Nagel Talks About New Versions of the Palm OS

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PalmSource’s President and CEO David Nagel opened his company’s developer conference on Tuesday with a keynote address that emphasized that the Palm OS is in a period of transition.

The primary reason for this, of course, is the release of the next version of PalmSource’s operating system. But there is a larger reason as well. The whole mobile industry is also in transition.

It has often been said recently that handhelds are being replaced by smart phones. Mr. Nagel believes this is an over-simplification. Instead, the types of portable devices people want carry around is growing, and so are the capabilities of these devices.

It isn’t a simple handheld-or-smart phone decision. There are also MP3 players, portable gaming platforms, and a relatively new category, the personal video player. Of course, PalmSource would like to see the Palm OS used on as many types of these devices as possible.

Two New Versions

To do this, PalmSource has decided to offer two versions of the Palm OS.

One of these had been referred to as Palm OS 6, but has just been renamed Palm OS Cobalt. It has been designed for traditional handhelds and high-end smart phones.

The second version of the operating system is what used to be called Palm OS 5 and now named Palm OS Garnet. This one will be used on low-cost smart phones.

More About Cobalt

The primary focus of this week’s PalmSource Developer Conference is to unveil Palm OS Cobalt to the world. Mr. Nagel called it “the most important piece of technology that we’ve ever created.”

PalmSource re-wrote 80% of the Palm OS to create Cobalt. It brings to the operating system features it needs to remain competitive, including full multitasking ability, native ARM applications, and other high-end features.

An overview of the features of Palm OS Cobalt is available in this article, and one showing PalmSource’s future plans for it is in this one.

The question on everyone’s lips at the PalmSource Conference is when the first devices running Cobalt will be available. Mr. Nagel and the rest of the PalmSource executives who have spoken have declined to say anything about this, pointing out that this is really up to the licensees. Larry Slotnick, the company’s Chief Product Officer, would only say that devices running Palm OS Cobalt are “coming, compelling, and many.”

Mr. Nagel said he expects to see Cobalt running on a wide variety of devices, including ones with large, high-resolution screens like tablets and e-readers. He also mentioned the possibility of Cobalt-powered digital video players.

Palm OS Garnet

An important part of PalmSource’s strategy is to get the Palm OS on as wide a variety of devices as possible. For all the advantages of Cobalt, its hardware requirements are considerable, while the needs of the current version of the operating system are much lower. That makes Palm OS 5 much more appropriate to put on a low-cost smart phone.

That’s why PalmSource has decided to continue developing Palm OS 5 to make make it even more suited as a smart phone operating system.

To remove the suggestion this is an out-of-date version, it has been renamed Palm OS Garnet. This doesn’t just apply to future versions. Essentially, there is no more Palm OS 5; all versions of it are now called Garnet.

Controversial Decision

PalmSource’s decision to simultaneously develop two versions of the Palm OS has proved to be somewhat controversial. At a Q&A session with the press after his keynote, David Nagel had to repeatedly emphasize that his company isn’t doing the same thing Microsoft is doing and creating two mobile operating systems that can’t run the same applications.

Still, there is some room for confusion. Both versions will be able to run applications written for Palm OS Garnet. However, applications written for the special features of Cobalt won’t run under Garnet.

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