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PalmOS goes Linux - again

Garnet successor due by year-end

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3GSM PalmSource today unveiled its future OS as the Access Linux Platform (ALP), and this time it really means it.

It's been a tumultuous year. At the last 3GSM, PalmSource was talking about moving PalmOS 6.0, aka Cobalt, to a Linux kernel. But a change in strategy, which led to the abrupt departure of CEO Dave Nagel last May, saw a shift in focus to a pure-play Linux OS, details of which were finally disclosed today. In the meantime, Japanese browser company Access acquired PalmSource, fending off a bid from Motorola which thought it had sealed the deal.

PalmSource's Didier Diaz told The Register that ALP will be ready for licensees by the end of the year, with the company hopeful the devices will be available "in the 2007 timeframe".

ALP will run PalmOS 5.x Garnet applications in an emulation sandbox, and feature a new one-handed UI and new APIs. It's a rocky transition for long-suffering Palm developers, who may have to learn new skills - and possibly grow beards, too. But it's the first positive move from PalmSource for many months.

Alas, ALP won't support single-chip phones - devices where the application processor runs the signalling stack - but Diaz said PalmSource recognised the industry was moving in this direction. "It's something we can do."

And PalmSource might have to hurry: Motorola's former chip business, Freescale, today launched a single-core 3G platform that it claims cuts power consumption and materials costs in half.

ALP is based on Linux 2.6.12 and uses an optimised version of the Gtk toolkit. It includes Palm's HotSync, a JVM and PIM apps. A security architecture based on code-signing will also feature.

So why does PalmSource think its Linux will succeed when others, most notably Motorola's, have failed?

"You'd better ask Motorola," Diaz said. "But Motorola's Linux wasn't really open, while we have exposed the APIs."

With Palm recently adopting Windows Mobile alongside PalmOS, it's going to be a tall order. ®

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