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An open letter from PalmSource to the Linux community

Today we at PalmSource announced we're going to extend Palm OS® to run on top of Linux. We've written this letter to explain what we're doing and not doing, why we're doing it, and how we're doing it. We'll also answer some likely questions.

Some background: PalmSource is the software-only company that develops and licenses Palm OS. We spun out of Palm, Inc. more than a year ago, and we're now an independent company. PalmSource licenses Palm OS to palmOne (the Palm hardware company) and more than a dozen other device companies.

What we're doing. We intend to offer future versions of Palm OS Cobalt as a software layer on top of Linux (specifically, on the Linux kernel plus selected Linux services appropriate to mobile devices). The Palm OS software layer will include our well-known UI as well as a set of middleware and applications that encompass the best of Palm OS. We intend that properly written Palm OS 68k applications will run unchanged on Palm OS for Linux, and that Palm OS® Cobalt native applications using the Palm OS Protein APIs will port with a simple recompile. In addition, Palm OS for Linux will be able to run many third party Linux applications and services (GUI applications will need to use the Palm OS APIs).

What we're not doing. We're not open sourcing Palm OS®; we're going to implement it as a software layer that runs on top of Linux. Our business model will be licensing that layer, with hardware companies that use the layer in a device paying us royalties. We don't charge developers a license fee to create software that is compatible with Palm OS. Our development tools are also free; they are built on Eclipse, and we are a member of the Eclipse Foundation.

While we're not open sourcing all of Palm OS, we do expect to open source some of our code, and will actively seek to invest in the open source community through code contributions and other means.

Why we're doing it. We think the Linux platform will become a leading operating system for mobile devices, and we believe the endorsement and support of PalmSource for that platform will greatly accelerate that process. We think the combination of Palm OS and Linux can attract more mobile licensees and developers, create more new devices, and bring in more users than either could on its own.

Participating in the open source development of Linux is a natural extension of our culture. Our business has always been based on open innovation. Unlike certain other mobile platform companies, we encourage licensees to make changes to our OS, and we don't put onerous restrictions on what sort of hardware they can create. Also, we try not to prey on our application developers; we rely on them to provide many of the most important features of our platform.

We look forward to contributing code to the Linux platform under its existing licenses. We believe that PalmSource's expertise in building great mobile solutions can help make Linux even more compelling than it is now. The Palm OS layer written for use on Linux will be designed to be portable to any suitable mobile Linux distribution, and we'll expose Linux APIs under the Palm OS layer. We look forward to partnering and cooperating with Linux companies and developers to contribute to the on-going development and adoption of mobile Linux.

Together, we'll have the technological and market critical mass to challenge -- and, we believe, beat -- even the biggest proprietary operating system companies in the mobile market.

How we'll do it. We are acquiring China MobileSoft, a leading Chinese mobile phone software company. CMS has been developing a version of Linux with optimizations designed for smart mobile devices, especially around battery management and fast boot time. We will be using that technology as the foundation of Palm OS for Linux (although we will also support other Linux distributions).

We're very excited about this change, and we look forward to working with you. I have attached below some links to more information, and answers to likely questions. I look forward to your feedback.


Mike Kelley
Vice President Engineering
PalmSource Inc.

More information

Here's a Financial Times article on the prospects for Linux in the mobile market. We think the combination of Palm OS + Linux can answer all the concerns raised.http://www.benking.co.uk/art/Linux_challenger_is_open_source_of_debate.htm

Here's some information on the mobile Linux market in China:http://www.linuxdevices.com/articles/AT8031190326.html

Today's announcements extend beyond Linux. We also plan to offer the Palm OS® user interface and PalmSource™ PIM applications for other mobile phones. For details on the full announcement, please click here. https://www.palmsource.com/announcement/all

If you are a Palm OS user, we have posted a letter explaining all the changes and their impact on users. https://www.palmsource.com/announcement/communityletter.html


Q. How will Palm OS® for Linux be implemented?
A. It will be a software layer on top of the Linux operating system.

Q. Does this mean Palm OS will be open sourced?
A. We expect that we'll be contributing some of our technologies to the open source community as a part of this change. The user-visible parts of Palm OS (user interface, PIM applications, etc) and the Palm OS middleware will be a separate software layer on top of Linux, and will not be open sourced.

Q. Will you enable developers to port or write "native" Linux applications that run under Palm OS for Linux?
A. Yes. Given the open source nature of Linux, developers will be able to write applications directly to the Linux core. There are many development tools for the Linux community that will address the needs of this audience very well.

Q. Will you work with mobile standards efforts, such as the Embedded Linux Consortium, the Mobile Expert Group, and the eRCP project?
A. We look forward to working with the range of standards bodies, but we're not yet ready to commit to the details.

Q. Will Palm OS as implemented for Linux be able to run on a variety of Linux distributions (i.e.: standard versions of Linux distributed by other companies)?
A. We plan to make our software layer compliant with the Linux standards, so it should be portable to a range of Linux distributions, as long as they are configured for use on mobile devices.

Q. Does that mean you'll be offering your layer for sale to users?
A. Most mobile devices are sold as complete solutions, so the most likely scenario is that the Palm OS layer could be bundled by hardware companies that have chosen other Linux distributions. We're open to other suggestions, though.

Q. Once Palm OS is implemented on Linux, would you consider porting it to new types of devices?
A. The ultimate design target for Palm OS is phones and all other mobile devices. We think the flexibility of Linux will let our software run on an even wider variety of potential hardware than it is on today.

Q. What will be the business model for Palm OS® for Linux?
A. We plan to continue with the same business model as today -- developers can create programs royalty free. We charge hardware licensees to include our software layer in their devices.

Q. Will I be able to upgrade my current Palm Powered™ device to Palm OS for Linux?
A. We'll know if this is possible once the Palm OS for Linux software development is finished. In general, licensees are reluctant to offer operating system upgrades on any mobile platform because they don't sell well -- the people most interested in upgrading their OS also tend to upgrade their hardware as well.

Q. Will existing Palm OS applications continue to run?
A. We'll continue to offer the Palm OS Application Compatibility Environment (PACE), allowing properly written Palm OS 68k applications to run on future versions of the operating system, and we expect that Palm OS Cobalt native apps using the Palm OS Protein APIs will port with a simple recompile.

Q. Why are you calling it Palm OS for Linux? Isn't that like saying you have an operating system on top of an operating system?
A. "Palm OS for Linux" is not the formal product name, it's just a description of what we're developing. Our software is known as Palm OS and we wanted to keep continuity with that.

Q. When will Palm OS for Linux ship?
A. We intend to provide more information at our developer conference in the Spring.

Q. If you're not ready to ship yet, why announce now that you're supporting Linux?
A. We have evaluated this for some time, and believe that it is a very important opportunity for both the Palm OS and Linux communities. Our partners -- developers, licensees, operators, chip vendors, and so on -- need to know the long-term future of our software. For example, some licensees plan products up to two years in advance of shipment.

Q. Does Palm OS for Linux replace current versions of Palm OS?
A. This is an addition to our line, not a replacement. Other versions of Palm OS continue to be available. As always, we'll make decisions on their future growth path based on feedback from our licensees and other partners.

Q. Will this delay delivery of devices running Palm OS® Cobalt?
A. No. Palm OS Cobalt version 6.1 is already finished, and the software is in the hands of licensees. Samsung has announced they are creating products based on Palm OS Cobalt 6.1, and other licensees are working on Palm OS Cobalt-based products as well. We expect shipment in 2005.