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Palm shows new OS with wireless voice, data features

The company releases a beta version of its newest operating system--software it hopes will help take Palm devices from electronic organizers to powerful vehicles for wireless communication.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.--Palm on Tuesday released a beta version of its newest operating system--software it hopes will help take Palm devices from electronic organizers to powerful vehicles for wireless voice and data communication.

The new version 4.0 of the Palm OS, which chief executive Carl Yankowski detailed in the opening keynote at the PalmSource developer conference here, supports 16-bit color, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, universal serial bus (USB) connections for easier PC synchronization, and support for wireless telephony.

Palm chief technology officer Bill Maggs showed a demonstration of a Palm handheld computer dialing a cell phone using Bluetooth. Maggs also played a fighter pilot game against a game developer using a Bluetooth connection, although he conceded his opponent was better.

"Note to self: People with purple hair are better at games," Maggs said.

The lighthearted moment was in tune with the tone here. Alongside the meeting rooms and workshops are espresso stands and an arcade, complete with foosball, pinball and video games.

But there is serious work as well. Palm is trying to enhance its OS to maintain its lead over Microsoft in the handheld market by selectively adding more features. One of Palm's goals is to more deeply penetrate the corporate market, which likely will mean expanding the type of applications the Palm OS can handle.

Meta Group says with the Palm OS devices dominating the PDA market, the battleground between Palm and the Microsoft CE family of personal digital assistants is shifting to the enterprise market.

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The company also is in the midst of a hardware migration. Palm has completed the initial effort to port its operating system from today's Motorola Dragonball chip, which is at the heart of current Palm handhelds, to chips based on designs from England's ARM. ARM processors run much faster than Dragonball chips and therefore will allow Palm devices to run more complex applications more smoothly.

Competing devices from Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard running Microsoft's Pocket PC OS already use an ARM chip. Migrating from one processor to another is often a project fraught with difficulty.

Maggs showed a development circuit board from Cirrus Logic that demonstrated today's Palm applications running on an ARM-based chip.

To prove the applications were indeed those from the original Palm, Maggs beamed the game PocketChess to the development board and then showed the game working normally.

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Developers go wireless at PalmSource 2000
Rob Enderle, analyst, Giga Information Group
Yankowski also talked about a 5.0 version of the operating system that will support higher screen resolutions while maintaining compatibility with today's Palms. He did not provide a timeline for releasing that version.

Yankowski stressed that even as the Palm offers new services and features, the key to expanding the market for handhelds is to keep things simple.

"The Internet only became popular when companies like AOL and Netscape made it easy to use," Yankowski said.

Palm also demonstrated a prototype smart phone from Samsung that runs the Palm operating system in a unit that appeared to be smaller than competitor Kyocera's Smartphone.

In perhaps the best-coiffed event of the day, Claudia Schiffer took to the stage to announce that her Palm Vx Claudia Schiffer Edition is now available on her Web site.

Even though women make up half of all Net surfers, Schiffer said, Palm's current audience is only 25 percent women. Schiffer hopes her $399 product will appeal to this untapped market.

Staff writer Richard Shim contributed to this report.