Motorola to license 3Com's Palm OS

Following Ericsson's deal with Microsoft, another Symbian alliance member is pursuing an alternative handheld OS. But Symbian's EPOC is still on top, say experts

British palmtop computer group Psion (quote: PON) and US telecoms equipment maker Motorola said on Tuesday that Motorola is still fully committed to the Symbian operating-system alliance, in the wake of Motorola's deal with handheld company Palm.

Also on Tuesday, Motorola announced an agreement with handheld computer maker Palm Computing, a unit of 3Com, to license its Palm operating system. Motorola also took a minority equity stake in Palm.

The announcement comes just days after mobile phone maker Ericsson, also a Symbian member made a deal with Microsoft to jointly develop wireless Internet applications. The deal was seen as a big victory for Microsoft, with its Windows CE handheld operating system, a rival to EPOC. (See: Microsoft v Psion on wireless Internet.)

Although this could be seen as a knock for EPOC, analysts believed that this deal, like the recent partnership between Palm and Nokia, would have little effect on the strength of Epoc’s position. "If you talk to software developers at Nokia they’re all writing for Epoc," said Keith Woolcock, IT analyst at Nomura.

Woolcock suggested that the next two years would see Palm and Symbian moving closer together to develop operating systems for mobile devices. Palm is a 16-bit operating system, while digital phones use a 32-bit microprocessor. It would take some time for Palm to develop a 32-bit version of its operating system by which time "the world would have moved on," according to Woolcock.

Palm therefore has to ensure that its operating system is compatible with EPOC, since software developers are already getting firmly behind Symbian’s offering. "Palm will have to decide whether to invent the wheel or to go with the flow and use what’s already there," said Woolcock.

Announcing the Palm deal, Motorola emphasised the breadth of the emerging market for wireless handhelds, or personal digital assistants (PDAs). "We see a whole new category of wireless devices emerging that combine popular PDA platforms with wireless communications," said Merle Gilmore, president of Motorola's Communications Enterprise, in a statement. "By combining the widespread appeal of the Palm operating system with the exploding demand for wireless communications, we will be able to provide people with the personal networking capabilities they want and need."

But Motorola stressed it will continue to develop plans to use the EPOC operating system promoted by Symbian in future technology. Psion created EPOC for its handheld devices.

"Motorola remains committed to the Symbian alliance, and is working with both Symbian and Palm to provide the leading platforms customers demand," the company said in a statement.

Reuters contributed to this report.