Penguin Power Hits The Road

A new Linux-based version of the Palm OS could reverse the platform's declining fortunes and create serious trouble for Microsoft.
It's hard to overestimate the potential impact of a Linux version of the Palm OS, a development that was revealed last week when PalmSource announced it is acquiring a Chinese Linux vendor.

This isn't an important story because it might strengthen the Palm OS in China, as some reports have suggested. Rather, it is important because a Linux version of the Palm OS could save the reeling platform, be a boon to enterprises, strike a serious blow against Microsoft, and even give Linux a boost.

PalmSource has staggered in the last couple of years as enterprises have increasingly turned to Microsoft's Windows Mobile platform for devices, particularly handhelds. That transition is understandable because most enterprises already are standardized on other Windows platforms. Plus, Microsoft has worked hard to convince IT managers of its questionable claims that the Windows Mobile platform is the best way to remotely access enterprise data located on Microsoft servers.

That's why market studies agree that the Palm OS' market share for handhelds has declined precipitously and, despite the success of the palmOne Treo, it hasn't gotten much traction with smartphones, either. In fact, rumors persist that a Windows Mobile version of Treo is on the way and palmOne refuses to deny those rumors.

Enter Linux, which has gained a strong foothold in many enterprises. It also has a large base both of developers and, more important, of enterprise applications that could easily be adapted for use on mobile devices. What Linux is missing is an easy-to-use interface, something the Palm OS has in spades.

Combine the strengths of both platforms and the result could be a big winner. Enterprises would win because a Linux Palm OS would give them more choices as they mobilize key applications.

Linux would benefit because a Palm version would give it what it has sorely been missing—a user-friendly interface, at least for mobile devices. Linux also would gain a significant presence in the world of mobility.

And consumers would benefit because Linux could drive down the cost of smart mobile devices.

The biggest winner, of course, would be PalmSource. This move has the potential to make that company a major player in the mobility market once again. In other words, a Linux version of the Palm OS is a winner for just about everybody except Microsoft.

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