It was a strange sight at PalmSource, the conference 3Com unit Palm Computing held for developers last week. Not only did John Chambers, chief executive of networking giant and 3Com arch-nemesis, Cisco Systems, deliver the keynote address, but halfway through he bounded off the stage like a television evangelist to implore the audience face-to-face not to 'get left behind' by ignoring the need to invest in technology. Other speakers preached that the 2,000 or so software and hardware developers in attendance should go forth and develop products to put handheld computers into the palms of everyone. Five million people worldwide use Palm-type handheld computers, but Palm executives hope that will rocket, as new uses are found for the devices - beyond current applications like storing addresses and schedules - and as developers pursue their own niche markets. Hospitals already use handheld devices to record patient information and store medical reference material, while retailers see them as a way for customers to get product information while they shop. Palm downplayed competitive issues at the four-day show in order to foster growth of the Palm platform. Also prominently featured at the conference were companies such as Handspring, Symbol and TRG, which all use the Palm operating system to make devices which go head-to-head with Palm's own. By emphasising the licensing of its OS to third-party makers, rather than the manufacture of its own devices, Palm hopes to retain its market lead while making handheld computing ubiquitous. Its device division, whose handhelds dominate the market, will become just one of many licensed Palm manufacturers, albeit still an important one. Palm-branded devices, which can store addresses and calendars as well as download from a selection of 4,000 software programs - two-thirds of them business applications such as spreadsheets, databases and e-mail management programs - will continue to stake out the 'mobile professional' territory. But Palm insists the market will be big enough for other manufacturers. Handspring might target younger, trendier audiences, with its colour cases, MP3 music attachments and add-on modules such as the Tiger Woods golf game, while companies such as Symbol and TRG could win enterprise customers who needed more rugged design, expandable memory and built-in barcode scanners. Mobile phone-maker Qualcomm displayed a wireless phone that included Palm OS data and Internet-access capability and Nokia is expected to release a similar phone. Palm officials appeared more focused on distinguishing its Palm OS from its chief rival, Microsoft's Windows CE, and on ensuring it maintained its 68 per cent market-share among the world's handheld devices. One Palm executive's presentation, featuring a rumpled, paranoid actor as Microsoft's Bill Gates, asked companies making Windows CE computers to 'turn away from the dark side' and embrace the Palm OS.