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At today's Enyo Hackathon in Sunnyvale I had the opportunity to sit down for a chat with Tom King, the man leading the charge for the WebOS Ports initiative. King's not an HP employee or even affiliated with HP, though through his involvement with WebOS Internals he has come to lead the recently-formed WebOS Ports group that's guiding the community's development with the open source webOS Community Edition.

King is very clearly passionate about his work as part of WebOS Ports and wants for the Community Edition to be a successful project for the community. They've adopted an organization similar to that of their parent WebOS Internals organization, encouraging and accepting development by anybody interested, though there's a small dedicated team of webOS homebrew veterans doing a lot of the work. King noted that while he was in Sunnyvale today, the majority of the code in Community Edition had been contributed by developers around the world.

The Community Edition release is in its entirety (at least as of now) LunaSysMgr from webOS 3.0.5, sanitized for open source. We've posted a few of the in-the-works features added by developers to Community Edition, including tweaks that allow gesture-based app switching and pinching card stack management. King said that most of the changes made so far as part of the Community Edition have been that sort of user-facing feature addition, though they've also fixed some bugs that had carried through with the open source release.

While HP will not be officially supporting the TouchPad with Open webOS, don't think that releasing an open source version of LunaSysMgr for webOS 3.0.5 is the extent of their support for the existing webOS userbase. King was adamant that HP has been exceedingly supportive of their work with Community Edition; whenever they're having an issue, assistance from the appropriate person at HP is just a phone call away. That kind of assistance is invaluable, as the developers at HP are obviously intimately familiar with LunaSysMgr in a way that the homebrew community just can't be - they did make it, after all - and they know the ins, outs, and quirks that are part of the code.

Right now WebOS Ports is driving towards the final public release of their updated Community Edition. They're incorporating a number of the tweaks already publicly demoed, along with bug fixes and the like. The build is going through the process of taking care of conflicts created by and between those tweaks, ensuring that something reasonably stable will be available to the community. Exactly how long it will take before that something is released by WebOS Ports is an unknown, though King expects it to be relatively soon. As WebOS Ports is a volunteer community-driven open source effort, progress is entirely dependent upon the time that the developers dedicate to the project. At the very least we're likely looking at a few weeks minimum before the first version is finished, tested, and released.

Once it is released, installation will be handled over Preware. The updated LunaSysMgr will utilize the same protocols as WebOS Internal's patching system, in that the original code will be retained on the device, it'll simply be moved to a safe storage point with the new code inserted in its place. That allows for safe removal of the homebrew code and complete restoration of the original, should the user not be satisfied. Should the user decide to keep Community Edition installed, which we imagine they certainly will, they'll be able to enable or disable all of the relevant tweaks made with WebOS Internals' Tweaks app, which recently received a 3.0 alpha release to support LunaSysMgr.

Right now WebOS Ports' focus is obviously on Community Edition. But they're keenly interested in what will come from Open webOS. King noted that he'd like for WebOS Ports' time to be dedicated to looking forward with Open webOS, not wasting time doing things like trying to port Open webOS to older devices like webOS smartphones. That's not to say that somebody couldn't do it on their own time (it is open source, after all), but the goal of WebOS Ports with Open webOS is to target the much larger market of newer and more powerful non-webOS devices. Like all of the development happening right now with WebOS Ports and Community Edition, and work done with Open webOS will be performed entirely in the public open source, both the inevitable failures and what they learn from them and the eventual successes.

Tom King's understanding of the core of how webOS works and how it all fits together is incredibly deep. And while he's a homebrew force in his own right, he considers his role within WebOS Ports to be more that of "cat herder" than coder. He seeks to bring order to the chaos that can afflict community-based open source development. And while there are plenty of talented people working on the Community Edition, King notes that the biggest problem they face is the same that every community like this faces: they're all doing this in their spare time, and there's never enough of that to go around.