Palmsource to single-handedly tackle OS market

Palm’s operating system division is celebrating its independence with a new brand name and an accelerated timeline for its next release.

Santa Clara, Calif.-based Palm Inc. said the new company, Palmsource, would be named after its annual

developer conference, which runs until the end of this week in San Jose, Calif. The fully-owned subsidiary will use the event to preview a beta version of Palm OS 5, whose release data has been moved up from late this year to early summer.

In a pre-briefing conference call, Palmsource CEO David Nagel said the separation from the device side of the business will allow the OS side to place greater emphasis on performance and compatibility with the rest of the market. Intel, Motorola and Texas Instruments have joined the firm’s Palm OS-Ready Program, for example, to ensure a device abstraction layer code which connects their silicon to the bottom layers of Palm OS 5 will be available and will give licencees their choice of vendors to build applicable devices.

Phil Calvin, president of Vancouver-based mobile developer Veratium, noted the Palmsource spin-off comes amid increased competition from device makers like Research In Motion’s forthcoming BlackBerry upgrade and Palm’s own i705.

“”Certainly the PocketPC world isn’t going to slow down,”” he added. “”We think the competition’s great, because in the end the user is going to get the best device.””

The company is trying to improve compatibility by designing Palm OS 5 as a full 32-bit native ARM implementation. Developer tools will be provided to compile applications into 68,000 code. An emulator will then emulate instructions until it comes upon operating system calls, at which point it dives into the ARM code.

Michael Mace, Palmsource’s chief competitive officer, said a lot of the company’s future prospective licencees use ARM already, especially in the mobile phone space. “”We just really like the architecture and the roadmap,”” he said. “”It’s available from multiple sources, you can get a range of hardware from very high-end sophisticated chips working at high speed and power and being very expensive, down to extremely inexpensive low-power chips.””

Feature sets within Palm OS 5 will center around security, communications and multimedia, officials said. A cryptomanager will provide native security as part of the API, for example, while Palm will also provide API support for Secure Socket Layer to secure e-mail connections, browsing and transaction connections. A pluggable framework will eventually allow the user’s preferred type of encryption.

Although Palmsource’s platform will be important for consumer applications, Mace said security is the No. 1 concern among corporate customers. “”They really want to be sure that if they put critical data on these things that it will be protected,”” he said. “”On the other hand, if you look at multimedia, probably the individual customers care about that more, because it goes more to games and intertwining things they would do. Corporations want to hear about multimedia, and some of them are looking at deploying it, but for most of them that’s more of a long-term thing.””

Calvin said he was looking forward to a better relationship with Palmsource now that it’s on its own.

“”They were much more interested in their own device, for sure,”” he said. “”But most of them really recognize that what we bring to the table is not forcing organizations into one particular solution.””

Mace said the split would make it easier to communicate to licensees. “”They’re not as worried that their information might leak across to the other side of the company,”” he said.

“”This is not aimed at PocketPC. Our strategy is aimed at growing the handheld market,”” he added, pointing out that Palm OS owns about 75 per cent of the market. “”To do that, the most important thing is to drive diversity in the products the market.””

Other features in OS 5 include “”coloured themes”” that will allow users to tailor it to their own personalities like they do with Microsoft’s PocketPC OS, while a sound manager will allow them to record and playback digital audio.

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