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PalmSource chief outlines twin-track OS strategy

Tablet PC a 'disaster', says CEO

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Catching PalmSource CEO David Nagel at the launch of Good Technologies' Good Link 3.0, we had a burning question.

"David, why are you keeping your new OS a secret?" we asked. PalmSource stealth-released the rewritten 'Version 6.0' to licensees just before Christmas, but didn't tell anyone about. The company's web page stubbornly refuses to acknowledge the fact, pointing browsers to version 5.

But it turns out it's a feature, not a bug. Nagel told us there was no point hyping a product that consumers can't yet buy.

"I'm not going to be Adam Osborne," he told us. The late Adam Osborne, [as we remembered here] was the real inventor of corporate immolation via preannouncement. Osborne preannounced two successor models months before they were ready to ship, sales of the Osborne 1 dried up, and the excess inventory and revenue drought killed the company. And Nagel wasn't going to fall into that trap.

But there's a bit more to it than that. PalmSource is going to keep today's OS 5.x alive for a bit longer, and market the two alongside each other. With its lower memory footprint, Palm OS 5 is targeted at low-end devices. The former hardware division of Palm, now palmOne, markets a cheap and cheerful PDA, the basic model in the Zire line-up for $79. (Although this runs Palm OS 4.2; the $99 Zire 21 runs Palm OS 5.2.1).

A re-branding exercise is expected at the Developer Conference next week, so expect the 6.0 name, which was never official, to be dumped. Nagel reiterated that the rewritten Palm OS will major on multimedia and security features. He also said, correctly we think, that nothing in the handheld market currently makes switching between networks trivially simple, between WiFi, a Bluetooth PAN and a WAN, and that was something PalmSource was looking at.

"Microsoft made a mistake in having too many product offerings," Nagel told us. But weren't we used to hearing that Microsoft offered too few options to phone companies? He described working with the phone guys as a skill that PalmSource was learning. (Uh huh).

We were curious about his recent comments about finding the new Palm OS in a notebook?

David was careful to preface his answer with an "in my personal opinion" but he was enthusiastic about the prospect of if not a notebook, then a sub-notebook.

"There is a perfect computer that has a keyboard and doesn't have the complexity of Windows," he said. "There's room for an optimized multi-function device."

"The Tablet PC has been something of a disaster."

We'd like to think so too. Psion Computer probably came closest, in 1999, with its netBook, which recently saw a hardware upgrade and is now sold to industrial customers as a Windows CE machine.

Nagel said that the new OS had already been through four shrinks. For phone companies, size matters.

It's no secret that Nokia has plans for a smaller keyboard device, and shortly before Christmas unveiled its (Symbian-based) Series 90 platform. Unlike Series 60, Nokia has no plans to license Series 90, as it wants some part of the corporate communicator business for itself. ®

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