Inside Graffiti 2

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Earlier this month, PalmSource announced that it was not going to include Graffiti in future versions of the Palm OS. Instead, it was going to use a different system for text entry based on CIC’s Jot. This has been dubbed Graffiti 2.

At the time, it was pointed out that the primary reason for this was a federal court’s ruling that Graffiti infringed on a patent held by Xerox. However, this wasn’t the only reason.

Courtesy of PocketLoft Jot and Graffiti 2 more closely follow the standard ways of drawing letters and numbers than Graffiti does. (See the chart at left.) The people involved with the development of Graffiti 2 hope this will make it easier for people to learn to use their handhelds. “Graffiti 2, powered by Jot, is an improvement over Graffiti because there were a fair number of people who were intimidated by the notion of learning a new alphabet,” said Marlene Somsak, vice president communications for Palm. She believes that by lowering the learning curve they can attract new users to the platform.

However, this comes at the risk of alienating long-time users, who are happy with the current version of Graffiti. Many of the Graffiti 2 characters have to be drawn with two strokes, while all but the X can be drawn with a single stroke in the original. This means that, while Graffiti 2 may be easier to learn, it will be slightly slower to use than the original Graffiti. Unfortunately, because of the Xerox lawsuit, PalmSource doesn’t have the option of including both versions of Graffiti.

The Lawsuit

Though Graffiti will no longer be a part of the Palm OS, this isn’t going to end the lawsuit. Xerox still hopes to get money for all the millions of Palm OS handhelds sold in the past that use Graffiti.

Palm and PalmSource have appealed the court’s ruling and are waiting to see what happens. There are no negotiations going on for PalmSource to license Xerox’s technology, called Unistrokes.

In addition, Ms. Somsak said that, even if they win the appeal and the ruling is reversed, they won’t go back to the original version of Graffiti. “We are dedicated to Graffiti 2 and there’s no turning back.”

New Palm OS Versions

PalmSource has created two new versions of its operating system that include Graffiti 2: Palm OS 4.1.2 for Dragonball-based handhelds and Palm OS 5.2 for ARM-based ones. In addition, OS 5.2 contains numerous bug fixes.

This has left users wondering when handhelds running these new operating systems will be available, and when updates for current handhelds will be released.

At this point, no one is willing to commit to anything. PalmSource says it is up to the licensees and the the licensees are being noncommittal. Ms. Somsak from Palm would only say that her company will eventually release models with Graffiti 2 and she thought it was likely that there would be updates released for current models but wouldn’t say any more. A spokesperson for Sony declined to comment at all.

In a side note, many have asked what happened to Palm OS 5.1. According to Michael Higashi, PalmSource’s director of OS marketing, OS 5.1 was finished months ago and sent to the licensees. He went on to say that PalmSource deliberately drew an unusual amount of attention to OS 5.2 because of the change to Graffiti 2. OS 5.1 didn’t include any major changes so its release was much quieter. Unlike desktops and laptops, new versions of handheld operating systems have to be modified for individual models. This means all updates are released to the public by the licensees, not PalmSource.

Problems and Potentials

PalmSource has made the two versions of its operating system with Graffiti 2 included available to developers, who have reported that these still contain a few bugs. The most notable of these is that it isn’t possible to enter letters that require more than one stroke after a Command stroke. For example, take the Command-K keystroke, generally used to open the on-screen keyboard. After the Command stroke and the down stroke of the K have been entered, the system doesn’t wait for the second stroke of the letter, instead immediately processing it as a Command-I.

Unfortunately, according to PalmSource’s Higashi, these new operating systems are finished and have been sent to the licensees, which means that PalmSource won’t be able to fix any bugs in these versions. Of course, the licensees could fix it themselves for their own models and PalmSource is working to help them accomplish this. Neither wants to put out handhelds with known bugs.

Courtesy of PocketLoft Graffiti 2 gives users some options to personalize how characters are entered. They can specify which of the two strokes that make up the letter T come first, for example. However, it isn’t fully trainable. According to Lee Williams, vice president of engineering and product development at PalmSource, his company is looking into including in future versions of the Palm OS a fully-trainable input system, which would obviously be much more flexible than the current one.

Jot allows users to write anywhere on the handheld’s screen, not just in the designated Graffiti area. Palm OS 5.2 and 4.1.2 don’t support this. Mr. Williams said that this would be fully supported in future versions of the Palm OS. This brings up the possibility that, someday, there could be Palm OS handhelds with no Graffiti area at all, not even a virtual one.

Related Links

  • Graffiti is Dead, Long Live Graffiti 2
  • PalmSource Releases Details on OS Updates


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