HP open-sources WebOS, but will anyone develop for it?

HP open-sources WebOS, but will anyone develop for it?

Summary: It's great that HP has open-sourced webOS, but without HP's full backing can webOS be anything more than just another also-ran mobile operating system?

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HP's webOS lives on as open source.

HP's webOS lives on as open source.

You know those HP TouchPads that are sale right now, the ones that didn't look that interesting after Amazon and Barnes & Noble released their Android-powered tablets? Well, you may want to get one anyway. WebOS, its operating system, isn't dead after all.

Today, HP announced that webOS would live on as an open-source project. In addition, Enyo, its application framework, is also being open-sourced.

That's the good news. The bad news is we're lacking a lot of details. Here's what we do know.

According to HP, the company will "continue to be active in the development and support of webOS. By combining the innovative webOS platform with the development power of the open source community, there is the opportunity to significantly improve applications and web services for the next generation of devices."

In a press statement, HP newly minted president and CEO, Meg Whitman, said, "WebOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable. By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices."

HP also stated that it will engage the open source community to help define the charter of the open-source project under a set of operating principles:

  1. The goal of the project is to accelerate the open development of the webOS platform.
  2. HP will be an active participant and investor in the project.
  3. Good, transparent and inclusive governance to avoid fragmentation.
  4. Software will be provided as a pure open-source project.

That's nice, but it's all a little warm and fuzzy without any real concrete details. For example, we don't know what open-source license webOS and Enyo will be released under. Since webOS is built on Linux, the easiest path might be to use its license: the GPLv2. At the same time, I've already heard from developers who'd like to see it under the Apache license. Which will it be? We don't know. I suspect HP doesn't know either.

We also don't know how much support HP will provide for the open-source webOS. Clearly it will be giving some, but what does that mean to those who have been or were about to be laid off from HP's webOS division? Again, we don't know. I hope, both for their sake and for the operating system, that they're kept employed.

Even if HP does right by its webOS staffers and the open-source community, will developers want to work on it? After all between Android and iOS, most mobile developers already have their hands full.

In addition, as a mobile operating system, webOS needs support from hardware vendors. Will HP start building TouchPads again? You can't expect most end-users to buy into an operating system that requires them to root their existing smartphones and tablets. That model is fine for hackers; it doesn't work for ordinary users.

On the other hand, hardware OEMs would like to see a third contender in the mobile space. RIM's on the way out and Windows Phone has never picked up traction. WebOS could be the third choice that vendors would like to see to keep Apple and Google "honest" in their licensing deals.

Last, but not least, what will the organization be behind the open-source webOS? It sounds like it will be some sort of foundation. From what I'm told by my friends at existing open-source foundations, none of them have been approached to provide an umbrella organization for webOS. So, if HP creates its own sponsoring organization, will it be one directly under their control, the way Fedora is to Red Hat or more like the various independent projects that have ended up under the Apache Software Foundation roof over the years?

I asked Janel Garvin, CEO at Evans Data Corp., which covers the software development world, what she thought would happen with happen to webOS now "Unfortunately my guess is that contributing WebOS to the open-source community will have very little effect and will certainly not draw Android or iOS developers any time in the foreseeable future," said Garvin.

"Here's why: Except for Palm, it has no device to run on and so is still tied to the success of Palm - which only shows signs of decline among developers. It's possible that some manufacturer will pick it up but not likely. Consider the MeeGo platform, and before that Moblin and Maemo--all good open-source platforms, all backed by large players, and all unsuccessful in getting developers to adopt. There's no reason to think WebOS will be any different."

Garvin continued, "Further iOS is well established as a proprietary platform and will continue as a strong platform for consumers, but Android adoption has been on a raging tear, with many more developers currently targeting and planning to target in the future - way more than any other mobile platform. We've seen Android rapidly gain on iOS and then surpass it in every region of the world. Consistently developers tell us that Android has the best market potential of any platform and we see that juggernaut continuing its growth and dominating the mobile space for years to come."

So why did HP open-source it then? "Contributing WebOS to the community provides a more graceful exit for HP from the platform than simply letting it rot, but they would've been better off enhancing and maintaining it and licensing it to HTC, LG, or another device manufacturer (especially in the wake of Google buying Motorola)."

These are all serious concerns. And, we still have a lot of unanswered questions. Until we get these questions answered, we really don't know what webOS' fate will be. While I won't go quite as far as my ZDNet writing comrade James Kendrick who tweeted, "The future of webOS is as much in question now as before the HP announcement," we do agree that HP has a lot more questions to answer before we can know if this is just going to prolong webOS' death or see it revive into becoming an important alternative mobile operating system.

Related Stories:

HP: WebOS, Enyo app framework goes open source

HP open sources WebOS: The fallout

Why open-source WebOS has legs: because people fear Google

HP to make webOS open source; is it just prolonging the end?

HP: If you want folks to hack the TouchPad, then Open Source it.

Topics: Hewlett-Packard, Android, Google, Mobile OS, Open Source, Operating Systems

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11 comments
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  • I'm shocked...No one reads anymore

    HP put thought into this announcement. They announced they wanted to open source the platform to DRAW developers and stimulate the platform, they are going to continue to invest and provide guidance (all in the announcement) to prevent fragmentation. They want the platform to succeed. They need more developers than they can pay for. That's what open source is all about! Mind-share beats closed source.
    agarillon
  • I bet that Samsung and HTC are already salivating ....

