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Opera on Palm OS? Sort of...

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Spare a thought for poor old Palm. Nokia has succeeded in convincing analysts, and portions of the press, that its $399 Linux Wi-Fi tablet, the Nokia 770, is "an entirely new device category". Even the Wall Street Journal said so.

But for a hundred dollars less, Palm will also sell you a Wi-Fi tablet, only one with a vast range of third-party applications, a built-in personal organizer and an MP3 player. The Palm OS has been powering Wi-Fi tablets for three years, of course, only the world calls them PDAs.

But the limitations of browsing on a Palm device have been all too obvious. The built-in Blazer browser is good for about two task switches before crashing the device - and that's if you can get it to start at all without hanging the PDA. The browser appears to be only vaguely aware of what to do with a local cache, and it only allows one page to be viewed at a time.

So Palm fans have long petitioned the champ of mobile browsers, Opera, to bring its sophisticated, multi-window browser to the Palm OS.

Now, in a very roundabout way, those wishes have been fulfilled.

Opera today opened its Java-based Mini browser to world+dog, and there's a version available for Palm OS. While Opera first released this last summer, it only did so on limited availability - you had to be in the right place (preferably Norway) with the right carrier. Now anyone can try it.

So what's it like?

To begin with you need IBM's WebSphere JavaVM, a free 1.7MB download. Then it's off to the races. Opera Mini dynamically resizes according to your screen size - a promising start. On loading a page, a large thick red bar at the bottom of the screen flashes annoyingly until the page is loaded. Fortunately that isn't too long, for Opera's proxy servers break up the pages into chunks - the New York Times' front page is split into four, for example.

The browser doesn't automatically restart a connection that Palm OS has suspended to save power, and gives up in some situations. And the lean and mean Mini aspect is negated somewhat by having to load the JVM into RAM. But for Palm diehards, it's another welcome option.

The Palm OS is now in the hands of Japanese browser company browser Access, so there's a possibility mobile browsing on Palm will improve. Then again, Access is on a fixed licence fee retainer for the next three years, whether its licensees use the Palm OS or not, which doesn't exactly give it an incentive.

What Palm fans really want to see is some indication that Palm OS 6 Cobalt - now being built on Linux underpinnings - will see the light of day. But that's anyone's guess. ®

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