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Palm CEO talks up 'Nova,' his 2009 operating system

Mobile computing pioneer Palm has been battered the past couple of years, but is pinning its hopes on a Linux-based mobile operating system designed around the Internet.

Palm CEO Ed Colligan says the company's long-awaited operating system of the future will center around the Internet, and be distinct from the familiar Palm OS that's currently available.

Palm has been somewhat tight-lipped about the future of its operating system development, but Colligan gave an interview to APC in which he described the "Nova" OS as a "next-generation operating system with much more capabilities, driven around the Internet and Web-based applications." Nova will be based on a Linux core and is scheduled to arrive next year.

Palm CEO Ed Colligan shows off several Treo smartphones, which are running the increasingly ancient Palm OS. Palm

The idea is to return to what made Palm successful in years past, and what is making Apple's iPhone successful at this juncture: the development of a complete system, including hardware, software, and links to the outside world via the Internet or the desktop PC. Palm lost control of its operating system when it split from PalmSource in 2003, and it is still using a four-year old operating system on its Treo and Centro smartphones.

Colligan isn't going to make that mistake again. But it's not clear what Palm will bring to the table in terms of user interface, which was the big breakthrough that Apple made with the iPhone.

Designing a new smartphone around the Internet in the late 2000s isn't necessarily innovative; it's a basic requirement. The real innovation in handheld computing is around how people interact with their computers, and we'll have to see what Palm cooks up in that regard when Nova is ready next year.

Palm will continue to release devices based on the classic Palm OS, Colligan told APC. The Centro, a bright spot for Palm amid the troubles of the past year, will continue to use the classic Palm OS to help keep that phone at around $99. And Palm will also continue to pitch Windows Mobile Treos for business customers even after the release of the new operating system, he said. Nova will be used on something in between a Centro and a Treo, but the company has yet to decide on the naming convention for that new category.

While it's been a rough couple of years for Colligan and Palm, he remains optimistic, drawing on the experiences of many of his current colleagues when they worked at Apple.

"So just looking at Palm's situation today there's no logical reason, in a market with this kind of growth opportunity and the dynamics that are happening and how quickly things change--and again you could look at Apple and the iPhone as something that's come out of nowhere, essentially, and changed the dynamics of the smartphone space--there's every opportunity to do that in our case as well," Colligan said.