It's amazing what the pharmaceutical industry can do nowadays - but I swear Bill Gates is getting younger with each public appearance. Of course it helps to have days like this, where one of Microsoft's most audacious business opponents finally capitulated. Or became an "OEM licensing partner", as they say in the business. On days like this, the years must fall away.
With his beatific smile, Gates looked like the cat had that had not only drank the cream while you were out, but had snared a rodent too, and was concealing it under his paws. The victim of course was Palm, in the shape of President and CEO Ed Colligan.
Ed, to be frank, had enjoyed more comfortable press conferences than this. But Bill had the graciousness to remain taciturn throughout. He didn't have to say much - just give that big, wide, tight-lipped smile as if to say -
"What, me? Hiding under here, you say?"
Bill knew that it was Ed who had the explaining to do.
"Microsoft had competed (...pause...) rather vigorously," with Palm said Ed, "but times have changed."
This was a cue for the Cheshire Cat.
"Palm always did great work and we lusted after some of the things they did well," said Bill.
"And we wanted to combine them with things we did well."
There are some things Microsoft does very well indeed - and Ed now looked even more nervous.
So Ed told us that the two had been collaborating on what for now is simply known as "Treo for Windows" for "a number of years". He told us this again for good measure a moment later.
Flanking them was Verizon Wireless CEO Danny Strig. He got to plug the 3G EV-DO broadband network, which is entirely justified, and because it's a Verizon exclusive for now, lord it over Sprint and Cingular. Then it was back to Ed.
"There are millions of people around the world who want that familiar Windows experience," said Ed - who'd devoted over a decade to trying to rescue people around the world from that familiar Windows experience.
What would this mean?
The BillTreo (our name, not theirs) will be available in early 2006, and it will run Windows Smartphone 5.0. But it's tight under those paws. The Microsoft Treo has only half the pixels of the latest Palm OS Garnet-based Treo available now. The Treo 650 has a 320x320 screen (102,400 pixels), while the BillTreo will be 240x240 (57,600 pixels). PocketPC software tends to be optimized for real PocketPC-sized screens of a higher resolution, and the surprise is that both parties hadn't gone all out to give Nokia a fright, and deliver a 480x480 screen.
The BillTreo offers more memory, with 64MB, but what Bill giveth, Bill taketh away. The Windows CE operating system eats into RAM, consuming around 40MB, leaving less for the applications and data. That's much more than PalmOS uses today, and rather more than PalmOS 6.0 Cobalt, which somewhere in a parallel universe at this very moment, a rather happier looking Ed Colligan was showing to the world in the shape of the Treo 700C.
So in terms of dry specifications, there's clear blue water between the BillTreo and the 650, with a better screen and more much memory for the PalmOS model.
The saddest part of the presentation was the actual demonstration itself. Microsoft controls the look and feel very tightly, lest the meeces get grand ideas and forget their status in the rodent food chain. It was like the bravado Palm demonstrations of old, back when Palm made sharp, responsive little computers that gave people no more and no less than what they wanted, and people adored them for it.
So here was a Palm with a Start button: just as Jeff Hawkins surely intended, all along?
At this point, Bill's smile could have wrapped around the room. It's hard to even name a Microsoft Windows smartphone on the market, and even harder to find someone who loves it in the same gauche way millions of people loved their Palms. With their specifications set by network operators, and their dreary design written to order in a faceless Asian manufacturing plant, who on earth could fetishize a Windows smartphone? Let alone rationalize that such a thing was good for humanity?
Then came the questions.
Why didn't Palm use Cobalt? Because it wasn't ready, said Ed.
And won't Palm be cuddling up to Nokia, and licensing Symbian? That got an emphatic nay from Ed.
"We don't need another operating system... It's too much effort".
We don't doubt he'll keep his word. Bill will make sure of that. ®