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Be Inc's relationship with its shareholders continues to resemble one of those weird sex games where you hold your breath just long enough to avoid death by asphyxiation.

It showcased a number of design prototypes at Comdex this week, some old, and some new, and as you might expect, from a technical perspective it walked away with the laurels. However other than Compaq and Ricochet there's no big name licensee yet to establish Be's BeIA platform at the front of the pack.

That's not for lack of trying. BeIA squeezes the OS into around 5 or 6Mb of space - far smaller than comparable Linux devices thanks to some miraculous on-the-fly compression technology - and unlike the established embedded rivals such as QNX offers Flash, Real Player and Opera in the bundle. And from OEM comments, Be's "you design it, we'll draw it" approach to UI customisation went down very well.

FIC and Proview are established licensees, but a few others were evidently flirting with BeIA too. DT Research and Merenta aren't fully fledged licensees, but have built BeIA systems. FIC has also tested a minature 800x640 pad using BeIA, we gather, running Transmeta's Crusoe processor. Be's Tim Self told us that Be has run a number of designs through Transmeta's compatibility labs, and work continues on tweaking BeIA for the low power chip. It's x86 compatible, after all, and although most of Be's prospective OEMs are using using Nat Semi's Geode platform, the company remains pretty agnostic. Compaq's Clipper design - the "open" version of the current MSN Companion that isn't tied to MSN - uses AMD.

Be also showed its home hi-fi appliance Aura - basically a Be PC disguised as a DVD player, which burns MP3s and plays and catalogues your audio CDs, and acts as a streaming server for all your other appliances. "When people chuck out their CD players, they'll see that this does all the CD player and more," said Self. The targetted price point is $299.

Be - surely by now the world's oldest software start-up - walked away from its glittering desktop OS to focus its resources on embedded consumer appliances in a bet-the-company move in January. ®

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