HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

Summary: Assuming HP does all the right things when Open Sourcing webOS, what happens to the platform next?

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The blockbuster news this week in the mobile industry is that Hewlett-Packard has decided to release its webOS operating system under and Open Source license, retaining the patents for themselves instead of selling off the ICAP/IP to a buyer.

Back in August, just before the TouchPad was put out to pasture and the webOS unit sent into limbo, I actually suggested that this might be a possible route for the OS, but I really didn't think HP had the guts to go through with it.

Major kudos to HP CEO Meg Whitman for giving this huge gift to the Open Source community. Seriously.

All of that being said, a couple of things regarding webOS's future are still up in the air. The first is webOS' Open Source license. HP has already indicated that it is leaning towards using something Apache-like, or Apache itself.

I'm hoping it goes for straight-up Apache because that would allow for co-mingling of Android code and other Apache-related and GPLv2 software with future webOS "distributions" and related projects.

Anything Apache-like would be great, but I'm really hoping both MPL and  CDDL are off the table, because all that would do is create all sorts of potential license compatibility issues, just like OpenSolaris had with a number of GPL-related projects.

Who will manage the project? Will it be some sort of Foundation? Will it be more like the original OpenOffice.org pre-Sun acquisition?

HP is said to have consulted Red Hat and may look to create something similar to the Fedora Project in terms of organizational structure, where there would be strong oversight and it would prevent additional "forking" of the project, a problem that webOS's primary Open Source competitor, Android, is experiencing lately.

Assuming that the licensing and organizational issues are resolved to everyone's satisfaction from a community and control standpoint, what actually happens to WebOS as a productized OS? Who will begin to use it? And what changes, if any, need to occur in order to ensure its success?

While webOS is an excellent mobile operating system there is the issue of developer mindshare. Right now, Android and Apple's iOS have the lion's share of attention. Getting the developers who are making big money off of Android and iOS apps to devote time and energy to native webOS applications is going to be a challenge.

As webOS and Android are both based on the Linux kernel and a number of userspace libraries for the core OS functionality, I would think it would make some sense if HP and Google could come to some sort of arrangement where the core of both operating systems could be standardized, much like the LSB exists as a common framework for several x86 Linux distributions.

Android already deviates from the standard Linux kernel to some extent, and that's been somewhat of an issue for some time.

There's a bunch of reasons why a standardization effort between Android and webOS is a good idea. For starters, there's all the Android NDK stuff that could be easily moved over to webOS. The NDK (native C++ libraries) is of particular interest because a lot of Android games are written in it.

If the kernel, the NDK and a certain set of core libraries were standardized or a common framework established between Android and WebOS, it would essentially create a single development target for Android and webOS games.

And we know that games drives a ton of commercial application activity on both Android and iOS.

There is also the issue of the native packaging format that both webOS and Android use. Because Android is the more popular system, it makes sense for the Open Source implementation of webOS to migrate toward APK rather than IPKG which is used by WebOS.

There is also the issue of the APIs themselves. It would be a very good idea for Dalvik to get "ported" to webOS and allow for native Android apps to run in webOS, and writing Dalvik bindings for the Luna UI as some sort of interface wrapper.

This is actually not as difficult a task as it sounds from a technical perspective, since Dalvik already runs on Linux ARM natively and webOS is a Linux ARM embedded operating system just like Android.

This would actually prove to be a less difficult project than what was undertaken by Research in Motion for PlayBook, in which the Dalvik VM was ported over the the QNX OS.

Unlike QNX which is an entirely different POSIX environment, webOS and Android already have a great deal in common because they are already both Linux-based.

Myriad Alien Dalvik, for example, already allows Android apps to run on non-Android platforms today. On webOS this porting effort would be fairly trivial in comparison.

What would be the real challenge is the legal question of making Dalvik part of the official webOS distribution, since Google is in the middle of litigation with Oracle for potential patent and IP violations over Java.

