I finally got around last week to installing NetBSD on my IBM z50 Workpad—a subnotebook-sized unit that teamed excellent design and capable hardware with the extremely poor-performing Windows CE 2.11 operating system. Id picked up the z50 a year or so back when IBM pulled the plug on it and the devices could be had for under $300 over the Web. As much as Id always loved the slim, functional design and excellent battery life of the z50, I didnt used mine much. The z50 had no upgrade path to Windows CE 3.0, so I was closed off from a tempting array of new hardware and software add-ons.
With NetBSD, the z50 is a respectable laptop replacement with a stable pipeline to future software and device driver upgrades, courtesy of the kudzulike BSD/Linux developer community.
Much more than my newly useful z50, however, this years PalmSource Developers Conference has me dwelling on upgrade paths and developer communities. Palms freshly spun-off mobile operating system branch, also named PalmSource, launched Palm OS 5.0 in a developers beta version this week at the show.
Palm faces the substantial task of bridging the wide feature gap between the Palm OS and those of Windows CE, Symbian and open-source-based competitors without leaving its large developer base behind.
Based on what been coming out of the conference, it looks as though Palms short-term game plan will go as follows: Launch a series of faster, ARM-based (and almost certainly more expensive) devices, the central feature of which will be compatibility with old Palm OS applications—which, by their nature, wont take advantage of the newer, faster, more expensive ARM hardware.
As I learned from my experiences with the z50, its no fun being left behind by your mobile OS maker. Technology will, however, move on: I wonder how many of todays Palm OS applications will have retained anything approaching must-have status a year and a half from now. Not many, Id wager.
The best thing Palm can do for its developer community is kick the Dragonball-weaning process into high gear, before Windows CE.net and mature Linux-based handheld devices start showing up.
Scratch that. The best thing Palm could do is to tie itself to a much larger and more Microsoft-proof developer community by shifting its OS internals to BSD or Linux, a la Apple, and focusing its efforts on applying their Zen to the interface.