Bringing PalmOS Back To Life

Ten years is almost ancient history in the computing world. Going back twelve years is almost unheard of, but that’s about the time that Palm released the last version of their famed PalmOS, an operating system for small, handheld devices that predated Apple’s first smartphone by yet another ten years. As with all pieces of good software there remain devotees, but with something that hasn’t been updated in a decade there’s a lot of work to be done. [Dmitry.GR] set about doing that work, and making a workable Palm device for the modern times.

He goes into incredible detail on this build, but there are some broad takeaways from the project. First, Palm never really released all of the tools that developers would need to build software easily, including documentation of the API system. Since a new device is being constructed, a lot of this needs to be sorted out. Even a kernel was built from scratch for this project, since using a prebuilt one such as Linux was not possible. There were many other pieces of software needed in order to get a working operating system together running on an ARM processor, which he calls rePalm.

There are many other facets of this project that we aren’t able to get into in this limited space, but if you’re at all interested in operating systems or if you fondly remember the pre-smartphone era devices such the various Palm PDAs that were available in the late ’90s and early ’00s, it’s worth taking a look at this one. And if you’d like to see [Dmitry.GR]’s expertise with ARM, he is well-versed.

Thanks to [furre] for the tip!

33 thoughts on “Bringing PalmOS Back To Life

  1. I’d like to see someone produce WPA2 for PalmOS 5. Palm had it as an “enterprise” update for (IIRC) the T|X but it’s apparently completely unobtainable now. Dunno if any other Palm device with built in WiFi is WPA2 capable. Same deal for Palm devices with SDIO, far as I can remember, any WiFi cards that worked in a Palm, didn’t have WPA2 support, and they would have been not very useful because they had no storage.

    Supporting the Eye-Fi memory cards with built in WiFi would be the best thing for Palm devices without WiFi.

  2. “that predated Apple’s first smartphone by yet another ten years” !?

    The Palm was indeed a nice little device, but not a smartphone!

    If you really need to compare the palm with Apple devices, then the Apple Newton would be the correct choice ;-)

    “Apple started developing the platform in 1987 and shipped the first devices in 1993.”

    But the Newton was big, heavy, expensive und too ahead of it’s time to be *really* useful. There was room in the market for a small, cheap and stripped down version – exactly that what Palm brought to market. I had several Palms back then, and they still work – running on AAA Batteries ;-)

    1. Google Treo…
      It had copy and paste, internet browsing, movie and music playback, SMS and MMS.

      The treo actually had more features than the iPhone at release

      and approximately 5 years before that, actually coining the term smartphone, was the Qualcomm pdQ based on PalmOs

      Those who do not study history are doomed to appear silly on public fora, I guess :)

    2. Now there’s a name I haven’t heard in a long time :-) I worked for 3Com when the Palm came out. I had a Palm III and a Palm V. They were neat little gadgets, but they were sorely lacking in connectivity. No Bluetooth and no WiFi, which would have made them FAR more useful. Instead, there was that painful “sync” to your PC. I actually wrote code for a Palm mapping app to find conference rooms in our building, which was extremely well received.

      I always wanted a Palm V model with built in wifi, which would have been killer. But 3Com pissed off the Palm founders, and they went off to do Handspring, which was too clunky for me, with all the plug-in modules.

      Then the iPhone came out and we all forgot about Palm (

      1. The you ought to remember the Tandy Zoomer / Cassio Z-7000. funny thing about it was that it ran a version of GEOS Ensemble on top of a version of DOS, and the “About Screen” mentioned 3Com Palm, and the logo was a Palm tree.

      2. My tungsten E was amazing. I could play NES roms on the go which wasn’t really a thing at the time. Not to mention up to 2gb of mp3’s. Battery life doesn’t meet today’s standards but even that was decent for the time.

      3. I don’t think the connectivity was the issue, however much wireless would have been neat. The real sticking point seems to be how the device and OS was designed to operate, that is as an accessory to a PC. It wasn’t really meant to be it’s own totally complete and independent device…

      4. I remember that Conference room finding App. It was very helpful as the buildings were a labyrinth :)
        The Palm V I was given was quite good, but I exchanged it for a Sony Clie a couple of years later, colour and twice the pixels on screen.

