2007-10-26 08:21:01
Palm Drives the Last Nail
And interview with the executive chairman of Palm states that it will be 18 months before their new rev of the Palm OS shows up on a device. "It's a probably good target", Rubinstein said. "These things take time." The big question though, that has to be on everyones minds, can Palm afford to be out of the game that long...

At this point, the "Palm is dying thread" is really over. The sad thing was that this was really Palm's market to lose. Years from now this is sure to show up in a text book some where as the classic case. How does a company go from the leading hand held game in town, to a washed up mobile phone company? One can only assume that someone thought they where making the 'safe' choice.

The book is closed. Write them off. Palm has been playing this game for some time now, and I can say from a developer stand point that I'm pretty much done with it. Why do I say this? Simply put, their track record shows that they are set to fail. Palm doesn't do software. Period. They never have and never will. Perhaps a bit of a recap of their history will help this.

Palm is no stranger to change and turn over. They have a clear track record of attempting to do something, but never showing any follow through. I had the rare opportunity to watch this from early on. It hasn't been pretty.

In late 2001 Palm bought BeOS, or should I say the smoldering remains. You may remember that Apple was looking to buy Be as their hope for their next generation OS. As fate would have it, when Steve Jobs came back from his exile to 'save' Apple, BeOS was off the table and (without any hint of nepotism) Jobs' failed Next, was picked to be the base of what would become OS X. The start of the 'next' Palm OS had begun.

In 2002 Palm released OS 5. This was not so much a huge up grade, but more of a stop gap move to migrate to the ARM platform. This was made clear be that fact that most code written was still to be 68000 code that was emulated. In fact, at first, Palm was not going to even let people write ARM code. The argument was that most of the apps written would spend the majority of their time in system calls, which were all written in native ARM. This worked, and the shear speed bump of the chip made everything faster. Anyone that had done any work on the Mac and lived the PPC roll over was not that happy to see the 'fat binary' mentality replicated. This reeked of a kludge.

Also in 2002, Palm started pushing WDBAS short for Wireless Database Access Server. It was another foray into the 'Enerprise Class' data access space. The product was really a result of the buy out of a company called ThinAir. At the time Palm stated that this was really just part of a larger effort they referred to as Oxygen. The irony in the naming can not be over stated. (Think 'vapor') Within just over a year, Palm was dropping the support for the product (despite having collected cash for support contracts) and the people that had wrote it where long gone.

In 2003 I had a the interesting fortune to do dinner with the then CEO, Todd Bradley. It was right before the launch of the Tungsten T3. (Which he of course, had brought to show off) The topic of the new OS came up and Todd made the statement that he thought they should have just gone with Linux. This was a strange foreshadowing.

In 2003, Palm had also acquired Handspring and was entering the brave new world of mobile phones. You may or may not remember the hokey puck that was the Tungsten W (I'm guessing the reuse of 'W' was in intentional cover up to make the previous version go away. A classic lack of innovation.

At the beginning of 2004 PalmSource announced the new OS Cobalt. It was a pretty big thing. Cobalt was largely based on BeOS technology. It was something to see. At PalmSource that year, the energy levels where pretty high. Sony was announcing new CLIEs with standing room only. PalmOne (as Palm was now called) had a much more sedate session. (Actually you could here a pin drop.) PalmOne was at it again trying to hock a Web Services solution. They seemed to at once be pushing Java, but not wanting to commit to a JVM in the ROM of the device. Most where sure that Sony would be the first to jump on the Cobalt train. As it turns out, it was to late. Despite the fact that PalmSource was already spun off, all of the licensees where fading. It was just after that that Sony dropped the CLIE line in the states completely. On an interesting note, the rumor at that PalmSource was that PalmOne actually had Cobalt running on a T3. The T3 was on the way out and I fully expected Palm to announce that they were going to release a developer only ROM update for testing (and flush the existing T3 stock) This never happened.

It's all down hill from there. The Tungsten X, the LifeDrive. It's hard to tell if the PDA was dying, or Palm just was working to kill it. The sad thing is that I picked up a LifeDrive at PalmSource in early 2005 and I was watching full Divx movies on the thing using TCPMP. In my hands was basically a video iPod. (And in fact the early rumored images of the 'real' video iPod where doctored renderings of the LifeDrive, note the tell tail beveled edge.) So on the verge of having a next generation multimedia device, Palm threw in the towel. Nice work.

Well, it's late 2007. One word... Foleo. This was supposed to be running this magic new version of Linux with Palm support. This thing never even saw the light of day. (I imagine that some will show up on eBay at some point.) What does this tell you? Apple's not going to be missing product cycles. Palm is trying to play the Windows mobile game (and getting it's ass handed to it there) And no new OS for 18 months. After all that, do you expect to see it in that time? I don't. I don't expect the company to even be relevant. I have Linux today on my N800 which is already long in the tooth.

We can't even get innovation on the form factor side from Palm. After all this we get the Centro? Please. Not even a bone. Crappy amounts of RAM, limited expansion. (Forget the fact that you can't go over 4GB on the SD if you wanted too) How you weren't banking on someone buying the next model there. (I kind of regret not picking up a Zodiac at the 2005 PalmSource, it still looks slick. They had them at $200 and *still* packed most them out.)

I'm sorry but there is nothing left to write on this one. It's really a shame, but enough is enough. RIP Palm. Time to throw you in the bin with the Newton where you belong. Lets hope history is someone kind to your name.

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