Foleo, we hardly knew ye

A quick note on Palm's decision to cancel the Foleo. To me, the most surprising part of the announcement was Palm's explanation that it couldn't afford to create two different software platforms (link).

To translate that from Silicon Valley speak, Palm was building two substantially different versions of Linux, one for future Treos and one for the Foleo. That was a huge surprise to me -- I had assumed the company was doing a single version of Linux for both product lines. The overhead cost associated with maintaining multiple platforms is enormous. Even huge companies struggle with it, so in my opinion there's no way in the universe that Palm was going to be able to afford it.

So it turns out the Foleo was almost doomed from the start. Unless it was a raging success from day one, it wasn't going to be sustainable economically. When the Foleo announcement failed to set the world on fire, the end was probably inevitable.


Anonymous said...

I agree. I, too, was surprised that there were two different Linux Distributions being developed, one for the smartphone and one for the foleo.

Ed made the right call and saved shareholders a lot of money. Nevertheless, I still think that there is/will be a market for foleo type of device.

Den said...

I cannot believe that Palm was making two different Linuxes. I agree that Foleo was doomed from start but I see another reason.
Proprietary Linux powered under-featured subnotebook is doomed from start.
Peripheral screen and keyboard for smartphone for $500 is doomed from start.

Krakowian said...

I really hate to be pedantic--but here I am, doing it--but "ye" is the plural form of "you". Grammatically speaking, the proper way to say this would be "Foleo, we hardly knew thee."

As to the Foleo, my surprise is with the first two posters--somehow, I assumed that Palm was using the same OS for the Foleo as the one they were working on for the handhelds!

This is a real shame, because I am convinced that the Foleo would have been a success, forging a new path for other products. I know it's what I want!


Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the grammar lesson, Jon, but the post title is actually a reference to a book, which in turn drew its name from an old Irish song.

Do a web search for the phrase "Johnny we hardly knew ye" and you'll see the connections.

David Beers said...

I have a strong suspicion that the Foleo OS *was* supposed to be the smartphone OS as well, but during the course of development something happened that made this no longer possible. I got one of the pre-release (er, pre-cancellation) Foleos and was impressed at how much it's operating system was like Palm OS. That system could, I think, have been repurposed for handsets without much difficulty, and even shared a common API for the UI if Palm played its cards right on the smartphone hardware.

Here's my guess about what happened. Around the beginning of the year Palm started to get wind that some of their carrier customers were getting cold feet about an open native Linux OS--or perhaps the operator requirements for testing, certification, and digital signing of native applications crossed Palm's desk and they were so stringent that Palm feared they might lose their developer ecosystem. You can imagine that Sprint and Verizon may have lost some patience (and a good chunk of change) over the Treo 700p debacle, triggering new, tougher requirements for a future OS.

Now think back to March when we heard that Palm hired Paul Mercer. Mercer has been an outspoken critic of networked devices running native code against the metal as both the Palm OS and the Foleo OS do. And it seems slightly odd that he would be brought in (with some media fanfare) only six months ago, given his background. Wouldn't he be the kind of guy you'd bring in at the beginning of designing a new OS, not near the end? Fast forward to today and Palm is posting open positions for developers with Java experience--not server side people, client side J2SE and J2ME. About 15 such openings in the last two months.

It's hard not to wonder whether Palm might now be doing something similar to what RIM and Microsoft have done in recent years to allay concerns about the security problems of native code on networked devices: eliminate or deprecate their native C/C++ APIs and replace them with "managed code" APIs where applications execute inside a virtual machine that prevents buffer overruns and such. Do this in the Java language and you can tap an even bigger developer community than the Linux community.

But what do you do about Foleo, which was basically ready to ship? Now the product that was meant to be the first to use the next-generation "Palm" OS will have to wait for that OS to be complete on the smartphone side of the business.

Michael Mace said...

Wow, David, that is a pretty spooky theory. But it fits the known facts. Thanks for posting it.