Palm Targets Developers

Critics say programs unnecessary and call for hardware discounts.

In a move to organize its developers and attract new ones, Palm Inc. has launched a handful of official membership programs.

A new Palm OS developer program has two tiers, one for the more serious commercial developer and one for the hobbyist or fledgling commercial developer.

The Basic level entitles developers to core services, including software development kits, product images and limited access to source code.

The Advantage level, which has a base cost of $500, includes direct technical support from Palm; a quarterly resource CD with the latest development tools; and marketing opportunities, including promotion via the 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 is also launching the Palm OS Certified Developer program, which, similar to Microsoft Corp.s numerous developer certification programs, is a written exam that proves a Palm developer meets the manufacturers standards.

Palm developers, both professional and novice, did not see a huge benefit in the new programs. The first thing many of them noticed is that the Palm developers Web site no longer offers hardware discounts to developers because Palms hardware and software divisions run as separate companies 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 them 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 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 developer of a wireless Web platform for Palm OS, which is in beta tests. "Its good for people who are just starting out, but we have veterans on the team producing software that people already like. We dont need a certificate."

Bell, who is just starting out, said he feels the certification is not very useful. "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 said it would 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 and its Pocket PC platform, even in the developer realm. There will be a new trade show dedicated to Pocket PC, slated for February in New York.