PalmSource has announced at its developer seminar in Munich that the next version of its operating system, codenamed Sahara, will be ready just before the end of this year. However, devices running it aren’t expected for several months after that.
While a fairly complete overview of OS 6 was presented at its U.S. developer seminar this spring, a few details are still emerging. For example, it will come with an API to allow both portrait and landscape modes. Though some devices running the current version of the operating system either already offer this or are expected to do so soon, this will be the first time this capability will be built into the operating system, making it easy for all Palm OS models to do so.
Other Details of the New OS
One of the major changes in Palm OS 6 is that developers will be able to create ARM-native applications. As it is now, Palm OS applications are still being written, in effect, to run on 68K processors, such as the Motorola Dragonball chips used on handhelds running Palm OS 4.1 and below. On Palm OS 5 devices, which use an ARM-based processor, apps must run through an emulator that enables them to operate on non-68K processors, albeit slower.
Palm OS 5 brought partial support for ARM-native code; Developers could put ARMlets in their apps to speed them up. ARMlets are small snippets of ARM-native code to handle processor-intensive tasks. With Sahara, developers will be able to create apps that don’t require emulation.
Of course, this will cause problems with backwards compatibility, so developers will still be able to create apps that will run under Palm OS 6, OS 5, OS 4, et cetera, but won’t have all of the advantages of ARM-native code. And Palm OS 6 will be able to run legacy apps written for the older versions of the operating system, as long as these apps follow Palm’s rules for “well behaved” software.
Another major improvement is support for threading and background processes, which will allow multiple apps to run at the same time. the Palm OS has some rudimentary support for this now, but it will be much more robust in Sahara.
To help ensure that the operating system is stable, the new version includes a protected memory system, so each application has its own dynamic heap. It also includes process protection.
Palm OS 6 will see the end of some limitations that have irritated users for years, including the 16-category limit and the 4k limit on memos.
OS 6 will include APIs for roaming on wireless networks. This will allow Palm OS handhelds to move between types of wireless networks, like Wi-Fi to GPRS, without the user having to go through the hassle of logging off one network and logging on to another.
Sahara will use pluggable I/O interfaces, which means that licensees will be able to easily pick and choose which methods they use for input, for example Graffiti II or a keyboard.
After Palm acquired the assets of BE, Inc., that company’s developers were put to work on their new employer’s operating system. OS 6 will use multimedia and graphics frameworks from the BeOS.
What Businesses Want
Palm OS 6 will offer many features business want, like support for Web services and accessing Microsoft Exchange and Lotus email servers.
During its creation, the developers have emphasized security. “The Sahara platform is being rewritten from the ground up to provide security from the deepest level of the operating system,” PalmSource’s CEO David Nagel said during a speech at the CeBIT tradeshow in June.
It will also have the ability to view files in the formats business users typically use, like Microsoft Office documents and Adobe Acrobat PDFs.
Though its licensees almost certainly already have beta copies of this operating system , December 29 is the day PalmSource will stop working on Palm OS 6 and hand the final version over to the Palm SG, Sony, Samsung, etc. These companies will then be able to finish the job of customizing it for their handhelds and smart phones.
The first devices running the new operating system aren’t expected until spring of 2004. After PalmSource released Palm OS 5 to the licensees in June of last year, the first handhelds using it didn’t hit the market until October.
Many users of Palm OS 5 devices are asking whether they will be able to upgrade to OS 6. For those who are new to this, releasing a new handheld operating system doesn’t work the same way as it does with desktops and laptops. The upgrade doesn’t come straight from PalmSource. Instead, PalmSource gives the new operating system to its licensees who customize it for their individual models and release it. It is up to the licensee whether any upgrades are available. Most mid-range and high-end Palm OS models have flash ROMs, which means that they potentially could be upgraded, but no Palm OS licensee has committed to this.