Palm is to get another competitor in the shape of an alternative to the Palm OS (operating system), set to debut in July in the English-speaking world.

The Penbex OS, developed by Taipei-based Penbex Data Systems, in its original Chinese version already runs a PDA (personal digital assistant) sold in Chinese-speaking markets in Asia. Additional licensees will soon introduce PDAs based on the operating system, including the first to run its English version.

Billionton will manufacture versions of the PDA for vendors in both the Chinese-speaking world and North America and Europe, said Kevin Pugh, a European sales executive for the company. Billionton showed off the PDA on the Computex Taipei 2001 show floor.

The Penbex OS looks similar to the Palm OS and offers many of the same features, such as a special handwriting recognition system, and the same basic applications such as calendar, address book and notepad. It is also designed to run on the same processor, Motorola's 16MHz Dragonball. Wireless communications support is built in.

"Palm is very [tight] with its licensing," Pugh said. He thinks that one reason for that is that, as a hardware and software vendor, Palm does not want too many firms competing with its devices. Instead, Billionton invested in Penbex in its early days and now is licensing its software.