Although the idea that a personal digital assistant running Linux could provide the same
functionality as a Windows CE or Pocket PC device at a significantly lower cost is attractive, fact is most costs come from hardware.
Microsoft and Palm both charge only $7 to $10 per
operating system license for a PDA, so eliminating that cost by using Linux
would affect pricing only at the extreme low end of the market
(that is, PDAs priced under $100, which offer only the most basic functions
and are unlikely to meet most companies' requirements to support
Linux PDAs also have the disadvantage of having few third-party
applications available, while the Palm community offers more than
1,000--and the Pocket PC application list is growing rapidly. On
the plus side, Linux offers a stable operating system with many
of the features that corporations need for the custom
applications they want to develop for mobile or "pervasive computing,"
including the ability to run Java programs on a Java Virtual
But many Linux-powered devices will have only a subset
of the typical Linux or Unix features. Any company developing
an application for a Linux-powered PDA should carefully examine
the device's capabilities.
One of the major issues in PDAs (and one of the largest
contributors to their price) is the display, so no matter what operating system is under consideration,
corporate customers should carefully evaluate the ability of a given device
to meet the various lighting and resolution needs. Older Palm OS models in particular suffer from gray-scale displays with low
resolution that fade in certain lighting conditions. Newer,
reflective, side-lit and higher-resolution color displays on the
latest Pocket PC and Palm systems offer much better displays at
We believe that Palm will fade to a minority position in the high-end consumer market and fail to capture a strong share of the corporate market, remaining strong only in the low-end consumer market where personal
information management is the primary function. This is mainly because Palm has recently failed
to reinvest adequately in upgrading its operating system, giving Pocket PC
devices a major opportunity to make market gains.
Palm is now promising to finally introduce its heavily touted OS
5.0, which will move it from its original Motorola DragonBall
processor implementation to true 32-bit processing on an ARM-based chip (which Pocket PC already
uses) by the end of 2002. We believe OS 5.0 will include
rudimentary multithreading, multitasking and other features that
are basic needs for corporate application development and that
have always been part of Windows CE.
Further, Palm must include native support for advanced Internet-based services (part of the new Windows CE version to be introduced this month), which will
be on Pocket PC PDAs within 18 months. Regardless, Palm will be
left at a disadvantage among companies that adopt
Microsoft's .Net strategy, since Microsoft will offer a more
functional capability for Pocket PC than for Palm.
User organizations must understand that reducing OS license costs
for PDAs has minimal impact and that Linux PDAs offer fewer
applications than either Palm or Pocket PC. In comparing
processor speed, memory, flash and above all screen quality, it makes little
difference in overall cost whether the device is powered by Palm
OS, Pocket PC or Linux. Applications are the key concern, and
businesses should focus on the types of applications (managing personal
information, automating a sales force, managing customer relationships and so on) they need
and should select and release PDAs accordingly.
On that basis, enterprise users (ranging from large
corporations to professional offices) seeking general-purpose
PDAs to support pervasive computing will be better served by
either Pocket PC or Palm OS choices, depending on their specific
needs, with Pocket PC devices offering overall greater
expandability and power at a higher price.
Linux PDAs will find a role only in situations where companies need a highly
customized or specialized system, or one in which devices will be distributed
to extremely large numbers of users, such as fast-food outlets.
Meta Group analysts Jack Gold, David Cearley, Val Sribar, Dale
Kutnick, William Zachmann, Peter Firstbrook, David Folger,
Timothy Hickernell and Earl Perkins contributed to this article.
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