Palm’s announcement today naming Jon Rubinstein chairman and CEO, replacing Ed Colligan as chief executive, was hardly a surprise. Rubinstein, a former senior Apple executive, has been running the show since taking on the odd title of executive chairman nearly two years ago. But Colligan’s departure marks a final break with the old Palm, and I can’t help taking a look back at the company’s tumultuous history.
I first met Ed Colligan when he came to my office in early 1996 to show me a prototype of the Palm Pilot (it was still two words then.) I was new at this game then and the Pilot, billed as a “connected organizer” was one of the few products then or since that wowed me at first sight.
Given everything that befell Palm, it's a wonder that the company survived. The founders, product visionary Jeff Hawkins, CEO Donna Dubinsky, and marketing chief Colligan, were unable to raise the money needed to bring the Pilot to market and had to sell the company to modem maker U.S. Robotics. USR promptly turned around and sold itself to 3Com, which never was able to figure out quite what to do with Palm, but nearly killed it with its meddling.
In 1998, the unhappy founders left Palm to found Handspring. Many followers came to regard Handspring as the "real" Palm and the company made history of its own by developing the Treo, the first true smartphone. After further sturm und drang, including spinning out the software to a separate company and an IPO of Palm, Handspring reunited with Palm in 2003.
Dubinsky left management, though she stayed on the board until last year, and Hawkins gradually drifted away to pursue it real love, brain research. Colligan stayed on as CEO, but the once-dominant Palm struggled, losing market share to a flood of BlackBerrys and iPhones. In June, 2007, Elevation Partners, led by venture capitalist Roger McNamee and U2 front man Bono, bought a 25% controlling interest and installed Rubinstein. Though Colligan nominally remains the chief executive, he faded more and more into the background during the runup to last week's launch of the Palm Pre.
According to a Palm press release, Colligan plans to take some time off, then join Elevation.