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Palm distances itself from Windows

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It certainly had to make a critical decision about PalmOS - continuing to license from Access was not going to prove fruitful. Access plans to introduce its Linux Platform later this year and it will include an emulation layer for running Palm OS-based applications. However, emulators rarely work as well as native systems, and this approach is unlikely to prolong the life of PalmOS in any meaningful way, though it will be useful as a transition aid for large Palm shops.

Clearly, Access' main direction will be to take the advantages of the Palm user interface for its Linux stack, leaving Palm to fend for itself. By not committing to the Access Linux product, and preferring to create its own, Palm is making a clean break from its former subsidiary and making a last ditch attempt to develop a world class OS again, an ambition that has faded under the Palmsource auspices since spin-off.

"We stopped recommending the Palm OS for enterprise deployments about a year ago; it's fine for consumer apps or lightweight corporate apps, but it's lacking a lot of the features that most corporate users would want," Todd Kort, an analyst at Gartner Group, told US reporters recently, emphasising Palm's dilemma - throw its lot in with a big platform, namely Windows, or create its own OS once more.

Palm will still use Microsoft Windows Mobile in some Treo models, particularly for the large enterprise market, but the defocusing on this OS - the licensing of which was seen as the likely survival route for Palm last year - is radical and risky, and perhaps the clearest signal of all that the PDA pioneer is gearing up for sale to a Microsoft enemy such as Nokia, and so needs to show a Windows-free roadmap.

Only at the start of this year, Palm seemed to be growing closer to Microsoft in order to ensure the survival of its PDA range, when it announced updates to the PalmOS-based Treo 680 and 700p smartphones. These included Microsoft's Direct Push Technology, which supports BlackBerry-style automatic push email from Exchange - lack of automated push has been a key weakness of Treo against the RIM wireless email leader.

Despite such moves, however, PalmOS still represents the bulk of Palm's sales, and it either needed to find a route forward for that platform - preferably one it could control - or accelerate the move to Windows Mobile. Its Linux move represents its choice, but reentering the OS wars and restricting that system to one closed and declining hardware platform is nothing short of reckless, unless Palm is, indeed, about to find a partner with the economies of scale needed for the growing but cut-throat smartphone market.

Copyright © 2007, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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