WebOS is doomed to fail

WebOS is doomed to fail

Summary: Hewlett-Packard may think it's resuscitating WebOS by turning it into an open-source platform, but the truth is the plug was pulled a long time ago.

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In a case of too little, too late, HP said it felt the open-source route was the best one for WebOS. The company is gambling that the operating system will take off on its own.

It's a bad bet. Past open-source platforms have had a mixed record of success. And people who had any interest in WebOS, whether consumers or developers, have been jerked around enough by the companies that have mismanaged the platform, from HP going back to Palm. After being burned on multiple occasions, is there any reason for someone to come back to WebOS?

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"I don't see what good that does at the end of the day," said Maribel Lopez, an analyst at Lopez Research.

Make no mistake, while WebOS remains a part of HP, it will be a much smaller part. Look for HP to significantly reduce the resources it devotes to WebOS, if it devotes any at all. That's not exactly the panacea for WebOS's core problem: the lack of consumer and developer interest. If HP doesn't care enough to support WebOS properly, why should anyone else?

That HP is moving to open source rather than selling the platform speaks to lack of demand for the platform.

"They've obviously demonstrated there's no commercial value for WebOS," Lopez said.

For HP's part, Sam Greenblatt, chief technology officer of the company's advanced technologies division, denies that it couldn't sell WebOS.

"We did this for broad market appeal, not the inability to sell it," he told CNET.

Roger Entner, an analyst at Recon Analytics, was even more direct about HP's decision.

"That's a nice way of saying we don't care anymore," Entner said.

Of course, WebOS may find new life as a niche operating system for other devices. Over the past few years it had won over a number of tech enthusiasts, reporters, and even a few developers. An intrepid developer may find a new use for the operating system, maybe to power a refrigerator or smart grid.

But analysts say even that's highly unlikely.

HP probably thinks so too. The company did write off $3.3 billion to cover exiting the WebOS business, which is probably the best illustration of its thoughts on its value.

Releasing WebOS to the wilderness
HP is likely looking to buy a little goodwill by turning WebOS into an open-source platform. Hopefully, the company isn't looking for any revenue or profits. A look at other such platforms brings a mixed picture, with limited success.

The most successful examples of open-source projects, including Oracle's Java, Mozilla's Firefox, and even Google's Android, all had deep-pocketed backers. HP likely won't provide that kind of support.

"I don't think HP wants to use WebOS as their piggy bank," Entner said.

Linux is the only truly independent platform, and it started off as an open-source project. While there's a strong user base supporting Linux, it remains limited relative to its competitors on the PC. Android, however, is based on Linux.

Likewise, all of the other platforms started off as open source.

WebOS, meanwhile, is getting dumped into the open, which many technology experts consider a last-ditch attempt at reviving the platform before it goes off to die.

Perhaps a more apt comparison is Nokia's Symbian, which started off as a proprietary operating system for Nokia before it was released as an independent open-source platform in a bid to attract more vendor support. Almost as quickly as it was opened up, Nokia closed it, and Symbian has been relegated to lower-end devices as the company focuses on Microsoft's Windows Phone.

Symbian couldn't compete with Apple's iOS and Android, and is destined to fade into obsolescence. WebOS, which never really had its time in the spotlight like Symbian, should share the same fate.

"It's a shame," Lopez said. "Sometimes good technology doesn't always win."

About Roger Cheng
Roger Cheng is a senior writer for CNET covering mobile technology. Prior to CNET, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade. He's a hard-core Trojan alum and Los Angeles Lakers fan.

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

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19 comments
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  • VMS even

    "Fail" suggests "death." Nyaa, in five years there will still be 5,000 enthusiasts patching it and porting it to the latest widgets from Amazon et. al.

