Palm to develop Linux-based OS

Palm has confirmed that it is developing its own Linux-based operating system for its range of PDAs and smartphones.

During a meeting with analysts, CEO Ed Colligan revealed that, as has been rumoured, Palm has been working on the new OS for several years, adding that he believes it will enable the company to better compete with rivals who use Microsoft’s Windows Mobile operating system.

Colligan said that by once-again taking control of software development the company will be able to cut costs and bring products to market more quickly. The first Linux-based handhelds will be introduced later this year. Referring specifically to handhelds, he said that that new OS will give it greater flexibility in design, features and pricing.

‘We think there is a big wave coming in this whole mobile computing revolution and we’re lining ourselves up,’ he said.

In its early, most successful years Palm developed both hardware and the accompanying Palm OS software platform. It then split in two, with the software division becoming PalmSource. PalmSource was subsequently acquired by Japan’s Access, which began shipping its own Access Linux Platform (ALP) in December. However Palm continues to use Access’ Palm OS – recently renamed Garnet OS – in the majority of its devices (one Treo smartphone model employs Windows Mobile) and has shown no inclination to adopt ALP. Although Colligan has not said as much, Palm appears to have run out of patience with Access’ efforts to produce a viable successor to the ageing Garnet OS.

Nonetheless, elements of Garnet are expected to show-up in the new OS. Palm has a perpetual licence for Garnet’s source, which permits it to incorporate parts of that code. This could be used to enable new handhelds to run legacy applications, for example.

The unstated context to all this is the shake-up of the mobile device market that has been prompted by Apple’s unveiling of the iPhone, which boasts many features that are simply not possible with Garnet OS, notably efficient multi-tasking. For example, Garnet-based handhelds cannot make voice calls while accessing the Internet.

Unlike Access and Microsoft, Palm has no plans to license its OS.

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