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PalmSource embarks on new OS plans

The company officially announces it will divide its operating system efforts, working on both entry-level and high-end versions of the OS.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--PalmSource on Tuesday officially announced it will divide its operating system efforts, working on both entry-level and high-end versions of the operating system.

The current OS 5 and related efforts will be known as Garnet, while the new OS 6 that shipped to device makers at the end of last year will be known as Cobalt. As previously reported, the move is designed to allow the operating system to be suitable for a wider range of cell phones and other wireless devices.

"Smart phones in general are really beginning to become part of the mainstream," PalmSource CEO David Nagel told a crowd of programmers gathered for the PalmSource Developers Conference here.

Mobile phones have already begun to win customers away from handheld devices, according to research firm IDC, leading many organizer companies to add phone capabilities to their products. In 2003, shipments for handhelds declined for the first time, falling 8.4 percent. But sales are expected to bounce back this year.

Shipments of so-called "converged" mobile phones, which combine organizer functions with the ability to make phone calls, are expected reach about 13 million, with volumes expected to grow about 86 percent annually until 2007.

PalmSource is preparing for the emerging phone market with its new operating systems. Cobalt adds new features, such as the ability to more easily switch between wireless networks, improved security and an enhanced capacity to open several programs at once.

"It's the most important piece of software we've developed, certainly since I've been at PalmSource," Nagel said.

Nagel pointed out that European carrier Orange has found that PalmOne's Treo 600, which uses the Palm OS 5, produces more revenue per month than any other phone the company sells.

"That is what's going to drive the adoption of smart phones," he said.

Leading handheld maker PalmOne announced that its Treo 600 will be available on T-Mobile USA's GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service) cellular network. The device is available for preorder now and will begin shipping in early March, according to the PalmOne Web site.

The Treo 600 uses the Palm OS 5 and allows owners to wirelessly surf the Web, access e-mail and make phone calls. The device costs $499 when purchased with a service contract. Until March 2, PalmOne is offering Treo 180, 270 and 300 owners an upgrade to the Treo 600 for $399.

Sony, another Palm OS licensee and an investor in PalmSource, has begun taking preorders for three new Clie devices on its Web site. As previously reported, Sony has been working on the PEG-TJ37, PEG-TJ27 and PEG-TH55, all of which use version 5.2 of the Palm operating system and come with 32MB of memory, a Memory Stick slot and a built-in digital camera.

The Clie PEG-TH55 will be the second device to use Sony's ARM-based Handheld Engine processor, which tops out at 123MHz and includes a graphics engine. The TH55 also will also come with built-in 802.11b-based wireless networking capabilities and a digital audio player and voice recorder.

Sony is selling the PEG-TJ37 for $299.99, the PEG-TJ27 for $199.99 and the PEG-TH55 for $399.99.

PalmSource also announced that it will work with Nvidia to improve the graphics capabilities in devices that use Cobalt and Garnet. Nvidia will join the PalmSource's developer group and has already licensed the tools for both operating systems.

Nagel's keynote speech began with a video showing many different ways in which Palm OS devices are being used, from devices in hospitals and schools to a programmer who uses Palm software to control a ping pong-playing robot.

CNET News.com's Richard Shim contributed to this report.