    Heck, BeOS still has its fans.
    Robert Hahn
  • RE: WebOS is doomed to fail

    It blows my mind to see a reputable technology publishing company such as ZDNet taking such a narrow minded view of the opportunity open-sourcing provides WebOS. Perhaps I'm a wee bit naive but this move could literally be the one to take the wind out of Apple's sails and render the AndroidOS obsolete within a couple of years; provided development efforts are initiated by corporations who would see tremendous benefit by utilizing mature, well written and stable code which does not infringe in any way on existing OS's developed by Microsoft, Apple or Google. Samsung, HTC, and Amazon are three companies that immediately come to mind.
    rapperman
    • RE: WebOS is doomed to fail

      @rapperman no so fast. Zdnet publishes different points of view about the same event. If you look at their main page you'll see two different stories praising HP's move of opensourcing WebOS and another one undecided about it.
      cameigons
      • RE: WebOS is doomed to fail

        @cameigons Aside from the zdnet comment, you have to say rapperman is right. While everyone's trying to strangle each other, the company written off as already killed will take over the market. Everyone's hands will be filled trying to get at other company's throats
        Fat Albert 1
  • RE: WebOS is doomed to fail

    I want WebOS on my MacBook Pro!!! <br><br>Screw ZDnet and R. Wang can go write some children's story books. So much for thinking positively about ZDnet. <br><br>Back to Phoronix!!! Their advertisers can catch my eye balls and subvert my money to their dark purposes: www.phoronix.com. See some of you at www.phoronix.com; cheers and Happy Holidays! <br><br>Save WebOS and HP!!!<br><br>CloudLion<br><br>P.S. I wonder how much money HP spends advertising at ZDnet... I assume that money could be spent better with some other organization?
    cloudlion_ca
    • RE: WebOS is doomed to fail

      @cloudlion_ca@... I have to admit, WebOS would be pretty hard to manage without touchscreen support. Why drag the whole screen up to delete it when you can always go up to the red X and click to get rid of it?

      Aside from non touchscreen computers, I believe WebOS could exist virtually anywhere. Refrigerators, Car Dashboards, Printers, Tablets, Ovens, TV's. Pretty much every Smart kitchen appliance could us WebOS
      Fat Albert 1
  • RE: WebOS is doomed to fail

    HP bashing is the new trend. It doesn't matter what HP does not, since HP is under the spotlight to be bashed, somebody will always have somethign negative to say.
    ShqTth
  • RE: WebOS is doomed to fail

    There isn't any point in bashing HP... HP will bash itself!

    Some of the best of the really bright minds at HP shared a vision which included putting WebOS on everything including your smart phone, home computer, and tablet, to a presentation layer in a virtual machine on an advanced engineering workstation in some office 25 floors over a busy street in Berlin. The idea of branding an Operating system which has a close connection to community roots; and then opening it up to the world was: cool. This was seen as HP's response to what others are doing, and what some are planning to do. This is a great idea. It's not original but we're talking about: HP. It's too bad Leo ended up involved and I hope WebOS survives that fiasco because a lot of good people didn't at HP.

    I hope this is HP's first step in getting back to a cool game plan. It was a fantastic vision and it was always going to get tied back to open source. You empower your own organization while you invest in the tools you give your customers. Together you build your own shared foundations. Your customers then help you build the profitable tomorrow! Those sort of ideas drove Red Hat into financial ruin.
    cloudlion_ca
  • RE: WebOS is doomed to fail

    I started messing w/open source because it was free.(I donate a bit once in a while) I've gradually used it more and more, notably Ubuntu, Mint, Open Office & LibreOffice. More stable, easier to use & set up, fewer bugs or vulnerabilities. Usually faster on lower-buck equip. WebOS sounds interesting, and may well surprise a few folks. I like the fact that there are many eyes on the code, making it more likely that hidden flaws will get fixed quicker, and preventing the problems that arise with a proprietary OS that occur when the suits get involved. MS, Apple and Google have some great things, but the suits are meddling with things to the point that they are difficult for me to trust, & even their adding whistles & bells to justify a "new edition" can create problems. When greed and/or desperation gets real strong, Look Out!! I trust and respect the open source, the techs that are doing their best, rather than what they are told, and all their fellows evaluating and polishing.
    Ultra-portables are very handy, but I don't like carrying $400. or more of electronics around. There was a guy killed the other day for his mp3 or ipod, by 4 kids in their middle teens! I need low-cost stuff that works and yet I can walk away from if needful. WebOS may well lead to that.
    olddogv
  • HP Quality and Open OS - Win for All

