A few days ago Hewlett-Packard announced that the company will contribute its webOS platform and software to the open source community. In the meantime, HP fully intends to remain an active participant in the development and support of webOS. The company put out what can be considered safe boilerplate copy in noting that by combining the 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 the old days Palm had a 300,000+ army of developers. Today webOS has an army of…what exactly? Is it realistic to think that the open source community - aside from fanatics and OS purists - will devote any resources to webOS?
Certainly webOS offers a solid set of mobile app development benefits - HP didn't pay over $1B for it just to help put Palm out of its misery. Briefly, the following is what the webOS ecosystem has going for it as an application development platform:
- For developers, applications can be easily built using standard web technologies
- Its single integrated stack offers multiplatform portability
- For device manufacturers, it provides a single web-centric platform to run across multiple devices
- It offers a fast, immersive user experience
- It is designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable
HP will make the underlying code of webOS available under an open source license, though it hasn't yet determined which licensing scheme it will use. As with all opens source projects, developers, partners, HP engineers and hardware manufacturers can deliver ongoing enhancements and new versions into the marketplace.
HP plans to work with the open source community to help define the charter of the open source project under a set of operating principles:
- The goal of the project is to accelerate the open development of the webOS platform
- HP will be an active participant and investor in the project
- HP intends to make sure there will be solid, transparent and inclusive governance to avoid fragmentation
- HP will contribute ENYO, the application framework for webOS, to the community in the near future along with a plan for the remaining components of the user space
Though putting webOS into the open source community is laudable and appears to be a more responsible approach by HP than merely putting it to bed forever, in the end it will make no difference what so ever to webOS as a viable mainstream mobile platform. Might it emerge as a highly specialized mobile OS for a highly specialized niche environment? Very possibly - but that isn't going to help HP recover its original investment.
A recent rumor that HP might revive its webOS-based tablet plans down the road - though not before 2013 - does not make a great deal of sense. HP's mobile future is now clearly tied to Microsoft's Windows 8 and webOS would only prove a distraction to a minor faction of the company, regardless of whether HP might once again try to offer consumer-targeted tablets in the future. HP did once offer a coherent webOS vision for a cloud-connected mobile future. Unfortunately that future was held hostage by the TouchPad's physical design - which was already old and tired before it launched.
HP now needs to work closely with Microsoft to turn Windows 8 into a powerful enterprise mobile and tablet OS.
And it's time for HP to let webOS rest in peace.