Operating system vendor Be Inc. is turning away from the desktop and going after a stake in the nascent Internet appliance market with a new OS. Be announced BeIA (for Internet appliance), formerly codenamed Stinger, an operating system that will be targeted at low-cost appliances such as Web tablets, as well as entertainment devices for downloading video and audio streams from the Internet. The company made the announcement at the Demo 2000 conference, held in Indian Wells, California. Jean-Louis Gassée, Be's chairman and chief executive officer, said in a recent interview with IDG News Service that BeIA's strengths lie in its stability, its ability to handle rich multimedia content, and a modular design that allows the OS to be adapted for use in a wide range of devices. Be also said today it has extended its partnership with Hitachi Ltd., which has licensed BeIA for use in a consumer information device to be sold through Japanese telecommunications firms. Compaq Computer Corp. and Qubit Corp., which makes Web tablets, have also licensed BeIA for use in forthcoming Web appliances. The new operating system is available to manufacturers today, and Qubit expects to release its first Web tablet based on BeIA by mid-year, Be officials said. By leaving the desktop market and aiming at appliances, Be hopes to find success in an area where it won't run into a single, entrenched leader like Microsoft. "There's no 800-pound gorilla in this market, and it's one where I think we have a very good chance of becoming a leader," Gassée said. Be is best known for BeOS, the desktop operating system that was heralded by some analysts as a fast, elegant platform well suited to multimedia applications. However, in a market dominated by Windows and the MacOS, few programs have been written for the BeOS, and users proved reluctant to pay for an additional operating system on their PC. "On the desktop we could aspire to become a niche player; here we can aspire to become a major player," said Gassée. Last month, Be said it would offer BeOS version 5 for free, a move designed to increase awareness of Be's software, Gassée said. Making it through the next 12 months without the revenue that that operating system was expected to generate is only one of the challenges Be will face in its new venture, analysts said.