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The Palm Is Dead. Long Live The Palm!

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KDE and Qt Developers Meet Android

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 myย  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?

Author: Jason 'vanRijn' Kasper

My name is Jason 'vanRijn' Kasper. I am the ring leader of the amazing Kasper family. I am unashamedly a Christian Nerd. These are our stories....

27 Comments

  1. Hey!

    I’d suggest waiting another 2 months until the nokia N810 successor (N900?) will be out. Google for it. It will be the greatest Phone/PDA/geek-device ever.

  2. It’s known that the Pre won’t have external storage (so no SD or miniSD or microSD). The web browser is WebKit-based, so it has open-source roots (although not being OSS itself). it’s also known that it’s Linux-based but that Palm isn’t planning to expose low-level APIs (at least not initially) and instead to expose JavaScript APIs to interact with the hardware.

  3. Some older HTC devices run fine with Android, but forget about the diamond for now. xda developers has more infos.

  4. What about Neo FreeRunner?

  5. What about the Nokia N97 or Nokia 5800

  6. More in detail: Android is currently ported to the FreeRunner handset and already can be used with any provider you like (see Koolu). There are, however, some SIM-cards that need the freerunnerd GSM chipset to be reflashed to work (namely the 3G enabled SIMs). But hey, you get a phone that can be taken into sensitive areas because it has no camera(!), try that with any of the others you mentioned ๐Ÿ˜‰

    What I personally dislike with Android is the extreme Google-fixedness of everything in those phones. That just doesn’t seem “open” to me.

  7. [First sorry… I’m french :P]
    Difficult question…. i don’t have a clear answer to give. From my point of view Android is certainly the way to go. It will have major support from cell phone manufucturer (at least every that don’t employ the crapy “based on opensource but not open at all” Limo), and third part developer (I mean not FOSS people). So it’s pretty sure that Android will be the “only man” that can stand a front the iPhone. It’s simply a question of commercial visibility, not technical issue.

    But one major drawback is that Android don’t have Nokia support. Nokia still firmly believe in Symbian. That’s there joice… but I really think that developing Qtopia make more sense then porting Qt to this outdated piece of code (symbian I mean).

    But there is worse, Cell phone OS and FOSS, it’s really a true jungle : Android, Meamo, Limo, OpenMoko… etc.. And Pam will not fix the situation with their “WebOS”. No other solution. You have to make a choice and stick with it. Choose android remains the most reasonable option.

    ps : i have an HTC Magic (alias g2) under Android Cupcake… It’s pretty good and fast but there are some lack (thethering is not easy, no openvpn client, and I really would to have a KDEapp for doing sync with the usb cable).

  8. Another option is the Nokia N97, that is being released around the world in the coming weeks. It is Symbian-based, an OS/platform that is going free software and will likely see considerable convergence with Maemo. Granted, Symbian may also eventually be phased out (by Nokia) in favor of the Maemo OS, but today it should be a rather solid and open platform for phones. It supports Qt and others which means that apps should be portable, whereas Android forces rewrites by locking everything into its own Java APIs. The main downside vs. Android in terms of openness is probably that (in contrast to the platform itself) the apps that come with the phone would not be open source.

    (Of course I have not seen this phone in reality yet so it may be awful in some respect, though I would be very surprised if it does not blow the competition out of the water at least when it comes to battery life.)

  9. I see two choices:

    N900 – should be officially announced in July, maemo based smartphone. maemo community isn’t really happy with demise of internet tablet type of device but it could what you are looking for.

    N97 – Symbian based smartphone, currently Symbian is Open Sourced by Nokia, Qt is running on it.

    Both are pricey and not really available at the moment but IMO more interesting choices than iPhone and PalmPre.

  10. Hi,

    I just bought a G1 from amazon (in Germany) without SIM-Lock or anything (I don’t use T-Mobile but E-Plus).

    PIM works great, if you are using Google. I personally don’t really like the idea having all my data at Google’s so I am still looking for some Open Source solution to sync against. Maybe OpenSync is the way to go, but no software for Android exist at the moment.

    Overall I’m pretty content with this Phone. Don’t miss anything from iPhone. What’s nice is that you don’t have to use touch gestures for everything (well, you can, if you wish) because it’s quite enerving over time. For such thinks, this device has a keyboard, buttons and a trackball.

    Have fun!

  11. I currently have a BlackBerry Storm and like it despite its shortcomings. The only reason I didn’t get an Android handset was I think that the G1 looks (and feels) cheap.

    My suggestion: wait a few months for the next generation of Android handsets to be released (HTC Magic and HTC Hero, notably). Those should be available for a GSM carrier in the US other than T-Mo, and if not, you can always buy unlocked and use on a different carrier.

    Good luck!

