Is PalmSource Doomed?

Ed Hardy of Brighthand wrote an editorial regarding Palmsource’s future. He is right on a few things, but he is missing important information. Here are some clues:

* Access Co. does not care about PalmOS classic or Cobalt. They bought Palmsource just so they can do Linux stuff for them in a last attempt to grab some of the Asian market. PalmSource’s management had decided to go with Linux without even asking their engineers if it was possible or cost-effective to do so. They simply sold hype to Access.
* Both MobileSoft and Palmsource are currently literally battling with Linux to fit it on the devices they want to (not always expensive touchscreen-based devices). I hear that there are lots of problems with Cairo’s speed and GTK+. The kernel is too big and complex to handle too. They are nowhere near releasing in 2007 as it has being proclaimed by their marketing people.
* Palm doesn’t give a flying monkey about Palmsource’s Linux. Palm was already working on their own version of a Linux phone since 2 years ago. This doesn’t mean that it will ever be released though. Not everything that exists in a lab sees the light of day. Palm seems more interested in working with Microsoft nowdays.
* Access Co.’s Netfront currently has its ass kicked by Opera in the middle/high-end mobile space. They’ve lost lots of customers this last year to Opera. Their only shiny moment was when Sony Ericsson picked them as their next-gen browser for their middle-end phones (and that, thanks to Sony’s decision who shoved Netfront to Ericsson’s throat).
* Palm is trying to establish a name in the phone world and they are doing well in the CDMA US market. But they lack a lot in the GSM market worldwide. It will take lots of effort and innovation to keep that company up and compete with HTC.

Lastly, the “Linux on a phone” thing is just one big blob of hype trying to accumulate investements and interest. Linux is not a good OS for phones (I own two of them, I know better). It is a great server OS but it was never designed from the ground up to be a phone OS. It’s slow (even on a 312 Mhz CPU), it requires lots of RAM (at least 24 MB) and it has a myriad of bugs because it’s a very complex OS (compare this to 150 Mhz, 12 MBs of RAM that Symbian Series60 2nd Ed. requires). That’s the bottomline, no matter what the Linux advocates, MontaVista or Trolltech will tell you. Despite this, there are specific uses of Linux that makes it a better alternative to Windows Mobile or Symbian.

But forking is what kills Linux’s fast adoption. These news announced today, is the FIFTH Linux mobile phone alliance that was announced so far. This means that five completely different Linux implementations for phones will exist, all completely incompatible between one another. Yay! Way to go! :P

In my opinion, yes, PalmSource is doomed. I give them 2 years before having everyone laid off or have the company sold to someone else (it will be funny if Palm or Motorola buys them). Access might survive a bit longer as Netfront is the only good browser for embedded systems today (e.g. hotel Internet-on-a-TV systems).

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Tom Dison wrote on June 16th, 2006 at 2:35 AM PST:

As a Palm developer, I have to agree. It makes me sad, though. I do not like Windows CE/Mobile. It reminds me of the same problem with Linux Phone – Linux doesn’t scale well to that size. I feel the same way about Windows. The last thing you need on a small device is the overhead of the Windowing System, Controls, etc. The Palm OS was specifically designed for the platform. Apps were more like classic Dos apps, directly drawing to the screen. That’s why Palm Apps on an 8 or 16 mhz processor seemed so snappy. They instantly filled the screen. Alas, those days seem gone. It’s Windows Bloated everywhere, even our phones. The world seems crazy for dancing icons on their desktop!

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