Comparison with other OSes

I can’t believe this hasn’t been mentioned, but Haiku has a rather innovative package management system that is unlike any other system. It mounts packages live instead of extracting them.

This frequently leads to heated discussions here since it’s a major breakaway from how BeOS used to do this, but it has some amazing advantages such as the ability to easily go back to previous system states in cases something breaks, very clean software installs/uninstalls, lower chance of breaking system integrity, not to mention that it and the infrastructure and tools behind it are one of the main reasons why Haiku has so many ported applications now.

Another advantage is that Haiku doesn’t have the corporate cloud and services bloat of commercial systems like Windows and macOS, while, unlike Linux, still offering a system that is built by a single team. This leads to a consistent user experience and offers a coherent platform to target for developers. It is also more GUI focussed than Linux where in my experience, you are bound to run into something that can only be fixed with a terminal and by editing config files at some point.


SFS packages in Puppy Linux work the same way; the entire base system is made from layers of SquashFS mounts. But you’re right, this is very rare and unusual; no wonder people tend to balk at first (though the benefits for security and stability should be obvious).

I think you don’t mean performance but input latency. Our performance for most tasks, e.g transfering data over the network or to a usb drive is much worse than on linux or BSD.

And as for ressource usage, we are again beaten by severall operating systems. My alpine linux file server knows Haiku out of the park completely. And that is perfectly fine, FreeBSD would too.

Haiku is great for desktop use for limited ressources, but if your ressources are even more limited you better use something else like minix3, netbsd or linux.

I just meant the system is very responsive and snappier than anything else I tried. The difference is apparent right away, even compared to a very lightweight GNU/Linux or FreeBSD setup. It is blatantly pronounced in old computers as well.

Well, I tried Alpine sometime ago (just out of curiosity), but I didn’t manage to get a decent desktop, failing to even start X - even on bare metal - and I’m not new on installing esoteric distributions. I’m not saying Alpine is bad, I’m sure I missed something - and admittedly I didn’t try hard. At any rate, I can’t tell if Alpine is using less resources. I seriously doubt it though. Let me explain why.

By “resources” I meant memory usage primarily. This is the most important factor, at least for me, and it’s crucial in old low-end systems. You can’t do much if half your (limited) RAM is used just to start a decent window manager, right?

Now, Haiku 64-bit takes up ~400 Mb of RAM (a little less, actually). For comparison, let’s consider other operating systems, running a lightweight but comparable desktop. I think XFCE is a good candidate here, since XFCE is the most lightweight true desktop I am aware of. I’ll talk about simple window managers as well (no desktop, just a window manager).

  • In FreeBSD 64-bit, the most lightweight XFCE setup takes up a little more than 470 Mb of RAM, and that’s without any extras running (no transparency, no display manager, no fancy stuff, and there is no bluetooth anyway). This is indeed a very good number for a 64-bit system, and the closest one to Haiku I am aware of. If I switch to Openbox I can actually beat Haiku’s 400 Mb. But that’s with one of the most lightweight window managers, with literally nothing, not even a taskbar.
    The only way I found to seriously beat Haiku using FreeBSD 64-bit is to drop X altogether. Then FreeBSD’s memory usage drops to an impressive ~110 Mb, but that’s not a fair comparison. We are talking about command-line only.
  • In my GNU/Linux system (which is an easy on resources distro), I get worse results: with a comparable, really lightweight XFCE, it takes up ~670 Mb of RAM. If I use a very Spartan window manager (such as Openbox or IceWM), it falls down to ~500 Mb. Even in runlevel 3 (no X, no nothing), my GNU/Linux system takes up ~420Mb. In other words, it still can’t beat Haiku in terms of memory usage, not even in command-line only.
    I tried other lightweight GNU/Linux distros, with either similar results, or even worse than those. This is why I said expect good results with BSDs and worse with GNU/Linux.

The most lightweight system I ever had is my FreeBSD 32-bit system, which takes up ~350 Mb of RAM with XFCE, and ~200 Mb with Openbox. That’s literally without any bells and whistles whatsoever. But there is no comparison because that’s 32-bit.

Yes indeed, but that has little to do with how many ressources are needed and more with what the system is geared for. Note that Haiku could do even more for responsiveness, for example asking mice to send samples in a higher frequency. The default one of usb2 is 125hz, adding a worst case latency of 8ms. with usb2 you can go up to 8kHz to have a worst case latency of 125microseconds.

