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Explaining Palm's Foleo

(Warning: IT pundit on the loose!)

Earlier this week, Palm announced a widely-trailed project that they've been working on for three or four years, to widespread puzzlement: the Foleo. Priced at £250-300, it resembles an underpowered diskless notebook computer, running a stripped-down version of Linux and some apps familiar to Palm users (Documents to Go, Versamail) and the Opera web browser.

There's been much puzzlement over what's going on, with many Palm devotees turning their nose up at it and opining that Palm are committing corporate suicide with a machine that's overpriced and specced like a 2000 laptop at 2007 laptop prices.

I think the critics are off track (although they may not be entirely wrong: it's a huge gamble).

Firstly, those of us who already use laptops as our main computer are not the target audience for this box.

Secondly, those of us who like to tinker or play games or do lots of weird shit with our computers are not the target audience either.

There might be a customer base among folks who already have a desktop PC, and who need to work away from their desk some of the time, but who can't afford/don't want a full laptop. It covers the basics, for that role. But to be competitive in that niche, it really needs to cost half as much, and it needs a much better battery life. I'm typing this on a Sony Vaio TX3 that weighs the same, has an 8 hour battery life and an 80Gb hard drive, and runs full-blown desktop Linux or Windows XP pro. The only thing the Foleo has over the Vaio for my purposes is the "ouch" factor if I sit on it or drop it or someone steals it. But I'm not the target market either. (Are we getting the picture yet?)

My analysis, for what it's worth, is that Jeff Hawkins is really after business users, and has said so all along. So how's he planning on hooking them?

My gut feeling is that Palm has another shoe to drop, in the shape of a Web 2.0 system that the Foleo plugs into. If Palm have invested in the server-side software to push out a huge, powerful integrated web application suite, then the Foleo is really just a thin terminal; what will sell it is the back-end service, not the hardware. (And indeed, six months to a year ago, Palm were advertising for software engineers with a background in Linux server-side application programming.) As was ever the case with Palm in the old days, when the relatively feeble Pilot went head-to-head with the much more sophisticated Apple Newton and ate its lunch, it's not the hardware that matters, but what you do with it.

I have a 3G mobile phone with a flat-rate all-I-can-eat data tariff, thanks to T-Mobile's web'n'walk package. All-you-can-eat data over 3G is the coming thing, probably with wifi hotspot access thrown in, as a standard cellphone contract option; I expect it's going to be nearly universal within a couple of years. Behind it, 4G is aiming for peak bandwidth of 100Mbps, within ten years. This is a really important point. The initial launch puffery aout the Foleo letting you sync with your mobile phone grossly understates the potential: what it's really about is that the Foleo lets you plug into Web 2.0 applications at near broadband speeds, and gives you the screen and keyboard to do useful things with them.

This is Palm's play for the corporate network. Docs to Go and Versamail aren't the real office apps intended for this platform; they're just the local offline editing tools for when you're not plugged in. If I'm right, expect to see Palm announce a service not unlike Apple's .Mac, only with added business services and more storage. Dot Mac is aimed at home users who want email, webspace, and easy synchronisation; I'd expect Palm to be preparing to deploy CRM applications, relational databases, and possibly office tools like Thinkfree Online. It's possible that they're going to try to negotiate uncapped access to this service via some of the bigger cellcos' business accounts. If they go this route, they're also likely to offer toolkits and SDKs to help corporate customers plug their business software straight into Palm's service and push it out to their employees' Foleos. A clear sign of this thinking would be the appearance of VNC, Citrix, or other thin client software on the platform.

The Foleo is light, simple, cheap to replace, and doesn't store any critical data if it's stolen, unlike an employee laptop. It lets a company keep critical data under lock and key, but makes accessing it relatively straightforward using existing Web 2.0 tech. If Palm manage to fill in the dotted line at the web services level, they can offer big clients something that PC laptops don't — simplicity and security, combined with lower cost.

It's not the only tech competing for this prize, of course. The hypervisor wars are under way, and everyone and their dog is talking about virtualization and downloading sandboxed operating system images to client computers. (As if this was something new; the IBM mainframe world has been doing it since the early 1970s). The VM scene is clearly workable (those mainframe guys weren't stupid), but it relies on having lots and lots of bandwidth, and powerful CPUs that support virtualization. The Foleo as web terminal strategy doesn't have any such requirements: all it needs is a gadget as powerful as a circa-1997 laptop (albeit prettier and cheaper), and some smarts on the server side ... and a 3G mobile phone in between.

Now: is this going to work? I'd have to say "maybe" if you held my feet to the fire — this isn't the first time this particular idea's been let out of the lab, and the precedents aren't promising. Sun tried to sell us on the idea of thin client computing back in the 1990s; Java is the big left-over legacy of that particular excursion. Earlier, diskless workstations were the wave of the future in 1992 — such a shame that hard disk drive prices crashed in 1994. What makes this time different is that it's a webby world out there, and we've got the wireless bandwidth to make using AJAX/Web 2.0 apps over the air feel no slower than wading through treacle wearing diving flippers.

I think the prospects for the Foleo (and Palm) depend on whether we really are in the middle of the 30-years-overdue shift to network mediated client-server applications that everyone's expecting. And the recent sighting of a 13 year old CEO suggests that if nothing else, the Web 2.0 bubble is at hand.

Meanwhile, I just hope someone ports OpenOffice to it. At the sort of price point it's heading for, it'd be a cracking writer's tool if it had an office suite a bit more feature-rich than Documents to Go. But of course, I'm not the target market ...




