One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

Summary: HP is giving the orphaned webOS up to the open source community, but may doom that to failure by planning to compete with it in the future.

SHARE:

HP finally took the covers off its plan for the webOS platform with the announcement it would offer it to the open source community. This news touched off a firestorm of analysis about what this might mean to the future of webOS as a mobile platform. While not enough details about how HP intends to give webOS up to the world have been given to judge what might happen, one little detail may be the gotcha that dooms the effort to failure.

Like my colleague Jason Perlow, I believe putting webOS into the open source community is a good thing, and gutsy of HP to do. The company has not been able to get anyone to license the platform, and offering it up to let others run with it is a good thing. A lot depends on the details of the open source arrangement that HP employs, as detailed by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, but lets hope for the best.

The saga of webOS and the TouchPad tablet is fodder for examination by business schools for years. HP seemed to do everything it could do to make sure the product was doomed to failure. However you feel about the tablet, there is little question the product was handled bizarrely by HP. That handling may eventually doom the open sourcing of webOS to failure.

Related: HP TouchPad: Everything you want to know

Under question by the media after the open source announcement, HP's CEO Meg Whitman admitted that HP may eventually make other hardware using webOS. Specifically, HP may produce tablets running webOS in 2013. This news excited webOS enthusiasts, but it sent a big alarm to me as I think this will prevent any third-party open source effort from going anywhere.

To get an open source success for webOS, a big hardware maker needs to build tablet hardware using the newly released OS. This could be HTC, Samsung or other OEM wanting to build a product line safe from the ongoing legal exposure that using Android creates. Having a webOS tablet or two on the market is required to give the platform enough legs to keep the development ecosystem working on an otherwise dead platform.

The admission that HP will likely build its own tablet down the road is enough of a potential obstacle to prevent OEMs from taking on a big development cost to produce a webOS tablet. Why would an HTC or other company jump on a questionable platform, knowing that by the time they get a product to market that HP is going to jump in and compete directly with them? It's like HP wants to give OEMs the cake yet eat it before they get a chance.

I can't see any company worth its salt that should pick up the newly open sourced webOS and build products for the market, with HP sitting in the background ready to compete head-to-head with such efforts. I think this gotcha is a giant one, and will be enough to keep third parties from playing with webOS.

Related stories

Topics: Mobile OS, Open Source, Operating Systems

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

21 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

    Test comment.
    JamesKendrick
  • What about all of the Palm-related patents?

    HP has stated that they will be holding on to all patents acquired as a result of their Palm acquisition. Their nominal reason for doing so is to provide protection to individuals and organizations using WebOS.<br><br>Why didn't HP donate these patents to the Open Invention Network? After all, WebOS, at it's heart, is Linux and I'm sure that the OIN would welcome such a donation. Hasn't HP washed its hands of WebOS? I wonder if HP has silently 'sold' their patents to other companies similar to IBM's patent 'sale' to Google. And has WebOS truly been open-sourced if HP retains the patents?<br><br>My point is that this is another piece of evidence that HP hasn't really let go of WebOS.<br><br>So, there's great uncertainty regarding the WebOS platform and the ecosystem pales compared to Apple's, Google's, Amazon's, etc. WebOS is destined to compete as a hobbyist OS with CyanogenMod, MeeGo, etc. Unless someone picks it up and runs in a completely new direction with it. In this case, HP is waiting in the wings to cash in on whatever that might be. Android is a much safer bet.
    Rabid Howler Monkey
    • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

      @Rabid Howler Monkey
      This is key - how "safe" is WebOS actually to implement? Without the patents to protect manufacturers, what is to stop Apple from suing them as well since HP still holds the patents?
      tbuccelli
    • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

      @Rabid Howler Monkey Palm patents are far-ranging and not specific to webOS so I suspect that's why HP holds on to them. HP did state they would defend open source users of webOS against patent attacks.
      JamesKendrick
      • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

        @JamesKendrick If HP indeed will use Palm's patent pool to protect open source users, then why wouldn't WebOS be attractive to HTC, Samsung, etc.? They could slap WebOS on the same model as their Android items, open up their drivers and bootloaders, and let the end-users install Android, Windows, whatever else at will. If they put out a corporatized CWM this should be pretty trivial of an option. This also allows the OEMs to shave $15-$20 off expenses since they are not the ones installing Android on the hardware so they don't have to pay the M$ tax, which they can pass on to their consumers at a lower price or pocket it to boost their margins. Also, they can probably rely on HP to let them use the patent pool to defend against Apple patent litigation.

