Can't get there from here

By Jason Brooks  |  Posted 2000-12-04

We've always been puzzled as to why Handspring Inc.-which designed the Visor handheld with an eye toward expandability-chose to "hard-wire" the Visor's operating system and core applications in ROM.

Apart from the Visor's Springboard expansion slot, perhaps the biggest difference between handheld devices produced by Handspring and Palm Inc. is the type of ROM on which the core applications and OS for each device is stored.

Except for the low-end IIIe and m100 devices, Palm handhelds use software-upgradable flash ROM-a major competitive advantage because Windows CE devices have traditionally used nonupgradable masked ROM. Only Compaq Computer Corp.'s iPaq breaks this mold.

Visor handhelds use this same less-costly but upgrade-limiting memory technology, and the consequences of this design choice have caught up with Handspring.

OmniSky Corp.'s wireless service (reviewed above) depends in part on the Web clipping capabilities of Palm OS Version 3.5; Handspring's Visor Solo and Deluxe are locked in to Palm OS 3.1, while the Platinum and Prism run Version 3.5. When we put OmniSky's Minstrel S wireless modem in a Visor Deluxe, the screen message couldn't be clearer (see photo).

By leaving the door open to future OS upgrades, flash ROM lets companies stretch handheld investments and avoid the sort of unforeseen incompatibilities were finding with Minstrel S and the Visor Solo and Deluxe.

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