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Be eyes IPO, set-top market

Be Incorporated, the maker of operating system software, is considering an entry into the market for information appliances as it announces plans to go public.

Be Incorporated, the maker of operating system software, is considering an entry into the market for information appliances as it announced plans to go public.

Be, run by former Apple Computer executive Jean-Louis Gassee, is hoping to raise $57.5 million, based on its IPO registration filing fee. The number of shares that will be offered and the initial pricing range were not included in the filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

As it has done in the past, the company plans to promote its BeOS through relationships with computer makers, Internet service providers, and others, according to the filing. But there's a twist: The company is expanding its distribution strategy to include the market for information appliances. The company considers Internet appliances to be any handheld, screen-phone, set-top box, or basic PC that provides Internet access.

Since the company's founding in 1990, the company has mainly focused on becoming a new operating system for computers. But with the emergence of Internet-enabled devices, Be recently decided it could target this market and possibly enjoy more success than it has in the desktop arena, dominated by Microsoft's Windows operating system.

"We believe the continued growth of the Internet and emergence of Internet appliances provide a significant market opportunity to increase the installed base of BeOS," the company said in its statement. Be cited estimates from International Data Corporation stating that worldwide shipments of Internet appliances (not counting PCs) will grow from 5.9 million units in 1998 to more than 55.7 million in 2002.

But even in this market the company will have to face off against Microsoft, which is offering the Windows CE operating system for use in information appliances, as well as other companies offering little-known embedded operating systems. To be sure, in the nascent market for information appliances, Be is on a more level playing field with Microsoft, which has until recently struggled to get its software adopted outside of the handheld market.

Be, which has a strategic relationship with Hitachi, Fujitsu Computers, and Intel, is also working with developers to increase the presence of the BeOS on audio and video mixing, graphics, productivity and gaming applications.

Meanwhile, the company ramped up its revenues to $309,000 during the March quarter, compared with $64,000 a year ago. But its net loss also widened during this time to $5.8 million, compared with a loss of $2.9 million a year ago.

The company, which is being underwritten by Volpe Brown Whelan & Company and Needham & Company, will trade under the ticker "BEOS."