Can A Mobile Platform Survive A Reboot? - InformationWeek
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4/28/2010
12:02 AM
Ed Hansberry
Ed Hansberry
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Can A Mobile Platform Survive A Reboot?

After a number of years of going through updates and upgrades, sometimes it appears best to just start fresh with an operating system, especially when it comes to mobile phones. Continued legacy support just holds the platform back. Leaving legacy code behind though means leaving legacy customers behind. Can mobile phone platforms afford to start from scratch?

After a number of years of going through updates and upgrades, sometimes it appears best to just start fresh with an operating system, especially when it comes to mobile phones. Continued legacy support just holds the platform back. Leaving legacy code behind though means leaving legacy customers behind. Can mobile phone platforms afford to start from scratch?Windows own worst enemy these last few years has been Windows itself. Windows XP is a good OS, but it cannot cope with security and performance needs of today, much less tomorrow. Vista was Microsoft's shot at fixing that, but it broke so much in trying to be compatible that it wasn't a very popular upgrade. Two years later and a bazillion man hours of programming fixed most of that with Windows 7. A mobile platform has limited resources so cannot make great leaps forward in performance and features while at the same time maintaining backwards compatibility. Low resource requirements, good performance and legacy support - pick any two.

Palm just went through a full reboot. PalmOS was aging, a product of the 90's with all sorts of baggage and limitations. It was being asked to handle things not even conceived of in 1996 when version 1.0 launched. After several false starts with Palm OS 6 and a Linux variant from Access, Palm came out with WebOS. Totally new, arguably world class, and it completely alienated its customer base and fans.

Microsoft is doing the same thing though not quite as drastic. At least Windows Phone 7 will support old .NET code as long as it is tweaked for the new platform. Users cannot run old apps, but some developers don't have to start from scratch. That said, there are exactly zero WinPho 7 devices out today, which makes it hard for developers to cost justify a decision to code for the unreleased platform. Windows Mobile users lose 100% of their investment in old software. Even if their favorite software is updated for 7, they will still have to purchase it again through the new Marketplace.

My friend and fellow blogger Sascha Segan is arguing that Blackberry OS 6.0 isn't enough and that platform too needs a full reboot for many of the same reasons. The OS itself is a decade old and has been patched and updated many times over the years. A decade ago GPRS was a luxury and devices needed to do little more than perform as a basic PDA. Now devices have 3G or WiFi connectivity and have apps that were once only possible on desktop PCs. Blackberry's development environment simply isn't up to the task.

The problem is, the iPhone OS and Android are new and have solid traction. They may not face this issue for 6-7 years, if ever. By then, PC-like resources may exist on a handheld eliminating the need for a fresh start. Rebooting a mobile platform today is far worse than doing it in 2007 or 2008. Had WebOS launched in June of 2007 or 2008, I have little doubt it would be a lead player, if not dominant. Today though it is struggling for survival. Microsoft is going through the same transition and I agree, RIM needs to seriously consider it because the issues with Blackberry development today are speed bumps, but tomorrow will be solid brick walls that will bring the platform to an abrupt halt with all but the most die-hard customers.

As necessary as they are, can mobile platforms survive a full reboot, or is the cure worse than the disease?

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