My ZDNet blogging colleague James Kendrick has written an excellent piece for HP TouchPad owners on how to dramatically improve performance by using a WebOS community-supported software stack called Preware that is written by a team of community software developers over at WebOS Internals.
Effectively, with these 3rd-party patches and hacks, it actually makes the TouchPad comparable in performance to an iPad 2 or an Android 3.2-based tablet, which alleviates many of the problems that reviewers and users have experienced with the product since it has launched.
I've tested them on my own loaner TouchPad and I can say definitively that they absolutely do work. If you own a TouchPad, I strongly recommend installing them.
That being said, I think that if you as a consumer have to install any kind of "Hack" on a product to make it run optimally, then from the perspective of a mobile platform and as a device manufacturer, you've failed miserably.
I don't want to pick on HP specifically, because Google is absolutely guilty of this with Android and Honeycomb as well.
I've expressed my views on this extensively in the past, such as when I returned the Motorola XOOM the first time around and pointed at my colleague Scott Raymond's comparative success with it when rooting the device and installing a special kernel to give him access to his MicroSD card and overclock capability.
We all know Android has these issues because it is a licensed and Open Source platform that is largely experiencing these problems due to fragmentation and loss of control when it gets in the hands of the OEMs/ODMs. And yes, I know that Google has committed itself as of late to try to solve a number of these problems.
But Hewlett-Packard has no such excuses. They fully control the WebOS platform and they control the hardware that it runs on. They've got nobody to blame for the TouchPad not performing up to par but themselves.
If the TouchPad shipped with software that gimped the processor by not allowing it to scale to its maximum speed, and the OS was set to log debugging events which takes up a significant amount of processor time, it's no wonder that the product didn't perform as expected as shipped.
This is clear a failure of HP to execute at software engineering, as I outlined in a recent article.
I think what the folks are doing at WebOSinternals.org with their Preware project is commendable and important. Like the many members of the Android community such as XDA-Developers that develop performance-enhancing patches, utilities and kernels for smartphones and tablets, I believe these sort of 3rd-party communities do play an essential role in the software development lifecycle for any group of product enthusiasts.
These types of communities are especially important when products are either in their end of service life, or for folks that just want to run something different than what the OEM or the carrier intended.
My almost 2-year old Motorola Droid, for example runs CyanogenMOD 7 which is an Android Gingerbread implementation the phone was never designed to run, and it is great that I can still keep my device running up-to-date software long after Motorola stopped issuing updates for it.
However, with Android, the CyanogenMOD people and other developers like them engaging in similar activities are participating in a fully Open Source process, albeit a flawed one.
WebOS on the other hand is not a fully Open Source platform. In fact the only Open Source parts of the platform are the very same core embedded Linux OS bits and userspace libraries used in many other consumer electronics products.
However, the WebOS "Luna" UI layer and underlying libraries which are the foundation of the APIs for Luna are completely closed.
I've learned on the down-low that the WebOSInternals folks are apparently acting as a form of supplementary engineering team for Hewlett-Packard who is using them to exchange code and software engineering expertise as needed to integrate it into their products.
This is absolutely ridiculous if these rumors are actually substantiated. It would be the equivalent of Apple using the Cydia project and the jailbreaking community as unpaid pseudo-employees to improve iOS.
The bottom line is this: no consumer wants to have to hack their product using these community-supported packages to make their device work as advertised out of the box. If these patches were actually needed, they should have been applied prior to shipping the OS on the device.
And if HP is going to use double-secret community developers to improve their software, then they might as well do the honest thing and Open Source all of WebOS, for real. Because what they are currently doing in my opinion is unprofessional and only hurts adoption of the platform.
It's time to make WebOS an Honest Woman, HP.
By fully Open Sourcing WebOS, and licensing their software in a proper, controlled manner and setting appropriate guidelines for community contributions and integrating that code into their products, Hewlett-Packard can set an example for even companies like Google which are floundering with their own attempts at maintaining order with their respective platforms.
Should HP do the right thing and Open Source WebOS? Talk Back and Let Me Know.