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Interview with Michael Mace of PalmSource


PalmSource logo

This week we talk with Mr. Michael Mace, Chief Competitive Officer at PalmSource. As you probably know, Palm has split into two companies: Palm Inc. is the hardware maker and PalmSource the operating system maker. PalmSource develops the operating system and software used on the Palm OS platform. They work with companies that make Palm OS devices such as Handspring, Sony, Symbol, Kyocera and Samsung. With Palm OS 5 now released to manufacturers, we thought it was high time to get some info on it and the new features it will offer.

As Chief Competitive Officer, Michael Mace's role is to help PalmSource and its partners make mobile devices ubiquitous throughout the world. He and his team predict the future of the handheld industry, including products, technology, market, and competitive trends. He's been with Palm for three years.

Interview: What is your role at PalmSource? How do you approach it?

Michael Mace: My job is basically to predict the future of the industry, figure out how we can do the best job of serving customers, and then make sure we do it. So it's a mix of strategy and marketing. With Palm OS 5 coming out running on the more powerful StrongARM processor, what would you say Palm's competitive edge will be? This processor has already been in use in Pocket PCs for two years and is being replaced on that platform with the faster XScale processor. Consumers might not see StrongARM as having a competitive edge at this point.

Michael Mace: Our competitive edge will be that we enable the greatest variety of customer choice, all with a single consistent user interface and software. So you can choose the hardware that meets your particular needs (or your company's needs), at the price point that works for you, and customize it with the widest selection of software programs -- more than 14,000 and counting, covering everything from spreadsheets and word processors to e-mail and instant messaging to databases, education software, multimedia, and games.


Michael Mace

The handheld market is developing a little like the car market -- there are very different products for different types of people. There is no such thing as an ultimate car. Some people need SUVs, some people need minivans, some people need sports cars. It's the same thing in handhelds. Some people need an integrated smart phone. Some people need multimedia. Some people just want the basics at a low price. Palm OS gives you that choice.

In that spirit, Palm OS is not restricted to a single version of ARM. It will work on Intel's XScale, as well as on ARM processors from Motorola and Texas Instruments. Those processors all have different strengths and price points. By supporting them all, we'll give customers a nice range of prices and features to choose from, while retaining software compatibility across the full range. We think giving customers that sort of choice is very important, because different people want very different things from handhelds. We all know about the unfortunate XScale mess that Microsoft faced recently because they didn't re-code the operating system to take advantage of the much faster processor. XScale-based Pocket PC 2002 devices run in ARM compatibility mode. I'm sure you've been watching this shake down. Has this changed PalmSource's approach to OS 5, if it has at all? Will the OS run natively on StrongARM or will a portion run in emulator mode? What kind of speed improvements should we see in the wildly faster StrongARM compared to the Dragonball-based machines?

Michael Mace: Palm OS 5 is fully native on ARM, and we're working with all of our processor partners (Intel, Motorola, and TI) to make sure it works very well on their chips. In addition, we have tight relationships with ATI Technologies and MediaQ, who create graphics accelerator chips for handhelds. We're excited about what our licensees are creating with those partners.

In preliminary testing, Palm OS applications are running up to about three times faster on Palm OS 5 than they do on the current systems. But performance varies tremendously from program to program, and some programs may be slower if the developer hasn't done any optimization.

Current Palm OS programs will run under emulation on Palm OS 5, assuming that they are properly written and follow the right guidelines. Those programs will get a performance boost from ARM in most cases -- despite emulation, they are faster under ARM than on current hardware. If the developers want extra performance, they can add ARM native code to their programs.

Because most existing Palm OS 4 programs will run on Palm OS 5, users are free to choose when they want to step up to the new processor. Palm OS systems based on the 68000 processor will continue to be a good value for many customers, and they will not be obsoleted by the release of Palm OS 5 systems. This is not a forced migration --- it's an expansion of the choices available to customers. What new features should we look for in OS 5?

Michael Mace: In addition to ARM support, the main changes are enhanced security (for both wireless connections and on-device data storage), native support for high-resolution screens (something our licensees had offered before, but is now built into the OS), and support for greatly enhanced sound (sound capture and multi-voice sound playback). The net impact of all these changes will be a wider range of hardware choices, more secure enterprise solutions, and great improvements in functions like e-book reading, document processing, voice memo capture, and games. Could you tell us a little bit about the new Palm devices that are coming out in October? What will be the most exciting things?

Michael Mace: I can't give you specifics on the upcoming hardware from any licensee, or on the release date. They get to announce their products in their own time, and I can't preview that.

Some general hints: I am very excited by several new Palm OS based smartphones that are in the works, I am very encouraged by the advanced multimedia features coming on several systems, and I'll be very intrigued to see the combination GPS/handheld that is being developed by Garmin.






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