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PalmSource to build smart phone OS

Once PDA-centric Palm OS 6 is done, by year's end

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Even as initial development work on Palm OS 6 draws to a close, PalmSource has said it will continue to work on version 5, with a release geared toward smartphones already in the pipeline.

Palm OS 6, aka 'Sahara', will ship before the end of the year, PalmSource told developer conference attendees in Munich this week. The company will offer the core OS to licensees who then have scope to tailor the product for their specific needs and branding. Devices based on the new OS are likely to appear from late Q1 2004 onwards.

The new OS will feature multimedia and graphics frameworks drawn from its acquisition of Be. 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.

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. And it is expected to be Microsoft .NET compatible. PalmSource also intends to build in APIs for easier roaming - users will be able to move relatively seamlessly from Wi-Fi to GPRS to Bluetooth networks.

Palm OS 5 was always considered a transitional operating system, providing support for old Dragonball applications while Palm hardware moved to faster ARM-based CPUs. Palm OS 6 will steer developers towards full ARM compatibility by allowing them to build pure ARM apps. Emulation will still be provided for backward compatibility.

Palm OS 5, meanwhile, will evolve into an OS for smartphones, a market that has yet to be fully embraced by Palm hardware developers. Palm itself has long been dismissive of the market, insisting that users prefer to keep phone and PDA separate, but its acquisition of Handspring - which takes the opposite view, that users want just a single device - may have changed its mind. Certainly, buyers do appear to agree with Handspring's way of thinking, if market stats from IDC and others are anything to go by.

PalmSource and PalmOne will soon become entirely separate companies, of course, but the former has to respond to the needs of its licensees, and to anticipate the demands of new customers. Smartphone support is likely to be much in demand going forward, and PalmSource needs to have product to compete with not only Microsoft's Windows Mobile 2003 for Smartphones but Symbian's smartphone-oriented OS too.

The version number system will be confusing, though, and we wonder if PalmSource will segment the branding of the two versions, 5 and 6, the way Microsoft has with its PDA OS, now known as Windows Mobile 2003, which ships in smartphone and PocketPC editions.

However it's named, the smartphone version of Palm OS 5 won't ship until sometime next year, the only timeframe PalmSource is willing to give at this point. ®

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