Palm OS 5

Palm 's next generation operating system (OS), version 5.0, will likely ship by early summer and will include support for more powerful processors, enhanced security, and new multimedia and communications features, Palm executives said Monday.

Palm OS 5 will run on the ARM family of processors, including the same StrongARM CPUs (central processing units) used by Pocket PC 2002, Microsoft Corp.'s latest OS for personal digital assistants (PDAs). The more powerful processors will permit devices running the new OS to perform tasks that current Palms, with their Dragonball processors, simply cannot handle. Palm expects the combination of the new OS and ARM processors to power a coming generation of handhelds including smart phones and convergence devices.

On the software side, Palm OS 5 will include support for 802.11b wireless networking hardware, high-resolution displays of up to 320 by 320 pixels (currently supported only by the variant of Palm OS 4 used in Sony Clie devices), and digital audio recording and playback.

A beta version of the next-generation Palm OS was slated to be demonstrated Tuesday during the keynote addresses at PalmSource, the Palm developers' conference that runs through Thursday in San Jose, California. Palm officials previewed the announcements at a press briefing Monday.

Meet PalmSource

Palm previously had said it would spin off its operating system division into a new company, and on Monday the chief executive of the new entity, David Nagel, revealed the name of the wholly owned Palm subsidiary: PalmSource, the same name as the conference.

Nagel said development of Palm OS 5 had been accelerated in order to make the scheduled early summer ship date to hardware vendors. Analyst Barney Dewey, a senior partner with the Andrew Seybold Group, said if prerelease code proves stable, the first Palm OS 5-based devices could appear shortly thereafter.

Steve Sakoman, PalmSource chief operating officer, said compatibility with legacy Palm applications was a key concern for the development team. The vast majority of apps developed for Palm OS 4 and earlier will not only run on Palm OS 5, but early tests indicate they will run faster.

"It is critical for our developers to support the installed base of more than 20 million units as well as new ARM devices," Sakoman said. Seybold's Dewey said he would expect developers to design newer versions of their apps to support both Palm OS 5 and the older versions of the OS--but that the new apps will likely offer added functionality by taking advantage of the newer hardware and OS.

What's new

Sakoman cited three principal areas of improvement in the new OS:

Security. Palm OS 5 will offer 128-bit data encryption based on the RC4 algorithm, plus Secure Socket Layer (SSL) support for Internet e-mail, Web browsing, and commercial transactions.

Multimedia. The new OS will support recording and playback of CD-quality audio, high-resolution displays, and color themes so that users can customize their devices.

Communications. Palm OS 5 will build in 802.11b wireless ethernet support, as well as the ethernet and Bluetooth support of the previous version.

Dewey said Palm OS 5 was an important advance for the Palm platform. "It's real important for Palm to move forward and maintain their position in the market," he said.

While support for high-end ARM processors would be key in giving Palm a foothold in the high-end PDA market into which Microsoft's Pocket PCs have been making inroads, Dewey noted that the ARM family includes low-end processors as well.

"You'll have a huge diversity of product, as opposed to what happens on the Pocket PC, where they all run on the same processor and do pretty much the same thing," he said.

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Yardena Arar

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