PalmSource to Port Palm OS on top of Linux

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Palm OS 6.0 (Palm OS Cobalt) hasn’t even seen the light of day on any device yet, nor is there any sign it will soon.  All the same, PalmSource is steering its unused OS 6.0 onto the Linux platform.  That’s right, a PalmSource OS running on top of the Linux OS.  PalmSource is making this move in the belief Linux will become a leading OS for mobile devices.

In an effort to accomplish the goal of porting the Palm OS to Linux, PalmSource today announced it will buy out China MobileSoft (CMS).  CMS has an existing phone platform named “mfone” that runs on top of a home-brewed ARM- and MIPs-oriented embedded version of Linux named mLinux.  Apparently the CMS wing of PalmSource (assuming the deal goes through after shareholder approval) will be responsible for replacing their existing apps and code that run on Linux with the PalmOS Cobalt OS code.  So it will essentially be Palm OS Cobalt as a software layer on top of Linux (specifically, on the Linux kernel plus selected Linux services appropriate to mobile devices). The Palm OS software layer will include the same UI and middleware and applications that today exist for the Palm OS.  The Palm OS will remain proprietary and not open source, but the Linux OS running under the Palm OS Software will of course be open source and changeable — so things that run on the Linux OS portion of the device such as code to improve boot time or battery savings would be open to developers to look at and improve.

One large benefit of moving the Palm OS on top of Linux is that Palm OS for Linux will be able to run many third party Linux applications and services (GUI applications will need to use the Palm OS APIs).  Another large benefit is that low-end SmartPhones that cost around $300 and run an embedded Linux OS, and not those like the high-end Treo 650 that cost $649, will be able to run this Palm OS Linux software.  Reaching lower-end SmartPhones is indeed one of the goals PalmSource hopes to achieve.

There is no information as to when this Palm OS Linux software will be completed, it doesn’t exist right now.  PalmSource emphasizes this is an addition to their line and not a replacement of the current OS 6.0 (which again, hasn’t even shipped on a device yet).

It would be interesting to know what PalmOne thinks of this move and whether they view it as PalmSource grasping for straws and thrashing aimlessly.  In some respects it could be viewed as PalmSource giving themselves a vote of no confidence in their OS competing against Linux.



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