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Palm Grabs Linux in Strategic Smartphone Play

Palm Grabs Linux in Strategic Smartphone Play

Palm on Tuesday announced that it will offer smartphones running a Linux-based operating system in a bid to improve their usability. The company does not intend to license the new Linux-based OS, however. Nor does it plan to drop the Microsoft Windows Mobile platform or its Palm OS from its product lineup.

By Walaika Haskins LinuxInsider ECT News Network
04/11/07 1:26 PM PT

Palm, maker of the Treo smartphone, announced Tuesday it is developing a Linux-based operating system for its line of handheld devices.

The new operating system will lead to greater stability for its smartphones and also provide increased functionality, according to CEO Ed Colligan.

"We have been developing a set of system software that we will roll out before the end of the year that will allow us to take the Palm OS forward and to modernize it and to upgrade that functionality and to bring that user community and developer community forward on top of a Linux kernel based on open source technology," he said.

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Palm, Colligan noted, believes that it is critical that the company own some of its key technologies and a platform base in order to develop functionalities in its handheld devices that will move the company forward.

"We want to modernize [the OS] and take it forward and we have been developing and working on it for a number of years, and you will see products come to fruition based on this new platform," Colligan stated.

Palm's Linux core will enable Palm to deliver a better user experience with outstanding usability, tighter integration and performance with instant-on and instant application switching, according to the company. It will also allow for greater ease in terms of developing applications on the device, such as simultaneous voice and data functionality, and Web-based applications.

"That new platform will take personal computing mobile and it will build a new foundation for Palm based on a Linux core," Colligan explained. "We expect that it will improve reliability and performance and stability of our Palm-based products and give us enormous flexibility from a platform perspective."

"For instance, today it is not possible to do a simultaneous voice and data product on Palm. We needed this functionality to be able to modernize the underlying core of that platform," he added.

Palm is not abandoning the Microsoft Windows Mobile platform or its Palm OS, Colligan said, and will continue to release Treos running the Windows OS. However, consumers will also be able to choose a device loaded with the new Linux-based OS.

"We've delivered the Windows Mobile platform. We've done differentiation on top of that platform. We will continue to deliver that platform focused on the business market and global carriers," he said.

"We have a full commitment to the Palm OS community. We will continue to deliver products based on that. We are shipping products today and will ship products in the future based on Palm 0S 5 Garnet product," he continued.

However, the company does not have plans to license its new Linux-based OS, Colligan revealed. "We don't intend to license that platform. We intend it to be a system software functionality that we have to create great user experience."

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The Palm OS is an old platform, Bill Hughes, a principal analyst at InStat, told LinuxInsider, and that is the reason Palm has to make a change.

The Palm OS is a "single threading operating system," along the same lines as DOS was, Hughes explained. Windows and Linux, on the other hand, are multitasking operating systems. Multitasking allows users to run multiple applications simultaneously.

However, Hughes added, single threading is not necessarily a big problem for a mobile platform.

"The reason it is not as bad as it sounds is two-fold." he explained. "Single threading became a problem on PCs because the applications are large and hard disks were slow. It is not so bad in a handheld because the applications are small and the storage is in RAM, which is much faster than a hard disk. That is why Palm Treos work just fine.

"However, developers want to make applications bigger," he added.

Palm has been struggling to keep its foot in the door of today's mobile enterprises, Benjamin Gray, a Forrester Research analyst, told LinuxInsider. Although Treos were revolutionary when they hit store shelves a few years ago, there has not been much innovation as of late.

"Tier-one mobile device manufacturers like RIM, Nokia, Motorola and Samsung have been picking up more and more mindshare with sleek new device offerings largely based on the Windows Mobile platform, with the exception of RIM."

With the Linux-based operating system, Palm hopes to enhance the everyday mobile user's experience with an OS that is more reliable and has better performance than the previous generation of Palm OS, he noted.

"Ed Colligan, Palm's CEO, touted the improved usability with instant-on, quicker transition between applications, and a better Web experience. He also highlighted better battery life and lower cost. All of this sounds great on paper, but it remains to be seen how they're able to deliver on these promises," Gray added.


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