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PalmSource has offered us a glimpse of the next milestone for PalmOS, version 6.0 due for release next year.

Version 6.0 will be as dramatic a change for the platform as OS X was for Apple, or NT was for Microsoft, and represents the culmination of work from the former Be team Palm acquired last year.

The new OS will feature multimedia and graphics frameworks drawn from BeOS, PalmSource's Michael Mace told us. Mace says this is real BeOS code, but Steve Sakoman, the team's former leader at Be Inc, and now PalmSource's "chief products officer" has denied that Be code would be incorporated into the new OS. More likely, we suspect, the new OS will inherit some algorithms and architecture from BeOS.

Version 6.0 will feature granular, application-level security and pluggable I/O interfaces. Which means that licensees can swap out the Graffiti input mechanism for an alternative, such as biometrics. Application developers need not concern themselves with the specifics: apps will simply receive an event.

Mace also said PalmSource intended the make the new OS Microsoft .NET compatible, and will likely partner with others to provide a run time for the platform.

Version 6.0 will also feature an extensible PIM architecture, which should breathe some life into the now dating applications suite used every day by Palm owners.

PalmSource also intends to build in APIs for easier roaming. Ideally, it would provide the functionality offered by Intel's Skamania - which maintains several virtual network interfaces and switches between say a tethered Ethernet, wireless Ethernet, cellular packet data and cellular circuit switched calls, depending on where you are - and simply hops onto the nearest, best connection.

Mace stressed the diversity of the potential market for PalmOS, so the developers are covering as many bases as possible. Meanwhile older applications will run alongside the new applications written to the new APIs:-

"The emulation layer will be around for a long time," Mace told us. "OS 4.0 and 5.0 will co-exist."

It's likely, he said, that we'll see a phased beta program with interim releases. PalmSource says that the version will ship in 2003, we've heard mid-year as a target, but this is unconfirmed. Mace wouldn't offer any such hostage to fortune.

The road to updating PalmOS has been a long one, and the company is halfway to its goal of moving off the 68000 hardware onto ARM, and providing a modern multitasking OS. PalmSource released the ARM port version 5.0 to licensees earlier this summer and Palm itself released the first PDA to take advantage of it on Monday. Two years ago Palm announced that it would work with Symbian, but the partnership never bore fruit. The company toyed with the idea of using Linux as the basis for its next OS, and after a brief diversion into surrealism bought Be's development staff in August last year. ®

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