In a move designed to organize its thousands of developers as well as attract new ones, Palm Inc. launched on Tuesday a slew of official membership programs.
The new Palm OS developer program has two tiers, one for the more serious commercial developer called the Advantage level; and one focused more on the hobbyist or fledgling commercial developer, called the Basic level.
The Basic level entitles developers to core services, including software development kits, product images and limited access to source code. Advantage, which has a base cost of $500, includes direct technical support from Palm, a quarterly resource CD with the latest development tools, and various marketing opportunities, including promotion via the PalmOS.com web site.
"Were working to provide our developers with programs that will support them in ushering in a new era of applications focused on business productivity, communications, education and multimedia," said Gabriel Acosta-Lopez, senior director of Platform Developer Services at Palm in Santa Clara, Calif.
The company also is launching the Palm OS Certified Developer program, which, similar to Microsoft Corp.s numerous developer certification programs, is simply a written exam that proves a Palm developer meets the manufacturers standards.
Despite Palms efforts, however, some current Palm developers both novice and professional do not see much benefit to the new programs. In fact, the first thing some of them noticed is that the Palm developers Web site no longer offers hardware discounts to developers because Palms hardware and software companies are run separately now.
"That was one of the most useful features to me," said Christopher Bell, an independent Palm OS developer in Belmont, Mass. "[There is] no other way Id own several Palms for testing. For the part-time Palm developer, the hardware discounts were an important way to help developers improve the quality of their software before distributing it. The emulator support is good, but there are key differences from the actual hardware."
Several developers said they found the certification program simply unnecessary.
"The developer program provides the ROM and the emulators, which is important, but beyond that we think the best certification is producing cool software," said John Robotham, president of Zframe Inc., a Belmont, Mass., developer of a wireless Web platform for the Palm OS, which currently is in beta tests. "Its good for people who are just starting out, but we have veterans on the team that are producing software that people already like. We dont need a certificate."
Bell, who is just starting out, agreed.
"I doubt I would take the certification test ," he said. "I just dont think there are enough firms looking for Palm developers specifically to make certification worthwhile. Also, those programs depend on a large number of potential registrants to create a sufficient pool for beta testing the exams. There cant be more than a few thousand who would bother."
Robotham did say that it will be nice if Palm does more to market its developers products. "Weve always run under the assumption that were not going to get much marketing support," he said.
Palm faces increasing competition from Microsoft Corp. and its Pocket PC platform, even in the developer realm. There will be a new trade show dedicated specifically to Pocket PC, taking place in February 2002 in New York. Meanwhile, Palms annual developer conference, PalmSource, was postponed this year from October 2001 until February 2002 because of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.
Clay Thompson, president of Creative Creek TM, a Wayland, Mass., developer of advanced calculators for the Palm OS, said that he does not plan to pay the $500 for the Advantage service. The Basic level is free.
"The basic developer support looks like its going to be about what it was before," he said. "The Advantage level appears to give you straight line access to their tech. support people. Theyll answer e-mail."
Thompson said, however, that he has always had his questions answered by members of various newsgroups. "I think Im going to stick with Basic,:" he said. "Ive never had a question I needed to send directly to Palm."
As for the certification, he said that wasnt worth it to him, either. "Im able to get consulting jobs without the certification," he said. "For right now I dont think I need it."
Microsoft certification programs are a different story. "I think your wage goes up significantly if you have certification with Microsoft," he said. "Time will tell if thats true with this program."