        Seems like a no-brainer to me to at least offer the option up to get cheap patent litigation protection.
        nategator
      • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

        @JamesKendrick Palm's patents that HP acquired *include* WebOS-related patents. I understand that there may be patents HP obtained through the acquisition that have nothing to do with WebOS.

        So why did HP not assign the WebOS-related patents to OIN coincident with open-sourcing WebOS? In this case, users of WebOS would be protected by OIN's patent pool which would include WebOS-related patents.

        http://www.openinventionnetwork.com/
        Rabid Howler Monkey
    • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

      @Rabid Howler Monkey HP has said it is holding on to the patents to defend anyone who develops/uses WebOS from patent attacks. There's no "secret sale of patents" or anything going on.
      jgm@...
      • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

        @jgm@... How on earth would you know? Google purchased patents from IBM earlier this year and the only information provided in the USPTO records regarding the assignments is "ASSIGNMENT OF ASSIGNORS INTEREST" from the Assignor, IBM, to the Assignee, Google. Did the assignments involve 'full' or 'partial' title to IBMs patents? For example, see:

        http://assignments.uspto.gov/assignments/q?db=pat&pat=6078330

        HP could assign partial title of various Palm-related patents to another party, like Samsung or Google, in exchange for cash, and still retain ownership rights.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
      • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

        @RHM I'll repeat myself... because HP said it was retaining the patents. If they lied, they've mislead investors and Meg Whitman's going to jail. So I think it's quite probable that there's no secret sale of patents going on. The fact that you know about Google purchasing patents from IBM means that that wasn't secret either.

        >HP could assign partial title of various Palm-related patents to another
        >party, like Samsung or Google, in exchange for cash, and still retain
        >ownership rights.

        That cash would need to be accounted for in financial disclosures. A publicly traded company can't secretly sell patents.
        jgm@...
      • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

        @jgm@... Stay tuned ...

        HP has held on to the WebOS patents for reasons beyond simply defending its users. The OIN could also defend the users of WebOS had HP chosen to donate the WebOS patents.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
  • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

    I actually see quite the opposite. Why would anyone pick this up if HP doesn't even believe it enough to throw their weight behind it enough to produce a hardware... If HP even thinks Windows 8 is worth their money better than why would anyone (but cheap Chinese makers) pick this up?

    But then damned if you do, damned if you don't...
    littvay
  • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

    I disagree. Look at Cyanogen and Android. Competition is healthy and so are options. I think the OEMs should make all their devices dual bootable. Sure the US carriers would freak at being relegated to just being service providers, but **** the US. Even Apple is making 61% of their revenue overseas! I wouldn't be surprised to see European and Asian versions of devices with unlocked bootloaders capable of dualbooting WebOS or Android.
    tkejlboom
    • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

      @tkejlboom Or better yet, just look at Linux. An open source OS doesn't need dedicated hardware to thrive. Just as Android has been able to run on hardware it was never intended to (HTC HD2, Iphone 3, etc.) the community version of WebOS will most likely be capable of being installed on almost any phone the user wants. That's what will make WebOS even more popular: users won't be locked into specific phone models.<br><br>I use OpenSUSE Linux on my desktop and am anxiously watching their renewed ARM port effort that already has it roughly running on some test equipment after about three months of work. I know that once it's done if I'm in the market for a tablet I'll be able to choose almost any unlocked x86 or ARM tablet on the market and install a full desktop Linux to it. It's also quite possible it'll be able to run on some smart phones with enough memory. I've got no need to wait for HTC or Samsung or whatever to make an OpenSUSE tablet, and the product is in development and coming along quite nicely without anyone promising to make a tablet for it. In fact, various ARM SoC and motherboard manufacturers have even donated test equipment to the project, again with no prospective manufacturer tablet in sight.<br><br>The ecosystem for WebOS will be desktop Linux. As with the Nokia N900, there will be fast, vast and easy ports of many popular and powerful linux programs to WebOS. As I mentioned elsewhere, I've seen a Linux version of Doom ported to an ARM-based SoC running Linux with the need to change only three lines of code. <br><br>WebOS is going to fulfill the need/demand for a fully open source OS produced by a community: one that won't be employing spyware, won't be dependent on a company for survival, can't be killed off by a company (like Nokia did and HP almost did), that won't have features crippled by carriers, that won't be loaded with bundled junk software, that won't be locked down. When it's in the hands of the people, no one's going to be able to kill it or cripple it. The non-involvement of HTC or Samsung seems like a plus in my book.
      jgm@...
  • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

