Alternative OS vendor Be will release the next major rev. of the BeOS, version 5.0, free of charge. A leaf out of Linux's book? Not quite. In fact, a closer look at the company's announcement shows what it's giving away is the 'Trojan Horse' release company CEO Jean-Louis Gassee touted last year, and not the full OS release. It's also for "personal, non-commercial use" only -- proprietary software-speak for "demo". Gassee unveiled his plan to offer a version of the BeOS that sits on top of Windows some months ago. Essentially, the BeOS 5.0 demo lives in its own Windows folder, with software wrapping disk read and writes between the two OS' incompatible filesystems on the fly. There will a small lag in drive performance as a result, but in all other respects it should work exactly as if the user had installed the OS in the more traditional way. It's not an entirely new idea -- a number of the main Linux distros have offered similar functionality for that open source OS in the past. However, what it does for Be, quite apart from allow interested users to download and try out the OS without having to repartition their hard drive, is allow PC vendors to bundle the OS without contravening Microsoft's tedious and arcane Windows licensing agreement, which as near as makes no odds forbids OEMs to preinstall other operating systems. That rule has, in the past, made it very hard for Be to get its OS pre-installed on new systems. Mind you, a lack of widely available good personal productivity apps hasn't helped either. Be's logic is that since the demo, while a fully functioning version of the BeOS, doesn't contain all the stuff that ships with the still-to-be-charged-for CD release and doesn't exist in its own partition therefore doesn't count under Microsoft's rules -- it's not an OS, it's an application. Be said it also hopes to encourage software developers to create applications for the platform, since the question of whether the customer has the right OS is no longer an issue -- developers can include a copy on the application's CD. Of course, whether users will want apps that take up 200MB or so more disk space than they would be otherwise, because they have to install an extra OS too, is another matter. It could also limit the sale of the full release too. After all, why spend $50 on a CD copy when Dell or Gateway (hypothetically) have installed the fully-functioning demo on their systems? It will be interesting to see what Be does, if anything, to ensure the software remains for personal, non-commercial use. After all, that was what Netscape's Navigator license specified -- and who actually paid for that? That said, it may not matter too much to Be. With both its financial and developmental focus increasingly turning to Stinger, its cut-down version of the BeOS developed for information appliances, at this stage the company is more interested in building developer and customer support for the BeOS that making money out of it, and if that means a degree of lost sales, so be it -- the long-term gain is worth the short-term pain. Then again, the focus on Stinger and the decision to offer the BeOS demo for free could equally imply that Be has to all intents and purposes given up on the desktop OS market. And that's hardly likely to give much confidence to developers looking to exploit it. ® Related Stories Compaq developing 'BeOS Lite'-based Net appliances Be's Stinger OS selected for Nat Semi WebPad Red Hat to buy Be?