Success expected for Be IPO

Small but perfectly financed?

In the next few days, punters will be able to throw money at Be Inc's IPO, which was filed with the SEC in May. Be is expecting to raise $57 million and to trade on NASDAQ. Be's income in 1998 was $16.9 million. There's little doubt that the IPO will succeed, but greater doubt as to whether BeOS will hit the big time. Since CEO Jean-Louis Gassee, a former president of Apple's products group, failed to make progress in the Apple OS market, he switched his focus to Windows, and Intel decided to take a 10 per cent stake in Be, if only to upset Microsoft. As with OS/2, the clincher will be the extent to which Be can attract developers. IBM failed to do this, although its attempt was rather half-hearted. But the environment now is different. Although Linux has its slavish devotees, and quite right too, there is room for an OS that is specially geared for media freaks. If you want to operate multiple audio, video and image processing and Internet access simultaneously, then Be could be the answer. Gassee's rationale is that the operating systems from the 1970s and 1980s were not architected to support audio, video, image and 3D animation, because of hardware limitations. The Be strategy will be to establish partnerships with the key industry players; to focus on Internet appliances; and "to be" everywhere as the standard for digital media and Internet computing. BeOS is being sold to OEMs, retail, and directly to users. So far, Be has relationships with Hitachi for including BeOS with two models in its Flora Prius machines, marketed to enthusiasts in Japan (as hobbyists are called nowadays), and with Fujitsu for its Silverline PCs for the professional and enthusiast market in Europe - and especially in Germany and the Nordic countries. Gassee appears to be avoiding the mistakes of Apple and Microsoft by encouraging the sales of third-party applications through its BeDepot.com website. Microsoft's claims during the trial about the great threat posed to Microsoft by BeOS should not taken too seriously. Although Be will not disclose how far it has penetrated, it is believed that BeOS is on between 50,000 and 100,000 machines. The obstacle Be faces is that most OEMs are effectively prevented from offering BeOS, not because of a clause in their licensing agreements for Windows, but because of what it would cost them in lost market development agreement (MDA) discounts for loading only Windows. This is the iniquity that Be must fight, but there is evidence that Microsoft is very much in the business of avoiding controversy as the first round of its trial comes to a conclusion. ®

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