New Palm, Same Story

PalmSource frustrates developers with slow Palm OS 5 upgrade path.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Palm Inc.s software subsidiary has a new name, but many of the same old Palm OS problems in the eyes of developers and enterprise customers.

PalmSource Inc., the new name of the operating system company announced at the PalmSource developers conference here last week, distributed the beta version of Palm OS 5 to developers, as well as a simulator that runs on Windows-based PCs.

But Palm partners say the company is not giving them enough guidance about how to move from Palm OS 4 to Palm OS 5 and to the ARM platform, which the operating system now supports.

The new handheld operating system, which is due this summer, supports ARM-compliant processors from Intel Corp., Motorola Inc. and Texas Instruments Inc., all of which plan to provide chips to various licensees of Palm OS. Palm OS 4 supports the slower Motorola DragonBall processor.

"What does it say when you move to a new operating system and provide no upgrade path?" asked Felix Lin, vice chairman of AvantGo Inc., in Hayward, Calif., which builds wireless access software for several handheld operating systems. "Its a slap in the face for everyone who has tried to build apps on the Palm platform. Its an enormous amount of work for us. Microsoft [Corp.] is a lot better at this."

Palm enterprise users, who had to wait 18 months between versions of the operating system, are frustrated as well. "Nobody is building applications for construction companies, so we have to do it ourselves," said Tommer Catlin, MIS director of Webcor Technologies Inc., a construction company in San Mateo, Calif. "Palm really needs to get the code out sooner."

Michael Mace, PalmSources chief competitive officer, said that Palm OS 5 was later than it should have been because of missteps in its initial development. "Our biggest problem is execution," Mace said. "The original plan for OS 5 was to build everything at once. It takes too long. Its like boiling the ocean."

Mace said Palm plans to update its operating systems faster. "It wont be another 18 months," he said of the release to follow Palm OS 5. "We would like to be in the six- to nine-month time frame."

Palm OS 5s successor will include 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 why were not in love with the Palm platform, at least in the current version," said John Schaaf, a business analyst at Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corp., of East Hanover, N.J.

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

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