Ruminations on the Digital Realm

Jan Stedehouder

The OS that should have been

OSNews has a nice overview of the going-ons with the heirs of BeOS. The article says (for those not wanting to click away):

A lot of things have happened in the past few days concerning Zeta, BeOS, and Haiku. In order to create some order in the chaos, Eugenia and I have created a rough timeline of what happened the past 6-7 years. Read on for the timeline and some more thoughts on the matter.

So now, we can reconstruct fragments of the BeOS saga over the past seven years – with the help of Eugenia, that is. Eugenia is no new comer to the BeOS world (before OSNews she was running BeNews) and she has met Bernd Korz several times.

  • So. It’s 2001. Be, Inc. is in talks with a German company (Koch Media, more here) to grant them distribution rights of BeOS 5 in Germany and the rest of Europe. Eugenia does not know if these talks were ever finished, nor does she know if anything finalized got signed (although some draft contracts could have been signed). Eventually, YellowTAB buys that contract from that company.
  • Not much later, Be goes belly up, and sells its assets to Palmsource.
  • Bernd Korz and YellowTAB start work on Zeta – something they are not allowed to do as far as the distribution rights go, since they only have distribution rights of BeOS 5, and nothing more. Debate immediately arises in the BeOS community about Zeta’s legality. Especially the code leaked in early 2002 fuels speculation that Zeta is based on this illegal leak.
  • Now, Eugenia tells me that Bernd Korz went to America a few times to contact Palmsource but a number of times they not only declined to talk to him but he also became a running joke within Palmsource’s ex-Be engineers and executives (who for some reason did not like seeing BeOS resurrected via another company — some of them saw Haiku the same way too). Bernd eventually did meet Jean-Louis Gassee (who was a Palmsource board member at the time) to discuss the matter but we don’t know what ever happened after their meeting.
  • In the meantime, Palmsource is acquired by Access. Access is now the owner of Be’s IP.
  • In this role as owner, they say to have sent numerous cease and desist letters to YellowTAB, on the grounds that Zeta is “an unauthorized derivative work”. Access does not contact any news outlet, nor does it give out any press releases. The cease and desist letters go unanswered.
  • In the meantime, YellowTAB starts pushing up the daisies as sales have been very poor. Magnussoft takes over development of Zeta. They provide Bernd Korz with 5 people, and some funding to develop Zeta. All seems well at this point.
  • On 23rd March this year, Bernd Korz and his team part ways with Magnussoft. A few days later, Bernd announces he quits Zeta development altogether.
  • Today, we have Access stating that “if Herr Korz feels that he holds a legitimate license to the BeOS code he’s been using, we’re completely unaware of it, and I’d be fascinated to see him produce any substantiation for that claim.”
  • In a response, Bernd states on his weblog that he will be talking to his lawyer, and that a statement will be made soon.

    This short timeline elicits a few interesting questions. Why did Palmsource decline to talk with Bernd Korz? Why did Palmsource never take any legal action against YellowTAB (that we know of)? Why has Access been so secretive about their actions against Zeta? Why did they choose a comments’ section on a news site to speak in public about this for the first time? Are the recent talks between Access and Haiku a mere coincidence?

    It seems that 6 years after its demise, the BeOS can still stir the operating system world up. Let us hope everything gets cleared up sooner rather than later.

  • BeOS was and still is one of the fastest multimedia operating systems you may ever encounter (30 seconds bootup time). It is the operating system that Apple seriously considered to buy, just before Steve Jobs was heralded back. Then it was considered as an operating system for Palm devices.

    I played with BeOS 5 and the later Zeta releases and I still find it a great OS. The only thing lacking is the continuous development of solid applications across the board. Websites like BeBits continue as a gathering place for afficionados. 

    But, in the end, BeOS/Zeta remains as a testimony that more is needed than a great, maybe even superb operating system with applications that make you cry with joy. The market is a ruthless place, as the timeline of BeOS/Zeta well shows.

    Tags: BeOS, Zeta


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