New Palm OS to be released this summer

In a move to help enhance its lead position as the operating system of choice in the handheld market, PalmSource Inc. recently announced it would launch OS 5. The operating system is designed specifically to run on ARM-compliant processors.

Shifting away from the DragonBall processor, traditionally used in Palm devices, Palm will allow its software developers to tap into the mobile phone market as well as offer faster clock speeds and enhanced security for handheld users.

“It gives the ability to have the Palm operating system now appear on many different devices other than just a handheld,” said Matthew Hickey, director of partner and enterprise sales with Palm Canada Inc. in Mississauga, Ont.

Another big plus to using the ARM processor is increased battery life due to a more efficient power management system. In turn, this will allow developers to create more powerful applications without spending as much time worrying about power consumption.

But the move to create an OS capable of running on the ARM processor took longer than Palm would have liked, according to one analyst.

“They got caught up in a bunch of logistic issues,” said Barney Dewey, senior partner with the Andrew Seybold Group LLC in Los Gatos, Calif. “As far as the (Microsoft) response of too little and too late I think [Palm] would probably agree that it is later than they would have wanted,” he added.

At issue is the fact that much of the mobile phone market and Microsoft’s competitive Pocket PC run on the ARM chip. Now that OS 5 will run on the same platform, it will give Palm more room to challenge Microsoft, Dewey said.

“Palm is sort of out of a box that it was held in before, and that box really was one of a platform that had a very limited amount of computer horsepower,” he said. With support of a new chip set, OS 5 will offer the ability to support more advanced applications, specifically in the security and encryption domains, he said.

The competition

There is a great deal of debate whether the Microsoft Pocket PC OS, running on the ARM processor, was a superior product with more flexibility than Palm 4 running on DragonBall.

Palm’s reason for moving to the ARM had more to do with increased integration possibilities and faster clock speeds than some perceived threat from Microsoft – after all, it has over 70 per cent of the handheld market share, Hickey said.

“If the (current) OS wasn’t capable, I think everybody would agree we would not have that type of market share,” he said.

For Sean D. Evans, president of the Canadian Palm Users Group, in Hamilton, Ont., the issue is less about Microsoft pressure, than an overall market move to more powerful devices. “A lot of users were saying that Palm has got to take notice of what Microsoft, Compaq and HP were doing with multimedia and high resolution colour,” he said. Palm did lose a lot of users to other handhelds, like the Compaq iPaq, so the upgrade became a necessity, Evans said.

“It is, I think, a huge deal for a lot of the users,” he said. The ARM chip addition will allow some applications to run up to 20 times faster, he added.

Hickey said Palm has no intention of abandoning OS 4 users with the launch of OS 5 and will continue to support and improve Version 4. The latest OS, slated for release this summer, is viewed as premium product, though one in which a trade-in will be required.

“The operating system will not be upgradeable for any of the current Palm devices; you will have to have an ARM-based processor Palm device,” Hickey said.

Dewey sees additional challenges for Palm. The biggest problem Palm still faces is a bias by IT managers in favour of Microsoft and the Pocket PC, he said.

For integration with a corporate system, there are probably some things that are easier on the Pocket PC platform, he explained.

“[But] I still strongly believe that the majority of end users in an enterprise would prefer a Palm device,” Dewey said.

“The Palm is extremely intuitive…so I think the new operating system is now going to give them a boost,” Evans added.