How the mighty have fallen! With last week’s announcement that Palm will discontinue production of it’s yet to be birthed “Foleo” product many annalists are forecasting something that Palm loyalist have known for quite sometime – Palm OS is just a “dead man walking”

Foleo DOA


Palm, the innovator responsible for popularizing the handheld computer, is now teetering on the brink of obscurity, a jagged precipice that drops off into the great chasm full of once great, but now forgotten, technology luminaries that line the footnotes of computing history.

But how did this happen to Palm? It actually has much less to do with features or failings of a single product like the Foleo, and everything to do with a corporate culture lacking the bold leadership that created and defined the handheld market of the late 90s’. Think about it, just a few years ago Palm was in the driver’s seat; both in terms of market share and casting vision for the future of the Personal Data Assistant (PDA) marketplace.

The same cannot be said today. And its not that the iPhone is to blame as some might point out. Apple will play a major role moving forward, but does not account for Palm’s slide from prominence in the PDA/Phone space to date. No, Palm’s own internal lack of focus on innovative, yet easy to use devices and their corporate mis-organization is to blame. (You can read about that confusing history here if you don’t recall all the confusing dance steps of the PalmSource/3com/PalmOne/USRobotics/Handspring shenanigans.)

Treo 500

“Not so fast Eric!”, Say some of you who might not share my dire assessment of Palm’s future; pointing to the recent European product announcement of the Treo 500 as proof to the contrary. Hey, I’m a long time Treo user and fan of the platform, I want to believe in Palm, but a “sold out” Windows Mobile based revamp of an over 5 year old product is not going to be enough. BTW – remember that the Treo was never really Palm’s idea in the first place, rather a product that Handspring developed and was then absorbed back into Palm in the acquisition.

It’s that decision, to “sell out” to Microsoft Widows Mobile OS, that has doomed the Palm OS and they don’t even realize it. These new 500s are not even going to come with a Palm OS option.

I recall seeing the first Palm Windows Mobile phone, the 700w, at CES 2006. At that time I commented to the Palm rep that this pretty much spelled the end of the Palm OS – and by extension the end of software innovation at Palm – the truly great part of the picture Palm brought to the handheld party. The company spokeswoman was polite and assured me that Palm had no plans to cease offering the Palm OS, I smiled, but knew she was deluding herself.

I understand the Treo 755 comes in both “P” and “W”, flavors and technically the Palm OS is not dead yet, but the demise of Palm OS is getting closer every day. Announcements like we have seen in the past few weeks, to kill the Foleo and launch a new line of Windows Mobile only Treos, only serve to reemphasize Palm’s systematic and intentional abdication of its once mighty handheld hardware/software empire.

While this might sound like Palm OS fanboys rant against Windows Mobile its not. Ironically the future might prove that it is not Microsoft whom Palm has to fear, as Palm would make a wonderful handset hardware manufacturing division for Microsoft. Think about it. By 2008 Palm discontinues Palm OS and exclusively embraces Windows Mobile, shortly thereafter Microsoft acquires Palm and releases the Microsoft Treo 9000 (Zune edition) with wide-screen, WiFi and perhaps an exclusive deal on a CDMA network to counter a certain Apple product. Stranger things have happened?

Regardless how cozy MS and Palm get, I’m quite certain the future is not bright for the once dominant Palm OS, and for that I shed a tear.

Farewell Palm OS – So Long and thanks for all the fish!