Palm Starts Testing Mobile OS Upgrade

New features include added security, built-in wireless and multimedia support

Palm Inc. last week released a beta-test version of its upcoming Palm OS 5 operating system, which is expected to include expanded security, wireless and multimedia features.

Palm said the upgraded operating system will include 128-bit security and support for the Wi-Fi wireless LAN standard as well as Bluetooth short-range wireless devices. Palm OS 5 will also have multimedia hooks that are designed to support the development of larger screens, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company said.

Unlike Palm's current operating system, the Palm OS 5 has built-in support for Bedford, Mass.-based RSA Security Inc.'s RC4 encryption algorithm. The built-in support for wireless is also integral to the new operating system.

The security is designed to encrypt and protect enterprise data on the device, which Palm views as essential for a product that users frequently lose.

Palm OS 5 was designed to run on ARM chips developed by ARM Ltd. in Cambridge, England, and licensed by Intel Corp., Schaumburg, Ill.-based Motorola Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc. in Dallas.

Tailoring the system to run on the ARM chips will let Palm and its software licensees develop integrated handheld computing products that can also operate on mobile telephone systems, since mobile handset manufacturers have also chosen ARM as their hardware foundation, said Michael Mace, chief competitive officer at PalmSource Inc., Palm's operating system subsidiary.

Palm has two major hardware licensees today: Handspring Inc. in Mountain View, Calif., which develops products for the general business and consumer market; and Symbol Technologies Inc. in Holtsville, N.Y., which develops rugged systems targeted at vertical applications such as logistics and shipping. But Mace said the number of licensees should grow as PalmSource seeks to expand its hardware base.

"You need [to offer] choices," Mace said. "The sales department might need smart phones, other departments standard handhelds, and warehouse and inventory management systems another [hardware device]."

Barney Dewey, an analyst at Andrew Seybold LLC in Los Gatos, Calif., said Palm OS 5 should provide strong competition to Pocket PC devices that run on Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE software.

Analyst Ken Dulaney at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., was more cautious, saying that with the limited information available, it's hard for him to determine whether the Palm OS 5 will be equal to Windows CE. He said the operating system does fix what he considers "serious holes" in the older software, including security and screen-size limitations.

Dulaney also wondered if the beta-test announcement would hurt sales of existing devices, including the Palm i705 handheld that was introduced last month.

Microsoft's mobility group product manager, Ed Suwanjindar, said the Palm announcement "could be a case of too little, too late."

"Fact is, we built the Pocket PC to deliver more, and Palm is still stuck playing catch-up," said Suwanjindar. "We'll wait to reserve judgment until we see their new OS on devices."

Mace declined to comment on when new hardware would reach the market, but he said PalmSource expects to deliver the operating system to manufacturers and developers by the summer.


OS 5 Features

128-bit encryption from RSA Security

Built-in support for 802.11b and Bluetooth wireless products

Supports larger color screens

Supports sound recording and playback of CD-quality audio

Developed for use on ARM processors

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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