SAN JOSE, Calif.—More than 700 Palm developers gathered here for the annual PalmSource Developer Conference 2004. The company on Tuesday showcased its new versions of the Palm operating system, now called Garnet and Cobalt, as well as other products and licensing deals.
PalmSource is the company responsible for developing and enhancing the popular Palm OS, while PalmOne, the former hardware division, is now just one of many developers licensing the code. The two companies split apart in October of 2003.
The conference started with back-to-back keynotes from PalmSource CEO David Nagel and Chief Technical Officer Larry Slotnick.
After the keynote, I had a chance to sit down with Slotnick and Product Marketing Manager John Cook to explore where PalmSource, and the Palm market, are headed.
eWEEK.com: Tell me about the development process of Palm 6.0, now called Cobalt.
Slotnick: Actually it was two and a half years ago that the new effort began. There was the Palm team, some industry-renowned operating system and microkernel experts, and they produced a microkernel. Then along with the marketing they produced a product plan called Atlas. It was very expansive as well as expensive.
Then about two years ago the Be [Inc.] acquisition occurred. The Be people came into the shop and started a wholesale redefinition, which we internally called Sahara. It was more manageable. We were able to merge the older Palm OS with the new Be OS, and that today is Cobalt.
eWEEK.com: What did you get from Be?
Slotnick: We got all the intellectual property, all the smart engineers, some of the managers and one member of the board.
Our starting point for Cobalts multimedia features was Be multimedia and graphics. The design center was from Be, the teams [for the multimedia and graphics subsystems] were largely Be engineers. Something like 40 to 50 percent of the multimedia graphics is Be code.
Some of the original thinking of path-based graphics, a PostScript-style of display is Be-based, and very compelling. The microkernel was designed and largely implemented by Palm people before the Be acquisition.
Next Page: The Power of Multithreaded Applications, Handheld-style
The Power of Multithreaded
eWEEK.com: So why are you continuing to develop and support Palm OS 5 [now called Garnet]?
Slotnick: We have a big installed base of Palm OS 5 users now, and they love the platform. Theyve taken it in many different directions, everything from wearable devices to factory floor automation to telephones. The licensees have been very creative with what they can do with the foundation of OS 5.
With Palm OS 5, everyone knows how to work with it. There is a little bit of a learning curve to take advantage of the ARM-native development on OS 6. But now you can write an entire application native in OS 6.
OS 6 is designed to make much more sophisticated and diverse devices of the future. OS 5 is preferred for devices for today. We expect the transition to take a few years.
Cook: And look at all the award winning products on OS 5!
eWEEK.com: What about application compatibility from OS 5 to OS 6?
Slotnick: We provide forward compatibility with OS 5 applications; we continue to support older programs.
We developed a thing called PACE, Palm Application Compatibility Environment, when we moved from OS 4 to OS 5. The move from 4 to 5 was from [Motorola] 64K to ARM. Pace was an emulator, and it enabled 64K applications to run on ARM. As part of Sahara, we brought forward PACE, and we continue to support 64K apps [on OS 6, a k a Cobalt].
On top of that we have a multiprocessing, multithreaded operating system with true ARM-based memory protection and hardware assist. We have frameworks for security and multimedia. It has a stream-based, socket API so developers can use standard APIs. Because its multiprocessing and multithreaded you can run multiple network applications simultaneously.
[Slotnick then began to describe what he demonstrated in the morning keynote session.]
We have a new media player thats part of the product. We had a DAT-based movie running, it was hooked to the device, and a simulator running on a PC, using a standard reference platform with radio hardware and software.
I called up the simulator, started the movie, and called a guy in front of the PC. He picked up the phone, while the movie ran in the background. While we were talking, we popped up a stock ticker in front of the application. So we had three things running in parallel.
Next Page: New Devices, New Applications
New Devices, New Applications
eWEEK.com: What new types of devices will we see using Cobalt [OS 6]?
Cook: A couple things that we are envisioning, with the understanding that your mileage may vary.
If you look at some of the stuff were seeing today, like the Tapwave [Inc. Zodiac], a game-centric device that does PDA well; or the Garmin [International Inc. IQ3600], a GPS that does PDA, well see a lot more like that.
In the gaming space we see something thats more than gaming, its a lifestyle-type device. Were seeing a generational shift to a younger audience that wants one device thats both a work device and a play device.
Back in enterprise, they wanted more memory and more security. Some of those devices went to Pocket PC. Ill call them highly-vertical applications, where youll see Palm OS Cobalt in those areas [in the future].
