Operating Systems - Explained
By: David Johnson
- January 18th, 2005
NEW! Windows Mobile 5 Screenshots Added:
May 10th, 2005 NEW!
|One of the biggest decisions when
buying a PDA is which mobile device operating system is right for
you. Out of all the decisions this is likely the
biggest as there is no way to change it, the operating system
governs what software can be used, the operation system governs what
expansions can be used (except for memory) with the included
expansion slots, and of course the operating system governs what the user
interface and general feel of the device will be. If you do not
like the operating system of your device, you likely will not like
your device as in order to use the device, you must use the operating
system. Unlike choosing the amount of RAM or the processor speed,
there are only two choices in the general US PDA market when it comes to mobile device operating
Microsoft's solution is called Windows Mobile.
You may also know it as Pocket PC, Pocket PC Phone Edition (which I
refer to as just Phone Edition), and Smartphone. Microsoft is
working to phase out these three titles in favor of just Windows
Mobile, but the separation defines what kind of device the PDA is (PDA,
PDA/Phone, or Phone/PDA, respectively). Windows Mobile is a
platform based on the Windows CE operating system. If you do not
understand that sentence, it is not really that important, but just
remember Windows Mobile devices are built on Windows CE. Prior to
Windows Mobile, Microsoft based PDA's ran just Windows CE and were
called Palm Sized PC's. All the versions of Windows Mobile end
with the year they were released. Windows Mobile is what may be
described as a multimedia operating system because of its general style.
The user interface is similar to Windows, though not exactly.
Windows Mobile also may be described as a multimedia operating system
because of the includes applications like Windows Media Player, MSN
Messenger, Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Reader. (Note: Not all
Windows Mobile devices include all these applications.) Windows
Mobile also brings in Office applications to PDA devices with Pocket Word and Pocket
Excel. While the calendar, contact, tasks, and e-mail programs are
all separate applications, collectively they are Pocket Outlook and are
similar to Outlook. The third reason Windows Mobile may be
described as a multimedia operating system is because is supports
multi-tasking. While there is not a task bar like in Windows,
applications can run simultaneously on the device. One reason this
is important is it allows faster switching between applications and it
allows you to leave files (documents) open for fast access later.
Windows Mobile is best for the user that wants an
experience similar to that of their laptop, but on at a smaller scale.
Windows Mobile is similar to Windows, but is not Windows and does not
run Windows applications. It does act in a similar way, is
designed in a similar way, and will give use a similar experience to
using a Windows PC.
PalmSource's solution is called Palm OS.
PalmSource took over the software side of "Palm devices" when the
company Palm split into PalmSource and PalmOne. Versions of the
Palm OS as designated by a version number, and newest versions of the Palm
OS also are designated by name. The major versions available on the
market currently are four and five, though it is expected in the near future
version six will be available. Version three is still prevalent on
older devices that are still in use but not sold new. Versions often also note a minor version as well.
The minor version is the number after the decimal. For instance,
some devices run Palm OS 5.1 while others Palm OS 5.2. The point
two usually means it is newer than the point one, though it also could
mean that something is slightly different or was added/removed.
Palm OS version five is also referred to as Garnet, while the new
version six is Cobalt (version three and four do not have names).
Palm OS is what may be described as an personal information manager
style (or organizer style) operating system because of its general
style. The user interface is not like an PC operating system, but
is modeled more after personal organizers. It also may be
described as an organizer operating system because the main focus of the
operating system is the management of your personal information like
contacts, calendar, and tasks. The Palm OS is built for these
functions primarily, but also allows for additional functions to be
added and newer versions of the Palm OS expand the operating system to
include additional software for doing more than just personal
information management. The Palm OS does not support multitasking
in versions before version six. Applications do not run in the
background, but instead close when another application is run.
What this means for the user is that you cannot switch between
applications like you would on a desktop PC for transferring information
The Palm OS is best for the user that wants to use
their device almost exclusively for personal information management
functions like contact lists, calendars, and task lists. Devices
running the Palm OS will be similar to that of personal organizers, but
will have additional features for more advanced uses.
Specifically, some Palm OS devices come with native software for
internet connectivity and media playback.
are three tables of screen shots from Windows Mobile and Palm OS.
Not only do these screen shots serve to show what the different
operating systems look like, it also is a good reference for the changes
in user interface elements in newer product versions. (n/a means
there is no such screen, no image means there is such a screen but there
is no screen shot available currently.)
Final Thought: How To Choose
The best way to gauge what operating system is
right for you, is to consider what you plan to use a PDA for. If
you plan to use a PDA as an organizer primarily (or as an upgrade from
an organizer/planner), then Palm OS is likely a better choice as it is more
structured for this use. Where you may like a Windows Mobile
device better is if you are a strong Outlook user and want something
similar. In that case, the functionality of Windows Mobile is
similar to Outlook compared to that of the Palm OS. Similarly, if
you are an Office user and want pocket versions of Word and Excel, then
Windows Mobile would again be a stronger option as it comes with
built-in software for Word and Excel document creation and manipulation.
If you focus is more on using a PDA for media functionality, either
operating system could be a good options but older versions of the Palm
OS are not as strong as Windows Mobile in dealing with media.
In either case, the best way to make a decision is to
try out devices running each operating system. The operating system
side of things will be similar across devices running the same operating
system. There will obviously be differences between versions, so
take that into consideration if you are trying a slightly older device
than the one you may be considering for purchase.
Like always, any questions or comments you have are
welcome. Feel free to email me at
email@example.com. You questions or comments may be
incorporated into this feature to help other users as well.