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Be Inc. advances Net devices strategy

November 18, 1999
Web posted at: 12:28 p.m. EST (1728 GMT)

by Jana Sanchez


LAS VEGAS (IDG) -- Things are looking up for Be Inc., the maker of an operating system for digital media and Internet appliances, according to the company's chairman and chief executive officer, Jean-Louis Gassˇe.

The company stands to benefit from the finding of fact -- in the U.S. government's antitrust case against Microsoft -- that the maker of the Windows OS is a monopoly, Gassˇe said Wednesday in an interview with IDG News Service.

"It helps us in several ways," the French CEO and former Apple Computer executive said. "Two years ago, we had people interested in our operating system, but they thought 'They don't have a chance.' Today, these same people think we might have a chance."

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"We will work very hard to make this a self-fulfilling prophecy," he said.

Although Microsoft hasn't actually been found guilty of anything, Gassˇe said, "it might get Microsoft to the bargaining table to avoid private litigations that would make the tobacco awards look puny."

Be, for its part, hasn't taken on Microsoft directly. It cut deals with several manufacturers to put the Be OS onto PCs along with Windows. It has agreements with PC makers including Fujitsu Computers GmbH, Hitachi Ltd., AST Computers LLC and eMachines Inc.

"On the desktop clearly we want to coexist with Windows," Gassˇe said. This isn't because Be users need Windows, however, but it's simply because Windows has sewn up the PC operating system market. The Be OS could work fine on its own, Gassˇe said.

In the future, the Be OS may well work alone on Internet access devices such as multimedia smart phones. Or it may work in conjunction with other operating systems, bringing multimedia capabilities to them, Gassˇe said. He did not rule out the possibility of the Be OS coexisting on devices running on Windows CE, Symbian Ltd.'s EPOC OS or 3Com Corp.'s Palm OS.

"I am a director of 3Com," he said. "Clearly we would (want to work with 3Com), but it is their decision."

In an effort to push the OS as a multimedia and Internet tool, Be worked with National Semiconductor Corp. to produce production-ready reference platforms for an Internet access device called the National Geode WebPad. The prototype device, being demonstrated at Be's stand here at Comdex, is an 8-inch by 11.5-inch tablet. The WebPad has wireless access up to 500 feet from a base station so it could be used within a home or office network.

The goal, said Gassˇe, is to get manufacturers to produce this device.

Of course, key to Be's long-term success will be whether or not developers create successful applications to run on Be. The company has 11,000 registered developers. Gassˇe estimates that of those, 1,100 are actually working on creating software. Of those roughly 11 could produce important software for Be.

"A lot of history has been made with just one application," Gassˇe said, pointing to the success such applications as Macwrite, Macpaint and Photoshop brought for Apple Computer Inc.

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