While I'm not the target market either, I'm very interested. While my desktop systems are big and bad, I hate laptops and love palms. Laptops are obsolete the second you open the box (as with any computer) but unlike desktops, there is nothing (much) you can do about it. It's pretty much an automatic "ouch" factor even if the laptop remains pristine.

While you could say the same about PDAs, they have a lower replacement cost and tend to provide most moible functions (web access, ebooks, video/music playback) and are instant on. The 3 things I occasionally wish I had on my TX are a keyboard (ok got that but not in an omnipresent fashion), bigger screen, and a VGA port (for presentations). The Foleo provides all of these and tosses in a CF port and a USB port. As such, all I need is a big CF card, an external battery pack, and VLC and I'm set.

What would really turn the Foleo into a killer is if the volume of corporate sales (as posited by Charlie) pushed the cost down to OLPC levels. We really need cheap subnotebooks at nearly disposable prices.

One other thing, the other two factors are Microsoft and Google. Microsoft will of course try to kill this, but Google will love it to pieces, a perfect platform for all things Google without Microsoft anywhere in the picture. Expect an AJAX client real soon.


I'd love something like the Foleo if they got the price down to $200 or so. I've been waiting for a lightweight notebook-like networked device like that.

But I'm not sure it's going to take off on the corporate level in many industries. For people who are on the go a lot and aren't tied to a single office it's good, and it would be great for tech support since you don't have to worry about what people wandering all over the country are putting on their laptops, how to update everything in a timely fashion, etc.

But most companies are still working in a paradigm where their workers are tied to a desk, and a desktop is a much better solution. Training would be a nigthmare, since you'd be moving to all new software for everything. Porting over and specialized software your business might use will be difficult. (Though most specialized software packages seem to be moving to web-based interfaces, so it's mainly legacy stuff.) Plus it's cheaper to do upgrades if you have the computer and display as individual units -- displays often have an upgrade cycle twice as long as computers.

Thinking about my own office, we could in theory pretty much all switch to one of these if we had a large fileserver in the office. There are only really two or three of us would would gain anything from it, however. Everyone else would still be sitting at their desks all day.

And thinking of the library where I work as a whole I don't think it could be rolled out to everyone without a year or two of development work to convert all of the software we've written to server based applications. We'd probably have to do an upgrade of our cataloging system, I think the version we have has some client-side components that only run on WinXP and above. Considering our last upgrade involved a 6 month training period, and several million dollars, I don't think we'll be eager to use anything like the Foleo for the next decade at least.


Extra thought, Andrew: this thing -- if the price in the UK is going to be around £250-300 -- is comparable to a Vista Ultimate license in cost. If the price comes down a bit, the TCO could well wipe the floor with general-purpose PC-based business desktops. And as long as it's a web thin client platform, hardware obsolescence can be staved off indefinitely.

You may well be correct about your specific workplace's upgrade requirements taking years to meet, but this is the sort of direction we're heading in for business tools when we finally fall off the far end of the curve vis-a-vis Moore's law.


Charlie, I'll take your word for it -- in academia we really are cut off from what the "real world" is doing. A whole different pace and basis for making IT decisions. When I got here in 2001, most people were using NT workstations because our software wouldn't work with anything newer. When we got new PCs we basically threw away the OS they came with and installed an image of NT, disabling any features that weren't compatable. We didn't get XP until late 2003, along with a couple major upgrades to software. And this is one of the top research libraries in the world...


Andrew: libraries aren't about in the business the latest toys, they're about the ultimate in legacy systems: what matters is keeping track of the corpus, and those card indexes have been building for centuries in some cases. So, um, no, you're not the target market.

Neither am I (I like a whole bunch of tools I can boss about and ride herd on). Neither is your typical power user with a copy of Photoshop and a digital camera and iTunes. What this is about is people who want access via a bunch of web forms to an inventory or customer contacts database that can be retooled regularly -- every few years -- because the design requirements keep changing anyway.


I have the feeling that even if you're right about the strategy, Charlie, it's likely to be the type of product that IT departments think would be great for other departments to use - but that the other departments will view it as a low status tool and find ways to sabotage widespread deployment ("we couldn't use that - tool-type X that isn't supported is critical to our operations").


Jp: other departments will view it as a low status tool

That's a good point -- it's success could have a lot to do with how it's perceived as a status symbol. There's a reason executives often have new flashy PCs and PDAs far more powerful than they need every year, while people who could use them are often stuck with 3-year-old systems.


libraries aren't about in the business the latest toys, they're about the ultimate in legacy systems: what matters is keeping track of the corpus, and those card indexes have been building for centuries in some cases.

I get the feeling things may be changing, and it's one of the questions we're struggling with. We have a couple thousand new kids show up with the latest in tech every September, and now they're used to instant gratification via google and other resources. They've never used a card catalog, or a microfilm machine. They tend to do research at odd times, like 2am, and dislike physically coming to a library building. For them, if it's not digital it's not worth using. We get more people using out "Ask!Live" chat system than actually calling or coming down to see a reference librarian when they have a question.

We've been talking some with Google regarding their books project, it's very plausible in the near future that most of the 12 million holdings we have will be fully searchable 24/7 from your dorm room or apartment.

To make things more complicated, most of our staff is over 40 -- the median age is 48 or so. There are a number of people who started back when the main job for a lot of people was typing up cards for the catalog, and our computer card catalog system was run on mainframes.

