As soon as I learned that Access Co., Ltd. had bought PalmSource, one question began bugging me: Why?
At first, this deal just didn’t make any sense. Access makes web browsers, not smartphones or handhelds. I couldn’t figure out what it was going to do with the Palm OS.
Then, I had an idea. I’m not sure that this is what Access has in mind, but I think it could be.
An Old Idea in New Clothing
As far as I know, there’s only been one company that ever really scared Microsoft, and that was Netscape.
Back in the mid-90s, some people believed that PCs were going to become cheap, simple devices that were just powerful enough to run the Netscape web browser and access the Internet.
The PC wouldn’t even have a hard drive, because nothing would be stored locally. All applications and files would be held on a central server.
This would have made Microsoft irrelevant, if it had come to pass. But obviously it didn’t. Turned out no one wanted a $400 PC without a hard drive when you could get one with tons of internal Storage for about $500.
But it occurs to me that Access may be planning to try something similar with the Palm OS.
A New Vision for Smartphones
The reason Netscape’s dream didn’t work out is that the price difference between the simple computers and the full-featured ones was so small.
The situation with handhelds and smartphones is very different.
A simple mobile device costs a couple of hundred dollars, while one capable of running full versions of Windows applications is a couple of thousand.
But what if the inexpensive smartphone was able to run big Microsoft Office-type applications on a server? Say, with Access’ NetFront web browser providing the interface?
Suddenly, you have a mobile device that provides all the functionality of a small tablet PC… but for a tenth of the price.
Of course, you’d have to subscribe to a service that lets you connect to a server with the applications and files you need. I’m guessing that tons of Palm OS users paying monthly service fees is how Access hopes to earn back the big money it spent for PalmSource.
Not Thin But Medium Sized
Some would call this scenario thin-client computing, but that’s not exactly what I mean.
It’s true, there are some tasks that can only be performed by a server. For example, my local device could no more make a complete search of the Internet than it could fly to the Moon. That’s what services on remote servers like Google are for.
But there are plenty of tasks that a local device is capable of taking care of all by itself, like playing music or simple games.
That’s why I think there will be a balance between local services and remote ones.
I call it medium-client computing.
As I said before, I don’t know that this is what Access has planned for the future of the Palm OS. It’s pure speculation.
But it’s the best reason I can come up with for why a company that has been very successful making a Mobile Web browser would want to own an operating system.