Following Dispute, Palm Says It Will Support Dev Camp

Palm Inc. has said it will support a grassroots effort to assemble independent developers looking to build their own apps for the Pre, the device manufacturer's next-generation smartphone built on a new Web-based platform called webOS.

The company came under fire last week after the organizers of the independent effort, called preDevCamp, said Palm was wavering from earlier indications that it would support developers eager to build apps for webOS.

Interest in webOS, due for release next month, picked up immediately upon its introduction in January. Unlike other mobile platforms, it is designed to let Web developers build mobile apps using straight HTML, JavaScript and CSS.

Using Palm's Mojo SDK, developers can integrate their applications to run as a native program on the webOS-based Pre. The platform has also garnered interest because of its support for multitasking.

The Pre will be offered exclusively in the United States by Sprint. Palm said last month that it will eventually offer a company-branded cloud service that will provide access to applications. The company later this year will launch its XMPP-based publish and subscribe Mojo Messaging Service.

Seeing its appeal as an alternative development platform to Apple's iPhone, Research In Motion's BlackBerry and devices based on Microsoft's Windows Mobile, preDevCamp quickly gained traction. In total, nearly 1,000 organizers have signed on to participate in the camp, which will take place in about 80 cities worldwide on June 13.

Organizers of preDevCamp had indicated that Palm had voiced interest in supporting the event but that they were never able to get a full commitment. The organizers hoped that Palm would provide technical support either live at the events or online, and make devices available for qualified developers. Some developers have complained that obtaining the Mojo SDK, released in early April, has been difficult.

Tensions between preDevCamp organizers and Palm came to a head last week when Palm announced on May 19 that the Pre will ship on June 6. The announcement took the organizers by surprise as they had been set to meet with Palm on May 20 to be briefed on plans to roll out the device. Knowing when the device would be released was critical to the group in order for local organizers to secure meeting locations and other details, they said.

Palm abruptly cancelled the meeting after one of the three preDevCamp camp founders, Giovanni Gallucci, posted a update on Twitter announcing that the group would be meeting with Palm. According to Palm, that act alone was a violation of the non-disclosure agreement (NDA); thus the cancellation.

In a blog posting, Gallucci questioned Palm's interest in supporting the effort. "It appears to me, again my opinion, that the relationship was a ruse from the beginning," Gallucci wrote.

In an interview, Gallucci said his Twitter update didn't reveal anything other than the fact that Palm and the camp organizers were meeting. Gallucci said he believes Palm used it as an excuse to back out of involvement with the group. "I have a bad taste in my mouth just because, in my opinion, they kind of strung us along for a while and then dropped everything," he said.

Palm denied it was looking to cut ties with the group. "We think what they are doing is great, we are fully supportive. But we do have rules around NDAs that we are required to play within the bounds of," said Pam Deziel, Palm's vice president of developer marketing, in an interview.

However, Deziel apologized for the dispute late Friday and said the company fully supports the effort. "We overreacted to the whole disclosure issue," Deziel wrote on the Palm Developer Network Blog. "We've been in stealth and super-secret mode for so long now. We needed a real-world conversation to see how we needed to work things so everybody can operate in their own environment."

The two sides will continue to discuss what resources Palm will provide, Deziel added. "As messy as it feels right now, the passion of the community is incredibly positive," she wrote. "I'm optimistic that we can find a good solution. And we're going to keep talking."

Gallucci and preDevCamp Co-Founder William Hurley (known as "whurley") said they will continue to be available to support any of the organizers but they are withdrawing officially. In an interview, whurley, who was a member of the original iPhone development team and now the chief architect of BMC Software's open source strategy, said he has decided to focus on other efforts. "I think this ship has sailed," said whurley, who spelled out his issues with Palm in his own blog posting.

The remaining founder of preDevCamp, Dan Rumney, a global support manager with IBM, has agreed to function as the coordinator, an effort done outside his role at Big Blue. Rumney said that to date, Palm has shown some interest in preDevCamp but he is hopeful the company will show greater support. A good first step would be making it easier for participants to get the SDK, he said.

"Until there are killer applications and differentiated applications, they are going nowhere," Rumney said. "That's part of what preDevCamp was going to do."

Indeed, Palm -- which has been credited with popularizing handheld computers and ultimately smartphones, as well as with building one of the largest mobile developer ecosystems -- has become a marginal player in recent years; its developer network has dwindled. But Palm showed signs of life following the announcement of the Pre and webOS.

"It's kind of do or die, this has to work for them," said Derek Gathright, lead developer at Catholic Content. Gathright, a user of Palm's Treo, is a preDevCamp organizer in Kansas City where Sprint is based.

Gathright said Sprint has supported the effort and that he is hopeful Palm will increase its support, as well. "Adopting open Web standards is only half of the equation," he said. "We also have to get the community behind those, as well, for it to really be a selling point to developers."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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