PalmSource eyes enterprise, device variety with new OS

CEO David Nagel describes 'a whole new version' of the OS

SAN JOSE, CALIF. -- PalmSource Inc. unveiled its latest handheld OS (operating system) on Tuesday, adding a host of features for business users and support for different device types such as tablets and portable media players.

"The proliferation of wireless technology and thawing of enterprise IT spending was the design point for a whole new version of the OS," PalmSource President and Chief Executive Officer David Nagel said in a presentation at the PalmSource Developer Conference here. 

With the introduction of its newest OS, PalmSource is abandoning version numbers. The new software is not called Palm OS 6, but Palm OS Cobalt. Palm OS 5, introduced in 2002, is now Palm OS Garnet. The new naming convention is to keep PDA (personal digital assistant) buyers from thinking that Garnet is an outdated product.

"When we introduced OS 5, we quit development on OS 4. We will continue developing versions of OS 5," Nagel said.

Work on Palm OS Garnet will focus on wireless and phone functions. Most of the company's development efforts will go into Palm OS Cobalt, Michael Mace, PalmSource chief competitive officer, said in an interview.

"We're doing these two versions because the current version is good for today's mainstream users and Palm OS Cobalt is great for new markets such as advanced enterprise and advanced entertainment," Mace said.

Palm OS Cobalt is a significant update of the Palm OS; about 80 percent of the code has been rewritten, while maintaining compatibility, Nagel said. "Cobalt is not your grandmother's PDA operating system, it really does revolutionary things," he said.

The new Palm OS Cobalt sports improved multitasking, multithreading and memory protection. If an application crashes, it should not affect others and applications can also do work in the background, so users can listen to music while checking e-mail or look at the calendar while on a phone call, according to Mace.

Other new Cobalt features aimed at the enterprise space and mobile phone operators are support for signed code, which allows network managers to restrict access to a network to specific, signed applications. Additionally, security features can be expanded with modules, for example for DRM (digital rights management), Mace said.

PalmSource has added support for a newer version of the Internet protocol, IPv6, and made its calendar and address book extensible, allowing users to add new fields and make synchronization easier, according to Mace. The software furthermore adds support for more advanced graphics and includes a basic media player, he said.

PalmSource also announced a licensing agreement with IBM Corp. to offer Java support for the Palm OS. PalmSource has licensed IBM's WebSphere MicroEnvironment (WME) Java 2 Micro Edition, and the WME Java Virtual Machine, and will offer it to Palm OS developers, the company said.

On the hardware-side, the new Cobalt OS supports up to 256M bytes of RAM and ROM and much larger screens. Most devices sold today have screens no larger than 320 pixels by 480 pixels. With Cobalt the limit is a billboard-size 32,000 pixels by 32,000 pixels, according to PalmSource.

"You're going to see some really interesting things, all based on Cobalt," Nagel said. "We think there is going to be an explosion in innovation in this space in the next few years."

"We have changed our focus to devices that have multimedia capabilities, high security and different size screens, devices that have never been seen before," Nagel said.

Already PalmSource partners have come out with devices that have amazed the software maker, according to Nagel. TapWave Inc. offers a gaming device while Garmin Ltd. uses it in a GPS (Global Positioning System) product.

Palm OS Cobalt requires a processor based on ARM Ltd.'s ARM9 core design with MMU (Memory Management Unit). The recommended processor speed is 200MHz. Memory required is 16M bytes of RAM and 16M bytes of ROM; less memory is possible if a graphics accelerator is used, PalmSource said.

Garnet requires an ARM7 core processor or better running at 70MHz and 8M bytes of RAM and 8M bytes of ROM, the Sunnyvale, California-based company said.

Palm OS Cobalt shipped to device makers in December and the first devices are due out this year. Palm OS 5.4, now called Garnet, is due out this week, PalmSource said.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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