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PalmSource touts OS 6 features

The company says the next version of the Palm OS for handhelds--to be launched Dec. 29--will offer improved multitasking and graphics.

PalmSource said the next version of the Palm operating system for handhelds will offer improved multitasking and graphics capabilities.

Version 6.0, code-named Sahara, will be launched Dec. 29, PalmSource said Monday at the PalmSource Developer Conference in Munich, Germany. The operating system will continue to be marketed alongside the current OS 5, with OS 6 aimed at higher-end devices.

The Palm OS powers more than 30 million devices and remains the leader in the market for handheld computers, despite increasing competition from Microsoft's Pocket PC and smart-phone makers.

Larry Slotnick, chief product officer at PalmSource, said Palm OS 5 was "limited and restricted" when it came to multitasking or running applications in the background; particular difficulties arose with resource-hungry applications such as media players. Slotnick said that the issue was resolved in OS 5 by allowing applications to set priorities. "A couple of developers did figure out how to do it in version 5, but it was not in the preferred fashion," he said. "We have now done it in a way (in version 6) that makes it an absolutely standard mechanism."

Another problem with the current OS system was its inflexibility when handling graphics. Slotnick said many developers wanted more freedom to create devices with rotating screens, allowing both landscape and portrait views. PalmSource will support this feature in the Palm OS 6 API (application programming interface), making it standard across all OS 6 devices, Slotnick said.

He said this standardization is a major advantage of Palm OS, compared with Windows Mobile or Symbian, the operating system that powers smart phones from Nokia, Sony Ericsson and others.

"Every Symbian device is a customization project, so very few applications run on all Symbian products," Slotnick said. "The same is true for Windows Mobile--an application for a Windows smart phone doesn't necessarily work on Pocket PC."

Standardization will help PalmSource compete across diverse product types, including wireless devices, Slotnick said. "As soon as the API is fragmented, the compelling aspect of this platform is weakened. This is important when you compare us with Windows Mobile and Symbian."

ZDNet UK's Munir Kotadia reported from