PumpkinOS carves out a FOSS PalmOS-compatible runtime environment

And rePalm may yet bring real PalmOS to new hardware … even the Raspberry Pi

PumpkinOS is a somewhat usable runtime environment that can run some Palm apps on top of Windows or Linux, without using or needing real PalmOS.

PumpkinOS is not exactly a FOSS re-implementation of PalmOS, but it's something in that general direction. In some ways it's akin to the recreated Amiga OS AROS – a clean Free Software recreation of the old proprietary environment, without using any original code, that allows legacy apps to run. It's not a bare-metal OS, it runs on top of Windows or Linux, and provides a PalmOS-compatible environment in which original apps can run.

Youtube Video

One impressive demo has it running on a cut-down Linux kernel on a Raspberry Pi with a touchscreen. There are also other projects afoot to bring PalmOS to more modern kit that will fit in your pocket, which we will return to in a moment.

Don't go looking for your old Palm PDA in the phone drawer

You can't run PumpkinOS on vintage Palm hardware or indeed a modern pocket device to render it Palm compatible. However, there have been tools to do that around for well over a decade now. The snag is that you need original Palm ROMs to make them work.

Although the PumpkinOS project has been around for a few years, it hasn't got to version 1.0, so manage your expectations. This is not a working product yet, but you can already use it to run some Palm apps. Developer "Migueletto" has a development blog in which they talk about the issues they are encountering during development, plus a YouTube channel where you can see some video demonstrations.


Other revival efforts

Another remarkable effort in Palm and PalmOS reverse engineering is the rePalm project by Russian developer Dmitry Grinberg. Rather than a blog, the account of his efforts at working out how PalmOS 5 works under the hood, and finding ways to get it running on modern hardware, takes the form of a single huge and constantly growing article, but we reckon it's worth your time to read.

More visual types may enjoy browsing through his extensive photo and video gallery. Among many other projects, Grinberg is also working on one called uARM, which aims to emulate several original Arm-powered Palm handhelds.

Grinberg told The Reg:

PumpkinOS is basically WINE. It is a high level abstraction providing the same high level API. It will support well-behaved apps but it will never reach complete compatibility since any apps that stepped at all outside of the boundary of the official API (common in PalmOS) will hit corners.

uARM is Bochs. It emulates complete actual hardware devices running completely unmodified ROMs – drivers, kernel, everything.

rePalm is closer to ReactOS. It is a completely new kernel that can support the entire unmodified userspace and drivers.

The legacy

Since, as The Reg reported back in 2005, Palm lost the plot nearly 20 years ago, there's a lot of loyalty to this long-dead platform. The company considered using Symbian for its next-gen Arm-powered devices. (In the humble opinion of The Reg FOSS desk, that was one of the great missed opportunities of the last half-century in tech; it really should have happened, and might have saved both companies.)

Palm later pondered Linux but neither panned out. In the end, a PalmOS version 6 "Cobalt" did emerge, using some Be technology, and you can still read an overview and tech specs. However, although it got as far as version 6.1, as far as we know, nobody ever shipped any hardware running "Cobalt."

The eventual owner of both PalmSource and Be, the Access Company, is still around and its NetFront browser is used in the Kindle ebook readers and Nintendo Switch handheld console. As such, there's no real hope of any code being open sourced, and ground-up recreation is the only way to go. Palm's unrelated later effort, webOS, is also still around and drives LG smart TV sets. ®

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