ZevenOS - Does it recapture the flavor of BeOS?

BeOS was a much loved and highly advanced desktop operating system that ceased active development in 2001. ZevenOS is a Ubuntu 11.10 based system (with a bit of help from Xubuntu) that attempts to recapture some of the BeOS look and feel.

The GUI of ZevenOS is based on a custom theme for the Xfce DE. I have a little experience with BeOS and some of its clones, and I confirm that, from the outset, it does look quite like BeOS. Naturally, the most famous element of the BeOS user interface, the small yellow title bar, has been retained. As with the original BeOS, the dock is located in the top right hand side of the screen and expands vertically. You bring it to the front by touching the right hand corner of screen, and when clicked on, it pops up an application launcher.

ZevenOS recreates the BeOS dock.

ZevenOS comes with some software that has been specially written for it. Magi and Magi 2 are, respectively, system information and configuration tools that are unique to ZevenOS. Beyond that, the default application choice, like parent distro Xubuntu, tends towards lighter weight options such as Abiword and Gnumeric. Naturally, you can add any applications that you could add to any other Ubuntu system.


The custom settings and system info apps are quite impressive.

There is also another variation called ZevenOS-Neptune that uses Debian Testing with a more recent kernel and KDE4 as the front end.

When summing up, I'm a little bit torn. The cosmetic and user interface differences do evoke some of the feel of a mid-90s OS that looks like BeOS. Whether you like it or not will probably come down to your personal tastes. I've seen a lot of attempts to re-implement earlier operating systems come and go over the years, and one of the main problems was that the developers expended resources recreating components that already existed in the free software world, such as the kernel. It's admirable that ZevenOS tries to offer up some of the BeOS feel while reusing the Linux infrastructure wherever possible. Being a Linux distro also means that it has a complete set of well-maintained applications available to it.

However, BeOS itself was more than just a front-end and included features such as a database driven file system that the applications themselves were able to take advantage of. As engaging as the illusion that ZevenOS offers may be, it is, after all, largely Xubuntu with a different theme on top of it. On the positive side, you're in fairly safe hands as it is still an Ubuntu variant, and if you like the look of it, it's a slick system that makes efficient use of resources.

The ZevenOS website

Although slightly out of date, the FAQ gives a full account of what the aims of the project are.

Haiku is an attempt to create a BeOS compatible operating system from the ground up.


UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


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nice, but limited

alex wang's picture

growing up pre-apple gives me appreciation for the mid-90s interface. Although a little UI customization from ZevenOS would help with the overall UX. thanks!

bringing basics back

BeOS was the best

Art Vandelay's picture

In the late 1990's I really loved BeOS. I started using it on Power Macintosh hardware because Apple's OS sucked back then. When BeOS switched to Intel, so did I. For quite a while I used it as my primary OS with a Windows 2000 partition for stuff that required Microsoft Office and so forth. BeOS ruled. The UI was ahead of its time. It was far ahead of its time under the hood. BeOS could be running on Apple computers today of J.L. Gassee wasn't so greedy. He wanted too much money and Apple balked, called Steve Jobs at NeXT, and the rest is history. When Gassee switched from devleoping the BeOS to selling "internet appliances," he signed the death warrant for one of the greatest OSes ever. Yes I am still bitter.

I tried ZevonOS on a USB stick. It is a nice homage to the BeOS, but far from the real thing.

Have to agree...

BeReal's picture

... just putting a pretty (well, different) face on Linux is not "recreating BeOS" any more than sticking a picture of a mansion on a cardboard box makes it a luxury home. The real thing had a LOT more going for it that this little facelift doesn't.

I still hold out hope for Haiku.

HaikuOS is doing well

Rudolf O.'s picture

The project is very much alive, it just needs some more developers making awesome applications on it.

A shiny interface isn't enough, agreed :/

A Hope?

gadgetboi's picture

I hope this won't as disappoint as xubuntu or any other XFCE distro. i still love gnome2 ...


Zengeos's picture

Hmm... I think GEOS was a far more revolutionary OS in it's day. It was really the first mainstream TRULY OO OS created and sipped resources compared to ALL contemporary GUIs.

Sadly, GEOS never developed into a 32 bit OS let alone a 64 bit, so javascript and other more recent web technologies never really worked acceptably on it and of course, GEOS took the brunt of the M$ marketing machine (We'll sell you Windows and DOS for a pittance as long as you pay for them on EVERY system you sell, even if you don't include them!!!) That locked GEOS out of the market and effectively killed it. What a shame.

Still, the whole idea of a flexible user interface with switchable look and fdeel was developed by Geoworks waaaay back in the early 90's/late 80's...thus we have skins, etc...today.

This completely misses the point of what made BeOS great...

Disappointed's picture

Kudos to those who developed the user interface for this, but IMHO this completely misses the point of what made BeOS great. Not only was the filesystem a database, it was an object-oriented transactional database. Indeed, the whole OS, IIRC, was a complete rewrite from top-to-bottom in an object-oriented fashion (C++ I believe). Everything was an object, and transactions were available wherever needed, not just for filesystem operations.

It was a truly revolutionary OS at the time, and nothing to date comes even close. I'm still disappointed that Apple did not choose it for Mac OSX (and the subset of it that would eventually become iOS), but I guess I can't fault them -- NetBSD had much better driver support, and having to re-write object-oriented drivers would have been a huge undertaking, even for a company like Apple that only supports the hardware that they sell.

> and nothing to date comes even close

libdave's picture

> and nothing to date comes even close

Not even haiku? I thought it was BeOS resurrected.


I think haiku holds promise, I might move to it unless they use X-windows.

Nice but...

Former BeOS user's picture

... being based on Xubuntu has another problem which is not mentioned: no decent multimedia support. And that was precisely an area where BeOS flourished (just to name one advantage); the commercial MP3 player, could play literally dozens of mp3's at the same time and still not crash when other apps were started on top of it.

Still own every version of BeOS that ever came out (+ Zeta etc. ) and tons of software; like Gobe (very nice office suite). Still miss it, as the mutltasking (as a desktop system) was way better then Linux stil is today, without the downside of apple's lock-in scenraio.

Yet I have moved to Linux too, as mickeysoft is just that: a bad immitation of a too big mouse.