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Palm colour-screen IIIc to ship February

Just a sop to Sony, IPO-interested investors though

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Palm Computing's first machine to be equipped with a colour display will ship in February as the Palm IIIc, according to sources close to the company cited by CNET.

The fact Palm has been working on colour support is no surprise, but this is first time hard details - if a name and ship date can be named as such - have leaked out. At the Palm Developers Conference, company officials said the next version of the PalmOS, 3.5, would support colour.

Meanwhile, the latest incarnation of Motorola's Palm-powering Dragonball CPU will contain circuitry to drive a colour display and to handle the Palm's touchscreen.

It has to be said, Palm's tone at the Developers Conference suggested that it was providing colour support more for its licensees than for itself; its own philosophy has alway been that colour isn't necessary and, in any case, puts too many design limitations on handhelds, specifically on battery life and the size of the screen. CNET's Deep Throat suggests the company has changed its mind, though surely not just to compete with Windows CE, which is doing pretty well already, thank you very much.

More likely, we see here the hidden hand of Sony, which probably demanded colour support as a condition for licensing the Palm platform. Sony wants the technology for a line of consumer-oriented multimedia-capable devices, for which colour is essential and size isn't. And if it has to do colour for Sony, Palm probably felt it may as well test the water with a colour machine of its own to see how customers react to the limitations colour places on a handheld. The surprising thing is that it's starting off with a colour version of the Palm III rather than the Palm V, which is aimed at executives who are rather less bothered about pricing than lower-end buyers.

That said, Palm may not be willing to sacrifice the V's sleek styling to the god of colour LCDs, whereas the III's plastic casing is rather more amenable to the changes that would need to be made. Alongside the IIIc, Palm will also release the IIIxe, an upgraded version of the IIIx with 8MB of RAM. The timing is interesting too, since the launch of the IIIc will coincide with Palm's IPO. This suggests that it is also a show-off product to prove the company can tackle the one advantage Windows CE devices has over Palms. ®

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