Palm OS goes to China, Hong Kong

PalmSource Inc. is taking its operating system for handheld devices to Greater China, announcing Tuesday that it would release two versions of the Palm OS next year with support for simplified Chinese. Additionally, the software maker said it has signed on two major computer manufacturers in the region to develop devices based on the operating system.

The Sunnyvale, California, company will release in the second and third quarters of 2003 versions of Palm OS 4.2 and Palm OS 5.3 with support for simplified Chinese, Albert Chu, vice president of business development for PalmSource, said in a telephone interview from Beijing, where the company made the announcements Tuesday.

PalmSource is the software subsidiary of hardware maker Palm Inc. In conjunction with the announcements, PalmSource has created a subsidiary in Hong Kong, and plans to follow that with a representative office in Beijing, Chu said.

The version of Palm OS 4.2 being developed for the region will target devices running Motorola Inc.'s 68K processors, while the version of Palm OS 5.3 will be for devices that use processors from Intel Corp., Motorola and Texas Instruments Inc. based on a chip architecture from ARM Ltd.

Beijing-based Legend Group Ltd. was one of two new licensees that announced plans Tuesday to release Palm devices using the new operating system software. In addition, it said it would release as early as February a Palm-powered device running an existing version of the Palm OS that Legend has modified to support simplified Chinese. That product was shown as a prototype Tuesday. Legend will update that device with additional PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants) and wireless devices when PalmSource releases its Chinese-language operating systems, Chu said.

"The PDA market in China is expected to take off and Legend wanted to be out there," Chu said. "They have chosen to get a product to market as soon as possible and then migrate to our operating system versions as they become available."

Handspring Inc. was the first to market with a Palm-powered device in China, as it released last month its Treo Communicator 270 using custom software it developed that added support for simplified Chinese, Chu said.

The handheld division of Group Sense International Ltd., which PalmSource said was the third-largest seller of low-end PDAs and organizers in Asia, also signed on as a Palm OS licensee. It plans to deliver Palm-based products later in 2003 in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Thailand and Singapore, Chu said.

To help boost the number of simplified Chinese applications available for the operating system, PalmSource has forged software development agreements with Tsinghua-Solutions, a Palm OS developer training center in Beijing, as well as Zhongshan University, in Guangzhou.

PalmSource estimates that it has gathered a developer community of roughly 25,000 programmers that build applications for its operating systems. As many as 10,000 of those are Chinese, and some have already begun building simplified Chinese applications on their own, Chu estimated.

The series of announcements came in advance of the PalmSource China Developer Forum, which is being held in Beijing Wednesday and Thursday. Several hundred developers are expected to attend the developer show, which is the first of its kind in China.

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