COMDEX - Palm offers version upgrade early –

LAS VEGAS - Handheld computer maker Palm Inc. began offering attendees at Comdex here Monday an early chance to buy the next version of its operating system.

Version 4.1 of the Palm OS will be made generally available on Thursday, the company said, but it is selling the new software early at a makeshift retail store set up on the convention floor here. Available on a CD only, attendees can receive a US$10 discount on the software. It will sell for $39.99 starting Thursday.

Released as an upgrade for the Palm III and Palm V series of its handhelds, the new operating system adds some additional security features as well as new applications, such as a notepad program that allows users to sketch and save notes. They are the same features that were released with Version 4.0, a system only available on Palm's m505, m500 and m125 devices, the company said.

On the security side, the new release comes with an auto-lock feature that makes Palm devices password-protected. Other new features include SMS (Short Messaging System) technology, designed for sending text messages when a device is connected by infrared link to a GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) mobile phone.

Palm is also working on a Bluetooth card that will work with its m500 and m505 handhelds running the new operating system. Demonstrated here, the card will be available in the second quarter of 2002 for less than $150, according to Ray Combs, director of software solutions at Palm.

The new operating system upgrade is only available for Palm devices at the moment. While the company licenses its operating system available to several hardware makers -- including Sony Corp., Handspring Inc. and Symbol Technologies Inc. -- each of those companies is responsible for making Palm OS upgrades available on their own respective handheld devices.

Handspring, for instance, still runs Palm OS version 3.5 on its devices. A company representative said it isn't planning on upgrading its operating system anytime soon, though it has added several enhancements to the basic system released by Palm that match those in Version 4.1.

Handspring devices also aren't capable of being upgraded to the latest version of the Palm OS, Combs said, because they don't include Flash memory, which is the technology that enables software upgrades. Sony, meanwhile has its own Palm OS Version 4.1 for its line of Clie devices.

The Santa Clara-based software and handheld maker is the leading vendor of PDAs (personal digital assistants), selling more devices than those running Microsoft Corp.'s Pocket PC operating system, according to research from Gartner Inc.'s Dataquest. More than half of the PDAs sold in the third quarter of 2001 in North America run Palm's operating system. The company controls about 30 percent of the global market, the research firm said.

Palm, in Santa Clara, California, is at +1-408-878-9000 or

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