For several years I’ve owned a Palm PDA, a Tungsten E. I’ve loved it. It had an excellent display and was the first PDA my poor eyesight could handle. The OS was only at the level of Windows 3.1, but the sync functionality was unrivaled in its intuitiveness and reliability for a long time.
I kept my calendar on it, I read books on it when my eye surgery kept me from doing anything else. Even though the battery life of the Tungsten E’s weren’t great, and there was still no WiFi for it, again, I loved my Palm.
But where has Palm gone these past few years?
This blog post gives a clue: RIP LifeDrive – Post I.T. – A Technology Blog From The Washington Post.
And Dave Edelman: Ten Tech Companies That Blew It in the Past Two Decades.
Palm has gone in all directions. Shortly after my Tungsten E was introduced in 2003, PalmSource (the OS division of Palm at the time, now .) was rumored to be working on PalmOS 6. A year later, nothing. Usually, when software is delivered and nothing is heard from afterwards, it’s DOA (like WinFS); it was rumored that PalmOS 6 was non-functional out of the gate or at least it didn’t meet requirements. Short of being a fly on the wall at PalmSource, we won’t ever know.
Then PalmSource announced it would port PalmOS to Linux (presumably running some kind of PalmOS compatibilty layer on top of the kernel.) PalmSource was at last spring’s Linux World in Boston. They had handouts. Not demos. Not prototypes, nor even videos. Just handouts. And a cute plushie Tux:
That was it. I like Tux, but if they couldn’t show anything, they shouldn’tve been there.
Now Palm is focusing on its Treo phones which have caught fire–figuratively! They’re a mishmash of PalmOS based models, Windows Mobile/Palm and Windows Mobile. They’re great for cell carriers and very popular.
Palm had a booth at the recent Boston Vista launch. All Treos, only Treos. They’ve left their Tungsten models to rot, even though the E was a very good seller for them, it probably pales against the money they can make with the carriers.
Right now, with carriers locking the mobile phone market to themselves, I don’t want a mobile phone/PDA combo. I don’t want to have to negotiate technical problems with Palm, my OS vendor and my carrier-of-the-week. I don’t want the ongoing fees I would be responsible for above my regular cell service. And I don’t want to be stuck with either a carrier’s inferior locked product or a carrier’s bad customer service (future iPhone customers note!)
Many of the small vendors and hobbyist developers on the Palm platform have disappeared. I use Plucker, the excellent HTML offline page reader and book reader. Their web site hasn’t had an update since 2004; though someone is paying the hosting, I believe Plucker has effectively ceased development.
That’s happened to a lot of apps. DataViz, the excellent document conversion and interoperability company for PDA’s, is still around with current product, the only company I know of still left in the Palm space.
(It didn’t help when Sony dropped its Clie PDAs, making PalmSource effectively a captive company to Palm.)
In some ways, Palm is much like Apple: They both had the "cool" product of the day. They both had products that weren’t as technically advanced as others but which were beloved by their users. But the opposite of evolution in computer systems is death. Apple eventually got this and got it right with OS X.
UPDATE: Rob Pegoraro in the Washington Post thinks the same way.
If you are a person with a disability that requires you to use your voice to control your computer, people are trying to scare you. So goes a thread in George Ou’s blog the other day. Apparently, someone could play out "FORMAT C: Yes!" through the speakers of your speech-enabled PC and the microphone could pick it up and execute it!
This is not a new problem. Risks-Digest published a funny story about voice recognition working all too well during a presentation.
I’ll get to my security opinions in a moment, but what I’m reacting to is the effect of scary reports–FUD, really–on the consituency this feature was designed for–people with disabilities.
I know several friends who are unable to control their computers through a keyboard and must use speech recognition software. They need the same level of control with their speech that the rest of us take for granted at the keyboard.
I once had to use text-to-speech software myself after retinal surgery left me blind for a short while. I’m still able to use a keyboard, but as a person with disabilities myself, I’m very sensitive to issues surrounding people with disabilities.
This FUD really hurts those of us who need to use adaptive technologies such as speech recognition. It’s already hard for such people to find gainful employment ("it’s too expensive to hire you") and it could be worse now ("Our IT staff has recommended against hiring you because your speech software violates our security policies.")
This problem–while it is an interesting theoretical problem that needs to be brought up amongst specialists–is not one that can be laid on Microsoft alone. Any speech recognition system that relies on audio transmission will potentially have this problem. (The Bell System resolved this a century ago by inventing the handset, and the hybrid transformer, making sure that your voice and your caller’s voice never interfered with each other. But most people use mics and speakers and don’t get the benefit.)
(Could frequent speech users use a phone headset for computer audio and avoid this problem? Yes, but it wouldn’t make the press or the blogs. Can’t have that.)
The Ubuntu project, for example, could have speech recognition code donated to them as Sun donated their screenreader to them, and the same thing would happen. Any system that needs to be controlled can and even will have potentially harmful commands available if it’s to be useful to a broad number of people, and speech users need to have all the control they can get to be independent and self-sufficient.
It’s still easier for the bad guys to send you phishing emails pretending to be from your bank, or to give you spyware pretending to be dancing pink elephants than it is to screw you over with a speech exploit.
Microsoft didn’t invent this to profit from yet another security debacle. They did this so more of their customers could use their systems. I won’t pretend they’re altruistic but helping people with disabilities is good. Not FUD. Just something for security bloggers to keep in mind.
It’s time to talk about my favorite Windows screen, from Wired Magazine, it’s BSOD Through the Ages! I was disappointed not to see this screen at the Vista launch, washing over the orange Dawn of a New Day in a wave of blue. One presenter did make Vista bluescreen on purpose to demonstrate its system recovery capabilities, but sadly, it didn’t make it to the projection display (he had to turn around his laptop for us to see it.)
Of course, I really want Microsoft to adopt my "enhanced" Plaid Screen of Death!