A few days after the Palm Pre was released, I wrote a couple of programs for it: a restaurant Tip Calculator
, and a port of Dali Clock
. These were, as far as I'm aware, the 2nd and 3rd third-party applications for Palm WebOS that were ever available. I got on this boat early.
So why are they still not available in Palm's App Catalog? That's a very good question. This is my story about attempting to simply distribute this free software that I have written, and how Palm has so far completely prevented me from doing so.
The main problem here is that the only reasonable way that exists to distribute software for the Palm Pre is to get it into the App Catalog. On Palm's previous operating system, PalmOS, you could download and install applications from anywhere. There was a thriving software ecosystem of third-party applications for the Palm Treo, Centro, and their decade-long history of PDAs before that. You could (and I did) buy third-party software that ran on PalmOS on random web sites, or buy it in physical stores on CD-ROMs.
But taking a page from Apple's play-book, Palm has now decided that they have to be the one and only gate-keeper for all the software on your Palm Pre, in a way they never did on the Treo, Centro, or any of the earlier PDAs.
So if you, a developer, want to get your software into the hands of your customers, you have to beg and plead and wheedle Palm to distribute it for you.
Shortly after I wrote those applications in June, I mailed a few people inside Palm trying to figure out how to get them into the App Catalog, so that normal people could actually run them. In July, Palm publically asked for submissions for the App Catalog. I submitted my apps, signed up for their application-submission web site in July, printed out ten pages of PDF legal documents, signed them and scanned them back, then signed up for their web site again when they threw away the previous web site and created a whole new one in August, and basically jumped through dozens of hoops -- literally dozens of email exchanges -- from July through September.
They had all kinds of ridiculous requests and requirements, like, "It's a corporate policy that all of the applications use a version number less than 1.0.0", even though Dali Clock is already at version 2.31. But whatever. I jumped through all their hoops.
Finally, in mid-August they found a hoop I would not jump through. They said:
Required: You can only distribute your app via the Palm App Catalog. Do not make your app available on your website or anywhere other than the App Catalog.
They were objecting to the existence of the source code and binary executables on my Tip Calculator and Dali Clock web sites! I responded:
This is absolutely unacceptable, and frankly I find it offensive that you would ask for this.
This is open source software, and I will distribute both source and binaries any way I see fit, and give permission to anyone else to do the same.
If this is a requirement for inclusion in your app catalog, then I will stop developing for your platform at all.
Look, I'm on your side. I've been rooting for Palm for years, primarily because of the openness of the old PalmOS platform. But if this is your new direction, forget it. I use the Pre every day, and believe me when I tell you that you have exactly two advantages over the iPhone. First, a physical keboard. Second, a more open development environment and the goodwill of your developers. Apple has been shooting itself in the foot over its app store policies lately, and their idiocy has been your gain. Don't screw this up. If you try to maintain as much control as they do over the applications available, you are going to be a footnote. Did the vast numbers of applications available for PalmOS teach you nothing?
A few weeks later, I got a response asking to have a conversation about my objections after signing a non-disclosure agreement! I said no, obviously.
Finally, in September, I got a reply from Joe Hayashi (I don't know what his position is, but apparently he's somewhat higher up in the food chain than the folks I had been arguing with before) who said, "We aren't asking that you remove the binaries or source of your apps from your web site, and we aren't restricting anyone from distributing their source code, open source license or otherwise." Well, actually, that's exactly what they had asked for, but I was willing to assume that what he was trying to say was "we have now changed our crazy policy." Great. Problem solved, right?
I said, "Thank you for changing your policy. When can I expect to see my applications in the app catalog?"
Now, they have apparently changed the rules again, and won't post my applications until I give them a PayPal "Verified" account, and (possibly?) pay them $99/year in order to give away my software for free. My last exchange with Palm, on Sep 14:
Can you tell me what the status is of my apps? Will Tip Calculator and Dali Clock be showing up in the app catalog soon?
Liz Benson wrote:
I'll check status on these and see if we can't expedite. I know we sent you a review on Tip Calculator a while back and that you had feedback on our feedback. I'll ask for a re-review and see where we are.
I replied to the last review email I got (and then it was all de-railed because of the "you must take the source code off your web site" demand, which has since been rescinded.) The other small code changes you asked for, I don't agree with, and I'm not going to do.
I consider both Tip Calculator and Dali Clock to be complete.
I would be happy if you would post them both as-is to your app catalog.
If you think the minor changes that you asked for that I'm not interested in making are deal breakers, then please just tell me that, and I'll give up.
Is this a PayPal "Verified" account? That is what is needed to get you set up on the new portal.
No, it's not, because I don't trust Paypal to have my checking account number. I'm happy with them only having my credit card number.
Please understand: these programs are free. I am not, and will never, be charging money for them.
If you're not going to post them without me giving Paypal my checking account number, then, forget it. I will just stop trying to get my code into your app catalog, because that's just one ridiculous roadblock too many.
I have written free software that I am trying to give away and so far this has involved 27 emails and ten pages of signed documents.
I understand that you're still trying to work the bugs out of your submission process, but seriously, this is downright Kafka-esque.
Please, just post the programs already. Or tell me you're never going to, so I can stop trying.
I am so frustrated by this.
It's been two weeks, and I have received no reply. In the months since this process began, other third-party developers seem to have managed to get their applications into the App Catalog. Apparently these people are better at jumping through ridiculous hoops than I am.
So at this point I think it's safe to say that I won't be developing any more software for the Palm Pre.
Maybe it's time to look into getting an Android phone again.
Update, Sep 29:
Despite Joe Hayashi's claim that "We aren't asking that you remove the binaries or source of your apps from your web site, and we aren't restricting anyone from distributing their source code, open source license or otherwise", gregv points out that the license agreement that comes with the 1.2 Palm SDK that was released yesterday still contains the restriction that applications may only be distributed through the Palm App Catalog. Let's hope that this is just an oversight: that the company has, in fact, changed this policy, but that the paperwork just hasn't yet caught up to reality. An official statement from Palm to clear up these contradictory statements would be appreciated by everybody, I'm sure.
Update, Oct 6: