Editor's Note: This article originally ran late last year after it was revealed that PalmOne had investigated using the Windows Mobile operating system. Given recent rumors, I thought it appropriate to run it again.
A recent report from C|Net News found that PalmOne, maker of the Treo, evaluated using a Linux-based or Microsoft-based operating system in a future product. PalmOne has already made forays into improving its relationship with Microsoft, having licensed its Exchange Server ActiveSync protocol for use in Treo devices.
What would this mean for PalmSource, who develops the Palm operating system? PalmOne currently has a contract with PalmSource that specifies a per-unit royalty on Palm-based devices, with a minumum of $40 million a year. The deal is non-exclusive, and Ed Colligan, PalmOne president, confirmed in an interview the company is keeping an open mind:
C|Net: "What is this we hear about PalmOne looking at other operating systems?"
Colligan: "We recently split from PalmSource. As part of that, one of the premises was that we could develop on other operating systems, and they could license to a broader set of people. So every time we ever do a new design, we don't really look at the technology first. We try to look at what the user's going to want, and if there are opportunities in the market.
So we consistently look at other operating systems. That doesn't mean we're going to ship products on them. So we've had a very long history with the Palm OS. It's served us extremely well in the marketplace. There are tens of thousands of developers, and lots of applications, on it, and we think it's great. We're going to stick with that for now, and if we decide to move to other operating systems, I'm sure we'll communicate that to you at the time."
What does this all mean? I've been churning in my mind what this means to the future of PalmOne PDAs, and at this time I think it could lead to better Palm-based devices. I have used PalmPilots since the Palm III and have owned several Pocket PCs, but I have never consistantly used a Pocket PC. For me, the PalmOS is easier to use, but I certainly see the Pocket PC's place in the PDA world. When the Palm was ubiquitous, the operating system didn't improve much over several years and gave Microsoft time to catch up. Now PalmSource is having to innovate more, and I think that's good for consumers.
It took a long time for Palm to come out with color and multimedia devices, and I think the Pocket PC helped us get those features more quickly. Now PalmSource is competing in the smartphone world, and the company must continue to innovate and improve on features. It's ridiculous that my Sony Ericsson K700 phone can play MP3 ringtones, but I have to install additional software to get that with a Treo.
PalmOne has thus far done a good job of improving upon the base PalmOS with added features, and if they released a "Pocket Treo", I believe we would start seeing more Pocket PC features (only the good ones please!) in Palm-based Treos. I have always said that there is no one PDA operating system that is suitable for all people. I'm a Mac user at home and a PC user in the office, so I feel I am more open to trying out new technologies than users that aren't as exposed to different operating systems. Windows isn't always the best desktop OS, and Palm isn't always the best PDA OS.
Would I use a "Pocket Treo"? If it worked with Mac OS X and didn't deviate from PalmOne's historic emphasis on ease-of-use, yes I would. I would also give a Linux Treo a try, just for the sheer novelty of trying to get Apache running on it.
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Read Merciful by Casey Adolfsson