As a former BeOS user and fan(atic), I consider myself quite knowledgeable on the subject, but as I was watching the latest Micheal MJD video about BeOS, I learned something new I had never heard of before. It’s common knowledge that Be actively tried to court x86 OEMs to bundle BeOS alongside Windows in a dual-boot configuration. However, these efforts fell apart as soon as Microsoft caught wind of it and Redmond sent representatives to these OEMs to, shall we say, politely discourage them from doing so. I thought this is where this story ended – the OEMs ghosted Be, and no PC with BeOS preinstalled ever shipped.
But in his video, Micheal MJD mentions that at least one OEM did actually ship BeOS preinstalled alongside Windows – Hitachi. However, while the company technically shipped BeOS, it still wanted to appease Microsoft’s
goons representatives, and so Hitachi just… Disabled the special boot loader that would’ve allowed users to pick BeOS at boot. BeOS was technically installed and took up a part of the hard drive of every one of these machines shipped, but unless you followed a set of detailed instructions posted by Be online, using a BeOS boot floppy, you wouldn’t be able to actually boot into BeOS.
Trying to find more information about this, I ended up at the article archive of Scot Hacker, author of, among other things, The BeOS Bible. In 2001, Hacker wrote the post “He who controls the boot loader“, in response to the news that Be had been acquired by Palm:
In the 1998-1999 timeframe, ready to prime the pump with their desktop offering, Be offered BeOS for free to any major computer manufacturer willing to pre-install BeOS on machines alongside Windows. Although few in the Be community ever knew about the discussions, Gassée says that Be was engaged in enthusiastic discussions with Dell, Compaq, Micron, and Hitachi. Taken together, pre-installation arrangements with vendors of this magnitude could have had a major impact on the future of Be and BeOS. But of the four, only Hitachi actually shipped a machine with BeOS pre-installed. The rest apparently backed off after a closer reading of the fine print in their Microsoft Windows License agreements. Hitachi did ship a line of machines (the Flora Prius) with BeOS pre-installed, but made changes to the bootloader — rendering BeOS invisible to the consumer — before shipping. Apparently, Hitachi received a little visit from Microsoft just before shipping the Flora Prius, and were reminded of the terms of the license.
Be was forced to post detailed instructions [ed. note: dead link, here’s a new link] on their web site explaining to customers how to unhide their hidden BeOS partitions. It is likely that most Flora Prius owners never even saw the BeOS installations to which they were entitled.
So clearly, this information has been out there since at least 2001 – I had just never heard of it. There’s countless references to Hacker’s article out there as well, so it’s not like it’s some deeply hidden secret nobody was aware of. I, of course, dove into our own archives and… For the love of KDL, we even linked to Hacker’s article. I wasn’t working for OSNews at the time – this was about 4-5 years before I came on as Managing Editor – but I find it highly entertaining this was already part of OSNews lore.
In any event, I’m wondering if this makes Hitachi the only OEM to have ever shipped a computer with BeOS preinstalled. Several Mac clone makers put a BeOS installation CD in the box of their machines, but I don’t think any of them ever shipped machines with BeOS preinstalled. Even if they did, Hitachi would still be the only x86 OEM to have ever shipped BeOS preinstalled, and that, too, is incredibly noteworthy.
Of course, I now have to try and find a working example of this Hitachi Flora Prius computer line. They were apparently only sold in Japan, so the odds of finding one anywhere seem slim, at best. It doesn’t help that most people who bought one of these had no idea BeOS was installed or what BeOS even was, so the historical significance was lost on them. I also think these weren’t particularly noteworthy computers otherwise – most likely one of the many dime-a-dozen beige boxes sold all over the world. Searches on eBay and Japanese auction sites yield no results.
We really need to find a working example of a Hitachi Flora Prius with BeOS preinstalled. We need to image its hard drive for posterity on Archive.org, and I want to see it running – either on YouTube or in real life, I don’t care. This is a piece of computing history that needs to be preserved.