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Umax negotiating for BeOS

Be's Jean-Louis Gassée looks to license his operating system to yet another major U.S. Mac cloner.

Macintosh cloner Umax is in discussions with Jean-Louis Gassée's Be about licensing the Be operating system, sources close to both companies confirmed today.

If the talks result in a deal, it will bring Be close to a sweep of major U.S. Mac cloners since Apple Computer decided in December to buy Apple cofounder Steve Jobs's Next Software instead of former Apple executive Gassée's Be.

"We are talking to Umax," Be spokeswoman Valerie Peyre said today, although she would not say how long the two sides have been talking.

"There is no agreement with Be, but Umax has talked with Be on more than one occasion," said one source, who insisted on anonymity. Another source said the talks are in an advanced stages with only legal niceties and final details still at issue. Unless talks get derailed, a deal could come as soon as mid-March.

But Umax spokesman Tim Beyers declined to confirm discussions with Be. "Be is a young operating system that has a lot of potential, but [Umax senior vice president of worldwide sales] Andy Chang has said on several occasions that it's not ready for prime time."

Be has signed deals with Power Computing and--just this week--with Motorola Computer Group to offer the BeOS with their hardware in addition to Apple's MacOS.

But Be has not announced a deal with IBM, which also has licensed the Mac OS. IBM has said it won't bundle the Mac OS on its hardware but is helping market it to other hardware manufacturers.

The move by Mac cloners to Be appears to be a case of hedging their bets given the rocky state of affairs at Apple, which is expected to announce layoffs early next month and has lately seen a stream of senior executive departures after a reorganization engineered by Chairman Gil Amelio. Motorola, Umax, and Power Computing all announced price cuts this week, following Apple's own reductions February 1.

In March, Be plans a "preview release" of the BeOS, designed for multimedia and interactive content.