Tuesday, June 05, 2007

A long way for Palm

Some history and interesting story about Palm.

Recently there are some rumors and news about Palm is looking for buyers, company like Nokia and Motorola could be the potential buyers. Finally Palm sell 25 percent stake to a private firm, Elevation Partners (read here). I am not worried about who will buy Palm, but after it was bought, Palm will still on its right track?

Palm started as Palm Computing in 1992, founded by Jeff Hawkins, Donna Dubinsky, and Ed Colligan. The first successful PDA products are Pilot 1000 and Pilot 5000. Palm Computing is not the first company who develop PDA device, but their Palm Pilot PDA is the first successful commercial product.

Palm Pilot has done a few things right. Simple and easy to use operating system (Palm OS), working hand recognizing software (Grafitti) and a device with the right size, small enough to fit into the pocket. Before Jeff Hawkins start Palm Computing, he research on handwriting recognition, later he decide to create a successful PDA device.

Palm Computing was acquired by U.S. Robotics in 1995 to bring in more funding to support the company, later Palm become the subsidiary of 3Com, after 3Com acquired U.S. Robotics in 1998. Palm III together with Palm OS version 3 was introduced in 1998, and is a great success. The same time, Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky left Palm and founded handspring, which create PDA devices like Palm, and using Palm OS license from Palm.

Handspring is not the only company license Palm OS, Sony is another company license Palm OS on their CLIE PDA products. IBM also have a Palm III like PDA which look exactly like Palm III but with their own brand name on it.

3Com listed Palm on Nasdaq in year 2000. After that a few things happen in Palm, and Palm doesn't know when they are heading to. In year 2002, Palm spin off the software as a wholly-owned subsidiary--Palm Source to develop Palm OS, from now onwards Palm split into a software and a hardware company.

Palm OS was originally designed to run on Motorola Dragon ball cpu. In year 2002 Palm introduce Palm Tungsten T PDA which using ARM cpu, the OS was upgraded to version 5, code name Garnet. Garnet consider an important milestone of Palm OS, it runs on new cpu architecture, with backward compatibility with those old Palm program. The old palm program can run on the new OS through the PACE (Palm Application Compatibility Environment) emulator. Garnet is still widely used on most Palm device.

Palm OS was designed as a simple and easy to used operating system, but its lack of full multi-tasking and multimedia capability was critized by most users especially when it was compared with Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system. In year 2001, Palm bought BeOS after Apple computer drop their 'Plan Be', BeOS being a multimedia capable OS, but this doesn't help much in Palm OS development after Palm had acquired BeOS.

In year 2003, the hardware Palm merge with Handspring and rename to PalmOne Inc. Palm trademark was held by a jointly-owned holding company by PalmOne and Palmsource. Two years later (2005), PalmOne bought back the Palm trademark from the software company for USD 30 million, Palm trademark was own by PalmOne, then PalmOne rename as Palm again. Many people will say that Palm spend 30 million just to drop the 'One' from its name.

In year 2004, PalmSource introduce version 6 of its Palm OS Cobalt, but unfortunately it was not widely accepted and consider a fail. At the end of year 2004, PalmSource acquire China MobileSoft, a company developing mobile Linux. Palm OS is moving to Linux platform.

In year 2005, after the Palm name was bought back by the hardware company, PalmSource was acquired by ACCESS, a Japanese company which is popular for its embedded browser software, Netfront. PalmSource continue develop its new version of operating system base on Linux.

In year 2006, Palm (the hardware company) introduced a Treo smartphone version which using Microsoft Windows Mobile operating system. This surprised a lot of Palm users out there, Windows Mobile is a long time competitor of Palm, if using Windows Mobile is a success on Palm device, what is the future of PalmSource?

At the same time, most Palm device still running on Palm OS, which is own by ACCESS company. Other than Windows Mobile, Palm did venture into other solutions including Linux as the replacement of their current OS. This Linux solution is not the the same platform as ACCESS is developing. Speculate from Palm is hiring Linux engineer, Palm is developing their own Palm Linux OS. Both Palm and PalmSource is developing a Linux base OS, but could be heading to different direction.

The development of Linux OS doesn't seems to be successful for both company, Palm and ACCESS. At then end of year 2006, Palm decided to pay ACCESS USD 44 million to get the rights to the source code of Palm OS Garnet (version 5.0).

Palm use to write good software like the PIMS (Personal Information Software eg. Datebook, Contact...) and the synchronization software, but no more. They add more and more functions to their PIM software like graphic memo, which I don't use. Their new synchronization software give me more problems compare with the old one, deleted the category that I created manually and move everything to 'unfiled', convert the telephone number to xxx-xxx-xxxx format which I don't want. The palm desktop for Mac OS is much harder to use compare with the Windows version.

This is how I look at Palm and PalmSource company, they lack of vision and direction, doesn't know where they are heading to, try each and every available opportunities, but so far is not very successful. When Palm started in 1992, they are not creating the hardware or operating system, but on application software. Their first product--Zoomer is not so successful, but the application software-- Graffiti and HotSync is. When Palm sold off PalmSource to ACCESS, they seems like forgotten what they are good at.

In one way or another Palm is similar as Apple Computer (now Apple Inc.), both produce hardware and software, not many company is doing that, and most company did not success by making hardware and software. Palm is not the first one who create PDA, Apple is not the first company start making personal computer but both are very successful launching a good product that everyone likes it. Both have fanatic users. They are quite similar, just Palm has a harder way to go along the road than Apple.

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