    "Why would an HTC or other company jump on a questionable platform, knowing that by the time they get a product to market that HP is going to jump in and compete directly with them?"

    It seems to me that HTC, Samsung, and several others already have tablet hardware running Android. Porting WebOS to it ought not be a long development effort. They probably could have product in stores in a few months if they were so inclined, beating HP to market by quite a bit.

    If the lawsuits against the Android tablets are targeting only the software, not the hardware, then switching to delivering the existing hardware with WebOS instead of Android ought to be a fairly attractive path to those manufacturers. It would be ready to ship quickly and would sidestep all the lawsuit complaints.

    I have not seen any detailed account of what HP actually promised about the patents. If HP did not promise to defend hardware manufacturers who use WebOS against patent claims that target WebOS, then the attraction would be considerably less.
    KeithDick
    • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

      @KeithDick
      I agree completely, what is to stop these companies from using the existing hardware? or even to offer a downloadable package to replace the current OS with WebOS on their existing devices?

      I like WebOS, and wonder if one of the things "Open Sourced" was the system HP had that allowed Android apps to run. as this would be quickly ported to work with MANY linux distros. if they can get the Android Market working too, then Google might offer some assistance as well, since they stand to make money from it.
      aiellenon
  • So, what is different between webOS and the Android ecosystem when it comes

    to how it will be released/used in the marketplace?

    Android has a parent, that being Google, which supports it and makes it available to the manufacturers to use as they wish on their smartphones and tablets.

    But, Google also has Motorola Mobility, their hardware division for smartphones and tablets. Google would be competing against the other manufacturers. So, why is it good when Google does it and not so when HP does it?

    However, a few weeks back, HP let it be known that they would be releasing tablets based on Windows 8, and with that, they'd be competing against themselves and harming themselves, if they also had products that were based on webOS? The confused consumer might just opt to stay away from anything that HP put out in the arena of smartphones and tablets. HP would be setting up its own competition, and would likely drive away business.

    My take on the webOS fiasco is that, HP is DONE with it, and they just didn't want to throw away all the work that went into it at Palm and at HP, and wanted to create a disruption against Android and iOS until Windows 8 comes along.

    In summary, the reality is that, webOS is finished, and won't be a player of significance in the mobile computing industry, and will be relegated to the same kind of market disruption as Linux has been on the desktop/laptop marketplace, in other words, not much to worry about.
    adornoe
    • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

      @adornoe@... "In summary, the reality is that, webOS is finished, and won't be a player of significance in the mobile computing industry, and will be relegated to the same kind of market disruption as Linux has been on the desktop/laptop marketplace, in other words, not much to worry about. "

      Linux has disrupted every market it's ever entered without a pre-existing monopoly, and if you count Android vs. iOS, even one where there almost was. With no current monopoly in tablet or phone OSes, I'd say the score so far makes WebOS look like a possible contender.
      jgm@...
      • Read carefully; I said the "desktop/laptop" market.

        Go check!
        adornoe
    • RE: One gotcha to open source webOS: HP

      @adornoe@... "...and will be relegated to the same kind of market disruption as Linux has been on the desktop/laptop marketplace, in other words, not much to worry about." Or it could be regulated to the same kind of market disruption as Linux has been on the SERVER or the Linux kernel on the mobile marketplace (a la Android), in other words, ending up owning the market.
      nategator
      • Read carefully; I said the "desktop/laptop" market.

        Go check!
        adornoe