(To give an idea of institutional inertia, the old room where the main frames were remained at 55 F for about 20 years after we upgraded and repurposed the room. There was a sign on the wall warning of dire consequences if the tempature was raised above that, and no one bothered to question it until about 2005.)

And just to be a HR shill for a moment, if you know anyone who wants a career in technology, but doesn't like the IT industry, suggest going into librarianship. I'm not sure about the UK, but in the US there are projections of a shortage in the field, and that it will become increasingly technical over the next several decades world-wide. Right now there's a big demand for Systems Librarians, and various web-services types. Though unfortunately it does tend to require more education than a typical IT job (IT degree/certification + an MLS).


As simply portable access to the web, e-mail, and web applications, it sounds wonderful, if a bit pricey--much more convenient and less risky than lugging around a heavy laptop when all that one really needs is a palmtop with a reasonable screen and keyboard. Hard to judge; a lot will depend on how closed the device is. If it's another "buy our device, rent our overpriced service" like a cell phone I'm not very interested; if it's an open device that I can use with most networks, and install new apps on, I think I could be very happy with one.


I'm not the target market either; not in my professional or my personal computing capacity. But I used to work for the target market, and I think they'll eat it up.

About 9 months ago I left the Nike B2B IT department after 4 years. In the corporate HQ they have about 5,000 people and perhaps 5,500 computers. Now the designers, the guys who use high-end CAD and drive the rapid-prototyping fabbers directly are not going to want this; but they're nicely insulated from the rest of the company.

Most of the computing in the company has shifted away from local apps to web computing; certainly all the software that runs the business, like order entry, catalog maintenance, and supply chain have been web-based for years. And all meeting scheduling, email, and other office apps are server-based. On top of which, they've been trying to convert all the professional employees (technical IT, marketing, sales, etc.) to laptops connected by WIFI, campus-wide, so that they can all be connected while they're at the 3 or 4 hours a day of meetings they're required to attend. They tried Blackberries for awhile and found them a) not powerful enough, and b) a security risk (some units containing sensitive data were lost).

Now the final telling point is that Sys Admin at Nike is all about the desktop, and is more paranoid than James Jesus Angleton. They will not allow a PC with a standard Windows image to connect to their local network (I just never told them about my Mac); they have a special image, and a daemon app that paws through the disk every day looking for unacceptable versions of the software (that's over and above the anti-virus software, which is truly dolorectal).

Imagine what they'll say to a proposal to replace all the laptops and all but 10 or 15% of the desktops with devices that cost $400 and don't keep any confidential data on them. They'll have orgasms while writing the check.



MLS University of Rhode Island 1977
MS Computer Science University of New Haven 1981

Got out of Library work and into tech in search of a living wage and due to boredom because they were computerizing and centralizing all the fun parts of being a librarian. Are you suggesting libraries are prepared to pay competitive wages these days?

I currently make my living as a consultant writing perl scripts that customize SCM and build tools, and I'm pretty sure a library couldn't afford my salary, much less my billing rate, but I wonder if they can really afford younger people with the qualifications you mention.


I think Andrew is right about status symbols, at least at the management level. No laptop or PDA will succeed in the management market unless it creates envy.

Personally, I have my heart set on a new Ubuntu laptop. From 2002 to 2005, running Linux on a laptop was cartoonishly horrible. But Ubuntu Feisty is so close to being reasonable, and at least two vendors (Dell, System 76) sell preloaded machines that Just Work.

Oh, and I want an open-platform version of the iPhone. And a pony.


Bruce: that's the sort of corporate environment I was thinking of.

If I'm right, there's just one real difference between the Foleo and earlier attempts at inflicting thin clients (aka terminals) on everyone: it's wireless.

But that's a very significant difference indeed, because earlier terminal-based systems couldn't go where the work was; they got stuck in an office and ignored in favour of the nearly-as-cheap general purpose PC.

Getting computing out of the office has turned out to be very useful (as the market for PDAs and laptops demonstrates). But the increasing number of security scandals revolving around stolen laptops with confidential data abouard suggests that letting the data out of the office at the same time as the laptop is very unwise indeed. And I think that's what Jeff Hawkins is gambling on.

Eric: I have a Sony Vaio TX3XP, running Kubuntu Feisty. It has a couple of quirks, but mostly everything works (except the fingerprint reader, and the instant-DVD-player buttons, about both of which I couldn't care less). It's about the size and weight of the Foleo, vastly more powerful, and has a 6 hour battery life with wifi, rising to 12 hours with the long-life battery. The only worry is the "ouch" factor if it's stolen/lost/malfunctions. There's a lot to be said for not owing your portable writing machine the thick end of a month's salary ...


Over the past year, I have been moving more of my business docs to web based programs for accessability without taking my laptop everywhere I go.


Good post and comments. Currently I am tracking 27 public server based computing companies. Some of them will not be around this time next year but they have thrown their hat into the ring. The new Palm device target market is also their target market.

This architecture got a boost recently with the announced partnership of Google and salesforce.com. Google now has access to technologies that will make Google Apps for Your Domain a mainstream product.


Your view of the "target market" seems to be changing over the course of this thread.

When I travel on business, I very much want all my documents, mail archives and so forth physcially on my laptop. I use it on planes, on trains, in airports and hotels. Some of these places don't have wi-fi at all. Others have very expensive wi-fi which I occasionally use to sync my mail with the server. If I was reliant on server-based systems I wouldn't be able to get nearly as much work done; in the places where wi-fi is available I would merely be supporting the profits of monopoly networking providers. So this Foleo doesn't my needs as a travelling manager. (I use a lightish Dell with a larger screen and 7 hours battery life).

