BeOS Bible Cover

The BeOS Bible

Fast, elegant, and powerful, the Be operating system, like Linux, delivers workstation power on inexpensive desktop hardware. (Visit for a closer look.)

The BeOS Bible is the definitive guide to this new OS and the first book on Be written with nonprogrammers in mind. Whether you're new to the BeOS or have been using this exciting operating system since the beginning, you'll want this comprehensive reference at your side. Written especially for power users and creative professionals working with hi-res video, graphics, and audio files, The BeOS Bible covers it all, from starting up to running servers. The expert authors, all intimately involved with Be, guide you through the details with instructive explanations and graphics.

In its pages, you'll find:

  • In-depth, detailed coverage of every feature of the BeOS--from secrets of the terminal to application shortcuts to advanced graphics, sound, and database applications
  • Interviews with Be engineers and founders, including Jean-Louis Gassée, president and CEO of Be, Inc., that provide fascinating insight into this innovative OS
  • Hundreds of tips and techniques for getting the most out of the BeOS and its applications

The BeOS Bible covers through release 4 (R4) on both the Intel and PowerPC platforms, and includes free online updates, here on the companion Web site.

Jean-Louis Gassée

In the domain of descriptive writing, no topic is more seductive--or more dangerous--than a computer operating system. "Seductive" and "dangerous" are bold words for a clean room of cold facts and unsympathetic crashes. But look at it from the writer's point of view: Every operating system is its own world (and the BeOS is richer than most). The system designers spread the seeds (and, some might say, the manure) so that services and applications can grow and cross-pollinate, creating an environment that doesn't have any clearly marked entrances or exits, that has more than one solution for every problem, and that can be molded--or, better yet, that can mold itself--to the tastes and habits of each user. In describing this world, the writer gets to use the entire arsenal of intelligence and imagination in clearing a sensible, well-bounded path for the reader. At the same time, the writer must acknowledge that there are other paths--some equal, some esoteric, some hidden. Moreover, to adequately describe some areas of the environment--areas that can only be understood when the reader has both the big picture and the little details in mind--the writer must walk a tight rope between over-simplification and over-expansion. Walking this tightrope is the author's continual challenge; staying balanced is his continual responsibility.

The challenge becomes even greater for a book such as this one, where the intended audience spans the gamut of computer users, from programming geeks to those who are less familiar with gagging tools such as "awk" and "grep". The problem is this: How do you keep the geeks interested without losing the humans?

When we heard that Scot Hacker was embarking on the BeOS Bible project, we recognized him as one of our most well-reasoned champions and gladly opened our doors to his cadre. They have spent an enormous amount of time working and playing with the BeOS and have interviewed a number of the Be engineers in order to understand, to appreciate--to live in the Be world. Indeed, the BeOS Bible team found that one of the best ways to express the personality and charm of the BeOS was through the engineer's own words.

I congratulate Scot Hacker and his contributors for meeting the challenges of writing about the BeOS and for exceeding our greatest expectations in producing their BeOS Bible.


The publication of this book marks just over two and a half years since BeOS first appeared on my horizon. I've watched and participated as the operating system evolved through a series of developer's releases on the BeBox, to its first public introduction on PowerPC hardware, and finally to the Intel Architecture. BeOS is now in its second official revision on the x86 platform, and release 4 (R4) floats yet another raft of functionality and speed improvements our way. Using BeOS day in and day out has spoiled me rotten. I've become intolerant of any and all delays from a computer, have come to revile the very thought of an hourglass (which does not exist in BeOS), and dread the rare remaining occasions to boot into other operating systems.

My editor, the indefatigable Simon Hayes, had cautioned me about the enormity of a Bible-sized project, and I believed him, but there was no way to really know what it would entail without living through it. The /boot/home/ words/bible folder on my machine contains literally thousands of archived email messages from users, developers, and Be engineers. Hundreds of screenshots were thrown away as interfaces changed and evolved. Exciting BeOS projects we just had to cover appeared on the horizon. Even now, as we go to press, the BeOS world remains a moving target, and it's clear that some of the material in this book will be outdated or superceded before it even hits the shelves. Please forgive me if you encounter material here that's not as up-to-date as it could be, and be sure and check this book's companion Web site, here at for updates.

The admiration I've come to hold for the engineers and employees of Be, Inc. and their software is both great and genuine. From one perspective, BeOS is just bits, but it's also so much more than that. BeOS as we know it today is the result of the collective brain-power and inspiration of a few visionaries and dozens of the world's best engineers. When working with this operating system, there comes a point at which you realize you're dealing with more than technology. BeOS is both theory and practice. It's an idea as well as an experience. BeOS is an aesthetic, a way of seeing the whole field of computing, of making good on the many unrealized promises of the computer industry. It is my hope that this book will function as more than a technical reference. To live with and comprehend everything that is BeOS is to uncover a richer, more pleasant, and of course, more powerful way of looking at your computing life. It is my hope that The BeOS Bible will help you to enjoy this journey of discovery as much as I have.

--Scot Hacker December, 1998

Contents at a Glance

Chapter 1: The MediaOS
   Interview: Jean-Louis Gassée

Chapter 2: Meet the System
   Interview: Peter Potrebic

Chapter 3: Installation
   Interview: Bob Herold

Chapter 4: Get Online Fast

Chapter 5: Files and the Tracker
   Interview: Pavel Cisler

Chapter 6: The Terminal
   Interview: Cyril Meurillon

Chapter 7: Working with Queries
   Interview: George Hoffman

Chapter 8: Networking
   Interview: Russ McMahon

Chapter 9: Preferences and Customization
   Interview: Hiroshi Lockheimer

Chapter 10: System Tools and Utilities
   Interview: Dominic Giampaolo

Chapter 11: Network Applications

Chapter 12: Productivity Applications

Chapter 13: Graphics Applications
   Interview: Pierre Raynaud-Richard

Chapter 14: Media Applications
   Interview: Jon Watte

Chapter 15: Other Goodies
   Interview: Tim Martin

Chapter 16: Troubleshooting and Maintenance

   Appendices 861
   Glossary 879
   Index 889

But wait ... there's more!