Another area, Im hesitant to call them them eBooks or eReaders, but I think that weve learned a lot about what those things can be. Maybe they arent just Readers. [Cook waved around a notepad and a pen.]
Maybe Id like something to replace pen and ink. Maybe its not a full-blown Tablet PC though. But now were able to support higher resolution, larger screens and multiple displays.
Slotnick: The new Cobalt APIs are much broader. We talk about single- and double-density screens today, or 160-by-160 [pixel resolution], and HVGA [half VGA screens offering 320-by-240 pixels). With Cobalt were talking triple-density and quadruple-density. XGA and SXGA.
to read a recent PC Magazine review of Toshibas Pocket PC e805, which offers a 680-by-480-pixel screeen.
Cook: The concept is moving away from the standard that it has to be this box-sized screen size [he pointed to a PalmOne Tungsten T3 handheld] and that opens up a whole new type of devices.
Another area thats interesting is the information archive device. There are these information hounds that are packrats and that carry a lot of information around with them.
Now, I have [with Cobalt] internal memory, processing power, but were missing some kind of glue layer. I dont see a [Apple Computer Inc.] Finder metaphor necessarily, but something like that. I personally think thats just a PDA of today on steroids. Its personal information management that goes way beyond calendar and contact manager.
Slotnick: And there would be a Web service out there, where you could sync all that data. Youd be paying someone an awful lot to store all that data on the Web.
Cook: Its really changing the concept of the PDA and Smart phone. Its interesting to think of new categories of devices.
eWEEK.com: So when will we see these devices?
Slotnick: Licensees are responsible for their own time frames. Its typically on the order of six to nine months [after the OS ships] for devices to come out. So summer time is not unreasonable, because the OS shipped in December.
Next Page: PalmSource-Powered Consumer Devices?
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eWEEK.com: Now that you have a lighter, presumably lower cost OS in Garnet, do you see it being used on consumer devices like MP3 players and handheld video players?
Slotnick: Apple is a company that is capable of doing their thing [speaking of the OS on the iPod]. But we give licensees the ability to hit the ground running [with Garnet].
Cook: That MP3 player would also be useful to maybe run certain Palm OS applications. I have an iPod and I love it, but there‚s no way in the world Im going to put my contacts on an MP3 player. It doesnt make any sense.
eWEEK.com: So do you see everything—video, phone, audio, notebook—converging on one tiny device?
Larry: No, we dont think it all goes to one device. We will have multiple devices for multiple purposes. A big screen for some things, a small thing to put into your back pocket. Are you going to want to watch movies on a tiny screen? Youll probably want to use your notebook instead.
I dont think unification is what its all about. I think solving the multi-device sync problem is the real issue. I think if sync worked universally then people wouldnt worry about multiple devices.
eWEEK.com: So when will you make sync work?
Slotnick: Well, were not ready to make any forward looking statements, but its definitely better under Cobalt. We consider sync absolutely strategic to our long-term future. What Apple has done with iSnyc is one approach.
eWEEK.com: So what about Open Source? The Open Source PDA hasnt really taken off, but do you feel the pressure?
Slotnick: Open source and Linux, in particular, are an alternative platform being taken very seriously in China. However, Ill point out that Palm has been very successful in China too.
We have three recent wins, including FounderTech, the number two PC manufacturer in China. I think the Chinese government would like to endorse a free-and-open system, but the corporate world there has embraced us.
eWEEK.com: So whats going on in China? [PalmSource CEO]Dave Nagle went and opened your office there in the fall of 2002.
Slotnick: The way our business works, we license licensees, and six to nine months later they start shipping devices. Even if GSPDA [ Group Sense PDA Ltd., the maker of a cool smart-phone from China exhibited at PalmSource] can build a device in six months, its easily a year and a half before the first devices ship [due to FCC certification, finding sales partners].
Its a long haul, and telephony doubles the time to get to market. We think we‚ve had some really important wins, and the revenue upside is coming.
GSPDA is really cool though.
Cook: They are doing some very interesting stuff too, like an electronic dictionary. I wanted to see the Fossil wristwatch on the market, but theyve had some problems.
eWEEK.com: How do you feel about Nokia acquiring Symbian?
Slotnick: We kind of like that [said with a Cheshire cat grin]. What it means is that we have a whole different story to sell to everyone else. It gives us a much more compelling story to Sony-Ericsson, for example. .