back to article HP throws WebOS to open source community

HP will bite the bullet and dump the WebOS operating system on the open source community. The company made the announcement, as expected, that it would no longer sell the software and instead will transfer the source code, along with the ENYO application framework for WebOS and the remaining components of the user space, to …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    License and IP grant

    webOS was said to be protected by over 2000 patents.

    I'm very curious to know if a royalty-free patent license will also be included for all of these... and which open source license they choose.

    Open sourcing this without an IP rights grant wouldn't be that great. Unfortunately they've not mentioned IP in any statement I've read so far.

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      No sensible judge would back a patent on a product so publically abandoned and whose core OS had been loudly open sourced like that.

      Now we need sensible judges...

      1. Grease Monkey Silver badge

        That's not how patents work. Bear in mind that you can protect a patent on something that is not even in production. Now I'm not sure I support the idea, so I'm not entirely sure the patent system *should* allow that, but it does.

        The patent system is crap and always has been. Look at Marconi being granted a patent for other people's work. Look at Lego being granted a patent for copying Kiddicraft's bricks, even though a patent already existed on the Kiddicraft bricks (albeit that patent was in Britain and Lego's wasn't). When Lego took action against Tyco some thirty years later only then did they buy the Kiddicraft patent.

        The patent system has long been abused, however I don't think that HP intend to do so in this case. The very fact that patents exist on WebOS means that any licence to develop that software further would have to acknowledge those patents. Without that simple acknowledgement the licence would be worthless. However I doubt that this means HP will pass over the patents along with the source code. More likely HP will retain the patents, but licence their use within WebOS for free. No doubt HP will continue to protect their patents against any other use. This will probably be a good thing for WebOS as an open source project. HP have the finances to fight patent battles against allcomers, do the opensource community have those resources?

  2. MIc
    Unhappy

    Maybe it's just me...

    but it seems like the Palm brand brings with it a curse of bad management choices. Which is too bad as Palm was at one point a realy thought leader in the mobile space. But too many fumbles in a row.

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      It does seem to confirm the Betamax effect, doesn't it.

      No product, no matter how good, no matter how well designed or built, can survive incompetent management or vested interest.

    2. TheOtherHobbbes

      Er - you mean HP, surely?

      Top brands like DEC, Palm and - er - HP - have all died in the HP management space.

      (Also Compaq, but no one cares about that.)

      HP have become the Corel of the corporate world.

      1. Grease Monkey Silver badge

        The Corel of the corporate world? Are you saying Corel aren't a corporation?

        You are, however, right about HP over the last few years they have shown that any brand they buy will die a pretty rapid death.

  3. Bronek Kozicki
    Thumb Up

    This is awesome news

    There will be more than few tablets capable of running this OS ; I'm also ready for a bet that viable community will quickly arise to keep WebOS kicking.

    1. Craigness

      Why bother?

      Is it a better experience than Android? I tried the first palm Pre and really liked the OS, but stuck with my trusty Treo at the time. When I had a go with WebOS on a tablet I was totally disappointed with the experience. It's even less welcoming than a blank Android homescreen and, with no concept of widgets or shortcuts, it won't get any better with use. It was neither fun nor immersive. Even the ipad feels dynamic in comparison.

      Cards was good concept, but ICS's multitasking is at least as good, and everyone's copied the other WebOS selling point of combining contacts from different sources. Unless there's an app which is only on WebOS, what's the point?

      1. SuccessCase

        ...because Android isn't properly Open Source. If the license deal is right it will potentially be much better for OSS developers to back Web OS than Google who are pushing Android to get a back door onto your data and browsing habits.

    2. Franklin
      Mushroom

      "I'm also ready for a bet that viable community will quickly arise to keep WebOS kicking."

      At least as viable as the community behind BeOS, I reckon. Just how viable that is, I'll leave as an exercise to the reader.

