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A PalmSource March to Linux

The future of the Palm OS is Linux.

That statement shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as PalmSource has been talking about Linux for more than a year.

This week, however, the company has made good on its intention to move to Linux, with the announcement of a new Linux platform destined to become the future of Palm OS.

PalmSource's move to Linux comes at a time when its hardware partner and former corporate cousin, Palm Inc., is rolling out devices based on Windows Mobile.

The new Linux-based Palm OS is the fruit of the September acquisition of PalmSource for $324 million by Japanese firm Access. Called the Access Linux Platform (ALP), the OS is more than just Linux, though, and includes a number of additional open source technologies.

Among them is the GIMP ToolKit (GTK+), which is the open source toolkit behind the popular GNOME user interface. GStreamer, an open source streaming media framework, and SQLite, an embedded open source database, are also part of the ALP open stack.

Then there's the stuff that has traditionally been PalmSource's bread and butter. ALP includes PIM, HotSync and Palm Desktop, as well as PalmSource's messaging and telephony middleware.

PalmSource is also including the Access NetFront browser on the devices.

"It's mostly new and is definitely the next evolution or iteration of Palm OS on Linux," Albert Chu, vice president of business development at PalmSource, told internetnews.com.

Though Palm OS's future is Linux, PalmSource is not abandoning its non- Linux users.

"ALP has a lot of architectural difference from the traditional Palm OS," Chu explained. "However, one of the things we have kept to make sure ecosystems aren't stranded is an emulation layer, so Palm OS Garnet applications that are well behaved will run on emulation on ALP."

In addition to ALP, PalmSource will be rolling out a new application framework, called MAX, for ALP-based development on Linux devices.

Chu noted that the ALP stack is modular and can be adjusted to meet customer's need.

For example, Trolltech, which just this week released Qtopia 4, its latest mobile Linux platform, isn't necessarily a competitor to ALP, but could in fact be part of the same deployment.

Trolltech's Qtopia is based on Qt, which is a competitive open source graphics library to GTK+ which is the default for ALP.

"If a user wanted to use a specific app from Trolltech, PalmSource could put it in instead of GTK," Chu said. "We think we provide value in more than just one aspect of the stack."

ALP is also not tied into a particular Linux kernel flavor either, and could also utilize a MontaVista Linux kernel as well.

Though ALP is being billed as the next generation of Palm OS, will it in fact be deployed on Palm hardware? Chu noted that ALP is targeted at all of PalmSource's existing partners and that Palm is one of its best customers.

Palm and PalmSource are two different companies now with two different owners.

The two Palms first split back in 2003.

In May 2005, Palm (then called palmOne) extended its PalmOS licensing agreement until 2009 in a deal worth a minimum of $148.5 million.

Jim Christensen, Palm's director of public relations, said that Palm is committed to its loyal base of smartphone and handheld Palm OS customers.

"We continue to use Palm OS 5/Garnet to power our products," Christensen said.

Christensen however declined to comment as to whether Palm would adopt ALP at a future point in time.

Both Palm and Palm OS shipments are on the decline.

According to research firm Gartner, PDA shipments grew by 19 percent in 2005, over 2004, to a record 14.9 million units. The number of those units shipped by Palm, however, declined by nearly 26 percent, as Palm's market share dropped from 29.8 percent in 2004 to 18.6 percent in 2005.

The big winner in 2005 according to Gartner was RIM, with 2005 shipments up by nearly 47 percent.

Palm OS also faired poorly in Gartner's report. Shipments fell by 34 percent in 2005 over 2004 to just under 3 million units.

At just over 7 million PDAs shipped, Microsoft Windows CE was ranked the top PDA operating system, gaining 33 percent over its 2004 total.