Beginning this week, I'll be switching commentary duties with Steve Milroy. I'll write the regular Mobile & Wireless Perspectives, and Steve will write Pocket PC Perspectives on alternate weeks. As a member of Microsoft's Mobile Advisory Council, Steve is in a good position to keep you up-to-date about the Pocket PC format. I'll concentrate on mobile technologies from other vendors, as well as Microsoft's other form factors.
This week, I want to offer some news and thoughts about Palm's announcement that it's releasing OS 5 to vendors. OS 5 is the most significant OS release to come from Palm in recent memory. The OS provides fundamentally new capabilities, including true preemptive multitasking, and is designed to run on a completely new family of devices powered by the same StrongARM processor family that Pocket PC 2002-series devices such as the Hewlett-Packard (HP) iPAQ use. Among the OS's new features are an improved UI and built-in support for 802.11b wireless LANs (WLANs). Devices based on OS 5 are expected to ship by the end of this year.
Any time a company makes major changes to an OS (let alone changes the processors that power the OS), I get concerned about compatibility. I interviewed Michael Mace, chief competitive officer of PalmSource (Palm's software subsidiary), to get a sense of OS 5's compatibility. "Our overall goal is to get as much compatibility as possible," Mace said. "We're shooting for 75 to 80 percent \[of applications\] to run without modification. To provide compatibility, we're doing a \[Motorola\] 68K-compatible CPU emulator that runs on the ARM CPU. The problem lies with \[developers\] who ignore our instructions and directly address hardware resources. We're having one-on-one conversations with them. We're also trying to build as much compatibility as possible into the emulator. A lot of \[software\] will work out of the box, but there will be situations where you'll want to get the latest versions of the application."
What about the Web-clipping applications that the wireless Palm VII, VIIx, and i705 devices use? Mace said, "As we're working with developers, we're hearing more and more of them say they're comfortable going directly to HTML, as long as the browser does a proper job of caching, and they have the ability to design a compact Web page. You can do proxy browser solutions, where things get compressed—like Handspring's Blazer—you can do Web clipping, and you can just do a good job of compact HTML design. Don't assume that \[Microsoft\] Pocket Internet Explorer is what you'll see. We can do better!"
As for network support, Mace said that Short Message Service (SMS) "is a base feature. The OS is network-ready. Obviously there has to be some form of \[wireless modem\] available to exploit those APIs. And we're looking for more and more features for future versions. The OS will support both one-piece and two-piece solutions. So we can support both integrated devices and solutions such as today's Palm Mobile Internet Kit (MIK), in which you use a device and a separate cell phone connected via infrared (IR), cable, or Bluetooth. Support for 802.11 is a licensee option—what they get from us is a fully qualified driver, which supports either a built-in or add-on 802.11 device."
What should IT shops be doing to prepare for OS 5 devices? Mace said that once licensees begin to ship OS 5 devices, "early adopters will start to bring them into the organization. It's important to understand that when OS 5 comes out, OS 4 devices won't go away. It won't be a wholesale cut-over from DragonBall-based OS 4 devices to ARM-based OS 5 devices. Be sure you've got the latest version of any applications you support—but don't panic. We will have compatibility lists, and so on. Watch Palm's Web site ( http://www.palmos.com ); as we approach the release date, the site will have specific information. I believe the levels of compatibility are high enough that it shouldn't be a big problem."
Mace also told me that the new OS won't have a significant impact on pricing. "We aren't seeing a lot of code expansion, so we don't think it will significantly affect memory requirements—although some vendors will offer more. We think most applications, even running in emulator mode, will see equal or better performance \[on OS 5 as compared to OS 4\]."
If your organization supports Palm devices, I recommend that you check Palm's Web site periodically for news. Also, Mace's advice about making sure you have the very latest versions of key applications makes sense. An OS 5 emulator has been available to developers for some time. If your organization develops applications in-house, consider signing up for the emulator at the following URL.