      1. Grease Monkey Silver badge

        @Franklin I fail to see the comparison. BeOS was never open source* and as such attempts to keep the OS alive have revolved around trying to recreate the OS from scratch. Doing that job without having access to any of the source code is an incredibly difficult task and while I admire anybody who would try such a thing I think they were always on a hiding to nothing. The main part of the problem was that anybody trying to develop a new version of BeOS from scratch was going to take an age to get there and in that time the rest of the world would be moving on (or, if you prefer, catching up) and interest in the OS would be waning. It will be interesting to see what will happen with Haiku, but getting a new OS established will be pretty difficult.

        If the WebOS project is properly opensourced, however it won't have those problems.

        The loudest argument against WebOS at the moment seems to be that the problem will be hardware. I don't see that myself. It won't be impossible to get the OS running on Android or Windows devices as long as the driver hurdle can be overcome. TBH I don't see drivers being too much of an issue. The only problem I forsee with hardware is what will happen if HP, as hinted, start to sell hardware for the OS in a couple of years time. I suspect this would tend to scare away other manufacturers from shipping the WebOS devices.

        If WebOS is properly open source

        * Yes I know a few little bits were OSed by Be Inc ten years back, but most of the OS was not.

    3. P. Lee
      Windows

      perhaps there will be more webos fodder

      if it gets re-released with Win8 installed by default...

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Well I wish you all the best with that but things move on a pace and while Android may not be perfect it's the one mobile O/S that's got the most traction in terms of device adaptability.

      I'm afraid WebOS will be no more than a novelty O/S for geeks, nerds and freaks from now on!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "I'm afraid WebOS will be no more than a novelty O/S for geeks, nerds and freaks from now on!"

        You mean like Linux? :)

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Bronek Kozicki

    Unfortunately a tablet is pretty much married to its specific drivers. And working (let alone optimised) drivers can be hard to come by if you are running an OSS OS.

    On the other hand, I'm glad it won't simply disappear and be forgotten quickly. I for one like its elegance.

    But then I still like BeOS.

    1. Vic

      > Unfortunately a tablet is pretty much married to its specific drivers.

      It's Linux underneath. Drivers won't be a problem.

      > And working (let alone optimised) drivers can be hard to come by if you are running an OSS OS.

      Nonsense. Linux has superb driver support. I frequently come across hardware that Windows won't support by default (and often won't support even after you've downloaded the official driver set from the manufacturer), but Linux supports properly with a mainstream kernel.

      Vic.

      1. Ru
        WTF?

        "It's Linux underneath. Drivers won't be a problem"

        Sir, surely you jest?

        1. It is possible to provide source code so incredibly awful it is effectively opaque and unmaintainable, and offers little that purely black box reverse engineering could give you.

        2. Binary blobs can be loaded and run by otherwise 'open' drivers. Not only are they a black box with a poorly defined interface, but they can have additional restrictions put upon them by vendors who can use copyright restrictions to limit the distribution of those blobs.

        Drivers have been, are, and will continue to be a serious problem. Whether through malice, greed or incompetence is irrelevant to the poor schmucks trying to use their hardware on their own terms.

        1. Vic

          > surely you jest?

          No, I don't.

          > 1. It is possible to provide source code so incredibly awful it is effectively

          > opaque and unmaintainable

          It is. However, "effectively opaque" does not stop anyone extracting the necessary info to write the driver cleanly - and because the kernel is GPLv2, you have a right to the sources built for the kernel you're using. So your point is a red herring; given sufficient interest in having a clean driver, one will appear.

          > and offers little that purely black box reverse engineering could give you.

          Disagree. It's quite difficult to do source-level debug access in a black-box environment.

          > 2. Binary blobs can be loaded and run by otherwise 'open' drivers.

          These are very rare these days; Linux has such a wide range of Free drivers available, it's only really the graphics acceleration stuff that gets shipped in this way. And that's getting better by the day.

          And if you want to reverse- engineer the driver - the kernel is wide-open for instrumentation, so even that's possible.

          > they can have additional restrictions put upon them by vendors who can use

          > copyright restrictions to limit the distribution of those blobs.

