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Hardware makers get their hands on Palm OS 5

Palm has begun shipping version 5 of its operating system to developers and licensees, leading the way for new devices running the software to be released as early as September.

The operating system contains support for processors based on the ARM (Advanced RISC Machines) chip architecture, making it the first Palm OS does not use chips from Motorola's DragonBall family.

PalmSource has promised that applications will run anywhere from two to 20 times faster with the new chip architecture.

"ARM is certainly the chip everybody in the handheld space is moving toward," said Todd Kort, principal analyst with research company Gartner. "It's been extremely important that Palm moves off the ancient DragonBall architecture."

Handheld devices from Palm and Handspring today use DragonBall chips at 33MHz, Kort said. Sony has been the only Palm OS licensee to move from that trend, using a 66MHz version of the DragonBall for some of its newer devices.

The ARM-based chips can run at speeds from 75MHz to 600MHz, dramatically increasing the performance of Palm OS devices, according to Sakoman.

"The market is moving beyond the low end, and it wants colour devices, it wants to be able to play music here and there, it wants something that's a little bit more capable," Kort said. "Palm had to move to a new chip architecture with more horsepower to provide that extra power for people who need it."

Early devices based on Palm OS 5 are expected to ship with an OMAP (Open Multimedia Applications Platform) chip from Texas Instruments, which is based on the ARM architecture. Although no device makers have officially announced plans to use ARM processors from other vendors, Palm OS 5 does support Intel's XScale chips and Motorola's DragonBall MX1 processors.

The new operating system has also been praised by analysts for being able to run applications developed for earlier versions of Palm OS.

Applications designed specifically for Palm OS 5 are not expected to ship for another year, Kort said.

New security features in Palm OS 5 include support for SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) protocol, which is used to secure e-mail, Web browsing and online transactions. Support for the IEEE 802.11b wireless LAN also will be built in.

"Whether we will see support for that [802.11b] in hardware devices, I'm not sure," Kort said.

During the first quarter of 2002, Palm-powered handhelds accounted for about 55% of the world's PDA shipments, according to research from Gartner's Dataquest division.

Devices based on versions of Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, account for 22.5% of the market, according to Dataquest.

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