Microsoft, HP, webOS, and the contract that complicates future HP webOS hardware | webOS Nation
 
 

Microsoft, HP, webOS, and the contract that complicates future HP webOS hardware 22

by Derek Kessler Tue, 24 Jul 2012 9:03 pm EDT

Microsoft, HP, webOS, and the contract that complicates future HP webOS hardware

When HP announced their intent to purchase Palm back in April 2010, we were all caught off guard. The world's biggest PC maker had just plopped down $1.2 billion on little 'ole Palm with the promise of spreading its webOS operating system from smartphones to the brave new world of tablets, printers, and even desktop computers. Microsoft, too, it seems was caught off guard. Shortly after HP went public with the Palm buyout, Microsoft got their largest customer to agree to a contract that wasn't a big deal at the time, but now could make things more complicated for the future of webOS at HP.

Microsoft's move was protective. Their goal wasn't, as some have postulated, to kill webOS. Microsoft wasn't concerned too much about the potential of webOS to eat into their business, but then again, two years later, Microsoft just now seems to be realizing the threat that tablets running operating systems other than Windows (i.e. practically all tablets right now) pose to their business. Microsoft's goal was to protect the code of Windows, specifically Windows RT, which runs on the same ARM core processors as webOS did at the time (Open webOS, due out in full next month, will be using the Linux Standard Kernel and can run on practically anything). It was still several months before Microsoft would reveal that Windows 8 would run on ARM chips, but Microsoft has long had a history of working closely with OEM partners like HP on upcoming versions of Windows.

Understandably concerned about the potential for even inadvertent copying of the intellectual property that is part of Windows RT, Microsoft got HP to agree to a contract that prohibited the teams working on Windows tablets at HP from also working on webOS devices. While much of the code in Windows would not have been useful to the webOS team, checking out the customizations and optimizations Microsoft was working into their ARM kernel could have been useful. It's understandable that Microsoft would want to avoid such a situation, thus the contract. We wouldn't be surprised if Microsoft had a similar contract with other OEMs that dabble in multiple operating systems, such as Asus and Lenovo. These sort of contracts aren't unprecedented, in fact they're fairly common in large, multi-faceted corporations with dozens of competing external relationships.

In essence, what the contract did was build a firewall between the engineering teams of the webOS Global Business Unit and those of the tablet engineers in the much larger parent division Personal Systems Group. Both were working on ARM-powered tablets, with the webOS GBU eventually pushing out the TouchPad and the PSG tablet team having not yet released an ARM tablet (for what it's worth, Windows 8 and it's ARM-friendly RT aren't yet available for sale).

We've spoken with several current and former high level employees of Palm and HP with knowledge of the contract, and most agreed that initially the contract was not an issue. There were a number of ways around the firewall, including a section of the contract that allowed HP to add employees to a list that enabled them to work on both webOS and Windows RT projects in a limited capacity (in so much as one can 'self-firewall' their brain). They all agreed that the intent of the contract was not to kill webOS or even leave their webOS projects hamstrung by limited resources - Microsoft merely wanted to protect their own work. The contract didn't even have any provisions to allow Microsoft to check the webOS kernel to ensure Windows code wasn't being copied. Given the option, HP declined to provide official comment on this matter.

We all know what happened next. After the Think Beyond event in February 2011, HP launched the Veer in May and the TouchPad in July. Neither did particularly well in the market, though we could argue for weeks whether or not HP could have salvaged the TouchPad instead of canceling it outright in August. September brought the first of the serious bloodletting in the webOS Global Business Unit, with the thousand-employee unit getting split in two. The software side was sent over to the HP Office of Strategy and Technology under EVP Shane Robison, the hardware side was left to whither away as part of the PSG.

