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Palm developing own OS - again

Full circle turned

Palm is to build its own handheld operating system, combining a Linux foundation with the regular Palm OS look and feel. Work is clearly progressing: devices equipped with the new OS are due later this year, the company's CEO, Ed Colligan, said this week.

If all this sounds familiar, it's because it's the approach PalmSource, the Palm OS development company later acquired by Japan's Access, adopted earlier this decade. It decided to base future incarnations of the Palm OS - versions 6.0 and onward - on a Linux core surmounted by the famliar Palm user interface.

After 2005's Access acquisition, the OS was shifted further in the direction of Linux, with the operating system now known as the Access Linux Platform.

Clearly, that's not been what Palm itself wants, and having last year licensed the source code for Palm OS 5.4 - aka Garnet - from Access for $44m, the company now appears to be doing what PalmSource originally planned to do.

The motivation, we suspect, is as much about control as technology, with Palm choosing - effectively - to replicate work already done by PalmSource and later, Access, but presumably with enough of its own code in there to provide the differentiation it so desperately needs in an increasingly Windows Mobile-dominated world, on the one hand, and flash kit like the iPhone on the other.

Plenty of companies can make good smart-phone hardware - HTC, for example - limiting Palm's bid to stand out founded on its handsets' on-board software and the brand. And the two are closely connected: Palm's brand may have been built on the back of its PDA roots, but that's much less of a sell in these phone-centric times. The build the brand, then, it needs to promote software innovations, and that can only be done if it controls its own product.

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