Palm Inc. has announced that some of its Treos will come equipped with a new Linux-based Palm OS by the end of the year, making them among the first mainstream North American devices to have an operating system based on the Linux kernel.
Palm’s launch this week of the Palm OS Treo 755p provoked some questions as to whether this would be the last Palm device to run the Palm Garnet OS now that Palm is embracing Linux. A spokeswoman declined to comment.
“This is significant because Palm has fallen significantly in contrast to other players in the handheld market,” said Carmi Levy, senior research analyst with London, Ont.-based IT research firm Info-Tech Research Group.
“The Palm OS 5 (Garnet) is a generation that really needs to be put out of its misery,” Levy said. “It’s incapable of delivering what the modern smartphone user expects. They’ll never make anything out of this one, so they had to plot a different course.” He said Palm has been too busy concentrating on spinning companies out of the corporation, on Garnet licensing, and worrying about a corporate buyout that it’s been unable to upgrade its products very well.
The current OS is a single-thread, single-task device that can only do one thing at a time, said Levy.
New features in the Linux platform will include enhanced security and central administration capabilities, both of which will enhance the device’s feasibility in the enterprise space, said Levy. Another industry observer also believes using a Linux-based OS for the Treo brings many benefits.
“Linux will help the Treo to be cutting edge,” said Evan Leibovitch, executive director of the Canadian Linux Users Exchange.
He said this is a natural progression, as Linux is a proven platform for several devices. These include some European Nokia and Motorola smartphone models.
Levy views Palm’s decision not to license the platform to others as a savvy move. “If you control more elements of the game, you have more control over the outcome of the game.” He said to thrive, Palm needs to offer services that aren’t available on other handheld vendors at competitive price points.
The offering could also be augmented by the developer community, according to Levy, who said Palm’s opening the OS up to outside tinkering could yield some useful improvements.
The company will continue to lean on its Treos that offer the popular Windows Mobile operating system. According to Levy, he doesn’t foresee the company abandoning this strategy, as it is too much of a cash cow to give up during a trial run of the new in-house OS.
Levy is skeptical about Palm’s chances, though – after years of “Palm” being synonymous with handheld devices, its brand recognition has been usurped by Research in Motion (RIM) and its BlackBerry.
“Their brand recognition is essentially invisible after years of missteps and failing to capitalize on it. The mantle has been passed to RIM,” he said.
Last week, Canonical announced it would also be developing a version of its Ubuntu open source OS for handheld devices.