It took another three months for HP to come up with a plan for webOS, opting to open source the mobile operating system after billions of dollars of investment. The webOS group is much smaller now, numbering less than two hundred, with no hardware engineers to develop new hardware. They're exclusively a software unit now, unable to develop a new webOS tablet if they wanted to. This means that HP's options for a new webOS tablet are limited. HP could hire a bunch of new hardware engineers into the webOS unit to make it happen, though we'd likely be looking at another year's worth of waiting as they'd be starting from scratch organizationally and from a design and engineering standpoint.

Another option is for the PSG's tablet engineers to make a new webOS tablet, except that those with expertise and experience making ARM tablets for Windows RT wouldn't be able to work on the webOS project (given the relative power efficiency of ARM vs. Intel and Intel's very recent entrance into the tablet- and smartphone-worthy processor market, we'd wager on ARM to be powering any new webOS hardware). While it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing to have separate teams, HP would have to give consideration to where best to dedicate their best talent - Windows RT or webOS, not helping both projects. Work shared between the teams would be curtailed, leaving HP with parallel tablet efforts, even if they're using the same hardware components.

In the post Leo Apotheker world for webOS, the contract with Microsoft that started as a minor inconvenience has the potential to blossom into a full-blown headache at HP. The real irony here is that HP listened to a different master when picking a processor for their first Windows 8 tablets. Instead of ARM, HP's sticking with the familiar confines of x86 from Intel.

22 Comments

What is the length of the contract?
what is the nature of the "limited capacity" list that allows the win arm group to also work on webos arm?
Since HP announced that they are not making win ARM tablets, what is the duration of the time that team must be idle before it can be put on a webOS ARM team? (and any other requirements in this vein).
DId HP employees just release this information now to webosnation and if so what was their motive (s)? ie was the motive to encourage a 3rd party vendor to pick up openwebos by saying HP is contractually tied from competing for a specific length of time?

Those are all good questions. Maybe Derek can shed some light on the subject.

I for one, am not sure if I will ever buy an HP product again (after the whole webOS snafu they made of everything). What I am really interested in is porting Open webOS to a tablet (and more importantly a phone) that is made by a reputable hardware manufacturer.

The Microsoft contract is an inconvenience. What really complicated future HP webOS hardware was when HP let pretty much the entire hardware side of the Palm GBU go.

Here's another question.
HP announced in the press that it was starting production on an ARM tablet (in late May or early June) and then about 2-3 weeks later MSFT came out with the Surface announcement and HP said it was dropping ARM.
So did HP start production of ARM, given that Meg had said some months earlier that she was debuting a back-to-school tablet which presumably means mid to late Sept debut at the latest? How much lead time does one need for a back to school tablet and when does one need to sign contracts? If they did start production, where are those units or parts for units?

Follow up question: how much expertise beyond generic ARM expertise does one need now for webOS port given that it will be open source running on a standard linux kernel?

ps nice job reporting, Derek.

IF HP is willing to hire new people and train them to develop webOS hardware, I'd wait the year for new devices to start rolling out. In fact, I think HP could do it. Get a team of engineers, have them work on new hardware and then release it, but not at prices parallel to Apple and Microsoft. Build a new 32GB tablet and sell it for 250 - 300. People will buy it.

Well, as an inconvenience, once they come up with a waiver, it'll be easy. The real problem here is if HP would want to or if they are just making an excuse to finally let go of webOS.
Well, as I see it, that's another door that opens to Phoenix. Please guys, keep up the plan of making webOS smartphone and now even tablets. Use TTS and all the seamless "work supernatural... work the way you do" webOS experience.
LONG WILL LIVE webOS!!!

HP will not come out with a WebOS tablet. They are not going to go backwards into a more crowded field of tablets with a minor, rejected (by the Masses) OS.

That's my prediction.

Agreed. HP tried to be "invent" and do some innovation. They fell on their face. They are a commodity supplier, and even there, they are starting to fail miserably with low margins and product cannibalization. And the need for printers is going the way of the buggy whips. Whitman's appointment may have been a precursor to selling segments of HP at our favorite online auction house.

