webOS is dead, long live webOS
Just about a year and a half ago Dieter published an editorial titled “Palm is dead, long live Palm,” about the future of Palm and webOS as part of HP. In the past seventeen months we’ve seen about as much turmoil as one company can create, with a rotating carousel of CEOs, the announcement of three devices, launch of two, cancellation of them all, and today’s open sourcing of webOS.
Today everything changes yet again for the webOS community. As of this moment the horizon for webOS is both expansive and empty. Open sourcing webOS allows HP to try new things and leverage off the support of what we would call the most dedicated group of developers a platform has ever seen. But it also comes with a dark cloud: in the end nobody stepped forward to buy webOS from HP, and HP couldn’t justify investing in new hardware development for webOS themselves. We don’t know if those potential webOS purchasers merely decided that it wasn’t in their best interests to try where both Palm and HP could not succeed, or if they weren’t able to meet HP’s demands.
So we find ourselves at the middle road between a rocketship into space with new devices or a coffin made of TouchPads. It’s a road, and it’s heading into the desert, and frankly we don’t know where it goes or how far we have to go to get there or if we have enough gas to make it.
While the future is now anything but certain, we can be assured that webOS isn’t going to disappear. By contributing webOS and Enyo to the open source community, HP has ensured that for those that want to use webOS, they’ll always have an option. The public availability of the source code will allow any developer, manufacturer, or random user to use webOS how they see fit on whatever they see fit. We spoke with HP about their discussions with members of the open source community at large and they said they saw a lot of extremely positive feedback about webOS going open source.
But without hardware, webOS has the definite potential to not make it through this desert. Without hardware the user base will be small, and without a truly compelling reason, the average user is not going to go through the effort of loading a different operating system on a tablet or phone they’ve purchased that runs Android, iOS, or whatever other platform.
This is an interesting predicament for webOS, and an interesting solution from HP. Open sourcing is the middle road between killing webOS outright and selling it. In essence they’re giving it to the community that has cared about it and ensured that it continued to exist to this point. But how long webOS will continue to exist and be relevant after this point? That all depends on the almighty hardware.