Palm Lends Developers a Hand

Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) wants you to believe it's the good guy.

On Tuesday, the would-be smartphone survivor -- a rumored acquisition target first for Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) , and then Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) -- announced changes to its developer program. Those who want to build software for Palm's webOS will be able to distribute directly via the Web, without any review from Palm, as of December.

"Our program will be unlike anything currently available, and has been established to promote a thriving community by giving developers direct involvement in their own success," said Katie Mitic, Palm's senior vice president for product marketing, in a statement. She continued:

"Whether you're looking for immediate distribution or just feedback on early stages of development, this program is built to scale to your needs and finally put you in control of investing in and promoting your business."

Hoped-for-translation to developers: Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) is stifling you. Write your code for webOS, and you'll make more money.

Palm isn't asking for too much: a $99 annual fee and $50 for each application posted to Palm's App Catalog for the Pre and Pixi smartphones.

But there's also a free option. Those writing open-source applications for webOS won't have to pay the $99 fee, and Web distribution is supplied by Palm.

This is brilliant PR. By dipping itself in open-source waters, Palm is positioning itself as the good guy, a developer's best buddy, the one that "gets it" when it comes to sexy new freemium business models popularized by the writings of Wired's Chris Anderson.

Expect the sheen to last at least for today, and perhaps for several months. But it won't last forever. At some point, Palm is going to suffer through decisions about what to allow on its platform. (Ask Apple about the Baby Shaker sometime.)

And let's remember that Palm hasn't exactly been playing by the rules when it comes to the Pre. The latest update once again syncs with iTunes by fooling the program into thinking that the Pre is actually an iPod; a short-term fix that's almost guaranteed to be broken when Apple updates its software again.

Palm is also the renegade here. Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) uses an Apple-supported method for syncing with iTunes. Brrrrrrrinnnng! Hello? Yes, it's irony calling.

Palm may very well be drinking the open-source holy water -- and it may work for a time, adding thousands of new applications to a platform that badly lags Apple's App Store, Microsoft's (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) Windows Mobile store, and the software desert that Research In Motion calls BlackBerry App World. But it can't really claim to wear the white hat until it stops hacking iTunes.

Apple is a Stock Advisor selection. Dell, Microsoft, and Nokia are Inside Value picks. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the market-beating Motley Fool Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He had stock and options positions in Apple and a stock position in Nokia at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. We now pre-empt this article to bring you the Fool's disclosure policy.


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