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Palm Computing close to new chief

The 3Com unit that makes the popular PalmPilot will likely name a new leader in the next few weeks, according to its acting executive.

3Com's Palm Computing unit, maker of the popular PalmPilot, will likely name a new leader in the next few weeks, according to its acting executive.

Palm may announce its choice shortly, said Janice Roberts, senior vice president of 3Com and the division's acting general manager.

The move could figure in the introduction of "Razor," the next version of the PalmPilot personal organizer. Originally expected last November, Razor was delayed as 3Com dealt with the departure of PalmPilot cofounders Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins, who left in mid-1998 to start their own handheld firm, Handspring, which will manufacture products based on the Palm operating system.

Although Palm has certainly not been dormant since the executive departures--it announced the upcoming Palm VII wireless device last month--analysts say that the management change could help stem the perception the company is stagnating.

"Obviously, some fairly key people left," said Scott Miller, an analyst at Dataquest. "Anytime that happens, you're going to get some fallout. When it takes a while to replace those people, the company appears to be floating."

The new Palm Computing leader will be responsible for "spearheading a much bolder strategy, on the platform and the OS side," according to Roberts.

"When Donna left, I took over on more of a full-time basis, but our goal is to have someone who will manage the business" more closely, Roberts added.

3Com continues to maintain a tight-lipped stance regarding details of the upcoming Razor device, throwing cold water on published reports saying it will sport a slimmer form factor than previous PalmPilots and feature a rechargeable lithium ion battery and an improved display for around $500.

"Will we improve the display? Yes. Will we improve battery life? Well, of course, at some point in the future," Roberts said, explaining that one reason the company keeps mum on such details is to avoid cannibalizing sales of existing products. "It [Razor] could be one product, it could be multiple products."

"The [original] Pilot was successful because it exactly married form with function," Miller said. "The challenge the company has going forward is continuing to do that. As more companies come to market, the function changes. They're no longer defining what these devices do."

Palm currently accounts for about 80 percent of the handheld market, according to market research firm IDC.