What Is Palm Nova?

Tomorrow is being touted as Palm’s make-or-break moment. It’s poised to announce Nova, the company’s next operating system.

Despite being a former employee and knowing several people still at the company, I honestly no nothing about what Nova is or isn’t (that’s a good thing they haven’t been talking – secrecy in this case is good). I’ve been very down on Palm in the past and am still hesitant to think that they can rise from the ashes to relevance in light of competition from Apple and RIM. That said, I’ve been thinking about what Nova could be, and I want to throw my guess before the cat is out of the bag tomorrow.

Nova will be a new operating system that uses applications made with standard web development tools to access information on the device and from the Internet.

Software developers aren’t going to want to develop for yet another phone; they are busy making apps for iPhone and Blackberry. But, what if Nova software development isn’t aimed at traditional software developers but at traditional web developers? If developers could make native phone applications using Javascript, PHP, Ruby, Python, they might very interested in Nova.

I used to work at a company called DoDots, which made widgets (mini-browsers and micro-web content) years before Konfabulator, Dashboard Widgets, and Google Widgets became fashionable. Before that, I worked with Palm on the Palm VII, which used Web Clippings to break down web content into more manageable pieces for use on a handheld screen. What if Palm’s Nova is an operating system whose applications are written like standard web applications today? They could run on the device in disconnected mode, accessing information stored on the device in a MySQL or SQLite database, or access information on the web using the same techniques? A developer writing an application for the web could have an app that could conceivably also run on a Nova-powered phone.

Is this the fat middle of the market that Palm is saying they are targeting with their new OS and handheld device?

We’ll find out tomorrow!

Update January 8, 2008: webOS platform prediction was right!

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