RIM presumably negotiated with Oracle to allow Playbook and Blackberry 10 to use Dalvik as part of an overall Java licensing agreement and thus avoid potential litigation.

HP may want to consider doing the same thing, or perhaps port the essential Android Java classes over towards "Real Java" to provide the compatibility layer.

Assuming much of these things can be achieved, it also begs the question of who is going to end up building products based on an Open Source webOS.

It's a virtual guarantee that hobbyists and the community at large will create ROMs that can be loaded onto TouchPads and even existing Android tablet and phone hardware that is out in the wild, but will companies like HTC, Samsung and Acer start making webOS products using the Open Source code? Or even verticals with specialized products?

Will we see a webOS desktop distribution for x86 as HP originally intended? This is difficult to say.

Ideally, as a result of this activity I would like to see both webOS and Android eventually move towards a single unified codebase or at least incorporate technologies from each via a community cross-pollination process, because it can only improve both operating systems.

There's a lot to like about webOS from a multitasking UI and integrated messaging services (Synergy) perspective that Android lacks, but at the same time webOS' native APIs, while easy to write for, are not exactly generating a ton of developer interest right now.

This might change with webOS becoming an Open Source project, but nobody can say for sure.

What do you think will happen as a result of webOS being Open Sourced? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

    Now it dies the same way BeOS did as it is simply too little too late... If HP had dropped the price of their Touchpad to $300 and not announced they were going to ditch the product all together, then it would have had a chance. Now, it's as good as dead regardless of how Open it gets.
    slickjim
    • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

      @Peter Perry As long as the code is there, and the interest is there, it can't die. Bryan Lunduke formally of The Linux Action Show, expressed his frustrations on one episode in that he wanted a truly free and open, Linux-based OS that could run on a mobile device/phone without having to worry about proprietary bits, non-release of code (Honeycomb), being killed off (MeeGo), etc. There was an outpouring of agreement with this and a community began to be formed to discuss developing themselves, choosing a potential base distribution to work off of, etc. With the release of WebOS this will drop a ready-made Linux OS right in their lap and they won't need to do a lot of the things they were initially planning to have to do from scratch. There's a great pent-up demand for something like this, and I think the open source community - and all of those driven to distraction by closed ecosystems, malware and spyware installed by handset manufacturers, app store censorship, ROM modders, UMPC fans desperate for a full OS on a portable device, etc. - will embrace WebOS and carry it forward. WebOS was the most developer-friendly mobile OS already, and it's just gotten exponentially moreso now. I think it has a long life ahead of it.

      I disagree with the author in regards to being able to run Android apps on WebOS. As President Truman once said, "When a Republican runs against a Republican, a Republican will win every time." If people want to run lots of Android apps, they're probably going to opt for an Android device in the first place. It'll only discourage native WebOS software from being developed, and I think developers are itching to be able to generate native code for bare metal rather than more VMs. Because WebOS can run native code it also facilitates the porting of existing Linux software, much as Maemo/MeeGo did. I once saw a demo of a Linux mobile OS for Creative's Zii SoC running Doom and if I recall correctly the developer said he only needed to change three lines of code. THAT'S the advantage of a full Linux OS like WebOS or MeeGo. The maintainers of the SCUMMVM program that plays old LucasArts adventure games had to wrap all of their C code in Java wrappers to get the thing running on Android, while it was nothing more than a recompile to have it running on MeeGo.
      jgm@...
  • Now what? It's now in the parts bin where it will be recycled

    That's the idea behind Open Source. Give back and let others have access to the same resources. <br><br>Copyrights are placed on works like books, not individual words or letters.<br><br>The same should pertain for mathematical algorithms which get used over and over.<br>It is the essence of software that individual discreet steps, algorithms, subroutines are called and reused from libraries.<br><br>Making new programs from the same building blocks makes the software ecosystem far richer in open source than the proprietary world.<br><br>If you want a good take on why Open Source will prevail over proprietary read here:<br><br>Entitled - [i]Open Source Nurtures Innovation[/i] by the esteemed Simon Phipps<br><br>h-t-t-p://blogs.computerworlduk.com/simon-says/2011/11/open-source-nurtures-innovation/index.htm
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate

      I can not be bothered reading the trash link you posted. The title tells even the most moronic that it is a one sided piece of trash.

