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Red Hat to buy Be?

So sayeth the rumour-mill -- we're not so sure, though

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Even as rumours that Red Hat is about to buy Corel are moving back onto the Linux watcher's radar screen, so has a further item of tittle-tattle that the best-known open source operation is about to buy alternative OS vendor Be. Indeed, Be's shares rose 49 per cent yesterday, to $37.56, apparently on the back of the rumour. Neither company has yet commented on the claim. One analyst, Charles Payne of Wall Street Strategies, cited by Bloomberg, said Be's software would add applications that Red Hat's software doesn't offer -- neglecting to realise that the two operating systems, while structurally similar (kernel, shell, graphical UI) aren't compatible, and BeOS is no less proprietary than Windows 2000. That said, those very structural similarities would make BeOS a candidate for a move into the open source world. Strip out the existing (and handily Unix-like) kernel and slide in a modified version of the Linux kernel with BeOS' rather fine journaling file system tacked-on, and you've got a version of Linux with an series of media-oriented API and a top-notch GUI light years ahead of KDE and Gnome. Sounds an interesting plan, but the Linuxisation of BeOS would be tantamount to an admission of failure on Be's part, a confession that it can't after all compete with the open source OS. Be itself is doing reasonably well an OS vendor, with a small but solid band of supporters, and is pushing hard to make it big in the information appliance market. From that perspective, it doesn't need Red Hat. So unless Jean-Louis Gassee wants to cash in his shares or swap them for more valuable Red Hat ones (assuming some kind of share-for-shares acquisition), he's little reason to shake hands with Bob Young, Matthew Szulik and co. Red Hat, on the other hand, needs Be rather more. Getting Be's technology and putting it into the Linux domain would give its distribution a major lead in functionality. But such is the open source philosophy, Red Hat would have hand it over to everyone else, and any advantage would soon be lost. Of course, Red Hat could offer the Be shell, GUI and APIs separately under its own, non-GNU licence, but that would surely nuke the company's open source credibility. The alternative is to offer BeOS as an operating system in its own right, but again that presents a conflict with Red Hat's open source roots and would surely lead to a blurring of Red Hat's message: is it a Linux company or not? All of which would suggest the details of the rumour are incorrect, and that the two companies have probably been talking about Red Hat taking investing in Be, licensing some of its technology or both. The latter course would involve a shift by Be towards the open source model, but Gassee's a shrewd enough guy to see the advantages of moving that way without going the whole hog -- just as his alma mater, Apple, has done with its Darwin open source project. One thing does seem clear: the guys at Be and Red Hat have probably been chatting. Whether anything comes of their conversation -- apart from a small lift to Be's share price -- we'll just have to wait and see. ® Related Stories Be to bundle Opera Web browser Be preps BeOS-in-Windows 'Trojan Horse' Be's Stinger OS selected for Nat Semi WebPad

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