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Be servers struggle as free OS posted

The company that makes an operating system that was originally targeted at Apple customers says that a new version of its operating system for desktop computers is now available for free.

Be said today a new version of its operating system for desktop computers is now available for free, but the company is having trouble actually making it available.

In January, Be said it would make its BeOS 5 software available for free to users who registered with the company. Since then, about 100,000 users have registered to get the software, which is now available on the company's Web site. But users reported difficulty accessing the site throughout the morning.

A Be representative confirmed that the site has been slowed by users who downloaded some 50,000 copies of the software today. Downloading these large files has slowed down the rest of Be's site, as well as mirrored sites in other countries, the representative said.

The company hopes that in offering the software for free to users they can help nurture a group of programmers who can be tapped to write applications for the information appliances the company is now focused on helping manufacturers to develop. The transition towards information appliances has been underway for some time now.

Be's original focus was to provide an operating system fine-tuned for audio and video production. The BeOS was originally targeted for Apple Macintosh users, but after Apple backed out of negotiations to buy the company in 1996, Be shifted its focus to producing an operating system for use on Intel-based PCs.

While there is still significant interest among content developers and programmers for the Be OS, too few materialized to sustain a market for yet another alternative to Microsoft's Windows family. When the company failed to gain traction against Windows, chief executive Jean Louis Gassee offered the software for free to any PC maker that would install it as the main operating system. No takers were ever announced.

Be could possibly be planning to ride the coattails of the surge of interest in Linux, another free operating system. The company has even made tentative steps in the direction taken by Linux, opening its source code for parts of the operating system.

Today, Be said that the source code for its user interface and taskbar would be open for modification by programmers who wanted to further meld their applications into the OS, but the main components of the OS remain under lock and key. Linux, by contrast, is completely open for modification.

In another nod to the Linux world, versions of Be's software will be available from third parties such as Gobe Software in the U.S and Hitachi in Asia. These companies will offer BeOS 5 "Pro" edition bundled with other third-party applications

BeOS Personal Edition is available for Intel-based PCs and adds more support for USB and IEEE 1394 (FireWire) peripherals, along with improvements to the user interface and audio support, which now includes MP3. The Professional edition can be installed on both PowerPC and Intel-based machines and can handle larger amounts of memory. Along with expanded support for multimedia formats, the Pro edition will come with at least 26 applications.