Requiem for the Palm PDA

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.

Will Palm?

UPDATE:  Rob Pegoraro in the Washington Post thinks the same way.

Take care,



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