The campus-based scenario sounds more plausible, as people would mainly be carrying this between offices and meeting rooms. I would want a base station for using it in my office, connected to a large display and a proper ergonomic keyboard. And of course it would be essential to be able to drive a digital projector for all those business presentations.


Elyse @ 11:
You're right, if you're a consultant I doubt any library could match your salary. If you enjoy what you're doing then you should keep at it, but I get the impression that in IT there are a number of people who burn out or are dissatsified. It also seems that at some levels there are more graduates each year than jobs.

In the past you're right about librarians, but most of the ALA's (American Library Association) projections show a shortage of librarians over the next 20 years. The median age of librarians is something like 55.

I'm mainly referring to academic librarians at universities here, apart from the very large systems in places like New York or Chicago, public libaries don't have the same demand.

The academic/library setting is very different than a corporate IT setting. Pay may be lower, depending on what your exact field is, but hours are much less (I doubt our people work more than 40 a week, and the usualy is 37.5), the pace is slower, and it's more of a consensus decision making environment. If you enjoy a fast pace, high pressure, high pay environment then academia isn't for you. I happen to love it.

And going forward, I think an IT background will be even more valuable for librarians of every specialty. It seems inevitable that the physical book, journals, newspapers, etc. are going to give way to digial collections.


Dave @ #16:And of course it would be essential to be able to drive a digital projector for all those business presentations.

That's another good point, and Palm's seemingly proprietary software makes me a bit nervous. For it to succeed in the way Charlie envisions, Palm would need to make sure it could connect and sync with a large number of peripherals. Printers, scanners, projectors, webcams, etc... Otherwise you'll still end up needing a full PC, and the Foleo's niche is much smaller...


You know, it might be possible to support an offline mode on the Foleo without giving up security.

Here's how: (1) Bundle a copy of Google Gears with the built-in web browser. (2) Protect the locally-cached data using a passphrase and/or USB crypto key.

Stolen Foleo? No problem. The thief can't get at your cached data, and you can just grab another Foleo and resynchronize.

(For the hackers in the audience: The Harmony Project has some heavy sync wizardry, and it's open source. It might make a nice backend for a Gears app.)


Bruce@10: ...and don't keep any confidential data on them.

Somehow I don't think that is going to be true enough for really confidential data, unless the thin clients have been specifically designed to do no caching at all. Standard browsers certainly keep plenty of pages and cookies around.


Johan: caching is an interesting point. Interesting because if you've got a high-bandwidth network it shouldn't be necessary; remember, Netscape et al acquired their caches in the early days of commercial update (circa 1994-96) when everybody was using modems. Go back a bit further to 1991-93 and the first web browsers didn't use caches -- they were connecting locally over ethernet, inside CERN or NCSA. I look forward again to the day when we won't need aggressive caching -- or maybe when caches are set to auto-purge after half an hour, precisely for security reasons. (Half an hour is enough to speed up the loading of eye candy during a session on a specific web application, but not enough to jeopardize security if the thin client is half-inched by an optimistic thief in search of a fat laptop.)

Andrew G: this gadget comes with VGA out (none of your fancy DVI or HDMI, though), and one of the selling points of Dataviz' Documents to Go is that it can deliver powerpoint presentations off of a PDA with VGA out.


The problem with the Foleo is that it's meant to play with a smartphone, which has similar capabilities and pricing to its good self, and the target market described probably has. Hence, what purpose Foleo? Get a projector/rollup screen/HTC gadget with a slideout keypad.


Alex: I'm not sure that what we were told about it (at the launch) is what it's about. It's got Wifi, for one thing. And see Bruce's comments upstream about the inadequacy of smartphones for some business purposes.

I still think it's a huge gamble by Palm, but it's not necessarily an insane or stupid one ... if you make the jump and realize that Palm's bread and butter market (like Research In Motion's market for Blackberries) isn't power-gadget-loving consumers, but boring IT system administration and lockdown stuff.

In a way, you could call this category of device Post-Computers; they're not for general-purpose computing, and indeed that actually defeats the whole point of what they're for.


[One of my earlier comments appears to have disappeared into the ether. My apologies if this was caused by some offense that I've given, rather than by some boneheaded technical mistake that I've made.]

At least in the US, we're many years away from being able to run business apps over the net. Large sections of the country have patchy EVDO coverage, and hotel WiFi is frequently expensive or dodgy. At best, the celluar networks are just good enough to run something like an iPhone, provided you stay out of the boondocks.

But I doubt that Palm intends to rely so heavily on the network. They've built their business around synchronization. And continuing down this path would allow them to operate in the US's substandard network environment.

Of course, this raises the same security concerns that Bruce mentioned. But I think that's just the price you have to pay, at least in the US.


Speaking of PDAs, is there a form-factor between palmtops and the smaller laptops? The outright laptops I have seen are too big, expensive, and fragile. And at the other end palmtops like the Tungsten don't have keyboards, and can't usefully display a month's schedule.

I'd be interested in something about the size of a DVD case. I'm willing to accept a rather smallish keyboard, but I absolutely need to be able to run it all day without recharging. $500 would be a good price; I doubt I'd pay twice that.

And pony.


boring IT system administration and lockdown stuff.

