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Be to go public next week

The software maker finishes its "road show," but whether investors are interested may be another matter.

Software maker Be Incorporated is getting set to go public next week, but whether investors are interested may be another matter.

Be, run by former Apple Computer executive Jean-Louis Gassee, finished its road show for potential investors this week and will launch its initial public offering (IPO) early next week, said sources close to the company.

The company is hoping to raise up to $69 million through an offering of 6.9 million shares, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The underwriters will be Volpe Brown Whelan & Company and Needham & Company.

Until the plans for an IPO were made public, the company was seen as being focused on offering a new operating system for computers--an unforgiving market dominated by Microsoft's Windows operating system. Perhaps to make the offering more palatable, the company stated in its registration filings that it is expanding its strategy to include the market for information appliances such as handhelds, screen-phones, set-top boxes, or any basic PC that provides Internet access.

It's not clear whether the new strategy will generate much enthusiasm with investors. The market for non-PC devices, although growing rapidly, isn't as large as the market for PCs and is still largely in the developmental stages.

Also, the company still faces better financed and formidable competitors, including Microsoft's Windows CE offering, Spyglass, 3Com's Palm subsidiary and its Palm operating system in the handheld market, and Symbian in the cell-phone and portable device market. Symbian is the joint venture between Ericsson, Nokia, Motorola, among other electronics powerhouses.

Even the Amiga subsidiary of Gateway is attempting a comeback by targeting the market for information appliances.

On the other hand, International Data Corporation forecasts the market for such devices could outstrip the PC market in unit volume by 2002. With no dominant players in this market yet, betting on information appliances may be as good a gamble for Be as any.