Furthermore, you can only burn retailers, users, and (in the case of smartphones) maintain unhealthy carrier relationships for so long before you hit the point of no return to market viability because, frankly, nobody outside of the remaining hardcore users really cares. webOS has a woefully tainted brand image amongst people that don't hang around webOSNation, and that was marked in stone by the firesale of the Touchpad last year.
 
Open webOS is a great project and all and may afford many others to be able to use it on devices it was never meant for along with existing devices, but reasonably, at this point, there's just no way back to market relevance without a serious, precedent-making miracle as of yet unseen in the computing industry.
 
(And Apple's "resurrection" doesn't count, either; apples and oranges, folks.)
 
I'm afraid a lot of dreams are going to be crushed by the expectations from people around here when it comes to Open webOS and the platform's future.

I could not agree more with your statements. I blame Palm for putting themselves in a position to need to be purchased to stay alive from a company that is so huge, they had no clue what they were doing. And honestly, they still do not have a clue. Look at their laptops, they are terrible, decent hardware but newer models are larger and heavier than previous ones. completely opposite of what the market expects and should expect.

To get around the activation issue, HP will allow devices to go through the "first use" with a bad certificate, and then update from there.

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The whole situation stinks. I wish Palm would rise from the ashes like a Phoenix and take WebOS back and compete against iOS and android. When it comes to my home computer I prefer Apple, tablet I prefer Android flavored Kindle, music on the go iOS iPod touch, but for a mobile smart phone device I prefer WebOS. Maybe I'm in a minority and most don't want or have these different devices. There are things about each of these platforms that I like and dislike, so far no one has come up with anything that combines the best of these operating systems into one and because of legal patent issues they never will so we as consumers either have to pick one we like best or have a collection of different devices to suit our needs.

I read from this site, via other info collectors, pertaining to HP’s purchase of Palm there was an agreement to fund Palm for 2 years. I haven’t done the math here, but I think the release of open source WebOS and that agreement may be congruent.

Whitman said HP committed to (see Verge article at beginning of this year) a 3-5 year business plan for webOS. She is hoping 3rd party manufacturers will pick up the OS during this time period as well as developers. Hard to tell what will happen yet as project is not even in beta and I imagine it has to be in beta for 3rd parties to evaluate it. In the meantime, looks like webOS homebrew faithful are working hard to improve the current 3.05 OS version that has been open sourced (HP community edition) and are waiting eagerly for the new open source 1.0 edition.

Former HP CIO Phil McKinney said "everyone" came looking at webOS last fall. Now that its been open sourced, I anticipate these same folks will at least come around to take a look and I imagine Derek's story might be some encouragement to them that HP does not have near term plans to compete hardware wise if a third party decides to make a webOS tablet.

Saw earlier that Facebook also wants to make a mobile OS so it can be a platform and charge for items rather than just an application on someone else's platform. While it may be trying to fork android, I imagine it may be one of the players to at least take a look at webOS, especially as Amazon and others are already making android forks.

Long live webOS!

webOS for life

You must be 86, have smoked all your life, have emphysema and you've just been told that they can no longer deliver bottled oxygen to your hospice location.

Interesting.

And that is WHY I am not buying any more HP products EVER !!! They killed Palm and I am loyal to Palm to death !!!!

I think the best situation for the webos would be to co-ordinate with Jolla Mobile and then the team can pick the best features of both the os.
Its very difficult ride for the Webos from here as most of the manufacturers do not allow root access to their devices and I am not sure how feasible it will be to install Webos on other manufacturers devices ( although I would for one love to be able to do that )

Hoping for some stray manufacturer to pick this up as their primary OS and take it to the market :-)

best

I know this question probably doesn't belong here but i have a doubt, so will i be able to install Open webOS in my palm pixi plus? I still have one laying around here so i want to know

thanks in advance

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