      As a counter argument to the pathetic moot point of that title, I will examine Open Source graphics programs.

      There are two main issues with Open Source graphics programs. The first, and most crippling, is the complete lack of consideration given to the end user experience. The second, is the lack of innovation in the tools. Not one tool has been created for Open Source graphics software that was not a direct copy of a commercial program.

      The first issue is one of arrogance. Programmers, when there is no incentive to make their program easy to understand by anyone except themselves (I know enough of these programmers to know that their opinion is "It is MY program! If they want to use MY program then they have to learn MY interface and the way I want to work!"). With commercial software, there is always an employer who cares about sales, profits and end user experience. If the programmer will not make the UI comprehensible by the end user, then the employer hires a UI expert to do the job. Open Source programmers have no one to keep them in line. It took The Gimp programers over a decade to finally add a static screen view mode. All the top graphics software have static (non window) screens because professional graphics users at the top end prefer to know exactly where their tools are at all times, instead of The Gimps slavish copying of Photoshop. Note. The Gimp only added a static view mode AFTER Photoshop added a static view mode.

      Every tool from every Open Source program is a direct copy of a tool from a commercial program. I challenge anyone to find one that is not. Well that is a simple argument. Short and sweet. Though I will not leave it there. I am a graphics expert. I have been inventing graphics software tools for commercial programs since the Nineties. Commercial programmers do not always understand what the end user needs, but they do try their best to add original tools when they understand what you need. The Gimp programmers are not as agreeable as commercial programmers. Neither are other smaller Open Source graphics programmers. I have suggested many original tools to The Gimp and to other small Open Source projects. Their rude responses tell a story of ego unchecked. Not one original tool "GIVEN" to them has ever been added. Maybe it is because Open Source programmers have no experience with using their software, or that they have absolutely no imagination with which to picture the theoretical tool working? Either way, not one of my original tools have ever been taken up by The Gimp, or others. Well, maybe a couple. Sounds like a win for Open Source. Until you realise that the tools I suggested to the Open Source programmers were first rejected, then adopted by commercial programs, then had the validity for Open Source programmers to copy. Hardly a win for Open Source originality... or even the ability to recognise originality.

      So, I repeat, the title of your link is absurd in every regard.
      boybunny
      • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

        Part I
        @boybunny

        >I can not be bothered reading the trash link you posted. The title tells
        >even the most moronic that it is a one sided piece of trash.

        Yes, it did tell the most moronic something.
        >There are two main issues ... The
        >first... is the complete lack of consideration given to
        >the end user experience. The second, is the lack of innovation in the
        >tools. Not one tool has been created for Open Source graphics software
        >that was not a direct copy of a commercial program.

        Well, thank you for that incredibly detailed, specific criticism completely devoid of hyperbole. I must also thank you for the cognitive dissonance it puts on display by being able to hold that 1) open source, as opposed to closed-source, graphics programs have "no concern for the user experience", yet 2) the open source programs are "direct cop[ies]" of commercial programs.

        Your evidence for this is... well, there is no evidence, just blanket allegations. I believe Christopher Hitchens said something in a debate along the lines of "What is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence." Along those lines, I over this rebuttal: Nuh-uh, that's not true, lots of completely unidentified open source graphics programs are a pleasure to use and different in unspecified ways from other unidentified commercial programs.

        >The first issue is one of arrogance.

        Absolutely! Wait... we are talking about your post, right?

        >Programmers, when there is no incentive to make their program easy to
        >understand by anyone except themselves (I know enough of these
        >programmers to know that their opinion is "It is MY program! If they
        >want to use MY program then they have to learn MY interface and the
        >way I want to work!"). With commercial software, there is always an
        >employer who cares about sales, profits and end user experience.

