Linked by Thom Holwerda on Mon 11th Mar 2013 14:51 UTC
PDAs, Cellphones, Wireless After a few months of planning, several weeks of work, and possibly a few kilometres of aimless pacing through the living room, I'm happy to present "Palm: I'm ready to wallow now". This massive article (22,000 words) covers countless aspects of Palm, its devices, its operating system, and the company's importance to the mobile industry. I start with a detailed look at the history of handwriting recognition, after which I move on to the four hardware products I believe are crucial in understanding Palm as a company. Of course, I also dive into Palm OS, covering the kernel, its filesystem (or lack thereof), 'multitasking' capabilities, user experience, and much more. Important Palm OS licensees like Sony and Handspring make an appearance, and I cover the failed attempt at modernising the Palm OS: Palm OS 6 Cobalt. Finally, the conclusion ties it all together. For the first time in OSNews' history, you can also buy this article to support OSNews and make more articles like this possible in the future (don't worry - the regular online version is free, as always!). I suggest you grab a coffee, sit back, and enjoy.
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Whoops, got truncted; here is the rest:

One thing I don’t think that had anything to do with Cobalt’s adoption was Apple. If nothing else, the timing just doesn’t work out: during the time from when Cobalt was done and available to manufacturers until Apple first showed the iPhone I was involved with implementing a large part of a completely new UI design based on the new frameworks in Cobalt, watched that get dropped, left the company for Google and, starting at pretty much ground zero of a raw Linux kernel, worked with a small team to build an entirely new operating system that was well on its way to being done. Cobalt was being shopped around in early 2004; Apple didn’t acquire FingerWorks until 2005. Even way later when Android was being shopped around it was hard to get interest in that (even with it being open source!) due to the same issues with manufacturers and their relationship with software. In fact, the introduction of the iPhone I think was very good timing for Android since it finally burst a lot of bubbles about the (lack of) importance of the software platform, and here Android was basically already ready to provide a similar software platform for other companies to use.

As you hint, there were indeed actual PalmOS Cobalt devices that were under development, in conjunction with the software work on the platform. There was one major company that PalmSource worked with for quite a while and was close to shipping, and then that company canceled the project. (I heard later that standard practice for this company was to have a bunch of devices under development at the same time, and then towards the end kill all but a couple that they thought had the most potential. I don’t however have any idea what the actual circumstances were for this, just that it came as quite a shock to the engineers because we thought things were going well.)

I mentioned above about another UI design built from Cobalt, which I didn’t see mentioned in the article. This was actually shown publicly -- is a reference to it that I found with a quick search. This was much more than a concept; this was the new modern PalmOS that was built directly on top of the new frameworks that were hidden away in Cobalt, and had a significant amount of working implementation. A big point of it was to provide a UI that works *without* a touch screen, because the traditional PalmOS design requiring a stylus touch screen had actually been a big stumbling point for getting interest from phone manufacturers. And there actually was significant interest from at least one manufacturer, who ended up in a bidding war with ACCESS over PalmSource because they wanted to get the Rome platform. (That said, I think PalmSource would have many of the same troubles trying to license the software to other manufacturers, for many of the same reasons Cobalt had trouble.)

Finally, I would like to say the design of Android actually took a lot of inspiration from Palm. Many of the core engineers on Android came from PalmSource (most having arrived there from Be), and saw Android as an opportunity to do what PalmSource was trying to accomplish in an environment that was more likely to succeed. For example, Android’s Intent system is actually a greatly evolved version of PalmOS’s sublaunching, based on a lot of ideas in the Rome architecture. I find it amusing reading that linked article about examples we had shown of what Rome was doing, which have a direct lineage to things like Android’s sharing and other Intent-based features. Or another example is Android’s initial design to support different density displays (created long before Apple’s whole Retina thing), which came directly out of our experience with how PalmOS was dealing with different densities and how we could make that so much better if we baked that concept into the platform from the start. You can actually trace an evolution from Palm’s original attention manager, to the status bar slips in Cobalt, through the notification facility in Rome, to the notification system that has been part of Android since it first shipped. And Android’s application model based on a single foreground application that must be able to save and restore its state as you leave it and return has a strong lineage from work at PalmSource on how to add multitasking to Palm’s original single tasking model.

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