You could be forgiven for thinking MontaVista and PalmSource are direct competitors, after all, they are both developing a Linux-based, small-footprint multimedia OS for smartphones. Why have they announced a collaborative partnership to: “further accelerate the development of next generation Linux-based mobile phones?”
The answer is complex. PalmSource’s strength has traditionally been in the interface and applications layer. The original Palm OS used an operating system kernel supplied by a third party, on top of which Palm then implemented its own interface. It was the Palm ‘look and feel’ and its application suite which won acclaim. In contrast, third party developers often complained that underneath the hood, the Palm OS was actually rather inefficient and limited in its capabilities.
PalmSource has sought to address this, first with its acquisition of multimedia OS developer Be, Inc. and more recently by purchasing China MobileSoft. It also explored some other creative ideas, like the possibility of working with Nokia and Symbian to implement the Palm interface on-top of the Symbian OS – a collaboration which never progressed much beyond the discussion stage.
MontaVista, on the other hand, has built its business around a robust and efficient Linux OS. This scales from carrier-grade server applications within telecoms operators to embedded devices. NEC, for instance, uses MontaVista technology for both its infrastructure deployments with operators and on some of its 3G handsets. According to MontaVista CEO Jim Ready, NEC was so impressed with its ‘five 9s’ reliability in operator projects that it was the natural choice when the company started looking for a Linux OS for its handsets.
However, MontaVista has traditionally worked with third parties for the interface and applications layer. Trolltech supplied this for some of MontaVista-based Motorola handsets, while MontaVista has also agreed a deal with SKY MobileMedia to use the SKY-MAP platform on-top of the Linux OS in mass-market feature phones.
PalmSource seeking a deal of this nature with MontaVista represents an interesting development. The language which PalmSource uses to refer to its platform has changed. Albert Chu, Vice President of Business Development at PalmSource, deliberately used the description “leading application framework” in commenting on the announcement, not “leading OS.” Clearly PalmSource is recognising that its strength lies in its interface and applications layer, not the core OS.
This agreement with MontaVista will provide PalmSource with a reliable core OS and one which is already popular with handset manufacturers and operators. In turn, this will free PalmSource to focus its resources on doing what it does best – developing great user interfaces, supporting its developer network and ensuring its platform communicates seamlessly with desktop PCs and other mobile devices.