Meh, y'can do that with MS Winmob 5/6, Symbian S60, whatever. What I'd love to know is what's up with RIM losing their service across the entirety of North America because every damn email is forced through a data centre at their head office. no centre, no flyee!

Compare the push e-mail on MSExch - it's just another feature on yr. server.


As a UK enterprise user, it seems to me that the price of the Foleo will be important in determining whether to request one from my IT director as an adjunct to my corporate BlackBerry, or buy one myself. On a straight currency conversion, the $499 price tag of the Foleo translates to about £250 - which I could almost certainly get away with either way. However, Palm tends to apply considerable markup for the UK market - taking the TX and Treo 680 markups as benchmarks, the UK price could be £450+. http://tehshiny.wordpress.com.


24: In between the PDA and laptops, there are the UMPCs. Tablets or mini-laptops with 4 to 8-inch screens and hard drives. They are expensive (>$1000) and have poor battery life. Part of the problem is that they try to run Windows XP or Windows Vista which requires hefty hardware.

I think the Foleo avoids some of the problems with the UMPCs by running a custom OS on non-Intel processor. They also leave out the hard drive which makes it more of a client. The price is much more reasonable. The battery life is also better. The one thing I am not sure about is the software.

The other device I think get things right is the Nokia N800 and 770. Which is effectively a slightly bigger PDA oriented toward web browsing. The screen is supposed to be enough bigger to make it nicer than a PDA or smartphone but still small enough to go in a big pocket. The price is less than $400 and the battery life is good. It only has an on-screen keyboard but supposedly it works well with foldable Bluetooth keyboards.


I'm very interested in the foleo. My treo will do most of the things I need to do, but is a bit awkward and cramped when I want to actually write anything of any length.

I used to always carry my 12" powerbook around, but my treo does a lot of what I need to do, and Zab's been using g4est a lot these days.

If the foleo has ssh on it, or can have it installed, then it'll do just about everything I need to do. If it has an SD card slot, then it'll have plenty of storage space. The fact that it tightly couples with my Treo is a major benefit.


How about a auto-encrypting cache system, with the key only stored on the central server and in Foleo memory? You still have fairly aggressive cache pruning, and that includes the local key copy.

And if the key isn't available, you just operate cache-less. It's distinct from network access control or transmision security.

(Sit's back and waits for everyone to explain why it's a stupid idea...)


Meh, who needs Foleos and their ilk when you can get an iPhone? Sleek, beautiful and packed with gadgets at a reasonable price. Ok, it's more of a toy than a business PDA. But still... :-)


Zoid: get back to me when the iPhone has (a) 3G (specifically UMTS, but I'll give you a free pass for any kind of broadband wireless connection that's available outside the USA), (b) an SDK that lets folks who don't work at Apple write apps for it, (c) a memory card slot, and (d) a user-replaceable battery.

Yes, it's beautiful, and it's bound to be a hit with folks who want to upgrade to the ultimate iPod and who only use their phone for texting and voice calls. But it's also completely useless for my purposes, and for anyone else who actually wants to run a business.


Dave Bell: Interesting! You could implement the local cache using either Palm's sync technology, or something like Google Gears (which is cross-browser, BSD-licensed and backed by Google, so it stands a good chance).

I wonder if you could stick the crypto keys on a Bluetooth keychain fob? Combine that with a short passphrase, and you could thwart most attackers. (OK, somebody with a directional antenna and the ability to brute-force your passphrase might be able to break into a stolen machine. But even then, you could just turn the crypto fob off.)


Charlie, and ONLY T-Mobile in the UK offers a decent data package. The other operators are messing around with 30MB and 120MB and other silly amounts.

And note that it'll fall foul of other providers restrictions on devices you can hook up to as well..

Anyway, I can't see touching it myself. I want a decent ebook reader for on the go, then I use this thing called a pad of paper for scribbling and such - that can get added into the ebook reader a generation or two down the line.

A "thin" client which doesn't offer me the working environment I'm used to (I never have been able to stand the slowness of working with webapps and webmail)...right.


Andrew: did I say the Foleo was for us?

Nope -- what I'm saying is that those people (like us) who're turning their noses up at it may have a point, but we're not the target market. There is a market for this thing: just not the obvious one.


My Palm T|X has all the functionality of the iPhone (except for the cell phone voice/data bit) same resolution, google maps bit, browser, GPS mapping and etc, but also has third party software. With a foldable keyboard it is very handy. But the whole point of the Foleo is providing a big screen and keyboard for such a device.
Of course if Steve Jobs puts out a Foleo stamped with an Apple logo for the iPhone he will have everybody in the media announcing that he is teh greatest genius evar!!!

Dave Berry:
Adding a docking station for the Foleo misses the point, in most scenarios it is the docking port. For desktop work you would sync the whole damn thing over to a sandbox (a bootable usb SD reader with the corresponding Live Palm Linux distro would be a killer accessory.

But now I get the price, it's the status symbol thing. PHBs won't accept a tool at OLPC prices. Reminds me of my previous boss, kept 4 high end laptops stacked on his desk, but had trouble using AOL. When he got a new one he'd give the oldest one to one of us unwashed types (he'd bought it on our budgets ).


Meh, who needs Foleos and their ilk when you can get an iPhone?

Who needs iPhones when you can get a Nokia N95? it speaks Python! and UMTS! and GPS! However, I'm holding out for the Nokia E90 which has all the N95 stuff with a qwerty keyboard.

then I use this thing called a pad of paper for scribbling and such - that can get added into the ebook reader a generation or two down the line.

