Palm's Open Source Hope

PDA pioneer Palm Inc. will have products running on Linux out by the end of 2007, the company said at its analyst meeting this morning.

Describing the move as "a new foundation for Palm," Palm CEO Ed Colligan said: "We'll have the Palm OS on Linux before the end of the year." Palmsource, which is now part of Access Co. Ltd. -- the company that Palm licenses its operating system from, has been working on a Linux kernel for more than a year now. (See Palm Gets Its OS Back.) Moving to an open source software base will allow the company to do more with the Treo smartphone and other devices. "For instance, today it is not possible to do a simultaneous voice and data product on Palm," Colligan explained.

But Palm isn't leaving Microsoft, either. "We will continue to leverage Windows on Palm," Colligan added.

Palm's Linux strategy provokes as many questions "It is difficult to predict how well the products based on this platform will be received," says Gartner analyst Todd Kort. "If they can retain much of the same look and feel of Palm OS [Garnet], this will satisfy most of their customer base." "To date, Linux on handheld devices has only achieved traction in Japan and China, mostly due to the strong promotional efforts of a few wireless operators there," Kort said. He added that there are questions about how Linux will be received by U.S. carriers; if Linux can help lower price points; and how secure a mobile Linux OS will be.

The move to Linux is part of Palm's strategy to compete in the fiercely competitive smartphone market. Colligan and other Palm executives talked up four focus areas for its business. This will involve spending on software development, hardware platforms, investing in the brand, and driving global growth.

Brodie Keast, senior vice president of marketing at Palm says that the company is trying to grow the market for smartphone users rather than focusing on its competitors. "It's not about how we compete with RIM, or what do we do about iPhone," Keast said.

In fact, the company says that it believes that "simple web applications" and access will drive market growth rather than flashy MP3 and video phones. "We think the next big thing is the Web in your pocket," says Keast. [Ed note: They're gonna party like its 1999.]

The firm is also promising new designs over the next couple of years but didn't offer any specifics except to say that new products and services could be announced very shortly.

Palm execs also offered very little detail on how it might approach new so-called "4G" technologies such as mobile WiMax. "We don't want to be on the bleeding edge, we want to be on leading edge," quipped Colligan. He did, however, add that the company expects to add WiFi capabilities to a majority of its new products in the future.

The company once again ducked questions about whether it will be bought, specifically asking that analysts didn't ask about the M&A talk swirling round the company. "We're not going to be able to comment on rumors and speculation," CFO Andy Brown said. (See Palm Thursday: No Deal Yet.)

Brown did say that the company could consider further "strategic and thoughtful acquisitions" itself.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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