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Smaller OSes may steal the show

Will Linux take center stage at Comdex?

November 11, 1998
Web posted at: 4:40 PM EDT

by Torsten Busse

(IDG) -- Given the absence of operating system vendors such as Apple Computer, IBM, and Sun Microsystems, and without a Windows upgrade on the horizon, smaller OS vendors may steal the limelight at the annual Las Vegas Comdex trade show.

Major commercial Linux vendors exhibiting at Comdex aren't planning any important announcements. But with all the buzz in the OS space currently around Linux--and whether it is or can become a threat to Microsoft's Windows NT (or Windows 2000 as it is now officially called)--the issue will continue to dominate discussions at the show.

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Microsoft's recently announced entry into the embedded systems market with Windows NT Embedded 4.0 (scheduled for beta testing early next year) and the company's new Smart Cards for Windows operating system due out in the first quarter of 1999 will also spark some conversations.

Here comes the little guy

Enter smaller and more specialized players, such as Be Inc.

On Monday Be will announce version 4.0 of its multimedia BeOS for the Intel and the PowerPC platforms. The Comdex appearance will be the first time that the new OS will be on display, said Scott Paterson, marketing manager at Be, based in Menlo Park, California.

"This is the first end-user as supposed to developers' release of the BeOS," Paterson said. The PC operating system is not positioned against the 500-pound gorilla Microsoft, but rather is intended to coexist with it.

"Dual-boot set-ups are becoming more common," Paterson said. He added that even if fewer than 1 percent of all PC owners opt for running the BeOS along with Windows or the Apple MacOS on the same machine, that still makes for 5 million machines, Paterson said.

Users may keep Windows on their machines, since the BeOS offers dual-boot capability and automatic partitioning, he said.

New OS designed for multimedia

One of the BeOS's strengths, according to its creators, is that it is the only high-end OS designed specifically for multimedia applications such as games, video editing, or audio applications, bringing graphics and display capabilities to the PC that are usually found in high-end workstations.

As Be puts it: "The BeOS is a new operating system designed to handle the real-time manipulation of high-bandwidth digital media on low cost PCs."

At Comdex several of Be's more than 1000 development partners will debut or announce new applications for the BeOS, including the "number one" audio control and video editing applications developers and two "brand name" desktop applications vendors, Paterson said, declining to name the companies.

Paterson also declined to name any potential PC manufacturers that may bundle the BeOS with their systems.

"We are talking with two of the top five PC manufacturers and hope to announce an agreement with one of them in the first quarter of next year," Paterson said, declining to name the potential OEM partner.

The top five U.S. PC vendors in the third quarter according to Dataquest are Compaq Computer, IBM, Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard, and Gateway.

The retail price of the CD-ROM, which contains both the Intel and PowerPC versions of the BeOS, is $100. However, the price is $70 when the program is purchased online at Be's, Paterson said.

Torsten Busse is San Francisco Bureau Chief for the IDG News Service.

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