When Palm canceled the Foleo this week, I got a condolence note from a reader of an article I'd written the week before that had said nice things about the Foleo. "Too bad . . . Guess you'll have to update your recent article," he wrote. Well, much as I might like a do-over, life doesn't always work that way. I am sorry to see Palm kill the Foleo, even though I think I know why.In the earlier article (see "The Future Of Mobile Tech: Next Year's Notebooks Will Be Worth Waiting For") I had cited the Foleo in a discussion of Linux on notebooks as an example of a relationship between changes in the hardware and changes in the operating system.
I still think it's an interesting idea whose time will come: Low functionality (nonwindowing interface, no hard drive) equals low power (slow processor, no fan, low battery drain), and low power equals low price (Linux instead of Windows, no storage, inexpensive processor).
When you think about it, the Foleo looked very similar to the One Laptop Per Child project's XO notebook -- just without the hand-crank. The dirt-cheap notebook (whether it's $100 or $300) is a very interesting market niche, even in first-world countries, and the Foleo was almost there. But nobody made that point (even me).
Just because I'm suspicious by occupation, I take it as an operating principle that the stated reason for doing anything is seldom the real reason. The stated reason was that Palm needed to focus on the long-overdue next-generation, Linux-based OS for its Treo smartphones. Like they couldn't have thought of that two months ago? I'm not buying it.
I suspect Palm's real reason for axing the Foleo before it even got to market was the pummeling the product got when it was introduced. I think a lot of that pummeling came from people who didn't understand it -- just like Microsoft's Origami got pummeled last year by people who didn't understand it (like me at the time).
I obviously wanted to like the Foleo, and I don't quite agree with my colleague Eric Zeman that the Foleo was a disaster waiting to happen. But its future didn't look bright. Non-windowing is OK for a low-functionality OS, but not good enough for a real Web browser. Five hours of battery life is better than most full-sized laptops, but not good enough for the truly portable device the Foleo was supposed to be. And so on. Bottom line: the Foleo just wasn't sexy enough.
Still, that doesn't mean we've seen the last of Linux-driven low power/low functionality/low price devices. I stick by my conclusions in the "Future Of Mobile Tech" article. We'll see more devices this coming year that will try to find the winning formula in that combination of ingredients. No do-over needed on that one.