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MS licences block Be's bid for PC market

We explain why Gassee can't even give the OS away

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Be CEO Jean-Louis Gassee says he has had no takers for his offer (see Be boss offers free OS) to license BeOS free for a year to any OEM prepared to install it on their PCs as an option to Windows. But that's scarcely surprising, because the way he's suggesting they do it would be a breach of their licensing agreements with Microsoft. As we said last week, Be has a problem on the Intel platform because there are as yet few drivers for its OS. But the real long-term problem, as Gassee would know if he was keeping up with his Registers, is that the OEMs just plain can't do it. Gassee suggests that any free licensee could put BeOS onto its machines alongside Windows, and give buyers the option of selecting it or Windows when they first turn on the machine. But Microsoft's licensing agreements make this practically impossible (see What MS licences really say). The agreements sportingly allow OEMs to do whatever they like as the BIOS kicks in, but as soon as software starts loading off the hard disk on first switch-on, that's Microsoft's turf. Hence OEM VP Joachim Kempin's bizarre suggestions last week that OEMs could advertise their wares by running DR-DOS from the BIOS before the MS software starts loading. Clearly, unless MS is going to vary the OEM agreement in order to let them give the option of a non-MS operating system before the loading procedure starts, would-Be customers can't offer BeOS in the way Gassee suggests. Microsoft did, under OEM pressure, offer an initial choice between Windows 3.11 and Windows 95 when the latter first shipped, but that was then, and they were both MS operating systems anyway. It's also worth noting that the licensing agreements rule out shipping machines with a boot manager preinstalled (non-MS code kicking in after the BIOS), so that's not a route either. Gassee claims he's discussing the notion with one major PC manufacturer, and that he has one unnamed customer (small, presumably) which does ship Be alongside Windows, but keeps very quiet about it because it interprets the licence as meaning it can't display non-Microsoft products during the start-up. The company is of course correct -- you can't run non-MS code, and you can't publicise third-party products. So this company is indeed in breach of its agreement, if it's really shipping BeOS. But the ever-helpful Register has a suggestion (you'll recall we said "practically impossible" above). You could do that DR-DOS BIOS thing, and offer the alternative before the MS software started loading. The tricky thing to do next would be to run a boot manager from the BIOS, but failing this, bundle a BeOS CD, and if they select BeOS, boot from the CD and vape the Windows installation. We think that's clean, so give it a go, Jean-Louis. ®

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