Google's working on a stock Android install for Sony, could they be charting a path for Open webOS?
Google's Android software is available on quite literally hundreds of devices. But on all but a select few it's been tinkered with at a bare minimum (or wholesale overhauled), moving it away from a 'true' Android experience. In fact, the number of 'Google' devices, i.e. those with unadulterated Android installed out of the box, can be counted on two hands. most of those are Google-directed Nexus devices. That's not to say that there's anything wrong with the modifications made by Samsung, HTC, Sony, Amazon, and everybody else toying with Android, but there's a contingent of people that want to be able to install stock Android on their device without the interference of others.
Part of the code to make that possible has always been available as part of the Android Open Source Project (AOSP). Anybody can download that and do with it as they please, and installing it on a device should yield a 'pure' Android experience. So long as you're okay with probably not having access to a number of vital components with drivers that aren't open source and thus aren't part of AOSP. That hasn't stopped groups like CyanogenMod from repurposing the open source code of AOSP, including the project to install Android on the TouchPad.
Google's head of the AOSP, Jean-Baptiste Queru, isn't content with that, and wants to bring the pure, unadulterated Android experience to more devices. His first experimental target: the Sony Xperia S. Despite Sony's history of siloing themselves off in proprietary technologies (MiniDisc and Memory Stick, anyone?), they've recently come to terms with being more open and have become more supportive of open source development. So it should come as no surprise that a few weeks after Queru started his quest to bring AOSP to the Xperia S, Sony's gone ahead and made available the binaries for the device. While such code won't be useful to the average homebrew ROM cooker, they should prove quite useful to the Xperia S AOSP project.
We've said before that the biggest technical hurdle facing the adoption of Open webOS on the vast majority of devices is the lack of open source supporting software like the drivers and whatnot in the Xperia S binaries. With Google publicly pursuing getting stock Android onto at least one non-Nexus device, we have to wonder if this approach might be a useful one for HP and Open webOS.
As of right now there are two forms of Open webOS, both in beta: one for Linux desktop installations, and another for embedded devices. The Linux version isn't exactly a cakewalk to install outside of the instructions provided by HP, so throwing it on that tablet you have sitting around isn't a simple task. And while the OpenEmbedded-enabled version of Open webOS is technically installable on any number of theoretical devices, it's missing a fairly major component: a user interface.
But let's assume that HP's plans involve setting up Open webOS to run on more devices than just a 32-bit install of Linux Ubuntu, because that's simply not going to be useful to most people. In fact, we have to question whether it'd really be useful to any but a select handful. But thanks to a distinct lack of open source drivers for many things, there aren't a whole lot of options for Open webOS. That is, unless a company such a Sony is willing to step up as they have with the Android Open Source Project and pitch in useful code to make exciting things happen.
While there's the obvious advantage to webOS enthusiasts such as ourselves who strongly desire to run webOS on new hardware, there's an advantage for the assisting device manufacturer as well. We're not talking about just goodwill here, of which there'd be plenty from a yearning-to-offer-goodwill webOS community. No, there's the advantage that said manufacturer would have an additional operating system in their quiver should they want to take the webOS route, and they'd have let the community do most of the work for them.