Palm OS


The last few weeks have been busy but in the middle of my frenzied schedule, I’ve somehow managed to dabble with some stuff from Palm.

It all began some weeks ago when I received an almost new Palm Tungsten C (retails for about $400 US), I began to investigate this platform which I had never worked on before and uncovered some really interesting facts about the platform’s roadmap.

Palm History 101

Palm is a company that, for the most part, develops PDAs or Personal Digital Assistants although they have recently branched out into pocket audio/video devices. Their products became popular in the mid and late 90s when more and more business users began searching for ways to better organize their lifestyle and of course their data. Thus the handheld boom began.

But unfortunately the Palm ‘boom’ was shortlived as handhelds were superceded by smartphones which had almost the same functionality, all in one device. Suddenly it became far more reasonable to carry 1 device that handled all your appointments, phone calls and your precious data.

In October 2003 Palm split up into 2 independent firms. Palm Inc. continued to manufacture handhelds while the OS division formed PalmSoure Inc. which developed and licenced the Palm OS to various other handheld manufacturers.

Working on The Palm Tungsten C

Let me begin with some background about the Palm Operating Systems that are shipped with the handhelds. At the moment, Palm devices are being shipped with variations of the OS version 5, named Garnet, of which the latest is 5.4. Palm is hoping to release it’s more advanced OS 6 by the end of 2006.

The Tungsten C in my possesion was manufactured sometime in either 2003 or 2004 so it came shipped with the OS 5 @ 5.2.1. From first looks the UI of the Tungsten C is rather bland and many users have been waiting long for somekind of update that would bring it back into the spotlight, after all, the Tungsten C is Palm’s second most expensive device, most expensive dedicated PDA and also the best in some areas of hardware specification.

Here are some specs:

Intel 400MHz ARM processor
320 * 320 screen (square) Transrefelctive @ 65 000 colours
64 MB RAM
Built in WiFi for use on hotspot or personal home networks
SD/MMC Expansion Slot

So, looking at the specifications, the Tungsten C is a truly capable device, capable of supporting software well beyond it’s pre-installed OS 5. It’s about time that Palm figured out a way to allow users to upgrade. In my honest and humble opinion, who is going to pay $399 for a PDA when they can get a more feature-filled and attractive one for less…worse, from the same company?

Seeing that I had reached a dead end by not being able to upgrade to 5.4 (Garnet), I began customizing and making some minor upgrades.

I remember that I had actually come across one minor update for the Tungsten C. This little update apart from other less interesting things ;) allowed the little green light on top of the unit to flash as it received/sent data while using wireless. It also speeded up WiFi, it’s configuration properties and also the system in general. I noticed that after installing and reseting the device, it seemed a lot more responsive. I was happy!

Later, I remembered a friend mentioning that a Java Virtual Machine (JVM) could be installed to allow J2ME applications to run. I found the link right underneath the OS update and clicked on it. There seems to be a little problem with the Java link, the page says that our Tungsten C fits the requirements but when filling in and accepting the form, we are returned with a result that says only certain *other* models are accepted. So I proceeded and try to download the file setting the field in the form as Palm Tungsten T or E, can’t remember. Anyway it worked, just watch out for this bug.

Installing the JVM was very simple and like all other application installations on Palm, all it took was hotsyncing the device. I then went to http://www.midlet.org on the Tungsten C and downloaded some midlets to check the JVM. The test was successful. I found some great graphics applications that tested the abilities of the device.

Those were the main ‘updates’. I also installed other application such as Agile Messenger and the RealPlayer version 1.6 for Palm. Using Realplayer for Windows and Realplayer for Palm allows an effortless way of transferring your music to the device, although it can be a little slow. I also noticed ( and currently ) there is no way of viewing RealVideos files. I uploaded some videos in the Real Format to the device, which by the way has a generous 256 MB SD card but was unable to get the picture, only the sound. Some help here would be appreaciated.

The Palm OS Roadmap

It’s clear by looking at PalmSource’s website that the company is envisioning some great things for the platform, what it will/can achieve and how that will impact its own market share is another case. They have done research on the market and, according to them, they are at forefront. But I don’t believe it will be long before the other platforms most notably Symbian surpass Palm. I mean Palm is good, they have a strong platform and they have lots of software but going back to the first thing I mentioned on the usage, nobody wants multiple devices and even though Palm has tried to salvage some of it’s market share by introducing its own line of smartphones, Treo, they still haven’t managed.

Have a look at this graph.
Source : http://www.palmsource.com

First of all the data in the graph is based on research that was done more than 2 years ago. Since then the number of Symbian devices has exploded with a rise of 191% reported this year, source is http://www.symbian.com. For those of you who might not know, Symbian is an operating system designed for mobile smart phone and it licenced to various manufacturers, the Nokia 6600 phone is one of many phones that run the OS.There is so much information on PalmSource’s webpage to make any first-timer really happy but it’s a long way from the truth. I still believe Symbian will dominate the market and its only real competitor is…Linux!

Adopting Linux

After reading all this much you might probably be thinking Palm is doomed. But here is the best part.

Palm recognized early that all their ramblings would do nothing for them unless they moved to a cheaper and more open core for their OSs. So they have decided to use a Linux foundation for their Palm OS 6 and in the future. They set about aquiring ChinaMobileSoft to work on this new project which would hopefully keep their company alive.

Palm OS will be running on top of Linux, but please remember that Palm OS will not be open source.

Allowing a moment of personal happiness.

It’s really a heartwarming experience to see any firm that was strictly proprietary in its development to move to open source. Not only have they now cut down on development costs but have also ensured that other developers around the world can give their input on developing PalmOS.

You can read the entire letter at http://www.palmsource.com/opensource/letter.html

For Moi

Having the Palm Tungsten C has allowed me to make some small but significant changes in my lifestyle. Although I would never be able to utilise it fully, it does come handy in certain areas, for instance, when I can’t take my VAIO and when my Nokia phone is too small to take notes, it’s a perfect substitute for the classic paper ‘n’ pen in lectures!

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