Back in the 90’s there was a company called Be Inc, who created a relatively small operating system known as BeOS. The Operating system was partially POSIX compliant, in that it had support for Bash and a few UNIX programs could be ported. BeOS was known for it’s error messages written in haikus which were a quirky humanness to the OS that many other popular operating systems at the time lacked. In 2001, however, Be Inc went out of business and the development of BeOS was discontinued. This is where Haiku comes in to place, Haiku was created my a bunch of developers that wanted to re-implement BeOS in an entirely open source operating system. It has been in alpha (early, unstable development) up until November of 2018 when they released the first beta (more stable and could be used as a daily use OS), so I decided to give Haiku a shot.
Getting the images
Haiku OS is available from their website over at https://haiku-os.org. Download the 64 bit image (unless you have a 32 bit computer, which chances are you don’t) and extract it using your archive manager of choice.
Creating the Live USB
You can burn the image to a USB in a multitude of different ways. There are easy ways such as etcher, and more lightweight, efficient options such as dd. It is entirely up to you how you do it so I went with dd.
Once you are done, boot to your freshly burned USB!
Testing out Haiku OS
Using Haiku is relatively straight forward. You can install it using the user-friendly ‘installer’ program, you can install programs using the package manager ‘HaikuDepot’, and you can browse the internet using Haiku’s exclusive lightweight web browser ‘WebPositive’, although be aware that this browser does not have an adblocker so you may want to install a more advanced browser such as Otter Browser (which has a Haiku port). Have fun!
Ricing (customising) Haiku
Using Haiku’s built-in theme engine, I was able to take control of how Haiku looks. Unfortunately, the theme engine is not as robust as something like XFCE or Plasma, however I as able to cobble together a makeshift dark theme and make it feel slightly more modern. I did notice, however, that changing the colours updates the theme for Qt applications, but I was not able to install any pre-existing Qt themes.
The File System
Strangely, Haiku doesn’t follow the file system scheme that Mac, the BSDs and GNU/Linux all have in common. These operating systems tend to have (with a little variation between distros) /usr, /home, /var, /etc and so on… Haiku does things differently by having some of the same folders (namely /bin, /etc and /var) but most of the files are in a folder that does not exist on unix-like OSes: /system.
/system contains a folder called ‘apps’ where the applications you install will go (kind of like /usr/share, or /Applications on a Macintosh). It also contains your home folder, and because Haiku is single-user only, is the only home folder so your home folder is literally just
/system/home/ /boot/home (corrected by commenter). Other things /system includes are: the kernel (which is not linux), preferences (instead of them clogging up your home folder with dotfiles) and sources (Haiku keeps a copy of its source code for licensing purposes, but this is not present in nightly builds.)
Haiku does come with some strange settings which make it harder to transfer to from most other OSes, for instance all the keyboard shortcuts are different.
To change the keyboard shortcuts back to what is familiar, go to the menu (the feather icon) -> Preferences -> Keymap -> Switch shortcut keys to Windows/Linux mode (notice how that mistook Linux, which is a kernel, for GNU/Linux, which is an OS). Now your shortcuts should be easier and things like Alt+Tab work. Alt+F4 doesn’t seem to work though, maybe this will be fixed in a future release.