Palm OS 5 Goes Golden Master
After many months of development, the final version of Palm OS 5 has been sent by PalmSource to the licensees. Now that the operating system is complete, it is up to the licensees to develop and release handhelds to run it. Of course, these are already close to being ready, based on early versions of OS 5 but there is no way at this point to accurately predict when the first of these will be available. Steve Sakoman, the CTO of PalmSource, would only say that he had seen the time between an operating system going Golden Master and a handheld release be as short as a month and a half.
Palm announced in February that it would introduce OS 5 devices with wireless capabilities by this fall. Rumor has the company will put out a smartphone before the end of the year. "Our goal is to introduce the industry's best ARM-based handheld this fall," said Todd Bradley, the head of the Solutions Group at Palm.
"We are very excited by the impending release of Palm OS 5," said Masanobu Yoshida, president, Handheld Computer Company, Sony Corporation. "We are certain that this will lead us to new dimensions of user experiences that our Clié products can provide, and it is a great step forward for Palm OS overall. We will continue to contribute to the Palm Economy with this powerful Palm OS 5, working together with PalmSource, Inc. and the Palm OS developer community.
New Capabilities with New Processors
At the heart of the new operating system is its support for ARM-based processors. This will allow the Palm OS to run on much faster processors and greatly increase what it can do in the way of multimedia. It also offers greater security and wireless support.
Built into Palm OS 5 is the ability to record sound and play CD-quality digital audio. It also has support for high-resolution screens and icons and fonts in the operating system are now hi-res The user interface can be personalized with color themes.
To keep sensitive data private, Palm OS 5 offers 128-bit systemwide data-encryption services. In addition, end-to-end security is provided through Secure Socket Layer services for email, web browsing, and online transactions.
The new operating system puts even more emphasis on wireless communication. Palm OS 5 supports both Bluetooth and 802.11b.
The new features should encourage buyers to replace their current handhelds. Gartner analyst Todd Kort told Reuters that, "There is definitely going to be a big upgrade wave and that should commence about a month after the first products ship."
Never the less, OS 5 is something of a transition for the Palm OS. While it does have new features, primarily it is the current Palm OS updated to run on ARM-based processors. PalmSource is already in the process of developing an even newer version of the operating system that will take even greater advantage of the capabilities of the new processors.
"This is just the beginning of a very aggressive roadmap -- a new era of innovation for the platform," said Dave Nagel, CEO of PalmSource.
Making the jump from one family of processors to another isn't a trivial task. Last summer, to make this process easier on the licensees, Palm created the Palm OS Ready Program. This got the processor manufacturers to create a Device Abstraction Layer (DAL) for their own processors. This is sort of a translation layer between the hardware and the OS, intended to remove any incompatibilities between, say, Intel and Motorola chips. This saves the Palm OS licensees a tremendous amount of work and allows them to choose the processor they like without having to write a DAL of their own.
The biggest names in the Palm OS Ready Program are Intel, Motorola and Texas Instruments, though there are others.. At this point, only Palm has announced whose processors will be in its next generation handhelds: TI.
Despite the change to a new processor, OS 5 handhelds will still be able to run a large majority of current apps thanks to an emulator. According to Steve Sakoman, about 80% of current apps should make the jump, which, according to him, is about the same number as made the switch to OS 4. The ones that won't work violate in one way or another PalmSource's rules for making a compatible Palm OS application.
One of the most frequently asked questions about OS 5 is, "How fast is it?" That's a difficult question because it depends partially on how fast the processor is. There are quite a few processors currently in the Palm OS Ready Program and these vary tremendously in capabilities.
Because most ARM-based chips are significantly faster than the Dragonball processors in current handhelds, the emulator will often be faster than current models. However, that isn't always the case. Using one processor to emulate another isn't easy and there will be some apps that actually run slower, like very code intensive ones.
On the other hand, code that has been recompiled for ARM-based chips is 61 times faster on a 200MHz ARM processor compared to a 33MHz Dragonball one. Displaying graphics can be twice as fast.
Lean, Mean Handheld Machines
As the Palm OS has added features people are used to seeing on the Pocket PC, some have been wondering if the Palm OS will also get some of the Pocket PC's drawbacks, like a large footprint and poor battery life. Fortunately, this turns out to not be the case.
"The memory footprint, even the new ARM version, is very efficient," said Gina Clark, vice president of marketing for PalmSource. "It continues to fit inside 4 megabytes (of memory), as it does today."
OS 5 is quite modular. This means that a licensee needs to only install the pieces it needs for its specific hardware. For example, if a company decided to leave the infrared port out of one of their models, they can easily remove the portion of the operating system that controls the IR port.
Last month, a Motorola spokesperson told ZDnet UK that the Palm OS 5 handhelds will use roughly half the power as Pocket PC handhelds running the same hardware.
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