Clone calamity sends Be searching for new distribution
By Robert Lemos
September 5, 1997 3:25 PM PDT
Apple's heavy-handed treatment of Macintosh clone makers this week may have
dinged an unexpected bystander: alternative operating system maker Be Inc.
But not for long. Be President and CEO Jean-Louis Gassee said Friday. "How
do we spell relief?" he asked. "I-N-T-E-L."
The startup currently bundles copies of its BeOS with Mac clones made by
Power Computing Corp., UMAX Computer Corp. and Motorola Inc. In addition,
to reach Apple's Macintosh users, the Menlo Park, Calif. company
distributes copies in Mac-related trade magazines.
But Apple's decision earlier this week not to extend current agreements
with cloners has cast a pall on the clone marker -- and could hurt any
chance for Be's entry into a chancy market.
Now Be will shift more distribution of the BeOS to Mac magazines -- an
attempt to keep the company on track while it prepares its Intel version
"We have over 700,000 copies in distribution through five different Mac
magazines in Europe, Japan and the U.S.," said Gassee. "We don't see
Apple's policy towards cloners affecting us very much."
Still, with Apple refusing to give new technology to cloners, Be's main
distribution channel is drying up. In addition, Be has spent a great deal
of effort to support Mac clones. Apple's turnaround on cloning will make
most of that effort moot, and mean that the company will have to refocus
Luckily, the company had some foresight in the matter, and had made plans
before the Apple-cloner fallout. In August, the start-up demonstrated a
version of its BeOS running on Pentium-based machines. Gassee said Wintel
users are more apt to have two operating system on their computers, and
this means opportunity for Be.
"Our focus on the Intel platform will give us a much greater market
opportunity," Gassee said. "No one is talking about replacing Windows -- we
only want to be the OS of choice for the digital media."
With its Intel release coming in January, Be has the potential to shift
smoothly between platforms. Future support for the PowerPC platform would
be reliant on Apple's future strategy and users reaction to the new OS.
Apple's move was no surprise, the former Apple exec said. "Last year, we
knew they wanted to squeeze the clones. The last thing I want to get into
is a pissing contest with Apple." The lesson for Gassee: less dependence on
a company whose business model has been historically all over the map is a
Gassee would not comment on Apple's reversal on its licensing strategy. "It
is sad to see all of the controversy surrounding the Mac," said Gassee.
"Especially at a time when the users need unity."
The BeOS is a multitasking, multiprocessing operating system for processing
digital media. The advantage of the OS is its ability to use many
processors -- whether one, two, four or eight Pentiums or PowerPCs -- in a
way invisible to users and software developers. Additional processors bring
Perhaps it would be poetic justice if Apple's spat with cloners drove users
to a new operating system. In any event, Be claims it will still be loyal
to its original followers. "As long as we have PowerPC users," said Gassee,
"we will support them."
--- Rohit Khare /// MCI Internet Architecture (BOS) /// email@example.com Voice+Pager: (617) 960-5131 VNet: 370-5131 Fax: (617) 960-1009