PalmSource to hatch new OS strategy

The company plans to announce next week a revamped strategy designed to get its operating system included on a broader array of cell phones, including lower-priced models.

Ina Fried Former Staff writer, CNET News
During her years at CNET News, Ina Fried changed beats several times, changed genders once, and covered both of the Pirates of Silicon Valley.
Ina Fried
3 min read
SAN FRANCISCO--PalmSource plans to announce next week a revamped operating system strategy designed to get its OS included on a broader array of cell phones, including lower-priced models.

Under the plan, the company will simultaneously develop multiple versions of its OS and aim them at different parts of the cell phone market.

PalmSource is renaming the existing and new versions of its OS and will deviate from its traditional numeric naming system to show that both versions--previously known as OS 5 and OS 6--are current. The company is just now shipping OS 6 to handheld and cell phone makers.

By maintaining development of multiple versions, PalmSource is hoping to cover more bases in the market for smart phones and other devices. Historically, Palm OS-based devices have been offered only in the most expensive class of cell phones, which cost several hundred dollars.

"We think the industry can get to a $100 device much more quickly on OS 5 than OS 6," CEO David Nagel said in an interview here Tuesday. Nagel would not give the new names for the OSes, but he's expected to detail the new strategy at the company's developer conference next week. Although PalmSource has offered scant details on how it will market the two operating systems, the move has been in the works for some time.

The company will continue work on OS 5, which is both cheaper and takes up less memory than the new version, while simultaneously touting OS 6 as offering better security, multimedia and networking abilities.

The latter OS is "virtually a complete rewrite from the ground up," Nagel said, with much of the work done by engineers acquired from Be. While some concepts from Be were included in OS 5, the new version draws more heavily on ideas from the Be OS, especially when it comes to handling multimedia. The software is also designed to do a better job of multitasking, or running multiple programs simultaneously.

PalmSource released the latest version of the OS, which had been known as OS 6, to handheld makers at the very end of last year. The software, which was code-named Sahara, will be made available to developers at next week's conference, PalmSource has said.

Nagel said he believes that in the not-too-distant future nearly all cell phone makers will turn to some sort of third-party operating system, rather than continue developing their own software. However, the cost and size of the available operating systems has been a key issue, leading the company to its decision to continue work on OS 5.

The move is aimed at helping PalmSource compete in a market that sells hundreds of millions of units a year as opposed to the tens of millions of handhelds and high-end smart phones that are currently sold. PalmSource, though, faces a host of competition, particularly from Microsoft and Symbian as well as potentially from Linux and Java-based phones.

Security is a major area of focus with the new OS, Nagel said, noting that devices like cell phones are easily lost or stolen. "I think they have to be more secure than a PC," he said. At the same time, Nagel points out that many companies have been able to create powerful, secure devices using OS 5, pointing in particular to the Treo 600.

With OS 5, PalmSource was focused primarily on making a hardware transition. Older versions of the Palm operating system ran on the comparatively poky Dragonball series from Motorola, while OS 5 brought the OS onto faster ARM-based processors. The operating system did borrow a few techniques from the Be team, such as the OS's sound manager, but much of the work was focused on bringing over the existing code to new hardware.

Nagel said that with OS 6, or whatever the OS will soon be called, the company is laying the foundation for software that will take the company into new areas.