  12. Hey everybody! Thanks for the comments! =:)

    @Michael: Yeah, I guess I can wait a bit, but I’ve not been so overly impressed with the N810 to think that the N900 is going to be the best thing in the world. I don’t think official specs have even been released yet, so I don’t have reason to believe that it’s even going to have cell-phone capability–much less immediately available in the US. =:/

    @James: Heya! The other die-hard Palm user! =:) Hm. No external storage kinda stinks a lot, although I don’t think that would be enough to deter me completely. I think I can live with the “not totally open hardware” too. My concern is more around the community/developer longevity for yet another new platform/app store/etc.

    @Tim: Yeah, I read that Android has not been very successfully ported to the the HTC Diamond, but I thought it was making good progress on the HTC Touch? What older HTC devices do you know work perfectly with it?

    Also, I hadn’t thought about the OpenMoko FreeRunner, but it does look interesting. A little bit smaller form factor than I’d like and it’s using the annoying 2.5″ headphone jack again (REALLY hated that with my Treo). I’ll keep it in mind though. Seems like it’d be pretty darned slow with data transfer over the cell network, being that it doesn’t do 3G or EDGE.

    @drak: Hi there! So is the HTC Magic available in the USA and more specifically, can you use it with Sprint? It does look like a pretty sleek little device. =:)

    Hm, so one other thought… At this point, I’m using Google Apps for all of my e-mail, calendar, and contacts, so I think it’s going to be a requirement for whatever phone I have to sync up with and use Google as the back-end data provider. I believe that all 3 phones I’ve mentioned will do that, but I’m not so sure about the Symbian/Nokia devices.

  13. Since you are talking about the Pre, I am assuming you can wait. If you can, wait some more. See if the next maemo platform has a phone or moto/sammy puts out an android phone for verizon/sprint or the nokia n71x comes down in price. You are getting excited too soon. Try to be patient for a couple more months.

  14. N900 specs were leaked few days ago and judging by frenzy of some Nokia people they seems pretty accurate:

    http://www.mobilecrunch.com/2009/05/24/exclusive-everything-there-is-to-know-about-nokias-next-tablet/

  15. You stated that the Pre is building its own browser, but you missed one thing: It’s WebKit-based.

  16. I have the iPhone and it is an awesome phone, but I can’t sync with my linux desktop at all. Email/Contacts and calendar are ok because I use the gmail ones, but I have to use osx/windows to put music/movies etc on the device.
    So if you want a great phone and you don’t really need to sync with your linux desktop I can’t recommend it enough. However if syncing with linux is important don’t bother.

  17. Pingback: Linux Gadgets « Bobulate

  18. I got a Nokia 5800 a few weeks ago. Runs very nice. Qt is ported. nice Navigation software available. Wifi+podcasts work perfect. browser ok. touchscreen.

  19. Funny you should mention it! I’m in a very similar boat. I’ve been a Palm OS user since the Palm III, currently on the Treo 680, and I’m not sure what my next move is. I do know that it will either be Pre or Android, but I’m still undecided on which.

    The Pre wins in the sexiness category, hands down. I am not sure about the idea of using Javascript/HTML as the development language, though. I am a web developer (although mostly PHP-side, not Javascript side), and the idea of doing app development in HTML for a mobile device scares the heck out of me. That said, I haven’t actually looked at their API or devkit yet.

    Android wins in the openness category. The dev environment is Java, bu more importantly my understanding is that they let you do more stuff with the hardware than Palm does. Palm using Linux under the hood doesn’t really get them any brownie points in my book unless they’re making a fully open system, and they’re not. Android is also Linux under the hood, but they’re apparently being more open with the system.

    My biggest problem with both is, as you note, that they love “the cloud”. If you don’t run your life through Google, then the device loses half its functionality. Well, I don’t run my life through Google. I run my own IMAP server (I’m one of those people) so that I don’t have to deal with a 3rd party mega-corp controlling all of my PIM and other data. I actively avoid using “the cloud” whenever possible, because I fundamentally distrust it with my personal data. (CPU cycles, sure, but not my data.) Open formats and data access are even more important than Open Source, and at this point all of the current generation of smartphones fail miserably.

    Because of the more open developer kit my gut feeling is that Android fails the least in that regard, but that remains to be seen depending on what 3rd party developers do. I’d love to see solid KDE syncing for it.

    On a related note, here’s the G1 review from infoSync World:

    http://www.infosyncworld.com/reviews/cell-phones/t-mobile-g1/9844.html

    Disclaimer: In a former life I was infoSync’s Palm OS editor and US cell phone correspondent so they have a special place in my Akregator, even though I’ve not worked for them in years. ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Heya Larry! Thanks for commenting!! =:) So, one thing that I did think I saw was that the Pre has a built-in IMAP client that would let you access your email, at least, the way you would want to. *shrug* I’m not honestly sure about the rest of your PIM data. Erm. At least, I think it was the Pre that had that. Maybe it was Android? Maybe both? *sigh*

    I don’t think I’m going to want to actually be doing any 3rd party app development on either device–at least not right up front–so I’m not horribly concerned with the openness of the platform personally, but I am concerned about the openness or lack thereof attracting or turning away other developers, since that’s going to limit the long-term viability of the device, I feel. Anyway, I’m thinking that I’m probably going to get the Pre in a week and stick with Sprint for a while. They do seem to still have a pretty good deal going as far as data plans, and it seems like they’re likely to be getting an Android model sometime in the next decade. =:/

  21. OK, some of your concerns about Pre I don’t think anybody touched here yet:
    * Will it support Bluetooth tethering/DUN(?)
    – Pre as a phone I think it will support it but Sprint as your carrier probably will not. Talk with Sprint because I’m not their user so wasn’t really concerned about this but I read something along these lines.

