PalmSource pushes on with Linux plans

The makers of the Palm OS moved a little closer to the open source community this week

PalmSource joined the Consumer Electronics Linux Forum (CELF) this week, pushing ahead with its plans for a version of the Palm OS that runs on top of Linux.

The announcement comes shortly after the latest Palm OS version made it into its first product — more than a year after it was first made available to manufacturers.

PalmSource has joined CELF as an associate member, the company said. The organisation was founded two years ago by Matsushita Electric Industrial, Sony, Hitachi, NEC, Royal Philips Electronics, Samsung Electronics, Sharp and Toshiba to promote the use of Linux in devices such as handheld computers and mobile phones. It now has more than 50 members.

The move will allow PalmSource to more closely collaborate with the prominent electronics makers who are part of the group and will also further PalmSource's mobile phone plans, the company said. In December Palmsource agreed to acquire China MobileSoft in a deal planned to expand the company's global presence and put Linux applications squarely in its product plans.

"We believe PalmSource is poised to make significant contributions to the CELF as it develops Linux-based phone software products," said John Ostrem, lead scientist of PalmSource, in a statement.

Executives at PalmSource have said the company will create a Linux-based version of its Palm operating system in hopes of tapping into the demand for such applications from the rapidly expanding mobile device market. The company cited research that estimates that by 2008, the worldwide mobile device market will be shipping more than 800 million units annually, with 250 million of those units being smartphones.

While the Palm OS will run as a software layer on top of Linux, and PalmSource plans to contribute to the Linux community, the company won't release Palm OS programming code to the public.

Linux may make Cobalt, the latest Palm OS, more attractive to some licensees, but so far the operating system hasn't made a significant impact in the mobile world. Last week the OS got its first licensee, Hong Kong-based Group Sense PDA, which said it would ship a smartphone based on Cobalt in the US by the fourth quarter of 2005.

None of PalmSource's other licensees, including PalmOne — which makes Palm-branded hardware — have announced products using Cobalt. PalmOne is aid to be planning both a Windows Mobile-based handset and some Linux-based systems, which could further undermine confidence in PalmSource, industry observers have said.

In a November interview PalmOne president Ed Colligan said both Linux and Windows have their advantages, but said Linux will need plenty of development before it would be usable in PalmOne's products.

"It's very immature relative to this segment of the market, so there'll have to be a massive development effort to support that," Colligan said.

CNET News.com's Matt Hines contributed to this report.