  3. I loved my Treo(I had a 300, 600 and 650) phones. They felt purpose built for organizing your notes and calendars. Like I could program a physical key to turn on my phone and bring up my calendar without touching the screen. When I finally got an android phone, it felt like the calendar was an afterthought. It easily took 10 times longer to get to the calendar so much that I stopped using calendars on phones until very recently.

    1. I really miss shortcut buttons. Especially ones on the sides of the device like the Philips Nino. You could open and navigate apps with one hand, gripping the sides securely. Smartphones barely have even a physical power button anymore…

  4. I wonder if there’s any source code for the palm writing gesture recognition. I was just thinking that’d be great as a better form of input for my Tizen watch rather than the crappy t9 keyboard out had right now. With a number/alpha switcher I think that’s going to work great.

  5. By the way. Is there way to develop a PalmOS software on modern Linux machine (or at least old OS installed on VM)? I was looking for some information, but I found out it is hard to find anything: compiler, SDK, working examples etc.
    I have a small collection of vintage mobile devices and it would be great to utilize some of them in some project of mine.
    And what is even more important – we should work to preserve documentation and tools needed to develop software on dying platforms. Just for historical reasons…

    1. Yes. prc-tools (same as back in the day) still work and still produce shitty code. CodeWarrior (like back in the day) happily runs under wine and produces great code.

      For arm stuff, I use GCC and rePalm shows how to do that quite well. PODS (palmsource’s old tool) also works and i have a vm with it pre-setuup if you’d like a copy.

      reach out to me: if you’d like help with any of those

  6. Neat project. I carried a Palm Treo in my pocket up until a few months ago. I swore I would use it until I died but found I was less and less using it in favor of just pulling out my work iPhone and tapping a note. Excellent OS though.

  7. I still have my Handspring Visor Platinum (I so much wanted the Pro with 16 meg) with a Compact Flash adapter which has its own small app storage space plus a 128 meg CF, Palm Tungsten E2, Palm LifeDrive with the Microdrive replaced with a a 4 gig CF.

    A retro-tech article on how Palm had the PDA and early Smartphone market in their hands then threw it away via a series of the stupidest business moves ever would be much appreciated.

    One that really screwed them was the LifeDrive bait and switch. Early review units were sent out with a Seagate 5 gig drive, with cache, which was decently speedy. The ones that shipped used a 4 gig Hitachi drive with zero cache and buyers and reviewers *slammed* it hard for being so damn slow, especially after the early reviewers praised its performance.

    Never upgrading the display size past 320×240 when Windows CE/PocketPC/Mobile was (finally) getting some with 640×480 – before iPhone went to a higher resolution.

    Splitting the company into hardware and software divisions after wooing back the Palm founders and merging with Handspring.

    And the biggest WTF of all, selling off PalmOS to ACCESS then refusing to use the new PalmOS 6. This would come back to bite them later with the second update to WebOS when ACCESS declined to continue the PalmOS 5 license for the PalmOS app support.

    Would Apple sell off Mac OS or OS X? Would Microsoft sell off Windows? Why the ever loving bleep did Palm sell off PalmOS? Rather than further extend and improve their own OS Palm went chasing off with Microsoft (all the Palms and Treos with a W in the model name) then developed WebOS which had none of the built in userbase and many thousands of apps that PalmOS did. When they released Palm app support for WebOS it looked like that might work as a supporting bridge while developers produced new apps. But then like Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie Brown, Palm app support was removed. DOOM was written on the wall.

    Sold out to Hewlett Packard, followed by a very short yet rather big marketing push by HP then HP killed it all.

  8. The really nice thing about the passage of 15-20 yearrs is that the devices that I used to lust after at the time but couldn’t justify the cost, I can now buy for $10 from eBay :) PalmOS was so cool but, I guess now even the worst Android phone can do everything they can, better, faster and longer. It could have a place though as we all backlash against constant snooping by Facebook, Google, Apple and every Chinese manufacturer. Release rePalm as open-source and let’s kickstart a no snooping basic smartphone into existence !

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