          Perhaps. But if you've already got the blob on your device - put there by the manufacturer - it's not a breach of copyright to continue to use that code.

          > Drivers have been, are, and will continue to be a serious problem.

          No, they're not. I use a large number of Linux installations of varying types on vastly different hardware. Drivers haven't been a problem for a long time, except for niche hardware where the manufacturer will not engage.

          Many moons ago, the kernel team made a promise to write a Free driver for any piece of hardware where the manufacturer would supply sufficient information to make that task possible, Some manufacturers still wouldn't play that game, but many did. Linux driver support is excellent these days - I frequently get much better response from some random piece of kit by using a Linux distro than by using the "official" driver under Windows.

          Vic.

  5. petur
    Thumb Up

    interesting times ahead

    I got myself one of those cheap touchpads with the intention of running Android on it. Had to wait a bit for the alpha releases to get stable (a3 nearly hits it), so used WebOS in the mean time.

    Now I find myself booting back to WebOS more and more, fixed my gripes with the missing cursorkeys, and if more tablets come out with WebOS, there will come more apps too.

    Interesting times :)

  6. semprance
    Megaphone

    It's all about the framework

    People seriously need to see past the operating system to the amazing framework that runs on top of it. I've been working with Enyo for around 6 months now and it wipes the floor with any other javascript framework out there. Most importantly, it's portable. I've already tried it in Titanium and it will be fairly trivial to get TouchPad apps running on other platforms with a very small amount of refactoring.

    I also think the operating system is great but Enyo has blown my mind. Looking forward to taking it to new platforms and pushing it to it's limits.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      OK you can port it to Android then

      Runs on X86 too, maybe not the way Apotheker dreamt

  7. Homer 1
    WTF?

    In what sense is this bad news?

    Sorry, but I must have missed something. How is this bad news, again? How is this a "fall" for WebOS?

    Releasing any software under a Free license is surely the best thing that can possibly happen to it, from the perspective of both users and other companies who may wish to utilise it.

    Take Android, for example.

    1. Goat Jam

      The Fail is for HP, not WebOS

  8. Sean Baggaley 1
    Thumb Up

    Sounds like a good idea.

    At least it'll give FOSSers something better than Android to fawn over and support. WebOS is genuinely very good and has a lot of potential.

    It's certainly more deserving of fanatical evangelism and support than Android, which remains little more than a derivative iOS rip-off with bells on, and is closely tied with Google. (Say what you like about Apple, but at least they don't make most of their money by selling your every thought to advertisers.)

  9. dognolegs
    Happy

    we the bOS!

    webOS + Flex FTW!

  10. Error Message Silver badge
    FAIL

    Apotheker was a buffoon

    HP is still following his basic plan: "The best way to make a million dollars is to start with a billion."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Kind of like Brewster's Millions in reverse, then?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Go

    Why?

    Who's gonna do the heavy lifting? I like WebOS I really do. But for the Foss crowd, it seems that Android has the legs to go the distance.

    All sorts of platforms could run varying OS'es. I can't see where this goes. I can easily run a flavour of *nix on a PPC Mac, but there isn't much point for me.

    What's the point of this.

    Someone enlighten me

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It's about something called choice - an almost forgotten concept in a world where many people seem to like sucking things down from a single vendor - and maybe even doing things in a way you prefer: Android leans heavily on Java/Dalvik whereas webOS leans heavily on JavaScript.

  12. Levente Szileszky
    Stop

    Errr, you've missed the main point...

    ...which is that HP WILL MAKE ANOTHER WEBOS TABLET:

    >>>

    While all of the official verbiage on the announcement was very careful to avoid any mention of hardware from HP or any other manufacturer, The Verge asked pointedly if HP had any intentions on making new webOS hardware. Said Whitman:

    “The answer to that is yes but what I can't tell you is whether that will be in 2012 or not. But we will use webOS in new hardware, but it's just going to take us a little longer to reorganize the team in a quite different direction than we've been taking it in the past.”

