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A quick look back at BeOS, the PC operating system that tried to challenge Windows and Mac

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Last week, we posted a feature on the brief history of Lindows, the Linux-based operating system that not only had a name similar to Microsoft's Windows but tried its best to compete with Windows in the PC market.

Another OS that launched several years before Lindows also tried to challenge both Windows and Apple's Mac OS in the growing PC market. The nearly forgotten operating system was called BeOS, and it still has some fans today.


BeOS was the brainchild of former Apple executives Jean-Louis Gassée and Steve Sakoman. They left Apple along with a number of its former employees and formed Be Incorporated in 1990. At first, the company's goal was to create a new OS from scratch.

The BeUnited.org site says during the development of BeOS, the Hobbit processor that the company wanted to use for its device, the BeBox, was discontinued by its creator, AT&T. So the decision was made to port the OS to work on the PowerPC processor, which Apple's Macs were using at the time.

Be Inc. (2024, January 15). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Be_Inc.

In October 1995, just a couple of months after Microsoft launched Windows 95, Be Incorporated officially launched BeOS and the BeBox PC as well for developers to check out. The first version of the BeBox included two 66 MHz PowerPC 603 processors, according to Apple Fandom Wiki. In 1996, a second and final version of the BeBox was released, this time with two 133 MHz PowerPC 603e CPUs.

However, it was the BeOS that was perhaps the most interesting thing about the BeOS. Since the operating system was created with no older code bases, it could be used for multi-threading applications on multi-processor PCs.

The developers wanted to make an OS that could run media applications and internet apps better than other operating systems that had a lot of legacy code to deal with. HowToGeek mentions that BeOS was also designed to boot up from scratch quickly, in as little as 10 seconds, which was extremely impressive for a 1995 PC OS.

In 1996, Be Incorporated got a major opportunity. They had a chance to sell the company and BeOS to Apple, which at the time was looking to replace its old Mac OS. However, according to Welcome to Low End Mac, Be Incorporated was looking to sell the company for $300 million.

That offer was simply too much for Apple, and in the end, it decided to purchase another company, NeXT, and its operating system. NeXT was formed by former Apple co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs, and the purchase of NeXT was the start of Jobs' full return to Apple. The rest is truly one of the biggest tech comebacks in history.

Be Incorporated ended the development of the BeBox developer PCs in 1997 and concentrated on improving the BeOS. Later versions were made to work with Intel's x86 processors, and in 2000, the release of BeOS 5 supported booting the OS from within Microsoft's Windows.

However, Microsoft's OS was by then firmly cemented in the PC market, and even Mac clones with PowerPC were later banned by Apple. In August 2001, Be Incorporated and BeOS were purchased by Palm for $11 million.

However, less than a year in February 2002, in the middle of Be Incorporated's official dissolution, the company filed a lawsuit against Microsoft. CNN covered the filing of the lawsuit. The company claimed that Microsoft "used a series of illegal exclusionary and anticompetitive acts" to keep BeOS from being used by the major PC makers.

CNN's report stated:

In a 21-page complaint filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco, the company says that it had offered BeOS to PC manufacturers to make available in a "dual boot" configuration. That means the user would have the choice when starting the computer whether to run BeOS or Windows for any given session.

The company claims that some manufacturers, including Hitachi, had wanted to make such dual-boot systems available, but were unduly pressured by Microsoft not to do so.

In September 2003, The New York Times reported that Microsoft and Be Incorporated settled this case. Microsoft agreed to pay $23.3 million to the company but did not admit to any wrongdoing.

Today, the open-source OS known as Haiku continues to update its software, which it says "implements both the BeOS technologies as well as the end user experience," although most of Haiku is not actually based on the code for BeOS.

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