Editorial: Why the Palm OS Is the Inevitable Winner

Former PIC News Editor Ed Hardy takes a look at the competition between the Palm OS and the Pocket PC OS. Though long only a niche player in the handheld market, recently the Pocket PC started to make some gains. With the release of Palm OS 5, the competitive landscape has shifted back in the Palm OS's favor. The change to faster processor and the addition of new capabilities means that the Palm OS is in no danger of losing its lead in the handheld market.

Since its release back in 1996, the Palm OS has dominated handheld sales. When Microsoft released Windows CE in 1997, many industry "experts" were quick to say that the software giant would quickly take over the lead. As we all know, that didn't happen. Here's why.

Palm and Microsoft have taken totally different approaches to developing a handheld OS. The reason the Palm OS leads and Microsoft follows is Palm's approach worked and Microsoft's didn't.

Microsoft decided to build everything they thought a customer would ever want into theirs right from the beginning. They were aware the hardware wasn't good enough to handle all that but Microsoft knew it would be someday. They have never had a problem releasing products that weren't ready for the market and making their customers pay for the R&D. That's why WinCE/PPC have always had a lot of multimedia functions and short battery lives and poor performance; the software was way ahead of the hardware.

This might have worked if the hardware had caught up to the software relatively quickly. But it didn't. WinCE was released in 1997 and the hardware is just now catching up, five years later. The situation got so bad for Microsoft that they changed the name of their handheld operating system from WinCE to Pocket PC in an attempt to escape the very bad reputation WinCE had collected.

Palm took the exact opposite approach. It tailored its OS to what the hardware could handle. That's why the Palm OS has lacked multimedia but had great performance and battery life. Turns out that's what customers wanted and Palm has continued to dominate handheld sales.

Palm's approach meant that handhelds didn't do everything that some customers wanted, but what it did do, it did well. And Palm's simplistic approach also kept costs down.

The Times They Are a Changin'
But things have progressed. Just because the time wasn't right for multimedia in 1996 doesn't mean it still isn't right. Processors have gotten better. They use less power while getting faster. This means the hardware is ready for multimedia and that's why PalmSource is including it in OS 5.

But the Pocket PC OS benefits from the new processors, too. The hardware has finally just about caught up with their software. This is why it has made some recent gains in market share.

There might have even been a real competition between it and the Palm OS but now that the PPC's most glaring problems have been removed, its many other problems have become more obvious.

The Palm OS has a very easy to use interface, well adapted to a small screen. Pocket PC has an interface designed for a screen at least four times bigger than any possible on a handheld. And this is something that Microsoft will never be able to fix because it is absolutely dedicated to the belief that the Windows interface is the best possible one for any situation. It's right there in the name; to Microsoft, it's a PC that fits in your pocket. Actions which are easy to perform on a large PC screen are difficult on a 320 by 240 one. One of the major premises of the operating system just doesn't work.

Now that OS 5 allows new multimedia features, H-P, Toshiba, and the rest no longer have anything to advertise. With the new operating system, Palms will be able to do everything Pocket PC's can do. Multimedia, wireless, whatever. Both operating systems even run on the same microprocessors. What's H-P's tag line going to be, "Almost as Good and Only Twice as Big"?

There are thousands of Palm OS applications and a thriving third party software market. Hardly any companies are developing for the Pocket PC and so there are few applications. This is because developers know that if they make a successful application, Microsoft will write a clone and bundle it with PPC 2003 (or whatever).

For example, there are numerous word processors for the Palm OS. This gives customers a choice and the competition spurs the developers to keep making their products better. Microsoft bundles Pocket Word with the operating system. There is no point in anyone making a competitor. Few people will buy it because they already have a word processor. From all reports, Pocket Word is pretty lame. I've even heard suggestions that Microsoft deliberately made it that way so they wouldn't cut into sales of the desktop version. But no one will write a serious competitor because there's almost no chance they could make any money off it.

Too Little, Too Late
Microsoft has missed the boat. Palm was asleep at the wheel, just coasting along for a couple of years. This was Microsoft's only hope to take over the market. But that time is over. PalmSource is aggressively improving the Palm OS. It already has 87% of retail sales in the United States and sells about twice as many handhelds in the Enterprise market as Microsoft does. Expect PPC's share to drop back to single figures. Especially during the burst of sales caused by Palm users upgrading to the new operating system.

The PPC won't go away. Microsoft has tons of money to pour into it and hates to admit it has failed at anything. But any other company would see the writing on the wall and drop it.