    <<<

    Source: http://www.precentral.net/whitman-hp-will-make-new-webos-tablets-eventually-not-smartphones

    1. Matthew 25

      Not necessarily a tablet

      Your quote says hardware so it could be a fridge.

    2. Steven Raith

      Shame he probably means...

      ...printers.

      No, really, it's on their high end MFDs (at least) as the menu interface.

      Note how he didn't say tablet hardware - just hardware.

  13. HMB

    Hands up if you saw the end of HP developing WebOS coming!

    I am so very glad of the Cyanogen mod team! I'd be very upset if my Touchpad software was just going to slowly perish.

  14. Eddy Ito
    Happy

    It's linux

    Sure, it has a unique UI that comes with its own API but under that pretty skin it's still linux like Android is. I doubt it will go away unless the license it gets released under is simply terrible and while it's possible HP could write their own, I hope they don't and pick something sane. There are too many licenses to figure out now and adding something like the Horrible Public License (HP L) certainly won't help push the the OS anywhere but down but picking something popular that they can live with might see the UI layer ported to run on top of everything from Android to Windows and heck someone might even do VMS just because they can.

    Now then, I think I'll pick up one of those new pandaboards in order to be ready to play on the first download day.

    1. petur

      @Eddy

      It's not linux like on Android. It's proper linux, not a stripped down fork.

  15. JeffyPooh
    Pint

    "webOS was said to be protected by over 2000 patents"

    There's only about seven million US Utility patents in total. That'd be like 0.3% of them.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      2000 patents was the number mentioned around for the entire collection of patents covering HP's webOS devices, including both utility and design.

      http://scobleizer.com/2011/08/21/hps-2000-webos-patents-and-how-they-could-reshape-everything/

      My point wasn't about the number of patents, but to say your HP likely holds quite a few on webOS itself. You just need one utility patent covering anything done in the code to cause a problem.

      HP has now told precentral they would still hold the patents to "protect webOS developers" from outside lawsuits. But what happens e.g. if you take the code and put it on Android? It's not clear.

  16. squilookle
    Meh

    Used webOS on the TouchPad and was fairly disappointed with it. Didn't like the browser at all, found the range of apps to be disappointing, and found all the options screens seem to be very light of options...

    I did like the cards system but can quite happily live without it., and the keyboard is good, but so is the keyboard on my HTC.

    I hope someone OSS developers can get the chance to do some great things with it, but I won't be rushing to get any other devices that run it, from HP or otherwise.

    1. Levente Szileszky

      Are we talking about the same TouchPad?

      I am an avid Android user but I never bought an Android tablet (sans my Kindle Fire which is nothing but a media-consuming/shopping etc device for my wife and daughter) but I did pick up few TouchPads during the fire sale and hell, yes, it's a LOT nicer than Android, browsing is smoother and overall the UI mops the floor with Android.

      Complaining about lack of apps clearly shows you don't have a clue about tablets, let alone that this iPad-induced idiocy of paying for apps, only to use the same resources you can use for FREE on the internet in any other OS, should die quickly.

      Lack of options? You mean like by default, out of the box you can enter a public code and voila', you are root?

      Man, you don't have the slightest farting clue what you are talking about, I have to tell you...

      1. squilookle
        Mushroom

        "Are we talking about the same TouchPad?

        I am an avid Android user but I never bought an Android tablet (sans my Kindle Fire which is nothing but a media-consuming/shopping etc device for my wife and daughter) but I did pick up few TouchPads during the fire sale and hell, yes, it's a LOT nicer than Android, browsing is smoother and overall the UI mops the floor with Android."

        In your opinion. You provide no evidence in your rant. I took exception to the way it handled elements fixed positions. In my experience/opinion, the Android browser is far superior. But that's my opinion.

        Also, my Andriod phone (underpowered compared to the touchpad) launches apps much quicker and is generally as smooth/smoother. I prefer the Android UI.

        "Complaining about lack of apps clearly shows you don't have a clue about tablets,"

        How?

        "let alone that this iPad-induced idiocy of paying for apps, only to use the same resources you can use for FREE on the internet in any other OS, should die quickly."

