TOKYO Fledgling operating-system developer Be Inc. is expected to roll out version 4.0 of BeOS at Comdex next week. This is on top of getting two recent shots in the arm: Hitachi Ltd. has agreed to bundle BeOS onto a PC that will be sold in Japan, and Be executives confirmed that Intel Corp. has taken an equity investment in the company.
Be expects at least one more OEM to announce support for its OS before the end of the year.
Following Hitachi's announcement here, Be executives told EE Times that Intel has invested an undisclosed amount in Be over the last year as both companies worked to optimize Be's operating system for the Intel platform. Be and Intel are to make a formal announcement next week at Comdex.
Financial backing from Intel "opens doors at a lot of companies for us," said Jim Cook, vice president of sales for Be (Menlo Park, Calif.).
John Antone, co-general manager for Intel Japan K.K. (Tokyo), said he was not familiar enough with the business relationship between Intel and Be to comment on the equity investment. But he said Intel's support of the BeOS is part of the company's effort to encourage applications and OS developers to optimize to Intel's platform.
The BeOS was originally tied to Macintosh clones, but after Apple Computer Inc. cut loose its ties with Be and Mac cloners, the company shifted to the PC camp.
Intel's multiple bets
Word of Intel's investment in Be comes only weeks after Intel announced it was investing in Red Hat software, a provider of the Linux operating system.
Antone said Intel's partnership with Be does not undermine the semiconductor giant's long-standing relationship with Microsoft Corp. Still, the news emerged in the same week that other Intel executives had testified in Microsoft's antitrust case, alleging that the software company had threatened to withhold support for future Intel CPUs if Intel did not abandon some of its own software efforts.
Be also downplayed the effect the new OS will have on Microsoft. Cook said that the BeOS is meant to complement Windows and that he hopes for a "peaceful coexistence" with Microsoft.
Even so, the new BeOS aims to displace many Windows functions. For one, it has its own browser software, an alternative Internet gateway on a Windows PC.
Moreover, the BeOS does not hew to the DirectX API, the cornerstone of Microsoft's multimedia initiatives. "While we have the greatest respect for the fine company Microsoft is, we don't see DirectX as an end-all to multimedia," said Jean-Louis Gassee, Be's chairman and chief executive.
The hallmark of the operating system is its ability to handle large quantities of multimedia-rich data in real-time, largely because the OS is not burdened by the legacy issues of Windows. It's also small, with a kernal that takes less than 1 Mbyte and doubles in size with TCP/IP extensions included. Intel's Antone said the size and freedom from legacy makes it an attractive vehicle for multimedia. "It's a lighter operating system, and does things that will let you run applications in parallel. The lack of legacy and the same is true for hardware is baggage that limits compatibility but also increases its flexibility," he said.