PCMag Thinks Palm Should Open Source Palm OS
Somewhat reminiscent of the controversial editorial posted by Engadget back in August, another "open letter" has been written to Palm. This time around, Lance Ulanoff, longtime PC Magazine contributor, has penned "An Open Letter to Palm" in which he kindly offers "out of love" that Palm go ahead and release "Palm OS" into the open-source community.
While Mr. Ulanoff's piece is pleasantly worded and his intentions obviously vested in a sincere appreciation of the simplicity of the Palm OS, the reality of the matter is not quite as simple as the PC Magazine piece might lead some readers to believe. First off, Japan's Access Co. Ltd. owns the Garnet/OS 5 source code. Palm Inc. has the rights to ship devices running OS 5.x and alter the code base in any way they see fit under terms of a perpetual licensing agreement (signed late last year). Still, the Palm OS remains technically the property of Access and the former PalmSource, NOT Palm Inc.
Palm would likely incur catastrophic legal repercussions if they were to release source code and APIs owned by Access into the open-source community. Palm even acknowledged their efforts to acquire the Palm OS IP outright via a purchase of PalmSource in 2005 during a furious bidding war.
In addition, Mr. Ulanoff quite mistakenly claims that his 700p runs OS 5.2 which is downright impossible. The only Treo ever released running OS 5.2 was the Treo 600. All NVFS-enabled Palm devices (every model released since fall 2004, in fact) runs some variation of OS 5.4, culminating in the current 5.4.9 found on Ulanoff's Treo 700p and still shipping on the most recent Palm OS device, the Centro.
Experienced users, especially those owning the same 700p as the author may be boggled by some of the terminology found within the piece. For example, the complaint of the Treo “going to sleep” is likely caused by the cellular radio in Mr. Ulanoff’s Treo searching for a signal in a marginal service area. The more common system delays, commonly known to be NVFS-related lag, are more frequent yet do not persist for a minute at a time. The NVFS memory architecture is present on every single current Palm OS 5.4.x device. In fact, the degree of NVFS lag and overall performance varies drastically from device to device depending on the specific memory architecture of each respective model, with the pre-patched 700p 1.06 ROM generally regarded as the laggiest Palm device ever, aside from the Microdrive-based LifeDrive mobile manager. Additionally, the bullet point criticizing the “never shuts down” aspect is a sign that there is quite possibly something amiss with Mr. Ulanoff’s Treo such as an unintentional software conflict. Normally, on the 700p, a press of the center 5-way navigator button will not power on the screen, regardless of the radio’s power state. All Palm and Handspring Treos have utilized the “radio off, screen off, instant on” process that has become a hallmark of Palm’s devices. Had the cancelled Foleo sub-notebook reached the market, Mr. Ulanoff would have likely experienced instant-on behavior from the Foleo very similar to his Treo.
While the article offers a variety of suggestions for improvement targeted primarily at Palm’s OS, a few hardware-related suggestions are also offered. Mr. Ulanoff makes no mention of Palm’s announcement from earlier this year regarding the Analyst Day announcement of their upcoming Linux-based Palm OS replacement.
While the article makes a good starting point for the variety of issues plaguing the antiquated Garnet OS, Mr. Ulanoff only skirts the surface of issues that are true detriments to Palm’s next-generation products such as Garnet’s lack of UMTS/HSDPA capability, its 128mb RAM ceiling, and noted difficulties with storage volumes in excess of 4GB. Interested Palm OS users should view this list as more of an easily-digested summary of many of the problems plaguing the antiquated-yet-current Palm OS 5.x code rather than an comprehensive overview of the current situation of the complex structure surrounding Palm, PalmSource/Access and the cloudy future of the platform.