition for BeOS—Id been awfully interested in the innovative outsider OS until Be Inc. folded last year and sold its assets to Palm Inc., where the BeOS source code now languishes. However, this file system announcement might be enough to evoke in me a guarded optimism. The BeOS File System (BFS), after all, may have been the best thing about the OS.

Im not alone in thinking so, either. Last March, Microsoft was talking about the ways we store our data in Windows, and about how limiting those data store models could be, particularly when searching for information. Why, for instance, are our Outlook mail messages stored in one spot, and our Word documents kept in another?

This wasnt how things worked (and still work) in BeOS. The BFS is like a database, and users can create and attach as many different attributes to files as they chose. So e-mail messages in BeOS take the form of text documents that carry the contents of the message and a set of file attributes that carry data such as sender, date received, and so on.

To read, or more importantly, search through mail messages in BeOS, I could use the same file management tools Id use for any other sort of file. Since relevant search data accompanied the files as attributes, queries in BeOS zipped to completion. I used to manage my MP3s on a BeOS box at home, and nothing Ive seen since has approached the speed and simplicity of that setup—even as the speeds and feeds of the hardware Ive been using have grown in accordance with Moores Law.

Microsoft has been talking about database-like file systems, because its OS road map includes the addition of SQL database technology in a future Windows release, perhaps in late 2004.

A major shift in Windows file system technology will be a big change for Microsoft, its users and its developers—particularly its developers. With BeOS, applications didnt always take advantage of the BFS, and loss of attributes when moving from BFS to other file systems tended to pose problems.

In the Linux world, it seems as though thered be more room for an experimental fringe of database-like file system users, who could adopt the technology at their own risk. There does exist a BFS driver for Linux, and the writings of Hans Reiser (of ReiserFS fame) on the topic are interesting. If any of you have more information on the topic, Id love to hear about it.

Until then, I think Ill dust off my BeOS installation disk, and get to testing ...

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