Palm reveals OS 6 tweaks

PalmSource aid on Monday it would launch its next major software upgrade on Dec. 29, with improved multitasking and graphics capabilities.

PalmSource, the company behind the Palm OS handheld computer operating system, said on Monday it would launch its next major software upgrade on 29 December, with improved multitasking and graphics capabilities.

Version 6.0, code-named Sahara, will continue to be marketed alongside the current OS 5, with OS 6 aimed at higher-end devices, PalmSource confirmed at the PalmSource Developer Conference in Munich. The Palm OS powers more than 30 million devices, and remains the market share leader in the handheld computer industry, despite increasing competition from Microsoft's Pocket PC and encroachment from smartphone makers.

Larry Slotnick, chief product officer at PalmSource, admitted that Palm OS 5 was "limited and restricted" when it came to multitasking or running applications in the background, with particular difficulties arising with resource-hungry applications such as media players. Slotnick said that the issue had been resolved in OS 5 by allowing applications to set priorities. "A couple of developers did figure out how to do it in version 5, but it was not in the preferred fashion," he said. "We have now done it in a way that makes it an absolutely standard mechanism."

Another problem with the current OS system was its inflexibility when handing graphics. Slotnick said that many developers wanted more freedom to create devices with rotating screens, allowing both landscape and portrait views. Instead of leaving developers to use their own custom methods for implementing this functionality, PalmSource will support it in the Palm OS 6 API (application programming interface), making it standard across all OS 6 devices, Slotnick said.

He said this standardisation is a major advantage of Palm OS development, compared with Windows Mobile or Symbian, the operating system that powers smartphones from Nokia, Sony Ericsson and others.

"Every Symbian device is a customisation project, so very few applications run on all Symbian products," he said. "The same is true for Windows Mobile--an application for a Windows smartphone doesn't necessarily work on Pocket PC." The Palm OS' standardisation will help PalmSource as it competes across increasingly diverse product types, including wireless devices, Slotnick said. "As soon as the API is fragmented, the compelling aspect of this platform is weakened. This is important when you compare us with Windows Mobile and Symbian," he said.

ZDNet U.K's Munir Kotadia reported from London.