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Old 12-08-2004, 09:56 AM   #1
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Palmsource to port PalmOS to Linux

I just found this interesting article [palmsource.com] (emphasis mine):

PalmSource will continue to offer both Palm OS® Garnet and Palm OS® Cobalt to support a broad range of mobile devices including smartphones. PalmSource also plans to implement Palm OS on top of Linux, bringing the benefits of Palm OS to the Linux community, including the award winning user interface, software frameworks based on the best of Palm OS and BeOS®, a large base of professional and consumer applications, and an enthusiastic community of more than 25 million users and over 360,000 registered developers. PalmSource intends to work as a partner within the Linux community to help Linux grow rapidly in the consumer and enterprise mobile markets.

I wonder if they're going to consider the enormous amount of application on Linux that interface directly with their handhelds already (pilot-link, J-Pilot, Evolution, gnome-pilot, KPilot, PilotManager, ColdSync, jSyncManager, and others), and begin to leverage that, or just NIH it and create their own proprietary extensions instead of reusing what we've already created.

Interesting times ahead, to be sure.
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Old 12-08-2004, 10:35 AM   #2
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Thanks for the pointer. If these plans come to fruition then that would be a very interesting development indeed.

A Linux device combined with a PalmOS-style interface would make for a killer device. (Better hurry up, though.) It does make me wonder how much faith they have in Cobalt as an OS: why stack your operating system on top of another OS? Isn't it supposed to be running by itself? Anyway, the wording in the press release might not reflect the actual technical details. We'll see.
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Old 12-08-2004, 11:06 AM   #3
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Interesting indeed!

Perhaps they figured it would be easier to solve the problems they currently have with Cobalt (I assume they have problems, or why the delay in hardware supporting it) by building it on top of Linux (after all, Linux offers a lot of GPL-licensed solutions that can easily surpass the quality of commercial solutions).
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Old 12-08-2004, 11:23 AM   #4
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I think the best approach towards leveraging the mindshare already built up in the Free Software community around Linux and Linux-based solutions is a huge benefit to Palmsource, since they can't keep up with their svelte staff, innovate, and beat the competition. They simply don't have the manpower or dollars to make it happen.

With Palmsource profits slipping due to lackluster updates in their OS (and the recent OS-specific bungles), they need to make some pretty major leaps in their OS functionality, but how can they do that when they can't pay more people to work on it for them? Enter the good-will fostered by the Free Software community.

That being said, I think providing the upper-level "glue" for the OS on top of the Linux kernel (not the Linux "OS", remember, they use a strictly-licensed KADAK kernel on Palm handheld devices), is a huge win/win for them. Provide a useful toolkit + an SDK as they do now for their Windows development, and they have a good deal of support waiting to help them.

...if they don't piss everybody off. Palm* (source/One/Inc.) has recanted on a pretty strong statement that they were going 100% Windows a couple of years ago, if this proves to be true.

They also immediately gain support for running PalmOS on any architecture, not just m68k or ARM, because Linux runs on 32 separate chip architectures. If its logically separated properly (and with a BeOS core, I'd have to imagine that it is), then porting to a new arch is simple, because you don't have to worry about the underlying kernel bits.

For me, of course, this is very significant, because my code is THE toolkit, libraries, and userland tools used to communicate with Palm handheld devices under Linux and UNIX platforms. Nothing else even comes close (in fact, several commercial companies use our code in their proprietary products, including one prominent one using it on MacOSX... MarkSpace, with their MissingSync product).

I just hope they do things the right way, by working with us and not against us.

Update: I should also mention, after some people have emailed me privately with their concerns, that just because something runs on Linux, doesn't mean the source has to be provided. Palmsource is not "open sourcing" PalmOS with this venture. They are simply considering running PalmOS (and perhaps only the GUI-specific bits at that), on top of a Linux kernel and libraries. Until they provide more detail, we can only guess how deep that goes.
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Old 12-08-2004, 11:31 AM   #5
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"Palm on Linux" would be something like Apple with Mac OS X ... built top-layer proprietary code on a proven underlying Linux code (well almost the same, Mac OS X is based on FreeBSD). Think about the possibilities (*dream*)! Mplayer for Palm OS for instance. The best open-source multimedia player compiled on your handheld. Think about all the networking capabilities. Run your mobile openssh server, use rdesktop to remotely connect to your windows xp stations, and and and... all for free

Let's hope this deal is going to happen!
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Old 12-08-2004, 11:37 AM   #6
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Looks like someone picked up on it and posted it to Slashdot now.

