[The PDA War That Never Was...]
April 3, 1998 by Dave Kristula
Two days ago I sat in a restaurant chow-ing down some hot wings, and the person at the table next to me commented on my Pilot's screen protector film, the pros and cons of using it. I have yet to meet up with a CE user, to tell you the truth I have never seen the device outside the store shelves, in the small number of stores that carry them.
The Dow tops 9000. The Paula Jones case is dismissed. And Microsoft is trying to get a monopoly in the PDA industry. And they aren't being very successful.
Microsoft has seem 3Com's PalmPilot device as a bug ever since it's debut, it was a great threat to their CE market, or so they thought.
I'm have a PalmPilot since summer of 1997. I've used it nearly every day since. It's in my pocket if I ever leave home. And it fits in my pocket.
If you aren't familiar with the PDA industry, you probably haven't a clue what I'm talking about. Windows CE is Microsoft's attempt at getting into embedded systems, like your toaster and microwave, and the PalmPilot is one of USRobotics most sucessful innovations, a handheld digital assistant than has a tap/draw screen, and easy text input via a stylus. But now 3Com owns USR, so they'd like to take the credit for themselves.
And it's a good thing 3Com bought USRobotics, otherwise Microsoft would be making them offers. With 3Com's diverse product spectrum, from LANs to modems to PDAs, any attempt by Microsoft to take them over would be seen as a threat of monopoly, and Uncle Sam would be sure to intervene. So like they always say at Microsoft, if you can't beat em, steal their ideas.
And that's exactly what Microsoft did. They stole a minute idea from 3Com, make it fit in your hand. Forget the buttons, forget actually making the hardware, just make it fit in their damn hands. Throw in a fast processor, lots of RAM, a huge OS, and put it in their hands.
3Com has quite a few versions of the Pilot, and the newer ones are backward compatible with the older versions - more or less. In the old days were the Pilot 1000 and Pilot 5000, and then later the PalmPilot Personal (with 512kb RAM) and the PalmPilot Professional (with 1MB RAM and TCP/IP capabilities). Now 3Com has introduced the Palm III, with 2MB RAM, TCP/IP, and built-in infrared. And you can't forget those great back-lit screens.
The new "Microsoft" Palm PC is made by a variety of manufacturers, all that decide to put the buttons in different places, and none seem to have uniform specifications. So what runs on one Palm PC, might never be able to run on another Palm PC. And I can't play they great game of Froggy (Frogger for the Pilot) on it, either.
The 3Com PalmPilot's are manufactured by 3Com, and licensed by IBM, for an exact device known as the WorkPad. Same software, same hardware. Just a different color on the outside. IBM knew it would be able to at least semi-saturate the market if it took the leading PDA OS, 3Com's Palm OS, instead of taking the watch and wait approach of going with Microsoft, and just hoping someday that it will take hold.
The Palm PC weighs quite a bit more than the Pilots, eats batteries quite a bit faster, and has little standards tying it together other than size and main OS. It may have a faster processor, but it also has more "Microsoftized" software, large clunky code that takes a hell of a long time to accomplish anything. And all that processing eats batteries faster. I've read that some Palm PCs can only run a day on two AA batteries, while the Pilot can run on many multiples that with just two AAA.
The PalmPilot has saturated the marketplace, you'll find them around every street corner. Two days ago I sat in a restaurant chow-ing down some hot wings, and the person at the table next to me commented on my Pilot's screen protector film, the pros and cons of using it. I have yet to meet up with a CE user, to tell you the truth I have never seen the device outside the store shelves, in the small number of stores that carry them.
Microsoft was too late. And they are going to have to accept it. Unlike the days when good ol' Bill was able to steal the Mac OS from Apple, he won't be able to steal the Pilot from 3Com. The key to stealing the Mac OS was that it was unknown, only limited thousands new of it. The Pilot has millions, and probably tens of millions by the turn of the century. CE will stay in it's place, in toasters and microwaves. And it's a hell of a good time to buy 3Com stock! (ticker: COMS)
CE Palm PC
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