While Microsoft struggles to adapt its Windows and browser platforms for the mobile environment, it is losing ground to Linux even among new friends, notably Palm.
The PDA maker, widely rumored to be the subject of acquisition interest from Nokia, private equity groups and others, is pinning hopes for future revival on the open source operating system - and on going back to its roots, creating an OS and interface that will be differentiators, and closely identified with its devices.
The risk is that the time is past for this approach - even Nokia, which once saw the Symbian OS that it dominates as the key weapon in its war with Microsoft, is now using Linux too, and has shifted the battleground higher up the software stack to the UI and browser.
As Microsoft knows, the benefit and the cost of competing on a closed OS is that there is a huge effort to attract developers and handset makers to support another system - at a time when cellcos like Vodafone are narrowing the number of operating environments they are prepared to support.
In reality, it is likely that Palm will emulate its former stablemate, Palmsource (formerly the software arm of the company, which was spun off and then acquired by Japan's Access and is now focused on adapting features of the Palm UI for a mobile Linux platform). In other words, it will concentrate for its uniqueness on navigation, widgets, and other critical features of the modern mobile UI.
In common with many other innovators in this area, Palm is expected to work closely with Opera on the browser front - the Opera product, which supports Ajax and many other advanced functions also being pioneered by Apple/Nokia and Yahoo! is becoming a major thorn in the side of Internet Explorer as it never was in the PC world.
Palm CEO Ed Corrigan told a recent analyst day that it will release the new Linux-based OS by the end of this year, but it will not be licensed to other handset makers, indicating that the Treo maker does not intend to quit the hardware market and follow other early PDA movers into the licensing game, despite the intensifying competition from the giants like Nokia and Motorola, which are bringing their channels and economies of scale to bear on the traditional Palm/RIM stronghold of enterprise handhelds.
Palm says it has been working on its new OS for several years, and will use its licensing rights to Palmsource/Access' PalmOS (known as Garnet), to evolve its implementation of Garnet into the new system. Among other benefits, this will reduce its licensing fees in future to Access, and protect it from that company's likely reduction of investment in PalmOS as it concentrates on Linux and the upper layers.