There are still plenty of "experts" who are predicting that the Pocket PC will take over the lead from the Palm OS in a few years. Keep in mind, though, these are the same people who have been predicting the same thing for years. Every year, they move back the year that Microsoft will take over.

I wish I could claim all this came to me in a great epiphany but Steve Bush from Brighthand is the one who shed the light on Palm's and Microsoft's differing philosophies for me on the way home from the PalmSource conference a few months ago.

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I.M. Anonymous @ 6/10/2002 4:18:22 PM #
PPC's use 320 x 240 screens, not 320 x 280...


RE: typo
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/10/2002 4:27:30 PM #
"Steve Bush from Brighthand is the one WHO shed the light"
RE: typo
Ed @ 6/10/2002 4:28:06 PM #

News Editor
RE: typo
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2002 10:18:57 AM #
What a brilliant comment. So you saw a typo in an exceptionally and informative article and home in on the typo. Thanks for your contribution.
RE: typo
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2002 12:27:50 PM #
Uhm, he just pointed out the typo. He didn't call into question any part of the article because of the typo as you might be implying...
RE: typo
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2002 11:07:31 PM #
The guy making the comment about the typo was likely making the point that typos and poor grammar distract the reader from the main thesis of the article. It's like trying to read a book wearing scratched glasses. In these days of spelling and grammar checkers, there's really no excuse for not providing an article with few or no errors - that's a general comment; I'm not picking on the author of this particular story.

Get ready, PPC trolls coming...

I.M. Anonymous @ 6/10/2002 4:18:38 PM #
I agree with Ed.

Now, I'm excited to see what Sony (not Palm) comes out with.

RE: Get ready, PPC trolls coming...
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/10/2002 4:22:58 PM #
Go Palm/Apple/Linux!
RE: Get ready, PPC trolls coming...
Palm_Otaku @ 6/11/2002 8:09:28 PM #
LOL! It's an interesting editorial/perspective all right, but a GUARANTEED topic to start a religious war. Any bets on how many posts this "article" will generate by the end of the week? :-)

RE: Get ready, PPC trolls coming...
Fly-By-Night @ 10/11/2002 11:00:52 AM #
Just been reading this as I hadn't noticed the editorial before, so come to it rather late.

Just a word of warning for anyone else coming to this a few moths late: DO NOT bother reading any of the posts below. For some reason a bunch of PPC users have been let out of the asylum for a day trip and have filled up the comments board. They seem really angry about something....

Personally, I think PPC is ****e so won't buy one. The rest of you can do what you want...



abosco @ 6/10/2002 4:23:58 PM #
Very well put. This article basically sums up everything that I have been posting in the other discussion boards. PPC buyers now have no argument as to what their handheld can do that is better than the Palms. That tagline is better than anything Microsoft has ever had.
Spoken like a true hero, Ed.
Almost as good and twice as big.


RE: Thanks
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/10/2002 4:41:42 PM #
This is great! Where can I buy PDA with OS 5.0?
RE: Thanks
WhoControlsTheMedia? @ 6/10/2002 4:46:20 PM #
> This is great! Where can I buy PDA with OS 5.0?

You can buy a Sony Clie right now and it will have all the same features as any OS 5.0 device released this year. (hi-res, mp3, multi-media)

RE: Thanks
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/10/2002 5:57:22 PM #
"You can buy a Sony Clie right now and it will have all the same features as any OS 5.0 device released this year. (hi-res, mp3, multi-media)"

I keep reading this statement by NR owners, and yet I see no reason to believe it. The NR launcher doesn't even have the OS 5 icons on it. The OS 5 version of the NR may have a better battery life, etc. Only time will tell.

RE: Thanks
robrecht @ 6/10/2002 7:09:05 PM #
But how many software developers will continue to improve their products to run more effectively on an OS4 machine?

Waiting for OS5 may make sense in terms of better software options down the road. Or is it so far down the road that we should wait for OS6? Appreciate any well informed posts on this topic.

Thanks, Robrecht

RE: Thanks
WhoControlsTheMedia? @ 6/10/2002 7:59:36 PM #
From Ed:

Microsoft doesn't win at everything it does.

It's a little early to say but have you been paying attention to how poorly the Xbox is selling?

Interesting that you mention the XBox. The X-Box is actually one example of a superior product not selling well. How interesting that M$ produced it, because usually with M$ products it is the exact opposite: a non-superior product dominating the market.

Anyway, I will contend your original point that M$ will not automatically own the PDA market just because they are M$.

