Be prepares to take off

With $24.5 million in new financing and an Intel version of its young operating system ready for release, Be Inc.

With $24.5 million in new financing and an Intel version of its young operating system ready for release, Be Inc. looks to have a new lease on life.

"I have never been as excited about our business," said Jean-Louis Gassee, the chairman and CEO of the Menlo Park, Calif., company.

Be Inc. previewed the Pentium release to developers at the Software Development 98.

Can the BeOS or any other operating system survive?

The company's BeOS is an attempt to build a better platform for digital media applications. By allowing multiple applications to run simultaneously on one or more processors, the OS substantially improves the responsiveness and speed of applications.

The 52-person company will distribute the first public version of its BeOS for Intel platforms on Thursday at the Be Developer Conference in Santa Clara, Calif. Before that, the BeOS was only available for Power Macintosh systems using the PowerPC processor from IBM Corp. and Motorola Inc.

Intel -- a lifesaver
The decision to move to Intel has undoubtedly helped the company stay alive.

During the summer of 1997, Gassee had estimated that he had a year to start making money. With the $24.5 million investment, that's changed. "Now our runway's a bit longer," he said.

Tim Bajarin, president of computer industry watcher Creative Strategies Inc., agrees. Prior to Be's announcement last September that it would be moving the BeOS to Intel, Bajarin had a fairly dim view of the company's chances.

The analyst sees the company a bit differently now. "The Intel connection has changed my outlook dramatically," said Bajarin. "There is a lot of potential for Be to succeed in games and graphics."

As far as Intel is concerned, all this fits in with its Visual Computing Initiative. "It makes sense to help companies innovate on the Intel platform," said Adam Grossberg, a spokesman for the Santa Clara, Calif., chip giant. "(The BeOS) definitely has that potential."

MediaOS or mainstream OS?
That's good, because digital graphics as well as video and audio, is exactly where the company and its partners want to be.

Adding another processor to a computer running the BeOS gains the user some 95 percent more power. Comparatively, because of greater overhead, the same processor would only gain a Windows NT user 87 percent more speed.

Yet, Gassee wants to avoid any comparisons. "We want to complement, not compete with, Windows," he said. "(Windows users) are used to multiple OSes -- it looks like a very welcoming space."

Despite Gassee's own assertions that Be is not attempting to move into the mainstream, quite a few mainstream applications have been created.

Startup Beatware, for example, has created a productivity suite called Be Basics, a graphics suite called Be Studio, and an e-mail program named Mail-It. Another start-up called Gobe Software Inc. is also making a productivity application called Gobe Productive.

Yet both claim that, on the BeOS platform, their software can offer power users more features.

Beatware, for one, is changing tacks, targeting its next applications upstream. "Over the next nine months, we will tailor apps for graphics users," said Karen Cassel, vice president of sales and marketing for the Menlo Park, Calif., company.

Able to Be-witch users?
Still, not one developer -- nor Be itself -- is turning a profit yet.

Be will start making money when it ships the Intel version of its BeOS. Yet the market is still small.

Beatware thinks that is going to change. "By the end of the year, the market for Be is going to skyrocket," said Cassel. "We used to be able to run on 3 percent of the hardware out there -- now we can run on 97 percent."

How many users will install the system on their computer is still uncertain -- as is Be's future. Yet, with Intel behind them, the company's prospects are looking up.


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