SD 98: Be demos BeOS for Intel

Be Inc., probably best known as the company that was almost acquired by Apple Computer a year ago, has previewed a version of its BeOS operating system for Intel processors. Shown off this week at Software Development '98, the BeOS for Intel is due to ship in March. Available for about a year now for the PowerPC architecture, the BeOS is positioned not to replace existing PC operating systems, but rather to work in conjunction with them, company officials say. Having just raised another US$22 million in capital from unnamed corporations and venture capital firms, the port to Intel's Pentium architecture has recently opened many doors for Be, according to founder and CEO Jean-Louis Gassee.

Be Inc., probably best known as the company that was almost acquired by Apple Computer a year ago, has previewed a version of its BeOS operating system for Intel processors.

Shown off this week at Software Development '98, the BeOS for Intel is due to ship in March. Available for about a year now for the PowerPC architecture, the BeOS is an object-oriented, multithreaded, multitasking, memory protected 64-bit file systems-based operating system. It is positioned not to replace existing PC operating systems, but rather to work in conjunction with them, company officials say.

With a special focus on simplicity, stability and symmetrical multiprocessing, the BeOS strives to become a systems and development platform for audio and video multimedia applications, said Jean-Louis Gassee, chairman and CEO of Be who used to be president of Apple's product division.

Having just raised another US$22 million in capital from unnamed corporations and venture capital firms, the port to Intel Corp.'s Pentium architecture has recently opened many doors for Be, according to Gassee.

"I am very happy with the reception by Intel," Gassee said in an interview with the IDG News Service, adding that in hindsight he is glad Apple opted to acquire Next Inc. instead of Be.

Stressing that he can't speak for Intel, Gassee said it is obvious why Intel has been very receptive to the BeOS.

With "$2,500 PCs there is a good combination of volume and margins for Intel," Gassee said.

In other words the type of applications which will run on the BeOS, including audio-video editing software, high-end graphics packages and multimedia games, require Intel's high-end, expensive Pentium II processors which will bring higher margins to Intel than the low-end Pentiums now used in the PC market. "There are no margins [for Intel] in an $800 PC," Gassee said.

The BeOS is targeted mainly at what Be calls digital designers, people that do not consume, but rather create CD-ROMS, DVD titles, World Wide Web sites, print ads and 2D and 3D graphics. That crowd now relies on high-end PCs stuffed full of expensive add-on cards for video and graphics accelerations or communications and high-speed I/O devices.

On the Intel platform the BeOS, however, works with low-end, inexpensive PC add-on cards available in retail stores, said Alex Ozadzinski, Be.'s vice president of sales and marketing.

Be is in discussions with several large PC makers and established brand-name application developers, which plan to bundle the BeOS with their PCs and develop applications for the BeOS. Officials declined to name any of the companies Be is talking to.

At the time, Be is working with about 5,000 developers worldwide ranging from students to established brand-name software companies. Reception to the BeOS has been especially good in Gassee's native France, as well as in Japan, Germany and the U.K., Gassee said.

He attributes the strong support in UK and Germany in part to a still vibrant Amiga community, which had been stranded since Amiga-owners Commodore International and then Escom AG both went bankrupt.

For Japanese developers the BeOS offers a chance to export their applications, since it is an easy task to change menu and user interface items for video editing software, for example. "But if you make a Japanese word processor in Kanji that's it. You can't sell it outside of Japan," Gassee said.

Outside of the PC market the BeOS will also eventually find its way into other electronic equipment such as the emerging television set-top boxes, Gassee said.

"Yes, there are opportunities for us, but I am not sure yet which of the software suppliers will make money on them," Gassee said.

Aside from bundling agreements with PC manufacturers, Be will distribute its free BeOS via the Internet as well as through retail outlets, Ozadzinski said.

Be will make the final version of the BeOS for Intel available during its developers conference scheduled for March 19-20 in Santa Clara, California.

More information on the company, the BeOS and the hardware supported by the operating system is available on the company's Web site at http://www.be.com/.

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