Solutions At Hand

Handhelds, smartphones, mobile technology and the digital lifestyle.

Interesting times ahead

Posted by Michael Brown on February 14, 2008

There’s an old Chinese proverb (or curse, depending on your point of view); may you live in interesting times. Well, there’s interesting times ahead in the mobile sector, based on the press releases coming out of Barcelona this past week. It’s made for interesting reading while I’ve been getting over the flu.

Access (formerly Palmsource and makers of ALP or Palm OS on Linux) had a tonne of announcements. Every one of those were significant, and really showed how badly Palm has mis-managed things since the Palm/PalmSource split. The first significant announcement was that Access and MontaVista (another big mobile Linux OS vendor) are combining software stacks. That means Palm OS compatibility on many Mobilinux platforms (and not just cell phones). So, you could see “appliances” like GPS units or media players running Palm OS applications in the near future. This gives Access a much wider application and manufacturer base; for example, Motorola uses MontaVista Linux in it’s smartphone products.

Right after that announcement came one about Wind River (another major Linux OS vendor) and Access providing an integrated solution featuring ALP. So, basically it means that the other major Linux handset OS vendor is also now PalmOS-compatible. So, we now have two major suppliers of Linux for handsets and embedded devices, both with established manufacturing client bases, running a PalmOS-compatible environment that any hardware manufacturer can load onto their handsets. Palm Inc., you sweating yet? If not, you will be in a minute.

Access also announced the availability of their ALP software development kit, or SDK, and the launch of their developer website. So, all the software, tools and support to write applications on a next-generation Palm-compatible Linux OS are available to third-party software developers. Palm Inc. still hasn’t finished their next-gen OS, much less have the tools in place for other developers to write value-added software.

For a change of pace, here’s another significant announcement that doesn’t involve Access (directly). Dataviz announced that Documents to Go is coming to MontaVista Linux. So, that means the Office document software for mobiles that has been a mainstay of Palm Handhelds is now available for Linux-based Handsets running Mobilinux. That’ll be a native Linux-based version, one that can take full advantage of the hardware and OS features (rather than running Palm DocsToGo in ALP’s PalmOS emulation environment, which is also a possibility). This means any Mobilinux licensee gets a real, native, Office-compatible office suite AND Palm OS compatibility through ALP. Sweating buckets yet, Palm?

The real Pièce de résistance is that you can have yourself a brand new, next-generation PalmOS-compatible, Linux-powered handset in June if you’re on Orange in Europe; but it won’t be made by Palm. The Samsung i800 is expected to be shipping in June, and will be running Access’s ALP platform. And that’s just Samsung; Panasonic and Motorola also license MontaVista Linux (and thus ALP). We could have a plethora of new, next-generation Palm-OS compatible handsets on the market before year’s end… and before Palm Inc. ships it’s first next-gen smartphone. Hey, Palm! That smartphone better be the best thing to hit mobile computing since the original Treo; you’re not going to get a second chance. These are definitely interesting times right now; a blessing for some, a curse to others, and only time will tell which it will be for Palm Inc.

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4 Responses to “Interesting times ahead”

  1. Davide-NYC said

    The real ‘killer app’ for ALP would be for them to sell OS upgrades for existing Palm Treo smartphones. I’d gladly fork over some money for a linux based Palm-compatible OS on my Treo 700p.

  2. Davide,

    You and me both! Unfortunately, it’s not likely to happen due to licensing issues, plus technical issues like device drivers, flash ROM size limitations, and the biggest hurdle, support. It’s nice to dream, though…

    If you can’t wait to have Linux on your Treo, and don’t mind getting your hands dirty, you can check out Grack’s page at http://grack.com/programming/misc/TreoLinux.html

    For Linux on other Palm handhelds, Hack&Dev has information on getting GPE or Opie running on some palm devices. http://hackndev.com/

  3. When will we see an actual ALP phone in the US? I’m really tiring of my Palm Treo 680 (running Palm OS). I’m trying to avoid going with an iPhone and want to hold out for the Google Android platform, which should be out by the second half of this year.

  4. Sumit,

    I honestly have no idea when ALP will be in the US. There’s always a chance that Samsung will release the i800 (or something like it) on one of the GSM carriers in the States sometime after the European release. There’s a lot to releasing a phone on a carrier’s network (FCC approval, carrier acceptance testing, sales and support rollout) with regulatory approvals usually being the big one.

    One of the other ALP licensees could be ready to roll with something, but they’d have to be playing their cards close. Most learned from Palm’s mistakes of pre-announcing products, so I expect that there will be a sudden announcement, followed by a flurry of activity.

    I can relate to your desire for something new. I’m hanging in there with my Treo 650, waiting for a next gen Palm OS smartphone, and I’ve been banging into it’s limitations for a while now. But, in all fairness, I’ve bent it to my will a while ago, so I don’t have many issues other than the occasional problem with VersaMail and the odd time where my keyboard lights go on by themselves, but the screen is off.

    All I can suggest is to hang in there! The siren call of “it’s better over here” can be very tempting, but look at it practically. Determine what your needs are, and how you plan to work with your mobile. Make your choices from there, rather than by what’s coolest or slickest.

    Hope that helps!

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