With a new release of its BeOS operating system ready to ship, a dstribution deal with Hitachi and a minority investment from Intel, Be Inc appears ready to emerge from obscurity.
Frank Boosman, vice president of developer relations, called the company?s press conference at Comdex/Fall in Las Vegas this week a ?coming out party? for Be. ?We?re ready to begin telling the world what we?re doing," he said.
BeOS was first launched in 1995 as the operating system for the Bebox, a specially designed computer based on two PowerPC processors. The Bebox was soon shelved, but the operating system made some headway as an alternative on Macintosh compatible systems.
The end of the Mac compatible market last year almost coincided with the launch of the Intel version of the OS.
Now, Be is positioning the OS as a specialised 'media operating system' for audio and video creation, to be installed side by side with Windows.
Next month, Be will ship BeOS 4 for Intel and PowerPC. While this is the fourth commercial release of the operating system, it is only the second to also run on Intel systems and the first that offers support for a relatively wide range of PC hardware options such as video and audio cards. The operating system now coexists better with Windows on the same machine. It resells for $99.95.
Via a deal with Hitachi, announced last week, the Japanese computer company will ship three PC models with the Japanese version of BeOS 4 preinstalled together with Windows 98. It?s the first big OEM deal for Be.
This week, the privately owned Be announced $25 million of investments from a number of venture capitalists. Most noteworthy is an investment of unspecified size from Intel, widely seen as a vote of confidence in the operating system.
Intel recently announced a similar investment in Linux developer Red Hat.
Be is also seeing increased support from software developers. Together with version 4.0 of the OS, it announced the release of a batch of new applications for the fledgling platform. Most are in the field of audio and video creation, but the platform also boasts an office productivity suite (Gobe Productive) and a Windows emulator.
And Norwegian browser vendor Opera is working on a BeOS version of its product.
In its demo, Be showed how the operating system allows multiple streams of video to be mixed and edited in real time on a run of the mill PC with no hardware acceleration.
In doing so, it upstaged the feats demonstrated by Silicon Graphics (SGI) at Bill Gates? keynote here on Sunday.
While SGI stunned the crowd with an NT based workstation loaded with specialised 3D hardware, BeOS did what looked like exactly the same job on an off the shelf (though powerful) dual Pentium II 450MHz system with a $70 video capture card.
Microsoft is working hard to add more multimedia functionality to Windows. But Jean-Louis Gassie, founder and president of Be, is convinced that Microsoft can never catch up with BeOS in this area.
Gassie said that the mounting complexity of Windows will make it less, rather than more, suitable as a multimedia platform, because it harms real time performance. ?As Windows grows more and more substantial, [Be?s] advantage increases," he said.
?The successor of Windows 98 will be based on NT. We look forward to that," said Gaissie. ?There are 40 million lines of code in there, and I love every single one of them."
But though Gassie stressed that BeOS complements and does not replace Windows, he is aware of the dangers of stepping on Microsoft's turf.
?The joke at Be is that Microsoft could kill us just by meeting with us," he said.
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