Palm brings improved multitasking and Node.js to webOS 2.0

Palm logoPalm's webOS smartphone platform introduced some compelling innovations when it was first released in 2009. The next major version of the operating system, which is currently under development, brings some noteworthy feature improvements and new capabilities for developers.

The first beta release of the webOS 2.0 SDK, which was made available this morning, offers developers an early look at some of the new functionality. The new feature lineup includes substantial enhancements to webOS multitasking and support for deeper extensibility in several key components of the platform.

When HP acquired Palm, the PC hardware giant vowed to accelerate the development of Palm's mobile platform and commit resources to bringing it to additional form factors. The new features that are on tap for webOS 2.0 are impressive and reflect positively on the direction that Palm is heading under its new ownership. We discussed the SDK update with Joe Hayashi, Palm's vice president of product management, platform, and tools. He offered some insight into how the new features in the SDK will open up new opportunities for third-party developers who write software for the webOS platform.

Palm webOS 2.0

Palm has extended the card-based multitasking capabilities of webOS with a new card-stacking feature that will group together related tasks. This will simplify task management and make it easier for users to navigate between applications and individual cards. Hayashi says that it has some similarities with Mozilla's Tab Candy concept, in the sense that it uses grouping to enable task organization. When the user clicks a link in an e-mail, for example, the browser window that opens to load the link will be grouped with the cards for the e-mail message and the e-mail inbox.

Another new feature that will be introduced in 2.0 is the Exhibition display, which is like a docking mode that will trigger when a device is placed on the Touchstone charging station. Exhibition applications are designed to passively display information, which will rotate or stream. The mode is open to developers, which means that third-party applications will be able to supply their own Exhibition interfaces.

Palm is also letting third-party developers extend Synergy, the webOS contact, calendar, and messaging synchronization service. Synergy currently integrates with a number of popular online services and social networks, but there are still many that could be added. New APIs in the webOS 2.0 SDK will allow developers to develop their own Synergy adapters that will work with new kinds of backends.

The webOS global search is also getting an overhaul. It has a new feature called Quick Actions that will allow it to be used as a launcher in addition to a search tool. Developers will be able to define Quick Actions for their own applications and make their application data searchable through the interface. These steps will make the global search feature more like Quicksilver and other keyboard-driven launchers. Palm is branding it as "Just Type" and says that it will support many common operations right out of the box, including sending an e-mail or searching the Web.

One of the most compelling enhancements for developers in webOS 2.0 is the new JavaScript Services system, which is based on the Node.js framework. It will allow developers to write background services for the platform in JavaScript in addition to C. These background services will use JavaScript APIs to support native filesystem access, low-level network programming, and other capabilities that were typically done with C or Java in previous versions of webOS.

Hayashi says that the JavaScript Services system has made it possible for Palm to replace the bits and pieces of remaining Java code in webOS with simpler and more maintainable JavaScript. They were able to drop the need for a Java runtime, thus reducing the overhead of some of the background services. Effectively, developers can now use JavaScript at every level of their application on webOS—for lower-level programming in addition to high-level application development.

Hayashi says that these are the first developer-centric features that Palm will be making available in the webOS SDK. He says that not all of it will be available in this first beta, but more will be coming soon. He also indicated that there will be more user-facing changes coming later. He says that one of the key focuses for webOS 2.0 is to make the platform more accessible to developers, allowing third-parties to add value on top of Palm's technology.

He also stressed that Palm is committed to making it easier for developers to bring their existing skills and Web applications to the platform. An important part of that strategy is to improve the webOS Mojo JavaScript library so that bits and pieces of it can be used more easily with popular third-party libraries such as JQuery.

Developers who want to start working with the new SDK can download it from the Palm Developer Center website.

Source: ars technica

Tags: mobile phones, Palm, webOS

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