OS 5, ARM offer users more choices

One of the most visible benefits to Palm Inc.'s move to a new operating system and a new processor family is that it will bring consumers a wider variety of devices, David Fedor PalmSource Inc.'s evangelist and architect told developers Tuesday.

"The devices will be less like each other than they have been historically," Fedor said in a keynote address at the PalmSource Conference and Expo.

The main reason behind the change is that PDAs (personal digital assistants) and smart phones running Palm OS 5 will use chips from multiple vendors, giving them the choice of how much power they want. Palm OS 5 can run on a variety of chips based on ARM Ltd.'s core, ranging in speed from 18MHz to 1GHz, Fedor said.

"Not everyone wants to pay the cost of the top of the line ARM chips, both in terms of money and in terms of power," Fedor said. While Motorola Inc.'s DragonBall that powers current Palm-powered devices, runs at 33MHz, Intel Corp., Texas Instruments Inc. (TI) and Motorola's own new chips are set to knock those chips off the map. The chips are based on a core designed by ARM, of Cambridge, England, which doesn't make the chips itself, but licenses its designs to chip makers.

And with those three companies competing to bring out the best product to run the operating system, both the users and the developers win, Fedor said. "They're all working to one-up each other," he said.

So far, however, only Motorola has announced the speed of its first ARM-based DragonBall, which will run at 200MHz. While Intel remains mum on the speeds of its XScale chip, TI has said that all its OMAP (Open Multimedia Applications Platform) processors will run at speeds greater than 100MHz. Palm OS 5 won't be running on older devices either, Fedor said. "There are some things we definitely can and will be doing on (older processors)," Fedor said. "But the core, fundamental stuff will be just on ARM."

Palm will be releasing more developer tools for the operating system, including debuggers and compilers, throughout this year, Fedor said. "There's a lot of stuff coming that we're not tying with the OS release," he said. "There are a bunch of things that are going to be coming out in chunks."

Those development tools will probably come in especially useful for developers who hope to bring their applications for current processors over to the ARM-based Palm devices. "It's probably the case that a majority of you will need to make a small tweak," Fedor said to the developers.

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Douglas F. Gray

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