September 26, 2005 5:47 PM PDT
Palm's tale of Treo intrigue
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in the lobby, with their hands across their chests to cover up the labels that indicated their company affiliation.
"We were frankly scared out of our mind about leaks," said Scott Horn, a senior director in Microsoft's mobile and embedded device unit.
Palm executives tried to do the same when they visited Redmond, opting for generic bags over the standard corporate issue gear. However, several failed to remove the bright orange luggage tags emblazoned with the company's new Palm logo.
"Clearly none of us are going to be spies," joked Page Murray, Palm's vice president of marketing.
In its secret meetings, Palm execs managed to convince their Microsoft counterparts to build several software hooks they needed into the latest version of Windows Mobile. The changes allowed Palm to add some handy features into the Windows version of the Treo. One new trick allows Treo owners to ignore an incoming cell call, instead sending a brief text message to the caller. A second feature allows Treo owners to navigate multiple voice-mail accounts using VCR-like buttons, rather than having to know that "5" is the key for fast forward or remember that "7" saves voice mail at work, but deletes it at home.
A key question, though, is whether Microsoft will give Palm enough room to innovate in the future, now that it has successfully wooed the device maker. By going with Microsoft, Palm is letting go of one of the key differentiators between its products and those from better-known competitors.
Colligan said he understands the risk and only undertook it with assurances that Palm would be able to build enough software on top of the OS to make his products stand out.
"It was the only way we felt it could work for us," he said at the Monday press conference.
Executives from both companies suggest that the Palm-Microsoft relationship, forged at those meetings in Cannes and New Orleans, will continue to be close. But it remains to be seen whether Palm will retain its individuality now that it has the Microsoft imprimatur.
Wirt acknowledges that there are no formal procedures in place that ensure that Palm will get the things it asks for the next time, or the time after that. "It's functioned more as a relationship-type thing."
Colligan said Palm could try to patent particularly strong advances, but in general he said the company believes the best way to stay ahead is to keep cranking out new products.
"We have ideas about many things that we didn't get to do in this version," he assured reporters.
But for all its ideas, Palm is still a relatively small company. And given that it has pledged continued support for the Palm OS, it must now divide its limited engineering resources between two incompatible efforts.
Colligan acknowledged that the challenges of developing for two entirely different operating systems are enough to keep his firm hopping. He emphatically shook his head back and forth when asked if Symbian and Linux-based Treos might be next.
"We don't need another operating system," he said, adding later, "It's too much effort."
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