PalmSource Debuts Linux Platform for Handhelds

Access subsidiary PalmSource on Tuesday announced its much-anticipated Linux-based operating system for handheld devices. The Access Linux Platform (ALP) will bring full compatibility to devices with a Linux core.

The ALP Software Developer Kit is scheduled for release to licensees by the end of 2006. The company hopes ALP will become the platform of choice for the development of high volume, feature-rich smartphones and mobile devices for high performance networks.

“As a commercial-grade, flexible, open, robust and standards-based mobile Linux based platform, ALP is designed to provide handset manufacturers with faster time-to-market while supporting the goal of operators to offer revenue-generating services, applications and content,” Access President and CEOToru Arakawa said.

Inside Access

ALP is based on the Linux 2.6.12 kernel and contains several application programming interfaces (APIs) linked together by a graphic interface called MAX. MAX is designed to support the concurrent operation of multiple applications and tasks. MAX also provides access to background tasks.

MAX is designed to deliver a navigation model for both one- and two-handed user interface schemes and can support five-way navigation and two dedicated keys, as well as touch-screen and stylus input mechanisms.

In addition to the MAX application framework, ALP supports the existing Palm Powered Economy, the J2ME developer community and the open-source community. This allows handset manufacturers and operators to customize their offerings.

Linux Opportunities

The mobile Linux market is expected to grow from shipments of 3.5 million in 2005 to 28.1 million by 2010, according to the industry analyst firm Informa. This presents new opportunities for both Palm OS and Linux third-party developers.

“The mobile Linux market has great potential and delivers benefits to all market participants — from ISVs to device manufacturers to the mobile user,” said Stuart Cohen, CEO of Open Source Development Labs, the global consortium dedicated to accelerating the adoption of Linux. “An offering, such as the Access Linux Platform, that incorporates and supports mobile Linux standards, can only help foster the growth of this market.”

ALP is designed to ensure that properly written Palm OS 68K applications will run unchanged, PalmSource said, noting the compatibility would enable its 420,000-plus registered developers to potentially reach new customers and markets.

ALP also includes open-source components including GTK and GStreamer, so it can support a wide variety of third-party Linux applications and services. Access and PalmSource plan to provide the developer community with development tools and SDKs to enable them to port existing applications and develop new applications for ALP.

Building a Mobile Linux Ecosystem

Much like PalmSource gave rise to the Palm Powered Economy, Access and PalmSource are focused on enriching the broader Mobile Linux Ecosystem.

The first step in this mission is to make ALP the most service-ready platform for smart phones and mobile devices. The company said it would do this by providing leading mobile operators the opportunity to collaborate with Access and PalmSource and integrate their feedback and requirementsinto the ALP development efforts.

Secondly, Access and PalmSource will work closely with leading developers to optimize their applications to run on the ALP platform. Access has garnered industry support from Texas Instruments, Samsung, DoCoMo, NEC Electronics and others.

“Samsung is looking carefully at the Access Linux Platform powered by PalmSource. We hope that customers can enjoy an enhanced multimedia experience through flexible and open Linux operating systems,” said Kitae Lee, president of Telecommunication Network Business of Samsung Electronics.

The Mobile Platform Battle

PalmSource appears to be digging in its heals for a long battle in the mobile operating system space. With The Diffusion Group’s latest report declaring the decline of Symbian over the next few years, Microsoft and Linux vendors are looking to grab market share.

“By the end of the decade, it’s going to be Microsoft and Linux on the mobile phone,” said Enderle Group Principal Analyst Rob Enderle.

But which flavor of Linux? Unlike Windows, Linux is generic, with a variety of players looking to build the Linux mobile ecosystem. PalmSource is only one competitor.

“On the Linux side, it’s probably going to come down to one major player that will be the most visible on the platform. That’s not necessarily PalmSource,” Enderle told LinuxInsider. “When PalmSource was highly differentiated they had problems. Now it is going to be harder for them todifferentiate from other players in the Linux space.”

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