I got a bit of a chuckle from Erica Ogg's news story about how delays to the new operating systems coming out of PalmSource (the software outfit that makes the PalmOS) are causing all sorts of grief for Palm. Palm (formerly PalmOne, and before that Palm) is the hardware outfit that makes smartphones like the Treo. According to Ogg:
In its annual report released Friday, Palm warned investors that PalmSource's delays in developing the new Palm operating system have hurt Palm's ability to compete in the smart phone and PDA markets, and violated a royalties contract....The contract in question required Palm to pay PalmSource licensing and royalty fees for use of the Palm OS in its PDAs and smart phones. While the company will pay the $42.5 million owed for 2006, Palm is no longer required to make the minimum payments of $35 million in 2007, $20 million in 2008, and $10 million in 2009 because the contract was "subject to conditions that have not been met," according to the report.
It's one thing when a PC operating system like Vista gets delayed. But it's a whole 'nother ball-o-wax when a smartphone operating system gets delayed. With a PC operating system, once the new OS is out, it doesn't take long for it to reach the market as a pre-installed item on PC and notebooks. But with smartphones, the various network operators (the cellcos) won't let a handset onto their networks until the phone has (a) proven itself to be bulletproof and (b) until the operator gets to disable whatever features they don't want enabled for their networks. For example, even though the Motorola Q which I'm testing can serve as a Bluetooth-based Dial-Up Networking EVDO modem for PC's needing wireless broadband access, the feature doesn't appear on the phone. You have to get it from a third party.
I've digressed. One of the reasons that smartphone OSes take so long to get to market is all of the regression testing that the mobile operators have to do. And then, those OSes have to get into the smartphones themselves. It's a long stretched out cycle that's intolerant of delays. So my question to Palm is (and long has been) whether or not the PalmOS is strategic enough of a horse to hitch its wagon to. Judging by the response from ZDNet readers that I routinely get have being harshly critical of the PalmOS, there are plenty of PalmOS die-hards out there. But developers are key to the success of any platform and compared to other growing ecosytems such as those for mobile Windows and Java, developer interest in the PalmOS which was turning up on fewer and fewer devices seemed to be waning. PalmOS was turning into a dog as far as I was concerned and the acquisition of PalmSource by a little known Japanese company that goes by the name of Access pushed it further into obscurity. PalmOS, in my eyes was also pronounced dead on the day that a Treo turned up running Windows Mobile (a marriage I was never particularly fond of).
In hopes of a ressurection, the new PalmOS is going to be based on Linux. Somewhere during the drama, PalmSource (now Access) acquired China MobileSoft -- a company specializing in Linux for handsets. Now the question is whether or not the presence of Linux (which is also present in other handsets but not in a developer-friendly standard way) in PalmOS will bring back the developers. Time will tell. But, now, with this delay and their main customer Palm (the hardware guys) suffering as a result, PalmOS will have to make a comeback of epic proportions if it is to remain relevant.