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Buyer found, sources claim

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Be has found a buyer for its operating system and the development team behind, sources close to the company have toldThe Register.

The job cuts the company announced this week are an efforts to streamline the workforce to meet the conditions laid down by the buyer, who as yet remains known only to senior Be executives.

At this stage, we haven't been able to confirm out source's claim, but as we've reported before, Be is seeking either a buyer or a White Knight investor. In April it hired investment bank ING Barings to "assist it in exploring various strategic and financial alternatives for maximising shareholder value... Such alternatives may include, but are not limited to, a merger... an equity investment by a strategic investor or the sale of all or substantially all of the business or assets of the company."

If our source is correct, ING Barings and Be have chosen the latter option. Be's close relationship with Sony, the product of much speculation over the last six months or so, makes the Japanese giant a leading candidate for the post of Be buyer, but other IT and consumer electronics companies can't be ruled out.

Sony uses Be's BeIA operating system in its eVilla Net appliance, a deal that is believed to have generated pretty much all of Be's Q2 revenue.

BeIA is a streamlined appliance-oriented version of BeOS, the desktop OS that Be was formed to develop in 1999. In the early days, it also produced the dual PowerPC-based BeBox, aimed very deliberately as programming buffs, but the company quit the hardware business soon after.

Be then pitched BeOS at Mac users seeking a more powerful alternative to the Classic Mac OS. In 1996, for a time Be was in the running to be taken over by Apple and provide the foundation for the next-generation Mac OS - after Pink, after Copland... - but in the end Apple turned to NeXT. After Steve Jobs' subsequent coup d'etat, the company refused to provide Be with details of latest hardware, preventing Be supported the blue'n'white Power Mac G3 and later machines.

Be consequently shifted its attention to the x86 platform, but Microsoft's restrictive Windows licensing terms made it difficult for OEMs to offer Be-based PCs. And Linux was emerging as the coders' preferred x86 Windows-alternative.

Last year, Be decided to cease development of BeOS and focus on the emerging information appliance market. Alas, said arena still hasn't emerged and it looks increasingly unlikely that it will.

That leaves Be in a bind, having foregone retail BeOS sales and licensing revenue while waiting desperately for consumer electronics companies and others to rekindle their past interest in Net appliances. That seems unlikely given the current economic downturn, and the moves made by the console makers to fill the gap below low-end PCs. ®

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Be axes 25 per cent of staff
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