Can New Palm OS Take on the Enterprise?

Palm Inc.'s Palm OS subsidiary is wooing developers with a new handheld operating system, a new name and a new focus; but there are still unanswered questions about how to woo enterprise customers.

SAN JOSE, Calif.—Palm Inc.s Palm OS subsidiary is wooing developers with a new handheld operating system, a new name and a new focus; but there are still unanswered questions about how to woo enterprise customers.

Newly renamed PalmSource Inc., the operating system company announced at its PalmSource developers conference here that it will be giving the beta version of Palm OS 5 to developers this week, as well as a simulator that runs on Windows-based PCs. Palm OS 5 will be commercially available by the beginning of the summer, officials said.

"Palm OS 5 is an enormous step," said David Nagel, president and CEO of PalmSource.

Version 5 supports ARM-compliant processors from Intel Corp., Motorola Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc., all of whom plan to provide chips to various hardware licensees of the Palm OS. Palm OS 4 supports the slower Motorola Dragonball processor.

Version 5 also includes Secure Sockets Layer and support for virtual private networks.

"Eventually we want to make handhelds more secure than PCs," said Michael Mace, PalmSources chief competitive officer.

Customers have been champing at the bit for OS 5.

"We were expecting it by the end of last year," said Fran Rabuck, practice leader for Mobile Computing at Alliance Consulting Inc., in Philadelphia.

Mace said the company never promised to ship OS 5 in 2001 but acknowledged that the operating system is coming out later than it should have because of missteps in its initial development.

"The original plan for OS 5 was to build everything at once," he said. "The first thing Dave [Nagel, who joined the company last year] said was, Lets not rebuild everything all at once. It takes too long. Its like boiling the ocean."

In the future, Palm plans to update its operating systems incrementally, and twice as fast.

"It wont be another 18 months," Mace said of the release that follows OS 5. "We would like to be in the six- to nine-month time frame. … Nobody ever hits an OS schedule, but thats the goal. The time frame that the mobile phone guys are on says they want … a winter OS release."

The operating system that succeeds OS 5 will have improved multimedia support, features that take advantage of next-generation wireless networks (simultaneous voice/data support is a possibility) and better security-- support for digital signatures and certificate management.

Security is in the spotlight at PalmSource, not only with the promise of future operating systems but also with third-party offerings.

Nagel in his keynote speech on Tuesday introduced Veratron Corp., which in March will ship Trafasi, voice recognition and voice biometric software for the Palm platform.

Still, customers say the Palm platform has a long way to go.

"Security is why were not in love with the Palm platform, at least in the current version," said John Schaaf, a business analyst at the Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp. who attended PalmSource to evaluate wireless handheld options.

Beyond improving security, Palm wants to impress corporate customers with third-party enterprise applications. For example, Cutting Edge Software Inc. at the conference announced the beta version of Quickoffice Conference Edition, a peer-to-peer data conferencing application that enables colleagues to collaborate on spreadsheets in real time using Palm OS-based devices or PCs with a TCP/IP connection.

It is through third-party software support that Palm intends to compete against Microsoft Corp., which Mace considers to be Palms biggest competition simply because "they never go away." Palm OS 5 was designed with the enterprise in mind, he said.

But unlike Microsoft with its Mobile Information Server, and unlike enterprise wireless e-mail player Research in Motion Ltd. and its Blackberry Server, PalmSource has no plans for its own back-end software. Palm Inc. gained back-end software when it acquired the assets of ThinAirApps Inc. last year, but the assets remained on the hardware side when Palm split.

"I dont think we want to create our own back end," Mace said. "We want to connect with everyone elses. … We want to be a great client to everyones back end, and that includes Microsofts."