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Executing contenders and lamenting snuffed greatness: Palm and its destiny

July 29, 2012

The modern drive to execute competitor businesses by buying out their company and burying their products is nothing short of stunning, if not outright idiotic. However, in a sizable amount of time, existing patents may expire and then revert to the masses for their own use 20 years after its formal acceptance.

Can Palm Really Be Gone Forever?

Such would appear to be just such a case with Palm, a company that, according to Wikipedia, began in 1996. So, in 2016 the Palm patent should expire. That means that 2017 could see a resurgence of familiar Palm-style hardware, no longer called by the specific name. Once anyone can produce those units without paying a hardware concept license fee, look out.

And Palm Wasn’t the Handiest, Easiest-to-Use, Most Practical Computer Ever for Around-the-House and Travel Practicality?

Presuming that the Palm still resonates with anyone who likes to carry a mini-computer in a shirt pocket or purse.

Palm, in terms of the usefulness of a mini-computer, is irreplaceable fun. It’s one of the most wonderful of devices that have ever come about on the market in thousands of years. It’s worth buying a Palm just to buy a laptop, desktop, or notepad to keep the major archive. You can take a Palm anywhere, after all.

Using a semi-truck to get from the bedroom to the kitchen: Stupidphones?

At some later date, someone got the not-so-brilliant idea to use the Palm OS with smartphones. It’s an easy idea to be critical of because the Palm itself started out as a hand-held computer and the whole idea would be like turning a scientific calculator or why not an abacus? into a smartphone. Then along come other smartphones and completely wipe the floor with the Palm OS because it’s not smartphone material.

Then Palm just has to lay down and die. And HP performs the hit by introducing WebOS,  a new OS destined to pomp-up the mobile phone application further and completely without regard to having a practical computer at hand — or rather, at-palm.

The whole fact of the matter is that home computers were enormously popular in the 1980’s and that the industry has been trying to assassinate home computers any time that home computer pop up.

The truth about home computers is that if you learn how to program them, then you won’t need to buy any expensive hardware. The home computer is not just some product. It is a concept, really like an abacus, that lacks only one defining quality, and that is engineering. The proper engineering renders any issue of compatibility nothing other than an electrical wiring challenge and a software driver challenge. Any hardware device, printer or otherwise, is more than capable of handling itself so long as the software knows how to communicate.

Hardware compatibility is anything you want to network with … in theory

The industry was more than willing to comply and provide any manner of hardware and support. Want a hard drive? They’ll sell you one. Want an LCD monitor instead of an RGB monitor? They’ll sell it. But the devious vulnerability of all this is that computers are for businesses as such fact concern economies of scale, and that many businesses find — rather than hire their own computer programmers to produce useful software — instead to purchase computer software for hundreds of dollars.

The best home computer ever for business or fun

That’s all fine and well, but the only company that ever understood the basic division between business computers and home computers was probably Commodore. And their Amiga, although it was designed for business as well as the home, was put out of its misery with a reputation for being a “gaming computer.” It still looks like a modern computer for any practical purpose and is often faster than a PC, except that its CPU is now undeniably slow when it comes to the greatest need for the greatest simplicity in the greatest amount of work.

I use my Palm just about every day, and the 4.1 Cobalt version of the software can’t be beat.

Palm 5: More features, less usability

Palm 5 Garnet was a huge mistake. The menus were sometimes useless, and the features seemed as if packed into niches. Palm 5 was an embarassment, although there were certainly new and better features. The software also made possible faster CPUs that would only rise to maximum CPU power if the task so justified.

But no company since has cared to see a Palm with a long-lived battery supply. Faster CPUs may seem nice in theory, but the motive was clearly to add the same sort of capacity that you get with a desktop. And really, none of this was absolutely necessary. Choice is always great, but they made the one egregious error of eliminating the wonderful Cobalt OS Palms and all the wonderful choices for expandability.

