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Make-over: Win to BeOS

Formed by an ex-Apple employee in 1990, Be. Inc is most famous for its operating system, BeOS. Initially intended to run on their own BeBox hardware, the OS soon migrated to the Mac, but fell foul to hardware development costs and Apple's hostility on each occasion. Eventually, BeOS found a home on the average desktop PC in 1998, along with other "alternative" OSes. The OS was very basic at first, but evolved over time, gaining a reputation as "the media OS" due to its multimedia capabilities. Version 4.5 was a huge leap, with much greater hardware compatiblity, and a growing online software development community. Now Be fans could do all the same things as Windows users - play MP3s, create graphics, play Quake2, and all wrapped up in a much more friendly installation routine.

A couple of years ago, version 5 was released, including a free personal edition which runs off an ordinary Windows FAT drive. Everyone likes something for free, so this move increased BeOS' popularity. The Professional edition is still available in some places, with the proprietary software (Realplayer etc) that was removed from the downloadable version. Unfortunately, since Be went into liquidation, any support for the OS has all but disappeared, and the future doesn't look much brighter. However, much as with the Amiga OS, the community still remains dedicated, writing new software to keep BeOS as a valid alternative to the standard Windows setup.

Notable links in this respect, there's attempts made to update also the OS. At beosonline there's free developer editions available, with new drivers to increase hardware support. "OpenBeOS is a project dedicated to the re-creation, followed by the extension, of the BeOS." - "Blue Eyed OS" another one.

The look is simplistic and brightly coloured...a hybrid of Windows and Mac, with a few Unix-ish additions thrown in. Basically, a mixture of every OS you've seen, but with a dash of extra style :) See some screenshots at the BeHave site.

Note: Once again, I have tested these utilities under Win95 OSR2 and Windows 2000, but I can't vouch for their performance under 98 or NT. Where possible, I have warned of any known issues.
The Real OS
Of course, you could just get the OS yourself, and install it on your PC. That's not really what this article is about, but I'd guess many of you are OS fans, running dual, triple, or higher boot systems :).

BeOS version 5 PE used to available from Be.com, but since the company's liquidation, the site has been all but shut down. You should be able to grab an image here; a 40MB download, expanding to a 600MB image file on your C: drive. Here's a list of more links, in case the other mirror goes down. You can also order a PE CD from LeBuzz, if your connection isn't up to downloading, or you want some extra software. Check the Frizbe hardware compatibility list before downloading, and check at Betips for tips on tweaking the installation. For example, it's possible to install directly to a partition rather than running an image file, or make your own install CD.

Note that if BeOS doesn't recognise your graphics card, you'll start out with a greyscale screen. Don't worry, easily fixed :) Bebits has a section for video drivers, and here's a link to the Nvidia driver specifically. I've never had any problems with my TNT2, but your mileage may vary. Many thanks to twisted_steel for the info!

If all is well, you should have a fully functioning BeOS installation before too long. Don't be afraid to play around with it, the OS is very user friendly, and it's hard to break anything (harder than under a *nix machine, anyway!). Download some extra software from BeBits, the BeOS equivalent of Freshmeat or Winfiles (?! :). If you run into trouble, BeFAQs have a well-written "newbie's guide", including installation help - and even if your install is trouble-free, the rest of the site contains some useful information on the OS. The ever-wonderful Desktopian.org also has a nice set of links to major BeOS sites and apps, well worth looking at.

[And now you can convert Amiga icons!! ;)]

Sadly, those of you wanting to purchase the full version of BeOS are a little late. With Be's liquidation, the only way to obtain BeOS 5 is via third party retailers - shop around on the net, and hopefully you'll find a copy. The full version includes a lot of proprietary commercial software that couldn't be included in the Personal Edition; however, given Be's situation, I'd definitely recommend that you start with the free version first. The future for BeOS doesn't look too great, but there's a petition out, calling for continued development... a little late, perhaps, but it doesn't hurt to look.
Still, you want to make Windows look like BeOS, not switch to a whole new OS...one step at a time, you've barely got your Linux installation working yet, right? Never fear, there's plenty of options here.

A great starting point is over at M's Factory - he has a BEOS page in his Desktop Galleries section, which describes how to convert your Windows desktop to the BeOS look. There's also some decent BeOS skins for various apps.

An interesting all-in-one solution is the BeOSWin project by Paul Robson. It's basically a shell replacement, which emulates the BeOS Deskbar and runs alongside Explorer. Runs fine under both Win95 and Win2k, and seems very stable - though it's still in an early stage of development, and missing several features. Very friendly install - no extra files copied, just run the program when you wish - and small too. A built-in EFX/Windowblinds replacement is planned for the future, along with a few extra menus and a run dialog. Fun to try, and a good part of your desktop.

