Last month, PalmSource revealed a whole crop of new details about the next version of the Palm OS, which will be the first to be based on Linux.
For several days, I was quite pleased. The operating system being described would fulfill the vast majority of my hopes for the future of the Palm OS and keep it relevant well into the future.
It will include desperately needed features like concurrent multitasking, allowing it to run multiple applications simultaneously.
But after a while I started to become a bit nervous. As exciting as the next version of this operating system will be, it means nothing if it doesn’t become a part of handhelds and smartphones that reach customers’ hands.
And the the companies that can actually bring this about haven’t exactly been showing strong support for this upcoming version.
Where Is Palm?
There can be no doubt that the preeminent PalmSource licensee is Palm, Inc. As such, I would have expected this company to come out in support of the next version of the Palm OS. But it hasn’t happened.
This isn’t a good sign.
A few days ago, I expressed my nervousness to a prominent executive at Palm, Inc. I asked her for some kind of statement that would at least show that her company is seriously considering the idea of using Palm OS for Linux.
She wrote me back and clearly expressed her company’s strong support for the Palm OS, but made no mention of the Linux-based version.
I didn’t think it was possible, but this has made me even more nervous. Palm OS for Linux needs Palm, Inc. if it is going to be a success.
And I think the reverse is true. Palm, Inc. needs to move to the next version of Linux if it wants to remain a serious competitor in the mobile device market.
History Should Not Repeat Itself…
There’s a good chance that most of those reading this are aware of what happened with Palm OS Cobalt. This was the last new version of this operating system, and it went over like a lead balloon.
Two years after its introduction, no handheld or smartphone running Cobalt has been released, and, at this point, the chances of there ever being a Cobalt-based device are vanishingly small.
Plenty of people have predicted the same fate will befall Palm OS for Linux. I really don’t see a reason why this should happen.
Palm, Inc. representatives told me the reason they never saw a reason to switch to Cobalt was because it wasn’t enough of an improvement over the previous version, Palm OS Garnet.
They make a good point.
Cobalt offered some cool whiz-bang multimedia features, but it was weak in the fundamentals. To bring up the example I used before, its multitasking capabilities were no better than its predecessor’s.
The same won’t be true of the Linux-based version of the Palm OS, though. It will include the features needed to keep it competitive for years, while still being able to run the many thousands of Palm OS applications already out there.
… and It’s Time to Give Up the Past
It seems obvious to me that Palm, Inc. and the other licensees need to keep up with the times. Or they should if they still want to be in business in a few years.
Palm, Inc. must give up its devotion to Palm OS Garnet. No matter how many tweaks it adds to this operating system, it is just too far behind its competitors.
Already, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile and Nokia’s S60 have some significant technical advantages over the Palm OS.
If Palm, Inc. doesn’t move to Palm OS for Linux, it is just going to be left further and further behind.