        Bzzt. As someone who doesn't just "know people who..." but actually was an employee in and minority owner of a company that sold software and services for eight years, I have to correct you here. There may be people who care about sales, profits, and the user experience, but they're often three different people and the first two are constantly at odds with the last one. I've personally watched salespeople agree to proposals that couldn't possibly turn a profit for them (cue the "we'll make it up in volume" joke) including one company that agreed to move millions of dollars in freight without even seeing the proposed rates (which their salesman lost) because, and this is a real redacted quote, "...because [Company X, a competitor] agreed to your rates and we're about the same size and go the same places, so we should be able to do it too." Three months later the salesman called us and said, again actual quote, "We're not really making any money on these loads." Our CEO hit the mute button on the speakerphone, burst out laughing, and sputtered out something along the lines of "There's a shock!".

        Business people are worried about profits, and developers and customer support are worried about customer experience. Often business people override technical people to release unfinished products in time for holiday buying seasons, to forego improvements to products because the products are outselling the competition without them, and they will ALWAYS choose to have developers spend time on implemented buzzword features over giving them the time to refactor/streamline/improve existing code.

        Taking away concern about sales and profit can often lead to improved, not worse, products as the developers are free to pursue their visions without marketing schedules or bottom lines to worry about.
        jgm@...
      • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

        @boybunny Part II
        > It took The Gimp programers over a decade to finally add a static screen
        >view mode. All the top graphics software have static (non window)
        >screens because professional graphics users at the top end prefer to
        >know exactly where their tools are at all times, instead of The Gimps
        >slavish copying of Photoshop.

        You're very confusing here. They're copying other products, but how dare they not copy other products! And everyone was using feature X, but GIMP wasn't doing feature X because Photoshop wasn't using feature X, but Photoshop did use feature X eventually, bur I'm not yelling at Photoshop for not doing it earlier. And I'll join in with the other GIMP detractors and complain over and over that it doesn't work just like Photoshop so it's too hard to use and I don't want it unless it does everything Photoshop does. But then I'll complain that it's a clone of Photoshop.

        Ok, I've got your completely coherent, consistent argument so far. Let's move on.

        >Every tool from every Open Source program is a direct copy of a tool
        >from a commercial program. I challenge anyone to find one that is not.

        And every letter you can type in OpenOffice you can also type in Word! That's... wait, huh? Lines, shapes, fills, blurs, sharpen... humankind has been drawing since prehistory. What amazing new drawing CONCEPT are you expecting Open Source to bring forth? Do you work for the Apple patent department, Samsung infringement division?

        >The Gimp programmers are not as agreeable as commercial
        >programmers.

        The product is open source. No one needs to be agreeable. If you want something, put it in. If they won't include it in the official version, you fork it and put your code in (GIMP has already been forked before). See.. the beauty of Open Source! Now go try to get Microsoft to put something in Excel they don't want and see if that works out better for you. Besides, GIMP has a plug-in system that allows anyone to create filters so you don't need to fork it for most changes anyway. On top of that, there's a project called GIMPShop that changed the UI to be much more like Photoshop, which would negate your original complaint. See.. that makes it EASIER, not HARDER, to get what you want with open source, making this whole line of argument somewhat bizarre.

        >Neither are other smaller Open Source graphics programmers. I have
        >suggested many original tools to The Gimp and to other small Open
        >Source projects. Their rude responses tell a story of ego unchecked.

        Oh, the irony. I'm sure by the calm, polite, level-headed post here and the completely modest way you describe yourself and your abilities that it must have been them... ALL of them... and not you.


        > Not one original tool "GIVEN" to them has ever been added. Maybe it is
        >because Open Source programmers have no experience with using their
        >software, or that they have absolutely no imagination with which to
        >picture the theoretical tool working?

        Yup, must have been those things. There's no other explanation I can think of...

        >Either way, not one of my original tools have ever been taken up by The
        >Gimp, or others. Well, maybe a couple.

