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Palm OS 5.0 milestone more of a molehill

Summer 2003 slated for big bang

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Although Palm's software chief David Nagel hit the right, very cautious note in interviews yesterday - as the company finally released final code for PalmOS 5.0 - the company still can't resist its bad habit of overselling itself.

PalmOS 5.0 is a port of the current OS onto ARM: it isn't a new OS in any meaningful sense, and already has more than a whiff of obsolesence about it. It's a placeholder release, and the really big bang won't happen until next year.

Current PalmOS users can't upgrade their Motorola 68K-based PDAs to the new OS, and this new release doesn't include any of the modern OS features - such as memory management and multitasking - that Palm developers have been demanding since "OS 5.0" was first mentioned by name at the PalmSource developer conference in October 1999. It also creates all kind of compatibility issues with today's 68K-based software, as Palm itself has acknowledged.

Although Nagel was guarded in interviews, he let expectations run away.

"Analysts agree that OS 5 is a stunning technological improvement - but, more important, it may bail out the company at a crucial time," gushed the The New York Post , although the only analyst quote offered in support of this statement actually says nothing of the sort.

In truth, this OS release is like one of those contractual obligation albums that artists were obliged to put out in the seventies, before they got really good lawyers to help them wriggle out of onerous contracts. (Or changed their name to a symbol, and went on strike). It represents the doomed OS work that was so bad, when staff attrition so high, that Palm bought Be Inc's development team.

So will the real PalmOS 5.0 stand up? Eventually. Sources say the un-named, un-numbered OS rev with the new APIs will ship about a year from now. PalmSource [the division of Palm Inc.]ought to start publishing, and evangelizing the APIs much earlier. At PalmSource [the developer conference] Steve Sakoman told us that APIs would begin to emerge this year. Dredging through our archives from October 1999 you can read that developers were livid that they'd have until " late 2000/early 2001" to hear what the new APIs contained. You've waited this long already, we guess…

It should start to look up, then. Palm's OS development is now firmly in the hands of the ex-Be staff and former management, and of the forty plus who joined, almost all have been retained, which suggests a highly motivated team. Seeing what this gang did the last time they wrote an operating system, the results should be very interesting indeed.®

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