    * Can Palm pull in a huge number of app developers to breathe life into the Pre and its new WebOS?
    – If you’re concerned about “the community/developer longevity for yet another new platform/app store/etc” regarding the webOS, look at the preDevCamps being organized all over the world. I don’t know if that can be any good indication but it’s also great that pretty much anybody with JavaScript/CSS/HTML knowledge will be able to have a try on this platform (like I plan to do – and I’d never even think about developing for PalmOS). Some of the big names have already made their apps, for example Pandora has high praise for it: http://www.precentral.net/pandora-ceo-has-high-praise-pre
    Also, Palm will have an app store, called App Catalog, at launch. I believe it will be still in beta (only few apps will be available only from the companies/individuals who got into the SDK early access program I guess) but we still have no date of the public SDK release (can’t wait for that ;)).

    One other point for the Pre is the fact that you use Google’s services and from what I understand it’s much more integrated with those services than iPhone at least. Really don’t know about Android but I don’t think it sports Synergy like technology.

    BTW, take a look really at predevcamp.org to see if there’s an event planned in your town or near you. Come to think of it, certainly I think iPhone devs (can’t say how many of course) are very interested in webOS since preDevCamp was partly postponed because of the Apple’s WWDC…

    P.S. I’m sort of a “die hard” Palm fan. Really like the simplicity and the philosophy behind Palm’s old OS and still use my Treo 680 daily (no, hourly! ;)), so natural choice for me will be Palm Pre. In comparison with other mentioned phones from you and commentators, only the Android would seem a viable option but I have yet to see an Android phone that I like or really know much about the Android platform (and I really like Palm’s approach to PIM, so you should know I’m into) so I probably will get a Pre as soon as possible.

    P.P.S. If you do get a Pre in a week as you said you probably will, please share the impressions here – I’ll have to wait for a GSM one given that I live in Europe… *sigh*

  22. @Tom: http://forums.precentral.net/palm-pre/181400-goats-palm-pre-review.html
    Pre pre-review (from Pre fans it seems, they say BGR not really objective) ๐Ÿ˜‰

  23. @Tom: Thanks for the review link! It was interesting, albeit not altogether 100% positive. =:/

    Heya Dom! =:)

    Good points! The Bluetooth tethering/DUN bit… Sprint already supports that now (well, at least I’ve been getting away with it for the last year with my Nokia N810 using my Treo 700p as a bluetooth modem), but that’s a good question I’ll need to remember to ask next Saturday when I get to the Sprint store at the crack of dawn. And I’ll have to look into the preDevCamps a bit more–I had no idea they were even going on! I’m more concerned about more hard-core application developers being able to function on the Pre, though. Like, let’s take mplayer as an example… if I want to be able to run mplayer on my Pre to watch movies, will I be able to?

    Anyway, yes, I’ll definitely put another blog post up if/when I get a Pre. =:) Thanks for the info and for commenting!

  24. You’re welcome! Regarding that tethering I’m not sure but this article may give you more clues: http://www.engadget.com/2009/02/19/palm-pre-no-longer-features-data-tethering-on-sprint-website/

    BTW I just found an interesting article (http://palmwebosblog.com/exclusive/jailbreak-palm-pre-and-run-android-as-alternative/), didn’t have time to go through it, I just glanced at it but I think you might be interested.
    I’m thinking not just dual-booting but triple-booting ๐Ÿ˜‰ Android, OpenMoko and webOS!

  25. Your story made me think about how much I owe to the kpilot developing comunity. I’ve been using palm PDA devices since 2002, they are my college notebook (thanks to the Logitech foldable “wired” keyboard for palm), the battery life it’s much better than most 2002-2008 laptops, I could write for 5 or 6 hours non stop with my tiny, light and non-cumbersome palm.
    I started with an m500, which begun to die on me in 2007, its successor was an identical m500 stolen a month ago. After this incident it was replaced with a T|E2 with a universal wireless (IR) Keyboard. The transition was very smooth (3 years of college notes in the notepad [almost 600 of them]).
    Thanks for your effort, and everyone else’s in the kpilot team.

    Greeting from Chile
    Alex

  26. Hey Alex! Thanks for the kind words!! I totally agree with your sentiments about the fantastic Palm platform that was. =:)

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