        *spit-take*

        So the problem then is that not ALL ideas you've EVER had have been adopted by EVERY program then? Nope, still drawing a blank on what the problem could be....

        So, I repeat, the title of your link is absurd in every regard.

        If you remove the words "the title of" and "link is" from your closing statement, you'll have mine.
        jgm@...
        • Oh, I enjoyed that. Thanks jgm!

          @jgm@...
          Peace.
          Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
      • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

        @boybunny

        You call programmers arrogant. And yet your entire response is a perfect example of arrogance.

        First off, you're too arrogant to check out a link before posting against it. AND you call the link trash.

        Next you complain about open source graphics programs. Hey, if you want to spend the money on Photoshop be my guest. I don't have $119 (Adobe's MSRP).... oh, wait! That's the upgrade price if you have a current legal copy. I don't so I'll stick with GIMP. Plus, I don't use it as a professional so it doesn't matter.

        Next you say that every tool is a direct copy of a tool from a commercial program. Hmmm. Apparently you are talking about your world of graphics manipulations programs. Ever hear of WireShark? (Used to be called Ethereal) Other commercial products similar are available, but WireShark pre-dates them. OpenOffice grew from the StarOffice project which predates Microsoft Office. And I wouldn't be able to post this without a TCP/IP stack in Windows which was from BSD. Apparently you don't understand the history of what you use.

        Next, your ideas may be "given" to the GIMP team...but did you give them the source code to implement your ideas? Why not? THAT'S what they need. They probably had idea submissions for the same tools you suggest. It's the code behind the idea that they don't have.

        Complaining about something the way you did in your post only makes you look like a whiny teenager.
        benched42
      • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

        @boybunny

        Please tell me what the program Krita is a direct copy of. In fact, if you check Wikipedia, it says
        "Krita (Swedish for crayon) is the digital painting and illustration software included based on the KDE Platform and Calligra Suite libraries. Designed as a digital painting and illustration suite, Krita is free software and distributed under GNU General Public License. It was released for the first time as a part of KOffice version 1.4.0, on June 21, 2005.
        "Krita's design emphasizes creating artwork from beginning to end as opposed to manipulating existing images, and as such has been influenced to an extent by software such as Corel Painter. ***Krita, however supports a very different feature set than the most comparable applications***, for example Krita developers included the ability to work with both bitmap and vector illustration on one hand, but deliberately choose to avoid high end photography plugins in favor of more painting / drawing specific features."

        So, even the almighty Wikipedia touts it as being different than what's out there. I can't post links here, but you (and anyone else interested) might want to check it out. It's really an amazing reproduction of drawing/painting by hand.

        And while you're at it, feel free to list the exact commercial (feature-for-feature, identical interface) copies of the open source graphical programs Inkscape (vector graphics) and Synfig studio ("Synfig Studio is a free and open-source 2D animation software, designed as powerful industrial-strength solution for creating film-quality animation using a vector and bitmap artwork. It eliminates the need to create animation frame-by frame, allowing you to produce 2D animation of a higher quality with fewer people and resources"). You can also explain why CinePaint, used for painting and retouching film frames, despite being that evil open source which are just clones of commercial software programs, is widely used in the film industry and on such films as Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and The Last Samurai. Incidentally, it began life by forking GIMP after they were slow to implement high bit-depth support, so I guess there's no excuse for you not having turned your own revolutionary ideas into an amazing new program by forking GIMP yourself instead of complaining about them. Finally, I won't dare ask you about Blender, a 3D modeling and animation program, because that began life as a commercial program, which in your mind would mean that it's a copy of itself and such a thought might open a time-space vortex and suck you in.
        jgm@...
    • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate <br><br>If WebOS gets reall really lucky and the "community" of passionate, but quirky open source coders get their act together, they might aspire to the mess that is Android.<br><br>Those who don't learn by history are doomed to repeat it...
      tonymcs@...
      • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

        @tonymcs@... Huh? Android is worked on behind closed doors by Google and the code only made public when it's done (or in the case of Honeycomb, when it's obsolete). Thus, there's precisely zero correlation between a community of open source developers and Android.

