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PalmSource pushes on with Linux plans

Company joins the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum--but can open-source give the Palm OS the boost it needs?

PalmSource moved a little closer to the open-source community this week.

The maker of the Palm OS has joined the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum, or CELF, pushing ahead with its plans for a version of the Palm OS that runs on top of Linux.


Previous coverage

The company will acquire
ChinaMobile, which has
been developing a
version of Linux
for mobile devices.

The announcement comes shortly after the latest version of the Palm OS, called Cobalt, made it into a first device--more than a year after it was made available to manufacturers.

CELF was founded two years ago to promote the use of Linux in devices such as handheld computers and mobile phones. Founders include Matsushita Electric Industrial, Sony, Hitachi, NEC, Royal Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Sharp and Toshiba to promote the use of Linux in devices such as handheld computers and mobile phones. It now has more than 50 members. PalmSource has joined CELF as an associate member, the company said.

PalmSource's move will allow the company to more closely collaborate with the prominent electronics makers who are CELF members and will further PalmSource's mobile phone plans, the company said.

PalmSource announced plans to buy into Linux in December, largely through an acquisition of China MobileSoft. Specifically, the deal was designed to expand the company's global presence and put Linux applications squarely in its product plans. The acquisition was completed last month.

Executives at PalmSource have said the company will create a Linux-based version of its Palm operating system in hopes of tapping into the demand for such applications from the rapidly expanding mobile device market. The company cited research estimating that by 2008, the worldwide mobile device market will be shipping more than 800 million units annually, with 250 million of those units being smart phones.

While the Palm OS will run as a software layer on top of Linux, and PalmSource plans to contribute to the Linux community, the company won't release the Palm OS code to the public.

Cobalt, the latest Palm OS, might become more attractive to some licensees because of Linux, but so far the software hasn't made a significant impact in the mobile world. Last week, the Palm OS got its first licensee, Hong Kong-based Group Sense PDA, which said it would ship a smart phone based on Cobalt in the United States by the fourth quarter.

None of PalmSource's other licensees, including PalmOne--which makes Palm-branded hardware--have announced products using Cobalt. PalmOne is said to be planning both a Windows Mobile-based handset and some Linux-based systems, which could further undermine confidence in PalmSource, industry observers have said.

In an interview in November, PalmOne president Ed Colligan said that both Linux and Windows have their advantages, but that Linux will need plenty of development before it will be usable in PalmOne's products.

"It's very immature relative to this segment of the market, so there'll have to be a massive development effort to support that," Colligan said.

Matthew Broersma of ZDNet UK reported from London. CNET News.com's Matt Hines contributed to this report.