    Both Samsung and HTC pay large amounts of money to MS to cover patent infringements in the Android OS. I bet both are already looking into making WebOS phones as soon as they can get their hands on the source.
    wackoae
    • right on spot

      @wackoae
      this announcement is a nail in the coffin to MS mobile strategy, we can see today WP more & more is looking DOA. The only chance for survival were those "legal fees" they extort from Android, now this is sliping away. Bad time for shareholders.
      theo_durcan
    • RE: HP open-sources WebOS, but will anyone develop for it?

      @wackoae

      Now that WebOS is open sourced, each vendor making a handset will have to pay the same MS Tax anyway. HP probably already has some cross-licensing going with MS, but HTC/Samsung/Motorola etc??? Back to square one. The big patent everyone gets nailed on is FAT32, which ended up being adopted as the standard FS of all the SD cards. Whether it is Android, or WebOS, I don't think it'll make a difference for how much royalties get paid to Microsoft. I could be wrong though, that isn't my field of expertise. I suppose one way out is to not have expandable storage like what Apple did.
      admiraljkb
      • RE: HP open-sources WebOS, but will anyone develop for it?

        @admiraljkb

        Most Linux kernels these days don't use the tech described in the MS Fat32 patent. The concensus is that you only violate the patent if you write to Fat32 file systems via the method described in the patent. The patent apparently doesn't prohibit reading long file names, only writing both short and long filenames to the volume. Plus, as I understand it, there is a kernel patch by Andrew Trigdell that writes only the long filename and generates a garbage string short filename that doesn't violate the patent.
        JasePow
  • RE: HP open-sources WebOS, but will anyone develop for it?

    When you stack WebOs on Android (with a common Linux foundation) you get the drivers needed for other hardware plus the nice javascript features of webos.
    rinie@...
  • License

    I am wondering how it will be licensed and how much of its code will end up in other platforms...?
    bjn714
  • RE: HP open-sources WebOS, but will anyone develop for it?

    I for one would love to see it leveraged into a boot loader/diagnostics platform with full signed UEFI support. The Linux kernel will soon act as its own boot loader, which means a WebOS, based on those new kernel versions, running as a boot loader could bootstrap other OSes. Want to run whatever machine that has a WebOS with any OS that you want?!?! Simple, use your signed WebOS to make it happen. Add apps based on Parted, etc., and you have secure machine, with built in diagnostics, that can run whatever software you decide. Idea?!?! I think so...
    JasePow
  • RE: HP open-sources WebOS, but will anyone develop for it?

    Its realy sad news.Dont know wht will be happend!

    Does anyone know where a good Android Developer is?
    For this visit:http://tbldevelopmentfirm.com/services/mobile-applications-development/android-development/
    rayhan2011
  • RE: HP open-sources WebOS, but will anyone develop for it?

    SJV-N should have corrected the CEO Janel Garvin, who doesn't seem to be up on her technology. WebOS only has Palm to run on? Really? All of the smartphones out there today are using ARM-based SoCs, often the same ones. It'll be simple to get it running on many phones (unlocked ones at least). Heck, Android can be installed and run on the old Windows Mobile-based HTC HD2, as well as WP7! Android can run on some iPhones! Ubuntu Linux's ARM port, full desktop Linux, can also be installed easily on many smartphones today. I know OpenSUSE is working on their ARM port now, and again, when finished it'll be installable on many ARM-based devices, including tablets and probably phones as well. WebOS doesn't need manufacturers to make phones for it.

    This is the dream of Bryan Lunduke, formally of the Linux Action Show. He famously vented his frustration on one episode, fed up with Google not releasing Honeycomb code, Nokia pulling the rug out from MeeGo, spyware and malware being installed by handset vendors and carriers, censoring of app stores, etc. He desperately wanted a phone that was really open, that people could hack, and that would let him run standard open-source software without spyware, censorship, dependence on proprietary bits, etc. Something that could live on even if a corporation stopped supporting it.
    Lots of viewers expressed the same views and a working group was formed to create just such a project only a few months ago, and has been sorting out technologies to base it on, design decisions, etc. WebOS has just fallen into their laps! The community will take this and run with it, and it'll be an anti-mobile OS! It won't be something you get from a vendor... it'll be something you'll put on the phone yourself! Fully open, no backdoors, no spyware, no malware, no censorship, no crippling of functions... nothing to get between you and using your mobile device as you see fit. Just like Linux, you'll point the package manager to whatever repositories you want to get your software from... no app store lock-in. From walled garden to wild west, it'll be up to you. You'll be able to pick your phone, pick your carrier, and then install your OS... no more "exclusives".

    No, this is going to shake up the trend towards locking down devices, dictating specs to phone designers, etc. that even Google seems headed down. It's going to be quite a disruptive force, and it's going to be quite a show to watch.

    As for developers... if Linux gets along just fine with only a small number of commercial vendors, WebOS will be just fine, especially given that it can quite easily port *real* software over from the Linux world. While other users were showing off fart apps, Nokia N900 users were using SSH tunnels for VPN, kismet for passive wireless network monitoring, controlling their home PCs over VNC, etc. :-) WebOS is going to have both passionate and hard-core open-source developers writing for it and has nothing to worry about in that regard.
    jgm@...
  • RE: HP open-sources WebOS, but will anyone develop for it?

    Since it is opensourced now, I personally see some mix and matching going on with Android and WebOS as vendors pull in the best elements of both trying to create a unique experience and pull away from the other vendors. We'll see where it goes.

    Realistically, opensourcing WebOS was the only thing HP could do to save it, and their investment in it. *If* they can get a development community around it, they'll have faster innovation than having it closed. (think LibreOffice after forking from Oracle). I'm not sure how well it is really going to go long term after dawdling too long on it, but it might get some traction, MIGHT. They don't have much to lose by rolling the dice though.
    admiraljkb