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Be opens OS to Windows

The latest version of the company's operating system continues the shift away from a Mac-centric strategy.

Be Incorporated yesterday announced BeOS Release 4, a new version of the operating system that will make it easier for Be fans to retrieve information written on Windows programs.

The company also announced that Hitachi will include the operating system on its computers.

Be's Release 4 will be unveiled at Comdex next week. The move symbolizes a shift in the company's direction away from the Macintosh platform as well as the growing number of multimedia and digital content developers that are shifting to Microsoft.

Graphics professionals are the chief target for the BeOS. Although the OS has received high marks from users, only a limited number of applications have been ported to it. And, until now, no major computer vendor had incorporated the BeOS as a standard feature.

As a result, Be markets the OS as a supplemental OS. In other words, customers that adopt the BeOS will not likely use it exclusively and will likely want to access data inputted through applications written for different platforms.

The BeOS was originally targeted at Apple Macintosh users. It has only been compatible with Intel-based PCs since last March, when Release 3 was introduced. Cross-functionality with Release 3 was limited. With Release 4, cross-platform functionality is enhanced, the company said.

"The first time that it ran on PC hardware was March of this year, but this is the first time we've had integration with Windows," said Scott Paterson, director of marketing for Be. That integration will allow BeOS users to access data stored in Windows files, and synchronize BeOs keyboard shortcuts with Windows shortcuts.

BeOS Release 4 will also ship on some new Hitachi systems, Paterson said, which is the first time BeOS has been available pre-installed on PCs. It will ship as an option on Hitachi's Flora Prius system, along with Windows 98, Paterson said.

"BeOS was more Mac-like, and targeted at people who are working with digital media and audio, which was historically been more of Apple's territory," he said. "There are a smaller percentage of these people working on Windows, but because the overall number of Windows systems is so much higher, the total number ends up being much higher," than the percentage would indicate, he said. "It's starting to shift a bit."

BeOS Release 4 works with any Intel or PowerPC-based PC with at least 16MB of memory, a 150MB hard drive, and CD-ROM drive, the company said.

In addition to increased Windows functionality, Release 4 also features a Media Kit to ease the burden of working with streaming video and audio, expanded support for audio, video, and networking hardware, and increased system performance.

Also, BeOS 4J, a separate Japanese version available with Release 4, allows users to input Japanese characters into the OS.

BeOS Version 4 will be available next month for an introductory price of $69.95 when purchased online. The retail price is $99.95.