RIP original Palm OS

The original Palm OS is dead. The company did not make a big deal about it, but they just recently stopped production of all older Palm devices that run the original Palm operating system (OS).  Instead, they are focusing on their completely new WebOS used in the Palm Pre and upcoming Palm Pixi. While this is no surprise given how the company needs to stop hemorrhaging cash, it is still sad to see this venerable operating system gone with such little fanfare.

Palm’s CEO Jon Rubinstein said:

We’re launching more great Pam WebOS products with more carriers, and turning our sights toward growth.

What Made Palm OS Special

Born in 1996, the Palm OS had three main things that made it special in my view:

Graffiti1) Graffiti: The Palm OS had a modified version of handwriting character recognition called Graffiti. Unlike Apple’s earlier ambitious attempt at full handwriting character recognition in the Apple Newton, the Palm worked simply and reliably.

2) Applications: The Palm could load applications and games that you downloaded and installed yourself. This was before the concept of a closed-off Application Store, such as the for the iPhone or Palm Pre.  Palm OS’s approach was less elegant than the modern app store, as many apps crashed and there was no single location to buy apps. Still, there were over 50,000 applications available online, more than any other PDA had at the time.

3) Synchronization: Unlike the Sharp Wizard or other pocket organizers, the Palm had sync software called HotSync which could deal appropriately with updates from the computer (using Palm Desktop) and the Palm. Although it wasn’t fancy, the synchronization worked great.

Corporate Fun

The corporate maze that Palm and the Palm OS went through was amazing.

Before the Palm OS’s development in 1996, Palm Computing Inc. was bought by US Robotics in 1995. US Robotics was in tern bought by 3Com in 1997. Palm was then spun off to its own company in 2000. In 2002, the Palm OS part of the company was made a subsidiary company to Palm named PalmSource. PalmSource (makers of the OS) then spun off to a completely independent company and licensed back the OS to PalmOne (hardware maker). In 2005, PalmSource was acquired by a company named ACCESS who then licensed it back to Palm, Inc (hardware maker, formerly PalmOne) in perpetuity.

As if that weren’t enough confusion, the original inventors of the Palm Pilot were frustrated and started their own company called Handspring in 1998. They made a competing device running the Palm OS called the Handspring Visor. In 2002 they started the successful Treo line, which weren’t yet phones.  In 2003, they merged back with Palm (hardware maker) and formed PalmOne.

Sony also sold Palm OS devices until 2004.

OS Development

All this craziness hampered the development of the OS, but there were updates to the OS over the years. The last released version, 5.4 (Garnet), supported WiFi, Bluetooth, and multiple screen resolutions. However, the Palm OS was still not scalable or modular compared to Windows Mobile or the current Apple iPhone OS which competed recently with the Palm OS in Palm Treo phones.

Palm OS 6.0 (Cobalt) was announced in 2004 and was actually a completely new OS based on the acquired assets of BeOS. This was an attempt to truly evolve the OS. It provided modern features: multitasking, memory protection, and better graphics. This iteration of the OS never saw the light of day, however, as it did not get any interest from manufacturers and was never used in any devices.

Because the Palm OS was antiquated, Palm started selling both Palm OS and Windows Mobile versions of their Treos in 2005. Along with recently stopping production of Palm OS devices, Palm has just stopped production of all their Windows Mobile devices.

WebOS was announced in January 2009 and has now replaced Palm OS. If you need to run some old Palm OS applications, there is a third-party emulator called MotionApps Classic that runs the original Palm OS within WebOS. With the rapid adoption of WebOS and the Palm App Store, most people won’t need this.

Palm’s CEO Jon Rubinstein said on their August 28 2009 earnings call:

We had a really unique opportunity in being able to develop Web OS.. and the old Palm OS lasted us for 16 years, which is really amazing when you think about it. We are designing Web OS to last us for the next 10 or 15 years.

Off to OS Heaven

Although Palm OS has had a difficult life, it’s been the most dependable pocketable operating system for me until a few years ago. From my first US Robotics Palm Pilot 5000 to my Palm Vx (my personal favorite) to my Palm Tungsten 5 with color and WiFi, the Palm OS has been a great companion. It is now part of OS history, off to join other notables such as IBM’s OS/2 and the AmigaOS.

Palm Pilot 5000 Palm VPalm Tungsten T5

Dell Reinstallation Disk Doesn’t Always Work

I recently performed a system reinstall for an Arlington, VA customer. His Dell Inspiron 1720 came with a Reinstallation DVD for Windows Vista Business 32Bit. This is not the same as an installation disk from Microsoft because it can only be installed on a particular computer.

But after Vista was reinstalled using the Reinstallation DVD, the computer would not fully boot. It just showed a mouse and a blank screen. Booting into Safe Mode showed that it was stuck on the crcdisk.sys file.

After researching, I determined that the problem was a common one. Apparently Dell does not include all the necessary SATA drivers in the Reinstallation DVD to allow a working reinstall. I had to go into the BIOS and change the SATA hard drive to use ATA instead of AHCI. This isn’t the default setting.

So if your reinstall doesn’t work, you could need to add additional drivers or change BIOS settings.

Operating System re-installs installs for virus ridden computers

Infections Beyond Repair

Most people say that once a machine is infected with a virus, there is no practical way to know for sure if it is ever truly safe. You could take out the drive, attach it to a Linux machine for scans, and run all the latest tools. But this doesn’t guarantee success.

Think of it as an arms race between the virus writers and the anti-virus writers. Many viruses re-write parts of the Windows operating system. They are written specifically to sneak past popular anti-virus software, namely Norton and McAfee.

The solution, especially for machines with nasty viruses, is a clean install of the operating system. This can’t be done from within Windows. The important data should be backed up and the drive should be formatted and a clean install should be performed.

Before the old data is put back on the computer, it too should be scanned. Even documents can contain little programs (Macros) that could contain viruses.

Client Story

A recent client in Virginia had a computer that was badly infected. After the computer booted up, supposed anti-virus software popped up indicating that there were viruses. This was certainly true, but the anti-virus software was bogus. It just asked for his credit card info to fix the problems. If he had provided his credit card, I am sure that the virus would not have been removed. He would have probably just gotten many unauthorized charges.

His computer was no longer his. He had no administrator privileges. He had no “My Computer”, no CD drive, and no task manager. His system tray in the bottom right corner only had the words “VIRUS ALERT!”.

Without much hope, I initially tried Windows is Avast! 4 Home Edition.  One feature that Avast has over the previously mentioned AVG is the ability to scan Windows before booting into Windows machines.

Unfortunately, much of the operating system had been modified, so Avast could not fix it. I removed the drive, placed it in a Linux machine, backed up and scanned the important files, and then ran Darik’s Boot and Nuke to wipe the drive.

The desktop was an HP that did not come with a restore disk, so we had to purchase another copy of Windows to install.

I told the customer how many viruses use social engineering to work. Messages appear in an email or browser pop-up window and they appear legitimate so users click on them. He asked me how to tell the real pop-ups for the fake ones. Without computer experience, it is very difficult to know.

Windows Vista has made this worse. By constantly asking people to approve even small tasks, it conditions people to just click “Okay” for everything.

His computer now is up and running again. It is behind a router with a firewall and has the Firefox web browser and Avast anti-virus.  Hopefully that will keep him safe from viruses and malware. At least he can rest assured that his machine is not currently hi-jacked after a clean operating system install.