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Palm names former Apple execs to new posts

Palm appoints four new top executives in a move to further establish itself as an independent company following a successful public offering.

Palm today announced the appointments of four new top executives in a move to further establish itself as an independent company following a successful public offering.

The maker of popular handheld devices today named two former Apple Computer executives to its ranks. Satjiv Chahil, an alumnus of Sony and Apple, but most recently from networking equipment maker Newbridge Networks, will serve as Palm's chief marketing officer. Doug Solomon, an executive who spent 15 years at Apple but most recently served as president of business incubator Interval Research, was named chief strategy officer.

Also, Palm named former Disney executive Barry Cottle as chief operating officer of content and access. Cottle was senior vice president of marketing of Disney TeleVentures, Disney's broadband TV and Internet applications group, for nine years. He will oversee the Palm.net wireless Internet service for the Palm VII device.

William Maggs, Inktomi's former chief network officer, was named Palm's chief technology officer. He also spent time as a senior Internet architect at telecommunications giant MCI WorldCom, according to Palm executives.

The four men will join chief executive Carl Yankowski, chief operating officer of platform and products Alan Kessler and CFO Judy Bruner on the Palm team.

By putting in place a management team of experienced executives, Palm has cleared one logistical hurdle in its efforts to establish itself as an independent company. The handheld device maker was spun off from parent company 3Com last month in one of the most anticipated IPOs of the year.

"This is the type of team that they want to have pushing them," said Billy Pidgeon, an analyst at Jupiter Communications. "Sounds like they're getting some old school management who are relatively up to date on advancing technology."

Despite the successful debut on Wall Street, many analysts have raised concerns about what direction Palm needs to head to ensure success in a market that is spawning competitors at a rapid pace. According to International Data Corp., Palm is considered the leader in the handheld market with more than 70 percent market share.

Rival handheld devices from companies, such as Casio, Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard, that use Microsoft's Windows CE operating system pose a threat to Palm's dominant position in the market. Also, cheaper devices from firms such as Handspring, which licenses the Palm operating system, could also keep Palm on guard.

Handspring's Visor has gained enormous market attention and buzz because of its Springboard expansion slot, which transforms the device from a personal digital assistant (PDA) to a digital camera or MP3 player with the addition of any number of cartridges.

Separately, Microsoft is about to launch its Pocket PC, the latest version of its palm-size personal computer that runs on Windows CE.

Although the previous incarnations failed to gain much attention from consumers, analysts have expressed cautious optimism that Microsoft is on the right track with its latest release and could possibly chip away at Palm's comfortable position in the market.

"It's vastly improved from previous versions," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst with the Gartner Group, who believes that the Pocket PC will take some customers away from Palm. "With Pocket PC, Microsoft has crossed the threshold of just 'good enough.'"

Aside from competitive concerns, Palm also faces some challenges in expanding its company and assembling the right mix of seasoned executives to keep the firm on the cutting edge of technology in a hot sector.

Yet analysts believe Palm has made some good choices in assembling an executive team with companies such as Sony, Apple, Inktomi, Disney, and IBM prominently displayed on their resumes.

Chahil and Solomon will join a number of Apple veterans on the Palm staff, according to a list of key executives in Palm's IPO prospectus filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The similarities between Apple and Palm are fairly significant. Both companies have developed a product strategy that focuses on simplicity and ease-of-use, both from a hardware and software perspective, Pidgeon said.

Palm and Apple have also both credited their success to a devoted corps of loyal users and developers. In addition, Palm's engineering and development teams are rumored to be rife with former Apple engineers who worked on the company's failed handheld device, the Newton.

"Apple has always been a good user experience. Their OS and design of the hardware and software resonates emotionally as much as interface and hardware can," Pidgeon said in comparing the two companies.

Apple and Palm have also long been rumored to be working on a joint product, although no specifics have been announced yet.

Sony, which has announced it will license the Palm operating system to create a wireless multimedia device, also served as training grounds for both Chahill and Yankowski, Palm's CEO.

All four of the new hires come from outside of the company, a move which reflects Palm's intention to remain as independent as possible from its parent company, 3Com, analysts say.

The only 3Com veterans on the current Palm management team are Kessler, who was appointed president of Palm last year after Robin Abrams' abrupt departure for Chemdex, an e-commerce start-up. Bruner was also a former 3Com executive. Kessler was also a candidate for Palm CEO.