RumorMill™: Palm OS 6 Coming in October

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Citing unnamed sources, The Inquirer says the next generation of PalmSource’s operating system will be available to licensees sometime in October.

However, News.com is reporting that PalmSource CEO David Nagel said today at the CeBIT tradeshow that Palm OS 6, code-named Sahara, will still be in beta at the end of this year and won’t be consumers’ hands until six months later. However, it’s possible that Mr. Nagel is simply being conservative about the release date.

Whenever it’s available, Palm OS 6 looks like it will fulfill many of the wishes of Palm handheld users.

Details of the New OS

PalmSource provided an overview of Palm OS 6 at its recent developer seminar, highlighting the significant improvements being made. One of the major changes 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 on 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 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

According to News.com, Mr. Nagel used his speech today at the CeBIT tradeshow to emphasize the advantages of Palm OS 6 to business users, 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,” said Mr. Nagel.

It will also have the ability to view files in the formats business users typically use, like Microsoft Office documents and Adobe Acrobat PDFs.

If The Inquirer is correct and Palm OS 6 is given to the licensees in October, there almost certainly won’t be New Handhelds running it available by Christmas. As you may recall, PalmSource released OS 5 in June 2002 but the first devices running it weren’t out until October.

Many users of Palm OS 5 devices are asking whether they will be upgrade to OS 6. Palm’s Tungsten T and C and Sony’s NX series have flash ROM, which means that they potentially could be upgraded, but neither Palm nor Sony has committed to this. Michael Mace, PalmSource’s Chief Competitive Officer, weighed in on this issue by saying, “We’re designing Palm OS 6 to be upgradable onto Palm OS 5 hardware. In other words, we’re looking at the footprint of products like the Palm Tungsten T and we intend to work within those constraints. But responsibility for delivering the upgrade belongs to the hardware manufacturer. Because our licensees tweak the OS for their hardware, we can’t just release a blanket upgrade the way you would for a PC. It’s up to the licensees to decide if they want to offer an upgrade, so you need to ask them what their plans are.”

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