What *can* PPC do better?
Palm_Otaku @ 6/10/2002 8:17:29 PM #
I'm hoping that someone more experienced with PPC than I can provide a straight response on this.

I've got a new Toshiba e570 PPC (a gift) and had a loaner iPAQ H3875 for a month before that. I've spent a number of hours surfing the Net looking for some really compelling applications that show off this (supposedly) state-of-the-art hardware but have little to show for my efforts.

So please, point me to a killer app or two?

- I found a version of AutoCAD but frankly, it was relatively useless on a 320x240 screen (and at a cost of $200....?!)

- Pocket Streets looks nice, but the PPC2002 version is no longer free (and I'm uncomfortable paying for a MS desktop mapping software program that has no trial version.)

- Windows Media Player/Pocket TV/DivX are OK for showing off movie trailers and other little video demos but the frame rates aren't good enough for extended viewing, and you need very large storage cards to fit a TV program or movie on it. So, what do you use this feature for?

- MS Reader looks pretty good, but I'm REQUIRED to get an MS Passport account to use it? Please tell me there is some way around this! I don't want a Passport account! (MS hasn't exactly earned my trust...)

Oh, and I'd LOVE help with this: I've got the Palm/Toshiba Bluetooth SDIO card. Works great on a Palm m505. How do I get it running on the e570? I can't find driver files for PPC anywhere on Toshiba's support site or on Microsoft's?

RE: Thanks
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/10/2002 8:24:21 PM #
The X box may be superior in terms of processor speed, but it is a 32 bit machine.

Game Cube, Play Station 2 and even the late Dreamcast are 128 bit machines. In this regard the Xbox is in the same boat as PPC.

RE: Thanks
WhoControlsTheMedia? @ 6/10/2002 8:30:46 PM #
The X box may be superior in terms of processor speed, but it is a 32 bit machine.

Game Cube, Play Station 2 and even the late Dreamcast are 128 bit machines. In this regard the Xbox is in the same boat as PPC.

The fact that the X-Box is 32-bit means nothing. The Dreamcast is 128-bit yet the X-Box is superior to it in every respect (graphics, internal HD, etc.). I would also say that the X-Box is superior to the PS2 in terms of technical capability. So the number of bits doesn't make the machine.

Thus it is still true that the X-Box is a superior machine that does not sell well. This is what makes it different than the PocketPC, which is an inferior (IMO, PPC users may disagree) platform that DOESN'T sell well.

RE: Thanks
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/10/2002 9:34:38 PM #
superior hardware vs superior coders-sometimes the coders win. They don't take the hardware for granted and write the most efficient code possible. I can only imagine what Ardiri and Blue Nomad could come up with on a PalmOS 5 device with 128 megs, 400 mhz and a mediaq mq 1168.
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/10/2002 10:36:09 PM #
More impressive specs but it's not selling near the numbers it needs to - it's the DreamCast for this decade. They got all of the early-adopter, I'll-buy-anything-MicroSoft hardcore gamers right after launch but are now falling further and further behind the competition sales-wise.

At the recent E3 (the big gaming conference/expo), the general vibe was that Xbox is already an also-ran. MS is losing a lot of money on each console sold and is not getting the required licensing revenue from their games to make it up.

While we're talking about losers that MS has backed, what's happening with MS AutoPC? MS Ultimate TV? MS "Stinger" Smartphone (is anyone besides Sendo going to make these?)?

RE: Thanks
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/10/2002 10:41:18 PM #
I'm sorry but A Console Game Will never...EVER Be as good as a game on a Desktop

RE: Thanks
Smaug @ 6/10/2002 11:35:32 PM #
Real quick, all the new consoles are 32 bit. At least if you measure it by the more common measure on PC Chips of the address bus. Bits mean nothing, above 16 there isnt too much of a concern in a console(oh no, it can only handle a max of 4 gigs of memory!). It's all about the other stuff.