The big HTC gadgets mostly have a big touchscreen. Some enterprise apps use this to collect signatures. Again, I would point out that "secure enterprise apps that don't need a computer" is a set that intersects with "mobile phone".

More generally, I think there is a secular tendency to underestimate the fantasticness of the PC concept and general-purpose computing more broadly. To the extent it comes from techies, I suspect it's caused by geek snobbery - what, the drones get Turing machines? *Refined shudder* I suspect that there are very good reasons why thin-client solutions are proposed every other year, and fail - and they are probably not networkly ones. Sun's regular bright ideas on this were always intended to work on a 100Mbits/s ethernet LAN after all. And they failed there.

It's also certainly not anything anyone who isn't a fascist should be promoting.


The Foleo would seem to fit in well with google's gears and related stuff. In fact if gears were ported over to this platform then you'd have email/calendar/doc/spreadsheet in the browser. Google also understands servers so if you are right and this looks medium promising I would be unsurprised to see google either buying palm coming to some sort of commercial agreement with them or coming out with something similar branded "google" made somewhere cheap (India/China) but with the same sorts of capability.


Python on the N9x, cool!

As for the thin client, "post-computer" (I prefer to call it bubblepack computing as per the packaging they will have on the shelves of wallmart/target/tesco) it's only fascist if you don't own the server. I'd never want this as my primary computer any more than my Palm (although my T|X easily exceeds my first N computers in power and capabilities). The niche of this and the OLPC for the non-corporate (home/hacker) is as an extension of one's main computer, for the bedroom or on travel.

An analogy to this is the DTV video games with 100 or so games available in bubblepacks for $20-30. Not meant to put the PS3 or XBox360 out of business, but great fun in their own way, and if they get lost or broken, so what! They're cheaper than the disks for console systems. Same thing for a third gen OLPC or Foleo. Sort of like the data pads on ST:TNG, they are so cheap and ubiquitous that when somebody hands them to another character they don't wait to get them back.


Not just the N9x, but anything Nokia/Symbian S-60: see the discussion board at Nokia Forum.


There is a form factor between the sub notebook an a Palm.
Toshiba (at least used to) have the under-2 lb Libretto.
I nearly got one in the late days of the 486 versions.

Instead, I got a 3.5 lb Compaq Aero - 486sx/25. With 16 MB
RAM, i was able to have Linux with X Windows running. In
170 MB disk, i was able to have Apache, Emacs, gcc, and Postgres,
with about 70 MB free for my stuff. I developed several web
based database backed applications while on the subway.
I backed it up via PLIP (parallel port) networking. I accessed
floppy disks, CD's and the big hard disk via NFS to a desktop.
I'd use it still if it hadn't died.

The current 12 lb laptops get so hot you can't put them in
your lap. That makes subway computing impossible.
They have noisy hard disks and fans, so doing
serious music with them is a non-starter. In fact, most have
totally piss-poor audio. Like, if you listen to a CD, there
are audible clicks whenver the CD player moves the head.

I'd gladly give up video for cool, quiet operation. And
the whole package has to be small and light. But i want
to operate without a network. And, really, you don't need
a floppy, or DVD player. USB can be used for thumb drives
and even backup.

I bet this can be done with something smaller than a sub-notebook.
It'd be a worthwhile market, even if it isn't a huge market.

So what about your data? You can keep your data safe with
an encrypting filesystem. Such beasts have been available
for Linux for a dozen years. It's a pain to do distributions
from the US because of our totally absurd laws about even
stupid encryption. But it's certainly feasible. You have
your screen saver require a password. You need a password
to mount your data filesystem once it boots.


Well, your info security folks will likely think this is actually a good idea. A network of 40,000 PCs and 4,000 servers is harder to secure than a network of 40,000 terminals and 4,000 servers.

Another key factor to look for is the ability to lock this down with a VPN client, so that I can take it out-of-office and still connect in to the network securely. Although this is possible today, it's either an expensive laptop, or a 'chew your nails about the security' home PC.

VGA output is a nice touch. That will satisfy the bunch that wants to securely take presentations on the road. Right now, they're torn between the risks and costs of a laptop, and the higher risks and potential interoperability problems with a USB key.

A different point on the status issue -- maybe in small and medium sized companies, but those of us who live on corporate lease programs don't have people pulling those tricks. And if you start trying to buy your own machines, they don't get the corporate software image and won't connect to the network.

Now - the home market might not be on their radar. But there is a growing market segment - think two parents, two kids, that could seriously benefit from a home setup. Think of a single hub (Linux PC based) with built-in UPS, a Linux home server setup to aggregate and filter mail, a parental control layer, and a mostly virus and malware resistant client setup. Right now, that would run $2300 for individual units, but I would expect a pricing discount if you take a 'family pack'. When you are pricing it out, remember that the hub doesn't need a monitor, or even high-end graphics. This won't do high-end PC games -- but that's that the PS2/Wii/Xbox/PS3 is for in many people's minds. The real trick would be that you might be able to take it with you, and securely connect to your own home for email.


Charlie, not sure about the "we" :P I can't stand PDA's, smallest thing I've ever owned was my (now sadly dead) Fujitsu 1200. Heck, I have problems with mobile phones sometimes (and the age of my mobile would make a lot of people shudder).

Tech-as-a-tool..my objection to thin clients is based on the terrible user interface I've allways encountered when dealing with them, and the bandwidth issues, as opposed to anything else.

