Palm's Linux announcement

Palm embraces Linux--on its own terms
Last week Palm officially confirmed rumors that it is developing a Linux-based mobile OS. To be clear: Palm has been developing this OS over the past several years--this announcement is unrelated to the Access Linux Platform (ALP is based on the ill-fated Palm OS Cobalt release). The fact that Palm has been developing a Linux OS in secret is impressive, but Palm has clearly not been a fan of ALP. This past December the company elected to buy a perpetual license to Garnet from Access while remaining silent on the topic of ALP.

Technical details on the operating system (and the devices on which it will run) are still forthcoming, but Palm CEO Ed Colligan said in a webcast for investors that the new platform will combine aspects of Palm OS Garnet with a Linux backend. It's not clear (to me) if Palm is actually integrating code from Garnet or merely building an emulator. Thanks to a deal with Opera, the new OS will also likely include some form of Opera Mobile 9.

Palm OS Linux chart

Transitioning Garnet developers and applications to the new OS is key to the success of the platform. Garnet's simple architecture has attracted a huge number of developers and Palm has deep roots in certain vertical markets like healthcare or real estate. Unfortunately, Garnet's long history and strong developer support has been a blessing as well as a curse for the Palm. The company has struggled to find ways to add modern OS features like multitasking to Garnet without breaking old code or alienating developers.

The new Linux-based OS sounds like a step in the right direction for Palm, but is it too little too late? Palm bought some time with its Windows Mobile dual OS strategy, but it's clear that Palm needs its own operating system if it wants to remaining a player. Despite the "Palm differentiation" like threaded messaging, without a clear OS strategy and some new devices, Palm is in danger of becoming little more than a commodity Windows Mobile device manufacturer.

In related news, Palm is the subject of renewed takeover rumors, with Dell as the likely suitor. - Eli