PalmOS is dead. Long live PalmOS!

I’ve been a long term user of the Palm platform dating back to the original US Robotics PalmPilot with it’s serial hotsync cradle and absolutely zero expansion capability. I initially poopooed the first person who described the device to me. “No connectivity, no storage, can’t do anything except tap on the screen when it’s not docked? Go away.”
In the intervening 10+ years, the Palm platform has stabilized, grown, and matured, while still maintaining the vast library of free and commercial software that has made the Palm platform so attractive for such a long time.
Unfortunately, this legacy design has, I feel, been Palm’s achilles heel. In holding onto what was originally an outstanding system design (and truth be told, it was an excellent design – one of the reasons the platform has lasted so long!), Palm has fallen behind the performance and feature curve. What was once dismissed as “fancy glitzy doodads for corporate niche users” has now become the requirements for everyday users.
Admittedly, some of the fault does not lie with Palm, Inc directly, in fact the history of PalmOS is a map through the DotCom mayhem of the late 90’s. Spinoffs, renamings, corporate mergers and aquisitions, and changes in the market made it impossible for one company to latch onto the Palm platform long enough to redesign it into a new generation environment.
Now, with my recent aquiring of a Treo 650 hybrid cell phone and PDA, I feel this is most likely the last great product from the palm line. The design is almost 2 years old now, and while the entire platform is smooth, workable, and well supported, I feel the acute need for features that will require an entire system redesign to implement.
Note that Palm (or whatever company owns PalmOS at the moment – Palmsource I believe) knows this, and has made several abysmal attempts at a system rewrite. Palm users have been waiting for the ‘next generation’ environment, called Cobalt for almost 3 years now. The first version of Cobalt was adopted by no one, and in theory an entire rewrite is in progress, now using a Linux Kernel, though AFAIK, no Palm device is out that actually runs Cobalt.
Now we see the release of the new Treo 700w, a smartphone similar to my Treo 650 in form factor, design, and hardware. Except… it runs Windows. The Windows Mobile platform has all the capabilities PalmOS surely should have had by now. Multimedia (“Who would ever listen to music on their handheld?”), wireless connectivity (“Ahh, they can just sync it!”), multitasking (“What, on a PDA? Use your laptop if you need that!”), and so on and so on. Features that the current PalmOS platform (5.x, aka ‘Garnet’) simply cannot provide, and looking around at the current offerings, don’t look to be coming down the pike any time soon.
I’m feeling fairly resigned that the Treo 650, the outstanding piece of equipment that it is, will be my last PalmOS + phone device. Since my phone cycle seems to run about 1.5 – 2 years between devices, I can’t see Palm coming out with a full multimedia multitasking wireless enabled cell phone device that has a full software library behind it within the next 12 months.
Microsoft wins another round in their plan for world domination.

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A wandering geek. Toys, shiny things, pursuits and distractions.

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