Ah well, with the failure of NAEB to bring anything but a rebadged booken reader to the table I doubt I'm in the market for any device for quite some time to come - guess I'm lugging my full sized laptop arround.


You disappear for a week and something interesting comes along:


Via's nanobook solves the storage issue. If I hadn't just replaced my T1 with a TX3 (very cheapily thanks to Currys) I would be waiting for it to appear.


Ben: that looks like a rather nicer take on the same niche as the Kohjinsha SA1 that I'm currently using as a walking-about Psion Netbook equivalent. Battery life isn't as good, but CPU is better, weight is slightly lower, and price is lower too. Palm are definitely going to have to cut the price of the Foleo to $500 and keep going down, or things like the Nanobook of the SA1 are going to eat their lunch among the people they say they're pitching at (i.e. the portable mobile phone companion users).


Palm are definitely going to have to cut the price of the Foleo to $500 and keep going down

You're predicting sunsets. Of course the price will drop. Better -- it could break the Megahertz Addiction. You don't need to upgrade this to run the Newest Lame Apps, you upgrade the backend. Rack mounted and freestanding machines are much easier to upgrade than micronotebooks.

The problem -- the UK and other civilized worlds have unlimited 3G cell plans. This device becomes vastly less useful if you don't have basically free bandwidth to drive it. Give me this box with SSH and RDP, and I'd be sold -- it's large enough to use, small enough to carry -- but it's not going to have the moxie to do much real work unless it can connect to the back end.

This, BTW, is why they spent the $30 to put 801.11 onboard -- to help make up the bandwidth gap in the US.

Now, if this drives real bandwidth in the US, even better, but I don't see it happening.

So, I predict Serious Failure.



For Internet Access?

In the UK?

It is to larf. Chiz! Chiz! Chiz!


Dave, the T-Mobile web'n'walk tariffs aren't capped. They wag a finger at you about certain uses -- P2P and VoIP, mostly -- and warn that they may yell at you if you go over 1Gb/month, but that's in line with the lower grade of cheap ADSL providers. And I've got it for £7.50 on my phone. For £29 there's their data card for laptop use (with VoIP and P2P allowed, and a higher cap before they start screaming).

I think Orange, Vodafone and the rest are going to have to give way sooner or later -- they're apparently haemorrhaging customers to T-Mobile over this deal. Customers like me ...


@44: When they say 4.5 hours of battery life, is that 4.5 hours of active use, or is that more like 1.5 hours active use plus 3 hours of standby?

I see a lot to like, though.


And then there is this asus model


3 hour battery life and supposedly $300 .

I'm starting to think that the TX3 may be going sooner rather than later.


Charlie, et al.

The iPhone remark was uninformed, I apologize. As I said it's more of a toy than a proper PDA and it's target group is people (like me) who look more to the exterior than the interior. ;-) If I could choose between a iPhone and a Nokia N95 (for instance) I'd choose the iPhone. The N95 is fugly...



The Asus Eee PC 701 looks really good, though I wonder how small that screen is. The (estimated) price on it is really nice however. If it does come out around that, I'd really be tempted to buy it. More details would be nice though.

The VIA Nanobook has potential too. Price-wise it looks like they'll give a full notebook experience for the same price as the Foleo.

To Palm's credit, they do seem to have the best display, which might be what's driving the price up.


Throw linux or BSD onto something like the Eee and I might be interested, if the price translated to UKP150. (See, I say nothing arround interests me, then people launch stuff..). But a "windows compatible" OS? Ugh.

I'd rather have tablet format, but it's a huge step in the right direction.. (solid state HDD good. Inbuilt MMC/SD card reader even better, hope they have that...


Zoid: no need to apologize! It's just that the iPhone ain't terribly useful if what you want to do is to write a novel or run a business ...


Andrew: I'm sure that once the Eee does come out someone will work out how to install a Linux flavor in short order. I'm a bit leery about a "windows compatible" OS as well. It reminds me too much of the early days of DOS when you could never be sure if a program would work with the OS you had even though it claimed to be "100% Compatible". At least they aren't trying to cram a full version of Windows on there. As long as it has a web browser that can access web apps, the OS is really just a matter of taste.


The eee for me wins because it has a trackpad (I've never been able to use the trackpoint joystick in the middle of the keyboard).

http://www.asus.com/news_show.aspx?id=7317 gives the game away on operating system Linux but Windows XP compatitible. Still no idea about screen resolution tho.

If it runs a word processor with spellchecker, a spreadsheet and Firefox I'm there. For travelling a bluetooth stack would be a nice addition but at the price you can't have everything.

As for tablet pc's I've played about with them in the past. Its remarkable how quickly you want to return to a keyboard simply to enter a few words onto a form.


Andrew G., well, by the spec page it can run Windows since it's using a standard intel CPU (and the rest, well, drivers ain't such a big deal). Bet it cuts the battery life, though. And well, again, I'm not looking for webapps.

Ben, I personally prefer trackballs. One of my older laptops had a trackball on the far right of the base section..and the buttons on the back of the case. You reached your hand round the side to use it. Shame that design seems to have been abandoned for the trackpad, which is more energy intensive and for me at least has accuracy issues.


Ben: go look at the Kohjinsha SA100 (referenced above). It's UMPC sized but has a keyboard and a tablet-style tilt'n'swivel screen. Use as a tablet for watching movies in economy class; use as a laptop for, well, typing. The keyboard ain't great -- it's small but adequate -- but it works wonderfully with the Think Outside full-sized folding bluetooth 'board and mouse. And even with import duty and VAT and shipping from Japan, it'll cost less than buying a UMPC in the UK.