        And I wish in the eight years I wrote software for a living that I had one product become "the mess that is Android"....
        jgm@...
      • Tony, your time to learn by history has long since past.

        @tonymcs@...
        Your situation is hopeless. But please keep a stiff upper lip.
        Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
  • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

    From the article:<br>"if HP and Google could come to some sort of arrangement where the core of both operating systems could be standardized, much like the LSB exists as a common framework for several x86 Linux distributions.<br><br>Why on earth would Google want WebOS to thrive and prosper? They're having enough trouble with competitors like Amazon reusing Android. And what did they ever do to prop up MeeGo, or it's predecessors?<br><br>Also from the article:<br>"It would be a very good idea for Dalvik to get ported to webOS and allow for native Android apps to run in webOS, and writing Dalvik bindings for the Luna UI as some sort of interface wrapper. ... This would actually prove to be a less difficult project than what was undertaken by Research in Motion for PlayBook, in which the Dalvik VM was ported over the the QNX OS.<br><br>I'm sure that Larry Ellison would salivate over this. An opportunity to nail HP and further monetize Java. And I'd bet that RIM has the Java-related licensing squared away with Oracle as their BlackBerry OS has previously included Java ME. Further, I seriously doubt that HP wants to put any more money than they have to into WebOS at this point.<br><br>I took a look at the apps porting issue yesterday and can tell you that the WebOS devs are MUCH more amenable to porting objective-C apps from iOS than they are to incorporating the Java platform, especially Java ME, to support Java-based apps. Here's a sample:<br><br> <a href="http://www.webosroundup.com/2010/11/bridging-the-porting-gap/" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">http://www.webosroundup.com/2010/11/bridging-the-porting-gap/</a> <br><br> <a href="https://developer.palm.com/content/resources/develop/webos_for_iphone_R_developers.html" target="_blank" rel="nofollow">https://developer.palm.com/content/resources/develop/webos_for_iphone_R_developers.html</a>
    Rabid Howler Monkey
  • Wow, another version of Unix

    How incredibly innovative!
    jorwell
  • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

    Jason, if you love Android so much, stay there. Don't start justifying efforts to make WebOS another forked droid-like garbage...
    glopez123
    • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

      @glopez123 That's just being obstinate for no reason. The NDK has very little "Android" in it. It's essentially a pretty generic C++ direct to framebuffer high performance game development library and it makes sense for there to be a single developer target for games on Linux tablets. Dalvik absolutely should be ported to webOS, the platform already relies on Java to a certain extent. The IPKG versus APK argument is less critical but it makes sense to standardize embedded application packaging formats.<br><br>The base level userspace libraries (i.e., the underlying "Linux") in Android and WebOS can be easily standardized and have little impact on the user environment or even the application programming environments themselves. <br><br>The point of standardization is so that you are not dividing developer time in "housekeeping" types of projects. The more commonality of components you have and less you need to re-invent then the more time you can spend on actually building apps or distinctive OS features.
      jperlow
  • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

    Great news, can't wait for the rebirth of WebOS in my next device.
    LarryNewman
  • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

    I am sure it will become a nice niche for hobbyists but that will not pay the wages of 600 hundred staff. <br><br>I suspect those 600 staff will have launch a hardware for themselves within 6 months, along with a software store. <br><br>The only way it will gain market share greater than 0.001% is if HTC or another company decide to take the OS under there wing and market the hell out of it. Eventually taking over and absorbing the HP created company.

    They will not survive as a separate company for long.
    Knowles2
  • This is good news.

    This is great news. The OSS model is also different from Android's, which means greater control over the OS by the community. The core OS is pretty solid, and it makes for a good zero-cost alternative to Android or WinCE on embedded devices. I, for one, am sure we're going to see quite a few hardware devices popping up with this OS.
    kraterz
  • RE: HP's webOS is going Open Source. Now what?

    Answer, the same that happened with Open Solaris. NADA.
    NoAxToGrind