Last month, Palm CEO Carl Yankowski stated that the company had plans to separate its software and hardware businesses. Whether that means completely seperate companies or just a reallignment of focus is anyone's guess. When I first heard the news, I cheered it, as Palm has done little with its software. Palm needs to speed up development of its branded software, and the first good step in doing that is to open source the Palm Desktop.
The Palm Desktop software has seen little change in over three years. When I went from a Palm III to a Handspring Visor, I saw little change outside of USB. By allowing others to help expand the reach of the Palm Desktop, the software could become as ubiquitous as the web browser accross all platforms.
In its current incarnation the Palm Desktop is too limited. Only Windows and Mac (non-X) users are able to use the software. If you are a Linux or BSD user, too bad. Even Mac OS X users such as myself are getting the shaft. Sure I can HotSync using Classic mode, but that is slower and often times out. There are third-party applications for non-supported platforms that allow users to back up their handheld, but what we need is the ability to enter data on the desktop -- any desktop -- and synchronize it with the handheld. If the Palm Desktop was open sourced, a new world of users would be able to use Palm-compatibles with their preferred platform.
You want proof that open source is in the best intrests of Palm? Just look at the Palm OS Emulator (POSE), which is open source and available for Windows, Mac, and Unix. The POSE developers have already released an emulator that works on Mac OS X, something the Palm Desktop still does not do.
Having an open source desktop would also offer other benefits besides being multi-platform more easily. As I said earlier, the Palm Desktop has seen little change in years. I'm sure there are developers out there that would love to customize the Palm Desktop so it has more advanced features and a more intuitive interface. I bet Handspring even has ideas for improving the Desktop, but even it still has trouble getting the Desktop source from Palm.
The HotSync portion of the Palm Desktop could also be improved. Third-party developers could possibly improve the speed of a HotSync. If the SoundsGood MP3 module can transfer 8 MB in about a minute, HotSync should be able to do that too
Let's face it -- the current Desktop is a pitifull excuse for a desktop PIM. The calendar views need more options and the Address view is too limited. If Palm allowed developers to improve the desktop, everyone benefits. Palm has a Desktop application that works across most platforms, and users, whether they are on Windows, Mac, or whatever -- have a usable desktop.
What do you think of an open source Palm Desktop? Discuss it here.