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By Chris De Herrera 
Copyright 1998-2007
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Palm's Transition to Windows Mobile 5.0
By Chris De Herrera, Copyright 2005
Revised 9/27/2005

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Yesterday Palm announced a new Treo 700 running the new Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system (which is based on Windows CE) from Microsoft.  This is a clear departure from prior Treo’s that run the Palm operating system.  This article gives you some background on what has happened to Palm in the past few years. 

A look at the past 

It is clear that Palm initially had a better sense of the usability of a mobile device with their earliest Palm devices including the Treo.  However Microsoft countered with a flexible and expandable operating system based on Windows CE.  Windows CE’s advantages include the ability to multitask applications transparently to the user and the inclusion of the TCP/IP protocol stack from the beginning.  During Palm’s career, they started using the Motorola Dragonball (68k) CPU and had to change to the ARM based processors (which happen to be the same CPUs that Microsoft supports with the Pocket PC and Smartphone) keep up with the performance of Windows CE.  In addition, Microsoft really worked with hardware vendors such as HP and Casio to introduce color displays including VGA support, video and gaming features to the Windows CE operating system that is used today in Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PCs and Smartphones. Overall it was clear that the relationship between Palm and Windows CE was a competitive one.

Why Sell PalmSource?

Throughout PalmSource’s post split life they have struggled to be profitable.  In my mind the decision of Sony to abandon the Palm OS devices cut off a major source of innovation as well as revenue.   Also, as Palm has evolved the operating system with Cobalt (version 6.0), they had few companies willing to license it.  The combination of the reduction in the licensing revenue and the lack of support for their newest operating system was a catalyst to change.

Other Recent Changes

During 2004, Palm chose to license the Exchange client used in the Pocket PC and Smartphone for the Palm OS.  They even delivered the Treo 650 with the ability to sync with Exchange using Outlook Mobile Access. It is clear that Palm decided to make some major changes this spring.  Their decision to buy back the rights to the name Palm from PalmSource and rename PalmOne to Palm was just the beginning of their transformation.  Subsequently PalmSource was sold for $324 million dollars to ACCESS, makers of the NetFront browser.  ACCESS has publicly stated that future Palm OS development will be focused on porting the Palm OS to Linux however they may revisit the Palm Cobalt OS in the future.  This scenario leaves in doubt whether or not existing Palm OS devices will be upgraded to support future Linux versions from ACCESS.  However Palm has licensed the Palm OS from ACESS until 2010.

The Future

To me the future of Windows Mobile is looking brighter than ever.  Clearly end users want more functionality, multitasking and flexibility that Windows Mobile offers.  I believe that ACCESS will Palm OS from ACESS until 2010have an up hill battle on multiple aspects of their decision to port the Palm OS to Linux in order to compete with Windows Mobile in the future.  Todd Kort from Gartner has said it will take 18 to 24 months from the beginning of the Linux port to complete it.  This one to two product lifecycle delay will allow Windows Mobile to continue it’s innovation and market penetration into 2006 and beyond.

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