RE: Thanks
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2002 1:48:41 AM #
Number battles do nothing. The NES was under 1mhz, the SNES was 3.97mhz yet seemingly outperformed functions of a 100mhz desktop pc. XBox is running numbers in a Windows world where everything is ineffecient. Nintendo custom designed their chips and stripped everything out that they could. In the end the 4 systems, while obvious winners exist in graphics, by sheer brute force, it's negligible, just like between the Genesis and SNES, and in the end, rests in how fun the games are. (And yes, I am the same person who posted about the PSX's history above.)
Graphics and power are a gimmick to be played out. Jaguar, 3DO, Neo-Geo, Game Gear and Lynx all out-shown their competitors, but couldn't hold a candle to gameplay. I doubt I'll have any arguments against me saying Nintendo makes the best games in the world.(Arguable, but they ARE in the top 3, NO?) I don't need violence, blood, cussing in music or highly-detailed facial and chest hair on fighters. I want something my friends and I can pick up and play and HAVE FUN. If you can't stand the "kiddie" appeal(And for christsake's, find a new word, too.) then take a look at what you are doing in the first place. Holding a bent box, pressing buttons to make fake people beat each other up. How is that not "kiddie" and "immature?" *sigh* I'm ranting, but I hope someone will see my side of this without dissecting every thought.
XBox has it in numbers, but not in quality.
RE: Thanks
mashoutposse @ 6/11/2002 10:12:09 AM #
XBOX may have the upper hand as far as hardware is concerned, but its current software based still leaves much to be desired. THAT is why the machine is dead-last in every market.

RE: Thanks
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2002 12:23:48 PM #
"I'm sorry but A Console Game Will never...EVER Be as good as a game on a Desktop"

I'm sorry but A Desktop Game Will never...EVER Be as good as a game on a Console.

RE: Thanks
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2002 1:07:52 PM #
The Xbox is aimed at a more 'adult' 20-30something market and has a smaller potential than say the Game Cube. Have you seen the game cube games? Strictly kids stuff. The reason this is becoming succesful is that school kids buy them because they are cheap and their friends also have the same. Xbox is not an attractive product to school kids. That's it.
RE: Thanks
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2002 3:43:32 PM #
Sorry to contradict you but the Game cube is not aimed at young people as you say.

Resident Evil (considered to be the most violent console game) is now a Game Cube exclusive (go to gamespot.com or ign.com for the press release). And the already released Resident Evil remake for the game cube looks more gory than any PSX2 or Xbox game today.

Also many gory games are now comming for the game cube including Turok 3, Mortal Kombat, etc.

Off Topic
Ed @ 6/11/2002 4:26:53 PM #
Guys, this is a handheld site. This conversation about game consoles, while maybe interesting, is totally off topic.

News Editor
RE: Thanks
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2002 11:27:43 PM #
Resident Evil is GORY not VIOLENT. THAT title would go to the GTA series, on the Palm, Game Boy, PC, PSX and PS2. Only recently acknowledged since GTA3 added new views in addition to the top-down view of the others.
RE: Thanks
jjsoh @ 6/12/2002 12:24:57 AM #
: Guys, this is a handheld site. This conversation about
: game consoles, while maybe interesting, is totally off
: topic.


And you were worried about car analogy off-topicness! As soon as you commented on the XBox, I was sure to see a long, LONG thread to follow.. heheh.. :)

But I agree, it is interesting, but this is definitely not the place to discuss it.


RE: Thanks
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/12/2002 7:38:20 AM #
>Very well put. This article basically sums up
>everything that I have been posting in the other >discussion boards. PPC buyers now have no argument as >to what their handheld can do that is better than the >Palms. That tagline is better than anything Microsoft >has ever had.
>Spoken like a true hero, Ed.
>Almost as good and twice as big.


There are things that PPC will still do better. For example, OS 5 will not allow for native file extensions.


cyruski @ 6/10/2002 4:36:40 PM #
i'm no ppc troll, but a question formed in my mind when i saw the toshiba e310: how come do they make it so small?

RE: but..
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/10/2002 6:04:12 PM #
being one of the biggest electronic conglomerate in the planet with the enginenering dept. apparently help.
RE: but..
Midknyte @ 6/10/2002 6:22:17 PM #
They left out CF media

RE: but..
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/10/2002 7:18:06 PM #
If Toshiba did such an incredible feast of downzising the PPC and supersizing its battery life, just imagine what would they could have done if they had picked Palm OS...

Maybe .3 inch thin handhelds with 15+ hours batteries.

RE: but..
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2002 1:12:13 AM #
Sorry, the Palm OS doesn't change the laws of physics and permit a unit so thin to run that long. If it could, then the T-615 could run longer than 3 hours at high bright.
RE: but..
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/11/2002 7:55:18 PM #
Anyone who likes the PPC is a troll!
RE: but..
Palm_Otaku @ 6/11/2002 8:07:36 PM #

A general and false statement like that is "trolling".

RE: but..
I.M. Anonymous @ 7/26/2002 6:58:41 PM #
hahaha troll
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