Technology analysis of the latest gadgets, consoles, and computer architectures.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Synergies of a Palm and Nokia Union

First, my disclaimer: I do not typically support mergers as I fear they tend to reduce options and opportunities in the computing market. However, Palm doesn't have many platforms to support their business; Motorola still has the Telecom component and other computing devices, Apple has computers and notebooks, and Nokia has telecom and services (and apparently a great deal of relevant mobile patents). So if a Palm acquisition was absolutely necessary, Nokia would probably be the best company to perform the act.

So, to begin this justification, I first need to go into a little bit of detail on the Maemo and WebOS platforms. Feel free to skip this section if you are already familiar with them.

I have experience with Maemo as a developer and a user. I primarily worked with Maemo 2008 on the Nokia N800 internet tablet. The Maemo kernel is based on Linux v2.6.21, and the filesystem supports the Debian distribution model.

The advantage of the Maemo platform is how open it is. Root access is very easy to enable (just enable the third-party app repository and install openssh, then load up the built-in Terminal). All of the applications are either taken from open-source repositories and compiled for the platform or written in native C or Python, etc. The GUI is based on X-Windows withs support for GTK and QT. The browser is Mozilla-based and has flash built-in (hulu, anyone?).

WebOS is currently utilizing a Linux kernel based on v2.6.24, and it support the Itsy Package Management System (which is very similar to Debian's packaging system). Gaining root requires just enabling developer mode; an app providing that switch is pre-installed and easy to access. Once you telnet to the device (using novaterm), you can add an ipkg repository and install openssh.

The platform supports native applications, but the GUI is homegrown and currently only supports applications written in javascript. The browser is Webkit-based and will support flash later this year.

The following comparisons can be made between the two platforms.
+ Maemo and WebOS use Linux as their kernel base and support glib.
+ Maemo and WebOS use nearly the same packaging system.
+ Both platforms are not locked down and include the tools that allow anyone to install anything on their devices.
- Maemo uses a native development environment and supports any X-enabled GUI application that can be compiled for the platform. WebOS allows for non-GUI applications to be run without killing the homegrown graphical interface, but the graphical interface must be closed in order to run standard X apps.
- Maemo has a built-in GUI terminal app. With WebOS, you have to use a web-enabled terminal.
- Maemo supports desktop widgets. WebOS currently does not.

Despite the differences between the two platforms, the goals that the two platforms try to achieve are parallel to one another. Both Maemo and WebOS provide for easy multitasking and provide applications to support simple communication via the Internet. Nokia and Palm both handle notifications in a similar fashion, but Palm's approach feel more polished.

Even though Nokia could accomplish what Palm has given time, it would be to their advantage to inherit Palm's design approach and immediately have a competitive platform with respect to Google's Android and Apple's iPhone OS. And given that Nokia has been open-sourcing platform they have acquired (Symbian, QT), I feel that they would approach WebOS in a similar manner, which would be a good thing for the mobile computing community. And let's not forget: Nokia makes really good hardware, and they have the resources to support Palm. Given that the Palm Pre has been getting a good reception in Europe, it makes even more sense for Nokia to embrace Palm.

We'll see what transpires...all I know is that Dell buying Palm is not quite so appealing when you consider Nokia as a potential parent.

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