Some last minute thoughts... 65
We're quickly approaching the moment of truth, the all-hands meeting scheduled for later today at Palm HQ in Sunnyvale, California. We'll be entirely honest: we don't know what to expect. One minute we've got a pit in our stomach, and the other we're jumpy and excited about the possibilities. Our compass is pointing every which way, and we're not sure it's the Touchstone's fault this time.
The last all-hands meeting we saw out of the webOS Global Business Unit was right after the August announcement that HP was cancelling webOS hardware development. Things haven’t gotten any better since then for webOS, though they’ve kept pushing out updates and new apps and doing whatever they could. That all-hands was an emergency meeting called after the news hit, with the VPs in charge of webOS unaware of what was happening. This one was called in advance, and what’s notable is who has been brought in to the meeting: former Palm CEO and webOS GBU Manager, Jon Rubinstein and HP CEO Meg Whitman.
We haven’t heard anything from Rubinstein since he was shuffled out of the webOS leadership back in July, just days after the HP TouchPad launched. Now, Rubinstein did say he would still be involved in webOS, but since he left we’ve seen the hardware cancelled, the business split in two, the hardware group laid off, and the OS put up for sale or worse. Bringing Rubinstein back into the equation is an interesting move – is he taking back control of webOS? DeWitt was left in charge of the now defunct hardware group, and we really don’t know what he’s doing anymore. Or is Rubinstein going to be on the stage to provide a familiar face while bad news is broken? We’re not sure, but it’s worth noting that he is on Amazon board of directors, and the rumors of Amazon buying webOS were both the loudest and most encouraging. We’re not saying that’s what’s going to happen (like we said, we know nothing), but it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad way to go.
Then there’s Meg Whitman. We’ve never seen an HP CEO take the stage at a webOS event. Mark Hurd didn’t get to stay around long enough to see webOS to do anything under HP, Leo Apotheker didn’t make the trip all the way to San Francisco from Palo Alto for the Think Beyond event, and Whitman, well, she took over HP after webOS was sent on its latest death spiral. But unless the entire company is going down, it’s rare to see the CEO of a company as big as HP come out to address a group of 500 within the company about their maybe-not-even-worth-a-billion-bucks part of the business. Unless Whitman is an exceedingly classy gal and wants to be there to break the layoffs news in person, we’re taking her presence as a good sign. CEOs like to revel in the light of good news, so Whitman’s presence gives us the inclination that we’re (1) going to see some actual news, and (2) it might actually be good news. Be that a sale, licensing, or HP keeping webOS? And we’re back in the “we don’t know” camp again.
We know the possibilities of what happens with a financial transaction. HP sells webOS: it goes to another company, HP’s out of the picture, and hopefully we see hardware and not just patent lawsuits.1 HP licenses webOS: HP handles the software development, somebody pays them for the right to use webOS on their hardware, and we’re practically guaranteed new hardware. HP keeps webOS: hopefully we’ll see new hardware that’s not printers or servers. HP kills webOS: we see nothing, ever.
But there’s one more possibility, one that parts of the community have been pushing for and one that makes us uneasy: open-sourcing webOS. Don’t get us wrong, we love open source software. One of the biggest reasons for the resiliency of the webOS community, and arguably part of the reason webOS is still around today, has been the open source development, patching, and distribution pioneered by WebOS Internals. Open source is good. But there’s only been one open source success story in the mobile world: Android. And in reality, the success of Android has not been due to its open source nature, but because of the support of Google and manufacturers reeling in the face of the iPhone. Open-sourcing webOS would not help the matter – our fear is that webOS would simply fall into the ranks of other failed open source mobile operating systems. Without the support of hardware manufacturers, open sourcing webOS would only serve the homebrew community, which while important is a small portion of the userbase.
So here we are, sitting anxiously and pondering the potential fates of webOS. All signs point towards actual news, but what that news actually is? Stay tuned...