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Palm releases OS 5 beta

Palm has released a beta-test version of its upcoming Palm OS 5 operating system, which is expected to include expanded security, wireless and multimedia features.

Palm said the upgraded operating system would include 128-bit security and support for the Wi-Fi wireless LAN standard as well as Bluetooth short-range wireless devices. Palm OS 5 will also have multimedia hooks that are designed to support the development of larger screens, the based company said.

The Palm OS 5 has built-in support for RSA's RC4 encryption algorithm. Built-in support for wireless is also integral to the new operating system.

Palm OS 5 was designed to run on ARM chips, normally used in mobile phones. Tailoring the system to run on the ARM chips will let Palm and its software licensees develop integrated handheld computing products that can also operate on mobile telephone systems, said Michael Mace, chief competitive officer at PalmSource, Palm's operating system subsidiary.

Palm currently has two major hardware licensees today: Handspring, which develops products for the general business and consumer market; and Symbol Technologies, which develops rugged systems targeted at vertical applications such as logistics and shipping.

"You need [to offer] choices," Mace said. "The sales department might need smart phones, other departments standard handhelds, and warehouse and inventory management systems another [hardware device]."

Barney Dewey, an analyst at Andrew Seybold, said Palm OS 5 should provide strong competition to Pocket PC devices that run on Microsoft's Windows CE software.

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney was more cautious, saying that with the limited information available makes it hard for him to determine whether the Palm OS 5 will be equal to Windows CE. He said the operating system does fix what he considered "serious holes" in the older software, including security and screen-size limitations.

Dulaney also wondered if the beta-test announcement would hurt sales of existing devices, including the recently launched Palm i705 handheld.

Microsoft's mobility group product manager, Ed Suwanjindar, said the Palm announcement "could be a case of too little, too late."

"Fact is, we built the Pocket PC to deliver more, and Palm is still stuck playing catch-up," said Suwanjindar. "We'll wait to reserve judgment until we see their new OS on devices."

Mace declined to comment on when new hardware would reach the market, but he said PalmSource expects to deliver the operating system to manufacturers and developers by the summer.

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