I believe I am one of the last few die-hard nutjobs on the face of this earth who still use (and “use” here is a highly subjective word meaning that I have a bunch of Palm devices lying around, am currently the only semi-active (and “semi-active” means that I get probably a good 2 hours of KPilot hacking in per year =:( ) KPilot developer, and occasionally even turn some of them on) Palm PDA devices. I have successfully resisted the siren call of the iPhone for the last 2+(?) years–partly because there is no functional synchronization solution between my Linux desktop and it, partly because it’s pretty bloody expensive, partly because Cingular has atrociously high data plans compared to Sprint, partly because I’ve endured the lunacy of FLOSS developers trying to keep re-figuring out Apple’s iPod/iTouch/iPhone database structures that would otherwise allow me to synchronize my music and movies with said Apple devices and have an extremely bad taste in my mouth from said frustrations, and partly because I’m one of the cheapest geeks you’ll ever meet (also, being the sole income-provider for a family of 5 only solidifies my inborn cheap nature). All that being said, however, I hereby declare the good old Palm OS officially dead and uninteresting to me anymore. Okay, truth be told, that was an obvious statement to make 2 years ago, but I’ve been in denial since then and am only now trying to face reality and get help. =;P
I am a gadget geek–I always have been–and I have wasted more money on Palm gadgets than I care to remember. I clearly remember agonizing over spending $400 or so for the Palm IIIc when it came out (but OOH, it had a nice color screen!). And the $400 or so I spent on the Clie NX70v was a week-long ordeal that involved me hemming and hawing and spending many an angst-filled evening at the local Circuit City. And the $400 or so I spent on my Treo 650 (which magically turned into a Treo 700p in a couple of years after the 650 became deathly ill) was also quite the emotional ordeal. And yes, I realize that these series of purchases contradict my statement that I’m a cheap geek, so I’ll defend my previous statement by saying that I’m apparently a selectively cheap geek.
Palm was a GREAT gadget and a good OS that allowed me to sync my data with my Linux desktop and enjoy being cool and geeky. In fact, it was (and still is) the only PDA solution that I have found that synchronizes (for the most part) very smoothly with my Linux desktop. It was never as flashy as the Windows-based devices, but it sure was more stable. And there were a huge number of applications for the Palm OS. But seeing the spartan Palm OS 5 interface nowadays, especially when compared with the iPhone bling, or even the Maemo interface… it’s like looking at the old OLWM Window Manager compared with the current KDE4 sexiness. There’s just no comparison. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last 2 years (or have been cheap and/or in denial like me and/or just so in love with the old Palm OS), it’s painfully obvious that very few care about the old Palm OS anymore. Everybody and their pet turtle has an iPhone now (or so it surely seems). And being a FLOSS advocate/hacker/supporter/proponent/religious nutjob, that concerns me and I’d like to again put my money where my mouth and soapbox are.
So what’s my point with all of this? Well, it’s time for me to get a new phone/geek toy, I think. I want to be as FLOSS-supportive and interopable as possible, and I’m really curious what other people who are FLOSS-conscious are thinking about this and have done about it. While none of the options that I see are 100% FLOSS-perfect (being that we’re still dealing with proprietary bits/pieces/networks/hardware with cell phone companies), Android seems the closest, while the Palm Pre (assuming it runs on Linux and allows itself to be open enough to be hackable/customizable/extensible) seems a strong second, whilst the “what do you mean you don’t have an iPhone yet” seems a distant third, being that you’re totally under Apple’s friendly-dictatorship-and-heavily-taxed thumb.
Here’s my short list so far, with my take on positives/negatives. I’m very curious to see what people (especially Planet KDE people who are actively working on providing/improving/supporting FLOSS) have done and are thinking with regards to their cell phones.
- The Apple iPhone. The current definition of sexiness–just ask the entire planet. Unfortunately, from my understanding, it’s very tightly controlled by Apple, and while you can jailbreak it, you’re still under Apple’s thumb as far as transferring music/videos (at the very least) to it from a Linux desktop. Want to back it up? You’d better have either a physical Windows or Mac machine or a very good virtual machine provider like VMware Workstation or Player and cross your fingers a lot. The other major downside in my book is that you can only get an iPhone if you use AT&T/Cingular as your cell phone provider, and their data plans are the highest in the industry ($30 per phone–and that’s if you don’t want to be able to connect to it via Bluetooth for laptop internet accesss???). Also, it doesn’t look like they have a shareable family data plan, so I’d be looking at $90 per month, at least, for just data access?? And then there’s the fact that it’s the absolutely least FLOSS-friendly geek toy of the bunch, from my understanding. There are a lot of positives, of course, and there seems to be no shortage of 3rd party application developers and applications. Of course, if you want to develop for the iPhone, don’t you have to pay the Apple tax and buy a physical Apple computer as well??
- Android phones. Really slick and awesome looking! I would LOVE to just have the PIM applications from it be able to run on my Nokia N810 and be able to sync flawlessly with my Google calendar/contacts data! The biggest downside for the Android for me is that only T-Mobile has an Android phone–and I can’t get T-Mobile service in my neck of the woods (literally). I’d really like to leave myself as open as possible to being able to get an Android phone as quickly as possible, so I’m thinking that I’d like to sign up with whichever cell phone service provider will give me the best shot at that. I think that because Google is backing this platform, it has the second-best chance of attracting application developers/hackers and should mean that it’s pretty future-proof from the standpoint of being able to look forward to years ahead of good, solid applications for the Android platform. Is it reasonable to think that even if cell phone companies don’t sell Android phones themselves, that one would be able to pick up an HTC Touch or Diamond or similar and slap the Android OS on it and have a fully functional Android phone?
- And finally, the soon-to-be-released Palm Pre (and here we tie in nicely with the title… the Palm is dead! Long live the Palm!) I cannot find a whole lot of information about the Palm Pre right now, but what little I see looks good. Based on Linux(?), supports a bunch of audio/video codecs out of the box, sports a slick new interface that looks very much like the iPhone/Android UIs, has a built-in GPS, and is being aimed squarely at the iPhone/Blackberry camps. The things that concern me: it has a custom web browser (why didn’t they use one of the existing FLOSS browsers???), lack of information regarding add-on external storage (does it use microSD?), will it support Bluetooth tethering/DUN(?), and the fact that this is yet another new platform that requires a healthy influx of 3rd-party app developers/hackers. Can Palm pull in a huge number of app developers to breathe life into the Pre and its new WebOS? To me, that’s the biggest question, since if they cannot, I don’t think they can stem the tide of iPhone-exclusive applications and developers. On the positive side, my current cell phone provider (Sprint) will be offering the Pre in another week or so, and they have pretty attractive data plans.
So I’d love to get comment feedback from folks about this. What are you currently using if you’re using one of these solutions? What are you planning on doing going forward?