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Be goes soft, gets out of the box biz

Be drops production of its BeBox to refocus entirely on its operating system.

Say bye-bye to the BeBox.

Be has decided to drop production of its own hardware systems to focus solely on software development, according to a letter addressed to developers posted on the company's Web site.

The focus now shifts to making the highly touted but relatively unproven BeOS "the premier platform for digital content design," the letter said. The company's first move will be to announce special developer prices and release new video and audio drivers for PowerMac hardware.

When the company first started designing the BeBox in 1990, it was one of only a few multiprocessing desktop machines. Now, multiprocessing workstations built around both Intel and Power Macintosh chips are common and relatively low-cost. With the growth of hardware players who are potential licensees of the company's multiprocessing BeOS, Be has decided making the box itself is no longer worth the expense.

"It's very hard, actually impossible, for a small 50-person company to keep up with the hardware engineering resources of the entire PowerMac market," wrote Alex Osadzinski, Be's vice president for sales and marketing, in the letter. "At Macworld in San Francisco last month, it became clear that almost all the developer and future user interest was in the BeOS for PowerMac."

The company also wants to avoid any possible conflict of interest that could arise from licensing its operating system to other vendors who then compete with Be for hardware sales.

This is the same path that Next Software followed. Next started in 1985 as Next Computer, a maker of both system software and sleek, high-powered hardware. Next eventually dropped production of its computers to focus on its operating system until last month, when it won out over Be as an acquisition target for Apple Computer.

The company will honor warranties on all BeBoxes already sold. All releases of the BeOS in the next 12 months will also continue to run on the existing hardware, the letter said.