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Palm preps pay-per-download PalmOS 3.5

Long-awaited upgrade won't be free

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Palm will finally release PalmOS 3.5 this autumn, and to add insult to injury as it were - Palm users have been waiting for the update since February - the handheld company is planning to charge for it.

Palm's senior director of consumer product marketing, John Cook, told the New York Times that users would pay no more than $20 for the upgrade, so it's not as if the company is going to bust anyone's budget. Though since the sum is such a token one, and as past Palm upgrades have always been free, you have to wonder why the company is bothering to charge for this one.

The company line, as evidenced by Cook's comments to the NYT, is that PalmOS 3.5 is a major upgrade and thus more worthy of a price tag than previous releases.

"Typically what you have seen in a Palm upgrade has been very incremental," Cook said. "We think we have added a lot more value."

Indeed, PalmOS 3.5 will bring in a host of third-party add-ons - including, we hope, Sony's multimedia extensions - and revised versions of the standard Palm apps. It should also support 'digital ink', as introduced with the recently released Palm m100 consumer-oriented handheld.

According to Cook, the upgrade will also include a new version of Palm's desktop software and the company's wireless Internet access code. He also mentioned that the upgrade will be made available for download from Palm's Web site, so we wonder if the $20 fee is simply covers postage, packing and handling for the CD version. That said, Cook's comments don't support that view, implying as he does that even the download will require users to enter their credit card details.

We shall see. And we may still have to wait some time for the upgrade. PalmOS 3.5 first appeared in devices in February. Palm promised it would release a version for existing users shortly, but we've yet to see hide nor hair of it. And even now the picture isn't clear: Cook said the upgrade would be released "sometime" this autumn.

Meanwhile, UK and other European users may have to wait even longer for the wireless Net access software. The code isn't likely to appear until well into next year, a Palm UK source told us, despite Palm's official line that the software would be released globally later this year.

Palm apparently prefers to wait for next-generation packet-based wireless networks rather than provide a GSM - the standard cellular network technology over here - version in the meantime. ®

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