Four years ago
Palm created the first successful PDA. Today it holds an 80% share of the market
for handheld computers. Its most serious competition is a family of devices from
various vendors based on the Windows CE operating system. In some ways the competition
between these two systems is reminiscent of the earlier Macintosh-Windows battle.
Users become familiar with a device and develop strong preferences.
The Palm OS was originally designed for a device with 512K of memory
and no hard disk. Subsequent models doubled and redoubled available memory until
the current generations of devices (IIIxe, Vx, IIIc) have 8M RAM at the same or
lower prices than the original model. Although the Palm OS was modified to allow
use of larger memory, it retains its original base architecture and processing
speed. It is almost impossible for an ordinary user to use anywhere near the full
8M. Windows CE is a scaled down version of the Windows 9x operating system. Just
booting the system seems to use up 3M of the RAM, and with Pocket versions of
Word, Excel, IE, and (in some models) Access it is fairly simple to fill a typical
16 or 32M systems. CE devices typically have a slot for a plug in "Compact
The most common use for
the card is to add 32 to 128M of non-volatile memory to hold large files as an
alternative to disk storage. Although CE appears to be big and sloppy, it is not
architecturally constrained by a small memory design. Early versions of CE were
unsuccessful because the hardware had not caught up with the design. Today the
available processor and memory technology can support CE competitively with Palm.
In subsequent generations of technology, CE may be more flexibly designed to take
advantage of additional power. Until recently, a Palm system cost $300 to $450
while CE systems typically cost $600 to $800.
however, the street price of the high end 8M Palm Vx or IIIc ($400 to $450) is
in the same general area as the HP Jornada 540 (16M $420), the Compaq H3650 (32M
$470), or the Casiopeia 115 (32M $530). Palm has allowed its operating system
to be used on "clone" devices like the Handspring PDA. However, the
supported hardware has been tightly controlled.
This allowed the operating system
to remain small, tight, and lean. The screens have 160x160 pixels although subsequent
models and versions of the OS have supported progressively deeper levels of gray
and now color. Since all data is held in memory, Palm doesn't need to support
any type of disk devices. All communication is based on some type of serial communication
(direct to the PC, over IR, or through a modem).
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