The interesting thing is that Palmsource says they're going to open source "some" of their code. I can only hope that this is the pieces that relate to synchronization, since the rest of it is not really useful to anyone on Linux.
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Old 12-08-2004, 11:43 AM   #7
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Yes I can even imagine that some Linux folks will then completely replace "Palm on Linux" with a custom-written, 100% open-source Linux OS.
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Old 12-08-2004, 12:03 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alexander
Yes I can even imagine that some Linux folks will then completely replace "Palm on Linux" with a custom-written, 100% open-source Linux OS.
Honestly I think this would all depend on how much information Palmsource discloses (or in Hacker's words: How well they work WITH us).

Look at the Sony Librie for instance. This DRM-infected device also runs on top of Linux. Yet noone has been able to break the system yet, or to at least to replace it with another Linux-based OS. Why? Because Sony decided to keep important drivers like the display driver closed-source. And because there is no documented way of upgrading your system.

So yes, while the potential of Palm OS + Linux is great, we should not be too excited before we see the first results of this potential merger.
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Old 12-08-2004, 12:08 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Alexander
Yes I can even imagine that some Linux folks will then completely replace "Palm on Linux" with a custom-written, 100% open-source Linux OS.
There's no reason why that can't happen now.. other than the fact that access to a device costs +$400/USD in most cases, to get one with the hardware and RAM capable of making a useful target for a Linux-based OS running on that hardware.
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Old 12-08-2004, 12:13 PM   #10
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I'm starting to get really excited! Be sure to read their open letter and especially the attached FAQ.

It looks like it will take a while before any actual devices materialize, though:

Quote:
We intend to provide more information at our developer conference in the Spring.
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Old 12-08-2004, 12:41 PM   #11
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The Register just published an article on this, and I think the author hit on two very salient points:

Quote:
PalmSource is also likely to take full advantage of Linux's strength in chipset and device support, the better to improve its OS' ability to offer wireless connectivity, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, which if PalmOne and SanDisk's attempts to ship WLAN add-ons are anything to go by, currently need some improvement. Some Linux APIs will be exposed to PalmOS programmers.
....
Quote:
PalmSource will clearly pitch the result as a more open alternative to Symbian and Microsoft's phone operating systems. But it may also improve PalmSource's ability to attract handset makers looking for a less complex operating system than those that typically power smart phones. Not only Symbian and Windows Mobile, but the Palm OS too is generally seen as unsuitable for low-end, low-resource devices. So far only a small percentage of the world's mobile phones fall into the 'smart' category.
I think the answer is: Despite our recent depression, don't sell your palmOne stock just yet.
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Old 12-08-2004, 12:52 PM   #12
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The question is if PalmSource is still working together with palmOne once their are ready for their new plans. Remember that palmOne was toying around with Microsoft lately.
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Old 12-08-2004, 01:03 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Alexander
Remember that palmOne was toying around with Microsoft lately.
And they should be. They make hardware. It is in their best interests to find suitable software vendors to put on their hardware.

Granted, many people hate Microsoft, but they are entrenched, and they have a market, and they have lots of capital. It makes perfect business sense to attract as many vendors with solutions that fit on your hardware as possible.

This was one of the primary driving forces between the Palm, Inc. split into pa1mOne and Palmsource, so they could separate without a conflict of interest. Moving to ARM devices made that decision even more clear.
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Old 12-08-2004, 02:16 PM   #14
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This is great news IMO. And anyone else find this quote interesting?

Quote:
What the Linux Community is Saying
"When I think of the Linux desktop of the future, I think of it on my phone; on the embedded devices I spend most of my time with. The only thing that has been missing is the applications, and PalmSource's move into Linux helps to erase that gap," said Matt Asay, director, Linux Business Office, Novell, Inc. "The combination of Palm OS® and Linux would appear to make this optimistic view of the 'embedded desktop' a near-term reality. I'm therefore excited by PalmSource's announcement and heartily welcome their contributions to the Linux community."
Does this mean that PalmSource will be teaming up with companies like Novell, the owner/developer of the SuSE distro and Ximian? This would be a great way for mobile device to desktop integration as well as enterprise solutions, and a great way to compete with the likes of M$ and Windows Mobile.

This is the best news I've heard in a long time. Let's just hope they deliver.

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Old 12-08-2004, 03:19 PM   #15
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...last act of desperation?
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