Palm 5 Graffiti was terrible. It wasn’t improved. It was a failure designed to resemble an improvement. The addition of two-strokes to make a simple character was an idiotic flaw. The original Graffiti at least had the potential to be fast, and you can put the blame on the severing of the original pad in favor of more screen space. As a consequence, Graffiti 2 used more CPU power.

No, what the world really needed was to see the Cobalt OS improved rather than nigh replaced with an inferior version.

Palm Cobalt was the Master

What Palm really needed was a longer battery life and a wider range of single-stroke Graffiti. Then they should have added Unicode support with its own keypad and simplified the character strokes by adding extra “case” buttons, like a special Palm button, Shift button, Control button, and Alt button. That’s really the best way to improve over the original Graffiti, and then you can recycle keystrokes when practical.

A special button for multimedia should had used the MPEG4 standard and played video or converted MP3’s by standard inclusion of new software in the original installation package.

An e-book standard should had been used and given its own button, too, for reading stock e-books.

There was also need of support for memory stick or memory card latest PCMCIA standards, as different Palms used different PCMCIA cards. Plus there should have been attention given to compatibility with printer standards that accept PCMCIA cards or USB sticks that those cards can fit in. To accomplish that would require that Palm dispense with requiring each file to end in .PRC or .PDB and allow standard file extensions to be saved to the memory card. Indeed, requiring each file to have .PRC or .PDB was probably the greatest Palm flaw ever. That, and failing to include a means to organize files on the memory card in directories by use of a decent software program. When you want to synchronize, then you can pull the full set of directories directly to a specialized directory of choice rather than require that all files are stuck in the Backup or Archive folders after a Hotsync.

Wi-fi was also a necessary addition to existing hardware.

Those are really the only features that come to mind that were absolutely necessary to see improved.

Screen space

And what about screen space?

The Palm’s hardware could easily be rigged via Wi-fi to act as a Universal Input Device. That means that you could use your Palm to replace any input device whatsoever — keyboard, mouse, trackball, you name it — and send the output to any operating system of choice. That was certainly another feature lacking.

Some companies realized the wonderful potential of having a built-in IR port for infrared applications that could change channels on any digital appliance or even let you use your Palm to open or close your garage door if you wished, turn on fans or operate remote lights. The applications were endless. And it fits in your pocket! Need cash at the ATM or serve automated transactions at a store, you could even put your coupons on a Palm and transact using a standard protocol at the grocery. But Palm never got that far, you see. And what about programming your microwave oven or interfacing with a digital appliance to regulate its thermostat or even control your home AC or heater? One hand-held device could do it all, and it would be your property and your firewall.

Turn your computer on and select your operating system of choice, and select a few key programs to start up? Yup — all with a simple Palm program.

Palm still has this potential, in theory. Another idea might be to build the base unit and let it slip into a specially-designed unit that serves as its monitor. Then you could have the basic default 320 x 320 high resolution screen or choose any size of LCD hardware that you want to slip your Palm into. And continue to use the Graffiti pad. Then you wouldn’t need a Notepad computer because you could plug your Palm into a monitor of that size.

So, really, Palm made the best hand-held of the times, but then it rather disappeared.

It’s too bad that we probably won’t ever see such a useful wonder around again. The home computing enthusiasts would get locked out in favor of commercial schemes to maximize profitability for establishing Yet Another Platform to scuttle once all the requisite books have been purchased and understood. Then it’s the practical equivalent of the new platform owner pressing a button, and a trapdoor opens up beneath the computer owner and bam! — there is no more computer.

Naturally, business will be the major driving force for any particular computer or hardware. But when Palm came ’round for home or business, anyone had a real chance to get in on the action and enjoy the unit until its inevitable destruction some years after heavy use.

Now Palm would appear to be defunct in any recognizable way, and we have the legacy of old units that work great but that could also disappear out of existence any year or decade now.

Loss may be a bitter feeling, but with computer hardware there is hope.


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