Palm on Offensive

President and CEO David Nagel looks ahead to increasing features and to making an enterprise push.

Palm Inc. named David Nagel president and CEO of the handheld computer companys new operating system subsidiary last August. In a year that included massive company layoffs, delayed product launches and the ousting of Palm CEO Carl Yankowski last month, Nagel has tough road ahead of him. A former executive of AT&T Corp. and Apple Computer Inc., Nagel said he believes that his experience will serve him well both in terms of operating systems and wireless communications. Nagel sat down with eWEEK Senior Editor Carmen Nobel two weeks ago at Comdex in Las Vegas to talk about his plans to make the Santa Clara, Calif., company a formidable player in the enterprise.

eWEEK: You have been criticized for your role in the Advanced Technology Group at Apple, where several operating system projects—Star Trek, Raptor, Copland—fizzled before they were launched. How do you avoid Apples problems at Palm?

Nagel: I think the multimedia technologies that Apple introduced, QuickTime and so on, are still leading the industry 10 years later. A lot of the OSes we did release were very successful. We might have bitten off more than we could chew in an area like Copland, although all of the capabilities we talked about in Copland [such as QuickTime and emulation] did eventually get released. One of the things I learned was to be a little more careful about doing what the competition is doing.

eWEEK: When is Palm OS 5.0 due out?

Nagel: [Palm OS] 5.0 will be out the second half of 2002. Thats an important release because it really opens up the platform to an enormous increase in the overall processing speed. Developers and licensees have been extremely clever at extracting a huge amount of performance out of the 68K. But the ARM platform [which 5.0 supports] gives an order of magnitude from 10 to 50 times the performance.

eWEEK: What about security?

Nagel: Handheld products, because theyre so easily lost, have to be more secure than PCs. And they can be. For one thing, people dont know about the operating system. I dont have 300,000 hackers working to break into my OS. And we now have an alliance with RSA [Security Inc.] thats sort of a down payment.

eWEEK: How do you keep the so-called Zen of Palm—that simplicity of the platform—now that Microsoft is more of a fierce competitor and cell phone companies are touting the benefits of transporting video via handsets?

Nagel: The problem with [Pocket PC units] is that unless you have 32MB, you cant do anything. They really are Pocket PCs. They require a lot of power to do basic stuff. I think the Zen of Palm simplicity thing is still a necessary and good idea. Everyone knows how to use our products. But its a really competitive marketplace. Thats the reason were moving to ARM. But its also the reason we license the OS to a whole variety of partners who are adding their own innovation. Well get some really interesting communications products out a lot earlier than Pocket PC.

eWEEK: The push for corporate customers is still relatively new for Palm, and there have been several false starts. Are users confused about whether to go to the software group or the hardware group for enterprise services?

Nagel: We clearly have to be doing a much better job if our licensees are going to be selling to the enterprise. We clearly have to have a support channel for the enterprise guys, and thats something were putting together.

eWEEK: Nokia Corp. announced an alliance to create an open platform for mobile phones. Palm and Microsoft were among the companies notably missing from the alliance.

Nagel: Microsoft has gotten out in front with announcements related to that stuff, and a lot of the carriers are concerned. Carriers are investing an enormous amount of money to build these high-performance data networks. The last thing theyre interested in seeing is a third-party company coming in to grab all the revenue.

eWEEK: Will there ever be various versions of Palm for various operating systems, or is the goal always to keep a unified OS?

Nagel: One of the great strengths of the Palm OS is that we dont have a separate OS for phones and one for handhelds and one for cheap handhelds. Microsoft ... does have sort of a three-headed monster.