Rivals' deal bodes end of PDA

Palm, Microsoft's smartphone displacing hand-held organizers

October 06, 2005|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Say goodbye to the PDA.

The personal digital assistant, popularized by the Palm Pilot in the early '90s, is fading fast from its once vaunted place as the digital doorway to organizing schedules, calendars and contacts.

It's been replaced by the smartphone, an all-in-one device that does all that the PDA offers and much more -- like making telephone calls, surfing the Net, sending and receiving instant messages and e-mail, taking pictures and video and playing music.

And now even the Palm operating system (Palm OS) that started the whole trend is about to go the way of the floppy disk -- replaced by a system from archrival Microsoft Corp.

Palm announced last week that it would use a mobile operating system from Microsoft to power a new line of Palm Treo smartphones early next year. Ultimately, it means Microsoft is going to get bigger and more ubiquitous, and that consumer choice is going to be limited.

The next-generation Treo, dubbed the 700, will run on the Windows Mobile operating system.

The Mobile system is a sort of miniaturized version of the familiar Windows program on computers. And you'll be able to use it as a phone and go online through the Verizon high-speed wireless network.

"We've long believed that the future of personal computing is mobile computing, and our collaboration with Microsoft is a historic step in delivering that vision to a larger market," said Palm Chief Executive Officer Ed Colligan in announcing that it was adopting the operating system of its former chief competitor.

Why the switch?

Because Microsoft is better, said Colligan in what amounted to a throwing- in- the-towel concession. "This is about growth and new functionalities that we believe the Palm OS doesn't have."

Colligan says Palm will still make devices that use the Palm operating system. But don't expect that to last for very long. The company spun off its software arm, PalmSource, in 2003, but continued to be its main customer. Earlier this year, PalmSource was sold to a Japanese company and now, with the alliance of its once parent company to its chief rival, PalmSource's future has to be considered tenuous.

Microsoft apparently has won another computer war, just as it did with desktop computers and Web browsers.

Earlier this year, its Windows Mobile platform suddenly and dramatically replaced PalmSource as the leading platform for hand-held devices. A year ago, Palm's OS ran 42 percent of all the PDAs, compared to Microsoft's 37 percent share, according to the technology research firm Gartner.

This summer, Microsoft exploded its market share to almost 46 percent, while Palm dropped to less than 19 percent. That leaves just one major smartphone rival for Microsoft: Research In Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry .

The BlackBerry is first and foremost an e-mail machine, running on a proprietary operating system. But it also has pretty good calendar and contact features, Web surfing capabilities and, of course, mobile phone functions.

Jim Jakary, BlackBerry's regional manager for Michigan, says there are more than 3.1 million BlackBerry users across the United States.

Microsoft and Palm's Treo smartphone will especially be targeting business users. "We'll make sure it's a big, big hit," Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said at the news conference.

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