Anyone got a good English spec page for the SA100? Anyone sell it over here? Had things damaged in transit before, and it's taken months to get things straight (and then I got a partial refund, not the goods)


In a weird way, I kind of feel sorry for the Foleo. No sooner than it is announced, all sorts of subnotebooks at the same price point come popping out of the woodwork. I won't say that those subnotebooks are better spec-ed because Palm hasn't released any real specs for the Foleo. But it's clear that whatever the Foleo is for, these newly announced subnotebooks can fill the same niche (given appropriate software).

Right now, I'm not sure what the Foleo is. Lots of people (not you, Charlie) are speaking of it as if it were a relatively cheap, Linux-based subnotebook. The Palm website spins it as a screen and keyboard for your smartphone. There is even a flash video by Jeff Hawkins where he says that the Foleo will "turn your smartphone into your primary computer." I had thought of it as a smart terminal for your smart phone. But I hadn't thought of it as a potential thin client. Certainly, if they want to make the claim that the Foleo is revolutionary and sui generis, the one thing they can not say is that it is a Linux-based subnotebook.

Having said that, I'm not in the Foleo's target market either. Ideally, I want something runs the three programs I currently run on my laptop, but fits in my pant pocket and serves as my notebook. (Incidentally, the three programs are a bridge player, a Chinese-English dictionary and a web browser. None are computationally intensive, except maybe the web browser. Obviously, to serve as a notebook, I'll also need at least a text editor.)

The only thing currently on the market which might serve, the OQO Model 02, is expensive. There were lots of product announced in the last week or two, but nearly all of them have 7" screens. (Too big for pant pocket. Small enough for my jacket pocket, but then it's no more convenient than my Newton. However, unlike my Newton, any of them should be able to browse modern web sites.)

When I get around to replacing my tablet PC, I might replace it with one of the 7" subnotebooks rather than the OQO Model 02 because any one of them will likely be $1000 cheaper. I'll be disappointed that it won't be able to serve as a replacement for the moleskine notebook I have in my pocket right now though. Then again, my Newton is too large for that too.

BTW, in the US and UK, the Kohjinsha SA1 is available from dynamism.com. They've filed it under UMPC. Specs are available at their website. I've never bought anything from them, but they come highly recommended.


Yes, the problem is again it's priced well, well out of my range by the time shipping and tax is considered.


I just don't see this thing setting the world on fire. For what it does, it's about twice as expensive as its competitors, and that's not even counting the PDA/smartphone thingie you also have to buy. Things like the Eee or whatever consumer machine the company putting together the UMPC comes out with will do more and cost less. I'm not going to go so far as to say this device will kill Palm, but I don't think it's going to be adopted in the kind of numbers Palm hopes for.


Chris -- you didn't pay any attention to what I wrote in this blog entry, did you?


All right, I reread it to refresh my memory. (I got distracted by some of the comments.)

I'm still not sure I see this thing getting widely adopted, as I suspect a lot of the businesses who might be targets for such a thing already have or could easily set up their own remote access solutions, using Windows's Remote Desktop or VNC or some other remote-access system (with some form of encrypted tunnelling for security) to access it. (Heck, the data-entry house where I work right now uses Remote Desktop on people's cubicle desktop boxes, turning a full-fledged desktop machine into a mere dumb terminal for another machine squirreled away somewhere on a UPS.)

What are they going to do if they're looking for thin clients—spend $600 or so per person on a thin client for an entirely new application suite, or spend $200 on something that will work with the system they've already got?

Anyway, if Palm is planning such a system, there would presumably have to be a way for regular computers to access it, as there's not any point in having to run your business entirely off of Palms. Which means that the cheaper Eee PC should then be able to access it as well. So why pay twice as much per person for the terminal as you have to even if you do plan to use the system?


Chris, the whole point about thin clients is that (a) they're cheaper to maintain than Windows boxes, and (b) they're near-as-dammit invulnerable to certain types of threat. Running Windows Remote Desktop or VNC on a PC laptop won't protect your core network against intruders who've stuck a keystroke logger on the remote laptop; the point is, PCs running Windows are horribly insecure, and that's a bigger weakness than the actual cost of the hardware. (You can make them secure, but it costs -- in time and admin personnel.)

Now, thin clients failed the first time round for several reasons. (a) They weren't significantly cheaper than standalone PCs. (b) There was no perceived business advantage in them. And (c) they couldn't go where the work was or provide solutions to all the common business tasks.

What may make the Foleo different (note the conditional) is that it's lightweight and mobile; it also arrives at the same time as a bunch of web 2.0 apps (like, for example, embeddable word processors and spreadsheets) that mean thin clients can conceivably do all the necessary office tasks.

Typical TCO costs for PCs in business are on the order of £4000 per year -- of which the hardware is probably under 10%, and commercial software licenses another 10-20%. Most of the cost of ownership comes in under the headings of inventory control, security, support, and server administration. The Foleo or other thin client solutions don't need to cost less than a PC to have a lower TCO -- if they're done right.

Finally, to saw off the branch I'm sitting on -- over the last couple of weeks there's been a shortage of announcements from Palm suggesting that they're aiming it at this market. Time will tell; I am beginning to suspect they have gotten the Foleo to market a year too late, given the sudden deluge of announcements of $300-$600 lightweight PCs.



As an addendum to T-mobile's web'n'walk:


"Mobile customers get a recorded announcement saying they must have misdialed."