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Be boss offers OS to OEMs for free

But will Gassee's generosity really win Be new users?

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Be CEO Jean-Louis Gassee yesterday promised PC OEMs a free licence to install the BeOS onto their products alongside Windows. In an article published on the Be Web site, Gassee grumbles that, for all Microsoft's claims at the DoJ trial that there are viable alternatives to Windows and thus the company doesn't have a monopoly, PC OEMs prevented from taking these alternatives -- specifically Linux and the BeOS -- on board because of the way they often interpret Microsoft's Windows licensing terms. That's not an unreasonable point, and Gassee's solution, in the short term at least, is to encourage PC vendors to install the BeOS gratis and ensure users can see it's there as an option when they boot their computers. Gassee's goal, he claims, is "put a crack in the wall" of the Microsoft monopoly, the idea being that if the Great Satan of Software kicks up a stink about what an OEM has done, its arcane licensing terms will be revealed to the world for what they are. Well, you can't blame the guy for trying, but his apparently altruistic comments have a real ring of desperation to them. There's no doubt the BeOS is a very fine piece of work, but it's currently in a vary difficult position. Styling its product a 'media OS', Be originally offered the BeOS as an alternative to the MacOS, and did a very good job of getting it to run, and run well, on Mac hardware. In the past, Apple didn't have a problem with that, but then Steve Jobs came back. It would be churlish to claim that Jobs has a personal problem with Gassee, who was, after all, a John Sculley man and Sculley was the guy who got Jobs fired from Apple in the first place, but since his return, there has been a clear cooling of the relationship between Apple and Be, culminating with Apple's decision not to allow Be engineers to get the inside track on the latest generation of Power Macs. Until it gets that data, Be claims it can't port the BeOS to the new G3s. It could be argued that the don't want too because Gassee doesn't like Jobs much either, but again it wouldn't be right to state that as a factor in the Be-Apple equation. Anyway, with its back to Apple, Be has been pursuing an Intel-oriented course, and even managed to win some investment dollars from the Great Satan, back in the Autumn. Trouble is, Be has a very long way to go to make its OS viable in the x86 world. As IBM found with OS/2, the key to success isn't just getting application support, you need to have great hardware support too, and Be just doesn't have it. Unless you have one of five supported network cards and one the latest graphics accelerators, the BeOS is a non-starter. And it only supports PostScript, PCL and a couple of Epson printers. Building up a user base by making it easy for PC OEMs to install the BeOS might help encourage device vendors to port over new drivers, but will many OEMs benefit from Gassee's generosity while those drives aren't there. We suspect not. ®

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