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Palm OS: the right balance
Microsoft and Symbian's operating systems are less flexible than Palm OS
The Palm OS outshines its rivals through its ability to combine application variety with compatibility. Content providers and consumers alike are seeking this level of flexibility in future mobile operating systems, something which Palm's rivals are currently struggling to match.
Palm OS represents possibly the most flexible mobile OS available today, combining a (largely) unified set of APIs across devices, considerable display and user interface options and hardware agnosticism (the onus is on licensees to make sure new hardware remains compatible with existing Palm OS applications).
The upshot is that where Palm OS devices were once all similar in design, licensees can now create devices with an ever widening range of form factors while still maintaining almost universal application compatibility across them.
Of course, specialised APIs will continue to exist on certain devices, such as gaming APIs on Tapwave's forthcoming Zodiac PDA/game console, but platform fragmentation has been kept to a minimum without sacrificing the ability of licensees to innovate.
Compare that with the Palm OS' rivals. Symbian CEO David Levin believes that about 80-90 per cent of an application's code written for the UIQ Symbian variant is reusable when porting that application to a Series 60 device, and vice versa. While this figure is better than Symbian imagined, it still represents unnecessary work for developers.
Design freedom, in the case of Symbian, has led to a degree of platform fragmentation, a problem that the company is attempting to resolve as quickly as possible. Microsoft, on the other hand, has tended to restrict form factor innovation in an effort to minimise application portability problems, but still finds itself with two essentially separate mobile device platforms, for Pocket PCs and Smartphones.
The successful mobile operating systems of the future will be those that best combine design flexibility with application portability, not only to keep licensees and developers happy, but also to gain favor from mobile operators, content providers and consumers, with devices based on software that is easier to cater for, support and understand relative to the alternatives.
Right now, Palm OS is showing the way to that future. ®