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Palm pulls the plug on Palm OS, bets future on Pre’s webOS

Palm has pulled the plug on its Palm OS operating system.

Palm Pre
Instead, the company will bet its future on its newly unveiled but still mysterious Palm webOS, built to power the new Pre smartphone, according to company CEO Ed Colligan, who spoke Wednesday at an investor conference in San Francisco.

The current Centro smartphone will be the last to use the Palm OS. "There will be no more Palm OS products," Colligan said. "We will transition to webOS as our core OS, in addition to supporting Microsoft Windows products in the enterprise segment of the market."

Palm is working hard to convince some 30,000 Palm OS software developers, who have created over 100,000 applications, to move to the new operating system, even as it reaches out to "more than 10 million Web developers" globally, Colligan said

Colligan brushed aside questions about speculation that Apple might file a lawsuit charging that the Pre's mult-touch interface infringes on Apple patents.

"There are no issues with Apple over patents right now," he said. "We've built a very extensive patent portfolio in the mobile space. The reason you do that is to have a defensible position in the marketplace." He said Palm had about 1,600 patents. He likened the two companies to two porcupines, circling but careful not to sting each other.

See a slideshow, based on the two products spec sheets, that gives a preliminary idea how the two phones compare

Palm so far has revealed publicly very few details about webOS, which supports an array of Web standards. And Colligan didn't add anything to what's already known. He repeated a key Palm talking point: that anyone who can program today with tools such as Cascading Style Sheets, JavaScript, and HTML will be able to write applications for webOS.

In January, Palm made what it calls a "private prelease" of the webOS Mojo application framework and Mojo software development kit. According to Palm's website and some early development partners, webOS supports HTML5, enabling a local data store, so applications and data are available offline, and a file system. Tucked within, is a Linux framework, according to one developer.

Also supported is a message bus based on JavaScript Object Notation (JSON), a lightweight, text-based data interchange format that can be used in place of XML, to connect with an array of device services and features.

Though the name "webOS" can suggest a browser-based program, webOS applications install and run on the Pre itself.

The combination of webOS and Mojo really does live up to Palm's development claims, according to some software partners. One of them is Tom Conrad, Chief Technical Officer for Pandora Internet Radio, who described Pandora's experience with webOS in a January interview with PalmInfoCenter.com.

Conrad said he was initially skeptical that common Web development tools combined with Mojo would result in a great user experience and fluid presentation. He's a believer now, at least for a range of applications.

"What makes it this 'webOS is that the programming models for your developer, rather than being C or Java, is really just HTML and CSS and JavaScript," Conrad said. "So you can take developers who have been developing Web applications and quickly get them productive in the webOS SDK, leveraging their familiarity with these Web-based standards. And that decision is one of the reasons we were able to get, very quickly, a version of Pandora up and running [on the Palm Pre]. We were able to take one of our star Web developers – someone who has never touched the Palm webOS and not done mobile development before – and have that person be immediately productive because it's all based on systems that the person is familiar with from Web development."

The Mojo SDK "helps you with managing the layout of the UI and the storage of data and the interaction between the data and your presentation element," Conrad said. "It's another great mechanism that ensures that you don't start to reverse principles but rather can build upon a rather rich base."

Mojo and webOS seem suited to many applications except those such as sophisticated gaming programs, according to Conrad.

The Mojo SDK, due out later in 2009, will have sample code, documentation, and development tools, including an Eclipse-based IDE. Developers can choose what tools they want to build the webOS programs.

Despite the fact it supports widely used Web standards, webOS is not open source, and Colligan confirmed Palm has no plans now to license it. "We're completely focused on delivering an integrated solution to consumers," he said.

The Pre will be the first in a series of webOS-based products, for which Palm does have a roadmap in place, Colligan said. He didn't offer details, and made it clear there won't be a flood of products soon. "We're relentlessly focused on getting this [the Pre] out the door, and our platform and SDK," Colligan said.

At the debut for Pre (pronounced "pree") during the recent Consumer Electronics Show, Palm demonstrated a battery of webOS capabilities, including multi-tasking specifically designed for a handheld device, a feature shared by Google's Android platform but not Apple's iPhone. Palm uses a "deck of cards" metaphor: you can manipulate a "stack" of open applications with finger gestures that mimic working with a deck of playing cards. Each program remains live even when minimized.

One element of webOS is Synergy, a program that creates a single, integrated means of tracking and organizing multiple calendars, contacts and messaging applications. If you update a contact on your Palm Pre, Synergy updates the same data on any of your online accounts. The messaging application combines SMS text messaging and instant messaging, creating threaded conversations that span both.

Palm is developing an online software market for webOS applications, analogous to Apple's App Store and Google's Android Market. But Colligan did say that Pre users will be able to download software from a variety of other sources as well.

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