The point here really is the input latency, how fast applications respond to requests, the latency of the monitor etc.

For example enlightenment desktop on linux afaik uses triple buffering, this gives you two extra frames of latency if you sync this with the display. (at 60hz that would be 33,3ms added latency)

Not that every mouse supports this of course : )

As for the ram usage I‘ll try to set up a graphical linux to demonstrate what I mean.

I’m on FreeBSD right now, and it’s absolutely Awful, its performance is REALLY BAD.

Thanks man, I appreciate it.

I’m not sure that emphasizing speed is the best marketing strategy. Sure, we are all geeks here, we all lived through the Moore’s Law era, when every MHz counted. But go onto YouTube today and see how many reviewers in the last year have been advising people to buy M1 MacBooks rather than the newer M2 ones. It’s just a better deal. We seem to have reached the point where all computers are fast enough for the regular user.

As for old hardware, well, I belong in the camp that thinks it is time to say a fond farewell to 32-bit compatibility, so let’s not get into that.

The original question was “what can Haiku do that other OS’s cannot?” and “The same, but a little faster” is not likely to be the answer that motivates people to wipe a partition and install Haiku.

S&T is something unique to Haiku. You won’t find it on Linux. MacOS or Windows (AFAIK). Here’s another one: every workspace can have a different resolution and colour depth. There may be some obscure Linux Desktop Environment that allows that, but I’ve never come across it. Vector icons scale smoothly at all resolutions. We do have distinct features. It is just a question of presenting them.

We also have our drawbacks. We need a security solution that protects the user’s data, not just a rehash of the UNIX multi-user setup that protects the system at all costs but leaves my photos of my kid’s first birthday party, my tax records, my LIFE, vulnerable to attack. We need webcam drivers. I could go on all day. But even now, we are able to do things in Haiku that other OS’s cannot.


The problem is not that they are generally unstable. The problem is that occasionally, some bad change will be merged and something will break. It can be minor (some drawing glitch or bug in one app), or catastrophic (not bootable, data corruptions, …).

These things hopefully don’t happen too often, but when they do happen, they can have large effects. That’s why we are not recommending nightlies in general. If you know what you are doing, and you are willing to help with investigating bugs and so on, that’s great, and it helps discovering bugs before we make a release.

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From the POV of a developer (or even just a savvy user) that is highly significant. For a regular user, though, it is the equivalent to an AppImage file on Linux, an AppDir on macOS, or even a Windows PortableApp. Download a single file to the right directory and you have a new application. Delete that file and it’s gone.

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Everyone using nightlys should be aware there is always a potential risk. What I do to prevent trouble is updating a VM installation first, reboot it, open the applications I use most of the time, and run a script that compiles and runs some sample programs. The whole process barely lasts 5 minutes and it’s certainly not a thorough test, but sums up my daily activities. If everything goes as expected, I then proceed with updating my Haiku laptop.

So far I haven’t find any issue with nightlys. Maybe a minor issue was there at some point and I didn’t notice, because it didn’t affect my daily work with Haiku. I certainly didn’t encounter a major issue. Compared to GNU/Linux rolling distributions, nightlys seem to be way more stable. Even conservative rolling distros that are supposed to be “stable enough” do have issues often, and things break. On Debian “testing” (not unstable), this was actually an almost daily problem, and sometimes even a major one. I don’t know if this is still the case, since I ditched Debian when they adopted systemd. But even other “testing” distributions do have issues often. This does not happen with Haiku’s nightlys - at least it didn’t happen to me since I switched to nightlys, several months ago.

what can Haiku do that Windows and Linux can’t

One little thing: common sense.

While other desktops are racing towards making UI worse (the worse case being GNOME, see Gnome Files as an example), Haiku UI is stable and makes sense.

Drill menu allows to navigate the file system quickly. Right click on a window title moves it below other windows. Files have more than just names, and can be queried by attributes. Applications (including system apps!) live in /system/apps instead of being located in various random places. Home directory is not full of junk. Drag-and-drop works (hilariously, GNOME has problems with that). And so on, and so on.

BeOS devs had taste and good judgement. Haiku inherited from it, and managed to makes things a bit better rather than a lot worse.