Penta.com offers Be_d!, a neat little BeOS style CPU monitor. Runs well under 95, but, like many such apps, doesn't work at all under Win2k.
Window Decoration
Since the demise of skinz.org, it's harder to find a good source of themes. But, there's still a few good BEOS style skins available for both Windowblinds and efx. Windowblinds:
  • BeOS5 by EFIX - My favourite of the WB skins, and professional looking. Available at PCDesktops.
  • BeOSv_6 by John T. Folden - a skin for the new WB engine, very slick indeed. Also available at PCDesktops.
  • BeOS-BJB by Bob J. Barreveld - very similar to the above, but with slightly different scrollbars. Available at Wincustomize.
  • BeOS by Wade Johnstone - Not quite so close, but still a good skin. Available at Wincustomize.
  • A basic but good BEOS skin is included with the efx program, available from thirty4 interactive.
If you don't want to run efx or Windowblinds (resources, resources), then M's Factory has a neat BeOS desktop theme.

Floach used to have a set of 5 basic windows colour schemes, including a some smashing BeOS flavoured icon sets. Since the loss of pimpin.net, the links on site are broken... keep eyes open though, hopefully they'll be restored soon. Those styles were for Windows 95-98 - but here's a couple I've made for Windows 2000.
Other Shells
I know, customization, not replacement - but for those of you running alternative shells, here's a few themes to check out..

For Litestep, there used to be quite a few themes around...but with the demise of Litestep.net, and the restructure of Litestep.com, it's hard to find a good themes site anymore. Searching the major skin sites is probably your best bet. Litestep itself is available at Litestep.com, and Shellfront.org has links to updated builds and some of the shiny new all-in-one distributions. Of course, if you're new to replacement shells, make sure you read the docs beforehand. Still not for the faint-hearted ;) Here's two BeOS examples:
  • Bebox2 by Bio_Viper - my personal favourite. Light in style, but true to the BeOS look. The apps launchers are especially well done, and the Deskbar menu is nifty too.
  • LiteBe by killermonkey - comes bundled with icons and a windows theme, mostly by other authors but all credited. The LS theme itself is fairly faithful, and not too bloated.
Geoshell is also well represented, at least over at ArtUproar. Two themes there, one by CosmoK and one by adi, and though I prefer CosmoK's version, both are pretty faithful to the look.

For the Hoverdesk fans, there's "BeOS for Hoverdesk" by Manni. No webpage, but it's available at PCDesktops. Nextstart users might try BeOS Classic by Garry Waugh - I've never used Nextstart, but the skin looks decent :) Get from PCDesktops again - Garry has a website to host his various skins, but the BeOS one doesn't appear to be there yet. As for ObjectBar, the multi-talented Alexandrie has created a BeOS skin - but her site appears to have disappeared, and it isn't hosted on Dangeruss Industries. Again (phrase of the day), it's on PCDesktops ;).
Converting BeOS icons to windows is usually fairly easy, though it depends on the format of the original icons. Mostly, icons come in either raw or tga format, which can are quite simple to read under Windows. Take a look at the icon conversion page for more details. And here's a few links to try:
  • ess-vid has a great set of BeOS influenced icons for Windows, as well as some interesting original sets for BeOs itself.
  • Pierre Cavana at Iconstreet has made 3 smashing sets of BeOS icons for Windows, including some very smart cursors.
  • At Iconology, there's a small but well-done BeOS system set.
But what about original BeOS icons? We've already mentioned ess-vid's site, but here's a few more:
  • Over at Zapaticons, Lyle Zapato keeps BeOS versions of most of his icon sets.
  • BeBits has lots of icons, but apparently not so many previews, and a lot of the sets are conversions of PC icon schemes. Still worth a look, though.
For WinAMP, one of the best BeOS style skins is BeAmp by Jan-Torben Sott. No homepage that I can find, but it's over at Customize.org. If you want to try another skin, BeAmp by Steve Theodorou is also very good.

Mashby has designed two BeOS skins so far, one for Mypad (Bepad), and one for Ezpop (My BeOS). Both make a good addition to this desktop look, and are available to download at his section of deviantART.

Tclock fans (and there's an awful lot of you...) should take a look at M's Factory for a very nicely-done BeOS style skin. The screenshot suggests positioning the taskbar at either the right or left-hand side of the screen, so it looks like the Deskbar. Works quite well :).

No luck on relocating the ICQ Plus themes - but isn't it time you moved to Trillian anyway ;)? - javageek has a good BeOS skin over at ArtUproar, and this way you don't need three messenging programs open at once...

Beatnik users can also check out the Beslim skin by Murkworks, which is especially useful if you're using a replacement shell or menu that doesn't have a clock. There's even an BeOS scheme for Oxygenator, on VP's own Digital Dreams Remembered pages :).
And remember - I can't cover all skins for all apps here, this is just a selection - chances are your favourite skinnable app has at least one BeOS skin floating around somewhere!
Well, this should get us started :) Here's one and two screenshots to show some possible results - but with time, you can do better :).

Like the other makeover articles, this is a work in progress - heh, there's new stuff coming out all the time, right? If you have any ideas, tweaks, or recommendations, please ...

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