Be has released BeOS 5.0 Personal Edition, the first free version of its award-winning multimedia OS. Or at least the company says it has: Demand for the new OS is so high that on Tuesday it completely brought down the tiny company's Web servers. Be reports that more than 100,000 people preregistered to download the software.

Be has traveled a rocky path. The company originally targeted the PowerPC architecture with its own proprietary PC systems, but then switched focus to PowerPC-based Macintoshes (Macs). When the company lost out to Steve Jobs' Next in a bid to have Apple purchase Be to create a next-generation Mac, Be switched to Intel, hoping to capture part of the enormous PC market. But the sudden emergence of Linux as a Windows alternative left Be in the shadows once again. The company has reinvented itself first as a media OS and, more recently, as a platform for Internet devices. Written from the ground up to be elegant, small, and fast, the BeOS is widely regarded as a technical wonder, although its user base is extremely small.

With the release of BeOS 5.0, the company hopes to capture some of the Linux spirit and success by offering a free product and releasing parts of the OS's source code so that developers may more easily create applications for the platform.

At the time of this writing, the Be Web site was unavailable, but this situation should clear up soon. In the meantime, keep trying; it's certainly worth a look