As this book was going to press, we lamentably discovered that not all of the coverage that had been produced would physically fit between these covers. In order to deliver the most complete package possible, we decided to include the chapters that most users will find most important in the book and to publish the remaining content here at the book's Web site,, where you'll find the following "missing" chapters:

  • Scripting--Expertly written by this book's technical editor, Chris Herborth, nearly 100 pages on BeOS scripting concepts, teaching you how to write bash shell scripts step-by-step and how to take advantage of BeOS's built-in scripting architecture to automate your GUI applications.
  • Games--General coverage of the architectural features of BeOS that make it potentially a killer gaming platform, along with synopses and tips on the most popular BeOS games available at this writing. Much of this chapter was written by contributor John Brajkovic.
  • Emulation--A general discussion of runtime environments (virtual machines) and true emulators, all of which allow you to run other operating systems in a BeOS window. Includes detailed coverage of SheepShaver (the MacOS runtime environment) by contributor Henry Bortman.
  • Hardware--General notes on BeOS hardware considerations, covering both x86 and PowerPC sides of the fence.
  • The Kits--Takes a look "behind the scenes" by examining BeOS as the developer sees it. Not a chapter for developers per se, but an introduction to the architecture of the system in general. For geeks only.
  • The Future--A roadmap for R5, along with educated prognostications on what's in store for BeOS in the next couple of years. Includes a discussion of how and why BeOS is so well-tuned for the coming age of "convergence."


The BeOS Bible attempts, where possible, to reflect the spirit and atmosphere of the community of BeOS users and developers. Like any large project, this book has drawn upon resources far more diverse than the list of authors named on the cover, and credit is due to the entire BeOS community.

I must begin by thanking my editor, Simon Hayes, who started bugging me to write a book even before we discovered our common BeOS affinity, who worked with me on the book's outline for six weeks before I typed the first word, who helped to shape the book by sharing liberally his wisdom and experience, who injected suggestions and realism throughout, and who tirelessly managed the myriad details required to turn a manuscript into a book.

Chris Herborth is listed as this book's technical editor but contributed in ways that extend far beyond the sphere normally associated with that role. Chris helped to flesh out this book in uncountable ways, caught me when I slipped, and noted dozens of places where more depth was required. Chris is also single-handedly responsible for this book's scripting chapter, which you'll find online, here at Without Chris on board, this book would simply not be as complete as I hope that it is.

Fellow ex-Ziffian Henry Bortman is responsible for conducting and editing the interviews with Be engineers and employees you'll find in these pages. His ability to ask the right questions of the right people rounds out this book and gives it a behind-the-scenes perspective that would not have been possible through reference content alone. Henry was also responsible for most of the Mac-specific coverage you'll find here.

My gratitude is extended to my copy editor, Bill Cassel, whose exacting professionalism helped to put the final polish on the words between these pages, and to Mimi Heft and David Van Ness who did a fantastic job on the design and layout.

BeOS user John Brajkovic wrote most of the Games chapter (also online). John produced a lot of excellent copy very quickly, and I am most grateful for his contributions. BeOS developer Tyler Riti generously volunteered his tutorial on using the Japanese Input Method, a field where I lacked personal experience. Many BeOS software vendors provided information critical to giving their own applications the depth of coverage they deserved, and you'll find their names at the beginning of each application section to which they contributed. I am most grateful to all of them.

As critical as these contributors have been to this book's completion, the project would not have been possible without the attentiveness, patience, and thoroughness of the staff of Be, Inc., who bore with me through ten months of pestering questions. I can't think of another company as receptive to the needs of the journalist/writer as Be has been throughout the course of these email volleys and in-house visits. Special thanks go to Scott Patterson and Michael Alderete for being my contact points and for parsing my questions out to the appropriate engineers.

My thanks go also to the readers of the beusertalk and bedevtalk mailing lists, the* usenet hierarchy, and all of the contributors to the BeOS Tip Server. Special thanks to the following individuals for their contributions large and small: Osma Ahvenlampi, Christian Bauer, Daniel Berlin, Richard Burgess, Christian Crumlish, Brian Cully, Nils Dahl, Lars Duening, Dave Haynie, Maarten Hekkelman, Mike Knapp, Braden McGrath, Marco Nellisen, Tyler Riti, David Reid, Frank Seesink, Justin Sherrill, Brian Tietz, Matthew Zahorik, and everyone else who shared tidbits, compared notes, and offered suggestions. The community of BeOS users is a bottomless font of information and inspiration.

Thanks to my family for providing an analog upbringing, to Ryck Lent for finally pushing me off the technology cliff, and to Dan Farber for giving me a BeOS corner on ZDNet. Many thanks to antiweb for helping me to remember that technology must always remain in the service of truth and beauty. And of course, thanks to Jean-Louis Gassée for being willing to face the repo-man in order to create an operating system where truth, beauty, and technology come together.

This book is dedicated to Amy Kubes, who supported me morally and emotionally throughout the process, read and commented on manuscripts, rescued me from malnutrition, and soothed my soul.

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