IMAX Still Runs on PalmPilot Operating System

Much like nuclear weapons themselves, ‘Oppenheimer’ runs on ancient technology.
Motherboard collage.  IMAX photos.

Oppenheimer may be one of the biggest box office events of the year and the IMAX version appears massively popular, with some theaters already sold out for the next few weeks. The IMAX version may also be on the biggest physical film reels ever produced. According to Cinemark, the 70mm print of the film is 11 miles long and 600 pounds. To get this movie ready for theaters, IMAX used technology that’s run by an iPad emulating a 20 year old piece of hardware—a PalmPilot.


Decades after IMAX was first introduced, it still runs on ancient software. The time before the iPhone was a bizarre era of experimentation. Several companies attempted to create a hand sized computer for business clients. Blackberry would eventually dominate the market, but there were a lot of also-rans. The PalmPilot was one of these. The emulated hardware in the IMAX TikTok is a PalmOne m130. First released in 2002, the PalmOne m130 was a basic budget Palm with a color screen.


A PalmPilot running an IMAX machine. @torbar tweet.

Why is IMAX running a software emulation of hardware from two decades ago?

“The original Quick Turn Reel Units operated on Palm Pilots. In advance of the release of Oppenheimer, IMAX Engineering designed and manufactured an emulator that mimics the look and feel of a Palm Pilot to keep it simple and familiar for IMAX film projectionists,” an IMAX spokesperson told Motherboard.  

Such things are more common than you’d think. It’s probable that the IMAX hardware ran on a piece of PalmOS-based software, and it did its job well enough that there was never a need to change.

Palm, as a company and brand, died a few years after the iPhone hit the market, but there were still thousands of devices out there with users who didn’t want to change. Faced with decaying hardware, users like IMAX faced a choice. Either emulate the hardware or build a new system from the ground up. PalmOS was an open-source friendly software suite and Gitthub is awash in emulators that will run on systems as basic as an iPhone. Why go through the expense of building something new when the old stuff works, it just has to get ported over?

It’s strangely appropriate that Oppenheimer, a film about nuclear weapons, has a film reel that’s put together using old technology. First developed during World War II, nuclear weapons are an aging and deadly technology that’s propped up by aging technology. The U.S. military's nuclear forces were still using 8 inch floppy disks to run some of its computers until 2019. Modernizing these ancient and world-ending weapons is expected to cost the U.S. more than $600 billion over the next decade.

To the best of our knowledge, no part of the nuclear arsenal runs on PalmOS.