    HP has one of the highest reputations for quality products and engineering. An open OS is best for everyone's' security.
    Go HP Go WebOS.
    Benderfootsie
  • HP Quality and Open OS - Win for All

    HP has one of the highest reputations for quality products and engineering. An open OS is best for everyone's' security.
    Go HP Go WebOS.
    Benderfootsie
  • RE: WebOS is doomed to fail

    At some point there will be a need for a counterweight to Google-rola (Google/Motorola). webOS might just turn out to be it.
    vertical2010
  • Too late

    A technology development year is a week. Meg Whitman promises that by 2013(!) WebOS tablets would be out. Better pick something that can be delivered sooner -- something to replace "the tablet" probably will be delivered by then and HP will have another TouchPad giveaway after inventing billions in WebOS technology.
    TomMariner
  • HP has lost its mojo.

    I remember HP back in the 80's. It was then a cool company which did both software and hardware.
    Now, HP is a 'services' company. They don't write code anymore except for printer drivers, which have gotten noticably worse over the last several years.
    Paying a billion for WebOS then ditching it less than a year later was a desperate attempt to revive some kind of software business in the company, and it was a complete failure.
    So, it's back to services for revenue.
    Now, once the DOD starts cutting it's contracts with EDS, HP revenues will slump even further.
    It's a shame that a once great company basically folded in on itself.
    I actually interviewed there out of college. They told me they like to hire young and 'mold' their employees.
    Man, I'm glad I didn't take the job.
    kevindelafield9
  • There is one way for WebOS to succeed...

    Refer to the first chart here (http://theunderstatement.com/). See all that yellow and red? If WebOS can be made to function on these devices and install without telling users they'll have to, "root their phones/tablets," (yes, it will still have to be done - just don't say the word, 'root!'), HP will have chance. That's something they won't be able to do alone.
    ThatOtherApple
  • RE: WebOS is doomed to fail

    After all the info from Steve Jobs about why people buy tech you would think that it would be obvious that WebOS will grow because the interface is more elegant than ios and people like it. Oddly, the only reason that WebOS didn't become the ios killer is because the big ego's at HP never realized that their market wasn't in trying to kill ios or even to compete with fractured andriod but to create and hold a community of mutual support that would not initially make profit but would establish a solid base from which profitability could grow.
    mvan44
  • Web OS was doomed before HP wasted a billion dollars on it.

    I can't even imagine how the people at HP could have thought they could compete with Android by buying an OS from a failed company. The guys at Google are smart, creative, hard working, and backed by tremendous resources, how did H P imagine that they could compete with Web OS? This isn't about liking (or not) Google, it's about the reality of what it now takes to compete in the mobile OS market.
    captbilly
  • RE: WebOS is doomed to fail

    Seriously!? Do you own stock you are trying to short? This is so lopsided as to be laughable. First, do your research! What do you think the kernel of WebOS is? Linux, you dummy! DUH! It is superior by far to Droid, and Apples Iphone OS. If it ever gets a chance, it will take off.
    lorne_shantz
  • Not Credible

    This article's credibility is in question as the author chose to spell "webOS" as "WebOS." In all fairness, if you knew what you were talking about you probably would've spent the time to use proper capitalization of the brand. Also, you failed to mention the fact that the webOS developer community has been creating patches (with regular updates), updated kernels, and several other tools WITHOUT the source. If a developer community is that dedicated to enriching the user experience on a closed source project why would money have anything to do with it? Look at Open Solaris. They had Sun/Oracle as a big backer and then they stopped development. Your logic is flawed significantly. Money != the success of open source software. You need to quit thinking about success in the same terms that corporations do. The success of open source is determined by the quality of the developers. Good, dedicated developers create masterpieces. With this move, the possibility to port webOS to Android-based (and Apple) devices is created. Look at the Cyanogen team. They do the exact opposite and many would say they're highly successful. I don't see Oracle, Microsoft, or Google pitching in to help much. How do you even write for ZDNet? Have their standards sunken this low? Perhaps I should take your place?
    rhonk