Jean-Louis Gassee is an unlikely challenger to Bill Gates' hold on the operating system market. The urbane, softly spoken Frenchman seems the opposite to a high powered Silicon Valley executive. However, Be, the company he created after he left Apple, where he headed the product division, has just announced a new operating system for Intel PCs. Newswire: You left Apple seven years ago. When you look at Apple today, do you recognise it? Gassee: Oh yes. It's pretty much the same culture. Of course the company is smaller in size and scope, and for the time being is not a leading force in the market. However, it could be, by software technology, and entering new product areas. It could do that by use of design. You know, Steve Jobs is a very charismatic leader, so I'm sure he could do any one or all of these things. We will see. Newswire: Late in 1996, you were in merger negotiations with Apple. How different would things have been if you, and not Next, had been bought by Apple? Gassee: Well, I think in retrospect it would have been worse, because one of the good things that (former Apple CEO) Gil Amelio did was to bring Steve Jobs back to Apple. Of course, he lost his job in the process, but it has provided some energy that was lacking in the Apple community. I could not have provided that kind of charisma, so I'm pretty happy for Apple, and for ourselves. If things had got worse, we would have been on board of the Titanic. You know, in retrospect it wasn't such a good idea, and I think it turned out for the best - certainly for Apple. Newswire: How about for you? Gassee: Oh, for us, we're independent. We're well financed. We're very happy in the Intel space. Newswire: Have you had any other takeover offers lately? Gassee: No. We think we have a lot to do and a lot to prove before we can be of interest to anyone. So let's do our job and then see what happens. Newswire: You say Be is now going after the multimedia authoring market. That means you will be competing head to head with Apple, doesn't it? Gassee: I don't think of it that way. The Mac OS is not capable of doing the streaming media applications we do. Apple is very successful still in graphics design and desktop publishing applications. However, in terms of streaming media, I don't perceive Apple has the capabilities we have. We are competing more against the $25,000 (#15,244) Silicon Graphics workstation. Newswire: You have had preview editions of BeOS for the Mac for some time. Why did you decide to shift your efforts to Intel? Gassee: A lot of people told us, and they were right, that Intel has been preparing some very interesting multimedia capabilities for its chipset. We didn't believe it initially, but we looked at it and we realised that Intel hardware is much better multimedia hardware than the Mac. The Mac has, arguably, a very nice processor, the PowerPC. However, the I/O capabilities have fallen behind. The next generation of Intel chipsets will have a 100MHz bus, so you will be able to use SDram at speed. You will have far more built into the chipset; you already have USB. (Intel) is much less expensive, and it's a huge market. We were surprised because many of us came from Apple. We were surprised at the capabilities of the Intel platform. Newswire: So you are launching a new operating system for Intel PCs. That sounds pretty scary. Gassee: Well, look at Linux. Five million copies. The misunderstanding comes from OS/2, which failed very visibly. I was in the room when (IBM's) James Cannavino stood up on stage and said: "We're going to do better Dos than Dos, better Windows than Windows". Well, look what happened. It's like going against the stronghold of your opponent. You don't attack your opponent where he is strongest. IBM did that and failed, even with all its money. What we are doing is to address the market in a passive way, just like Linux did. Linux quietly developed itself into a very nice, specialised OS. We address areas where Windows, being a general-purpose operating system, does not have the capabilities. We are not telling people to remove Windows from their systems. You want to do word processing or spreadsheets? You have Microsoft Office. We have nothing to offer there. You want to do video editing? Here, we have something to offer. You can have the two systems on the same hard disk. Newswire: You have also developed an efficient, small, highly multi-threaded, symmetric multiprocessing operating system. Is video editing really the full range of your ambitions? Gassee: We will see later. I think there is such a huge market there. By the year 2000 we believe that there will be between two and three million machines sold worldwide just for audio and video editing. Just look at the number of digital video cameras being sold. It's a good market. Let's do a good job, make developers and customers happy, and we'll see where we go after that. Newswire: How do you get people to invest in a company that is going to launch a new operating system for Intel PCs? Gassee: Well, these people look at Linux and they say: "Gee, we wish we had invested in that". It depends on how you approach the problem. We are not going against Windows, we are sitting next to Windows, so potentially 97% of computers. We can do things you can't do elsewhere. And you can make money by using Web commerce and Web delivery. There is a much lower barrier to entry. Newswire: Did you ever consider starting this company in France, rather than California? Gassee: No. It would have been impossible. Silicon Valley is heaven for what we do. You have everything you need. You have a real ecosystem, from consultants to investment bankers, venture capitalists, subcontractors,and ISVs. It's a lot less expensive to start a business here than in Europe. Newswire: You are launching a product into a market that a lot of people are describing as a closed market, a monopoly. Do you think you can get into the market, if you just have the right product? Gassee: There is no such thing as the right product. It's about the right product for whom, and where. OS/2 proved that with all the resources in the world, if you target the wrong marketplace you can't do it. Microsoft proved you can start with something not so great, like Dos, and end up with something like Windows 95 and Windows NT - which are respectable products that people like. I'm afraid the Mac fanatics don't understand, because they never use Windows. If they used it, they would understand. (Windows) is not evil. It is increasing quality and decreasing prices. Now, is Microsoft monopolising the OS market place? You know, Microsoft has become so big that it does have a negative influence on the market place. Whether it's legal or illegal, I don't know. Microsoft, because of its influence on the OS and applications market, has an incredible lock on the office productivity market place. You think raising money for an OS is hard? Ha! Try to raise money for a word processor for Windows. So yes, there are places where the game is over. And it's too bad, because it threatens innovation. I'm curious to see what happens. Microsoft is growing so big, there is a point where it becomes a threat to the ecosystem. I take more an ecological than a legalistic view. While I don't believe Microsoft is an evil company or anything, I believe it is reaching a point where it is threatening genetic diversity in the ecosystem.
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