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RealTime IT News

PalmSource's Enterprising Strategy

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- PalmSource is welcoming a thaw in enterprise IT spending with the unveiling of Cobalt, its next-generation operating system.

The company is also rolling out the new platform along with a partnership with wireless e-mail and communication player Research in Motion -- all part of a new bid to get Palm applications behind corporate firewalls.

At the software company's annual developers' conference here Tuesday, PalmSource President and CEO David Nagel said the company's strategy is to "execute in the verticals, execute in the enterprise, and create a mass market via smartphones."

During his keynote presentation, Nagel introduced Cobalt along with a new naming convention for the company's operating systems. Cobalt represents Palm OS 6, with more than 80 percent new code, an operating system designed to support multimedia, telephony and a greater variety of form factors. It has hardware memory protection and the ability to use up to 256 megabytes of RAM.

Nagel said that Cobalt was designed to exploit all flavors of networking and to allow multiple sessions with different networks. "You'll be in a sea of wireless networks," he said, from Wi-Fi to mesh networks to metro Wi-FI and Wi-Max, plus the 2.5 and 3G wide area networks. "The door is open to full utilization of wireless networks," he said, including the ability to search for and download new applications over the air.

Nagel announced that Palm OS 5 will now be known as Garnet, and the company would continue to support it as an option for cheaper devices -- as long as the volume of sales makes it financially viable. "The mass market matters," he said.

Cobalt and Garnet are being positioned as two versions of the same operating system, because Cobalt is compatible with many Garnet applications. "We'll let the developers worry about the fine points of the differences," he said, adding that end-users don't care about operating systems. The goal, he added, is to make PalmSource a significant player in the converged device/smartphone market.

Nagel defended the Palm platform, which has found the job of penetrating the enterprise market difficult. "The idea that smartphones are killing PDAs is dopey," he said, because smartphones build on PDA capabilities. He also took a couple swipes at competitors. "For reasons not clear to me, Microsoft has chosen to go after the consumer electronics market with multiple platforms that are not compatible. The net result is that they don't have a lot of applications on any of them." He said that while the Symbian OS has a unified core and extension, different interfaces make applications incompatible.

"Nokia taking over Symbian is great news for us," Nagel said. "We can go to everyone except Nokia and say, 'How would you like to buy a great OS? You can buy it from us or from your worst competitor.'"

PalmSource chief product officer Larry Slotnick introduced some of the technical features of Cobalt. It improves compatibility with Microsoft Office and Outlook, with past versions of Palm OS, and with other enterprise software. Slotnick demonstrated editing a complicated word document using the Palm-based Documents to Go, then showed the garbled results of the same task performed with PocketWord on a PocketPC device. Cobalt supports multitasking and multithreading, larger screens and includes extensible communication and multimedia. However, there are no plans to support synching to the Macintosh desktop.

Garnet, which would have been Palm OS 5.4 under the old nomenclature, incorporates standard support for a broad range of screen resolutions, a dynamic input area, improved network communication and Bluetooth support. A technical preview of a software development tool for both operating systems, based on the Eclipse environment, is available. Future commercial versions will also support IBM's WebSphere MicroEnvironment Java 2 Micro Edition certified runtime environment.

Officials said they think the Research in Motion partnership will help PalmSource penetrate the enterprise market. David Yach, RIM's senior vice president of software, outlined the partnership. "As soon as you start talking about running an enterprise application," he said, "the device goes from being a smartphone to a corporate asset." He said IT departments want to treat mobile devices as they treat their PCs, and they want to tie into their existing applications.

The partnership with PalmSource will let RIM extend its reach to more kinds of devices, while letting PalmSource leverage RIM's installed base of enterprise customers that already have its BlackBerry server installed behind the firewall. Rim will provide the transport stack that lets PalmSource applications communicate with the server, while making RIM's wireless push capabilities available to the apps. Because the TCP/IP connection will originate behind the firewall, enterprise customers will be able to maintain security and control of PalmSource applications.

Nagel ended the keynote by reiterating the same dream the Palm crowd has held onto for years. "We're in transition from a pioneering industry to a mainstream industry with tremendous opportunity."