        I could have been clearer here, some apps that I use on a regular basis did not have equivalents when I looked. I have never paid for an app, and my post does not imply that I have.

        "Lack of options? You mean like by default, out of the box you can enter a public code and voila', you are root?"

        You've named one option... that most people probably don't care about, and that I certainly don't care about. Most of the options pages for the apps that shipped with the device were pretty light. I wanted to turn the ripple effect off when you tap it, but couldn't. I saw no widgets to add to the home screen. I wanted to turn the elastic effect of the browser off but did not see a way of doing that.

        "Man, you don't have the slightest farting clue what you are talking about,"

        I'm talking about my own experiences with the TouchPad, and disagree with you on this one.

        " I have to tell you..."

        Why?

  17. Gil Grissum
    FAIL

    This is text book case of how incompetent management can get a great product killed with rampant bungling and screw ups. The fall of Palm should be taught in every business school, all over the world, in order to prevent this kind of management incompetence, in the future. My HP 20 inch monitor will be my last HP product. I don't want anything else that they make, printers included. It's sad to see Palm fall like this. Sad, indeed.

  18. alain williams Silver badge

    Open Source is not magic pixie dust

    HP appears to be hoping that hoards of FLOSS programmers will materialise out of thin air and rescue its operating system .... make it the huge success that it could not realise.

    This might very well happen. Something great and used by many, this achieved by the many hands working on it who import FLOSS code from elsewhere. What will also happen in that webOS has its best bits taken and used in other FLOSS environments.

    It all depends on how useful people see it compared to other platforms out there, eg Android, and what license HP puts on its components.

  19. P. Lee
    Go

    Perhaps a haven for those concerned with the oracle / google spat

    Though I suspect it was a sacrifice to the recent HP/MS cloud deal.

    I really quite like the cards and the overlapping sliding windows, but the apps, especially the browser do need a bit of a feature overhaul.

    My gut feel is that it has a better ui than android but not the features. Hopefully they will come.

  20. Hardcastle the ancient
    FAIL

    Remember the Acorn Archimedes?

    As a friend said at the time 'Acorn managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory'.

    HP seem to have done the same, particularly under Apotheker

    Muppets

    Muppets

    Muppets

    Muppets

    Muppets

  21. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Divide

    and conquer?

  22. Stuart Dole
    Thumb Up

    I remember HP releasing STL

    HP released STL, perhaps one of the best things they ever did (well, aside from some very nice calculators and 'scopes).

  23. MonsieurTM

    webOS not all cracked up to be....

    I'm a long-time Palm Pre user, now on a Pre 2 with webOS v2.2.4. This has not been a love affair. WebOS is desperately buggy and slow, also lacking important functionality. (The Calendar app is a silly toy unless patched with UberCalendar, for example.)

    Basically the OS is a poor implementation of Linux, with a poor JVM on top. This means regarding the user experience, it is very slow with lots of pauses. What are the issues with the Linux implementation: it makes no use of the fact that the device has no HDD, and just ram. So for example the kernel has the madness of an initrd. Why use modules when the device is not expandable? You can't take out the wireless!!! Also why does the kernel load executables from a filesystem into ram? Why does it even boot? It's all in ram afterall. Why not load already fixed up memory images for a far faster operation?

    Although java has been successfully used on other mobile devices, not so in webOS, when even opening an app can suffer hugely variable latencies. Also in use, the device can just lock up, becoming unresponsive for up to 10 sec, and this can happen daily. Other examples of latencies are in the mapping apps. So practically the use of GPS in the maps is just about able to cope with walking, but for driving is rarely able to update rapidly enough.

    webOS releases were flawed: the update from 2.0 to 2.1 had to be done by hand: for many the automated update just didn't work, so a very technical manual procedure had to be followed. Contact with webOS support over 3 months failed to resolve the problem. A later update to 2.2.4 worked as it should, but that release is flawed: my phone no longer automatically turns the screen of after a set time reliably. When it only has 1 day's battery life this is a serious issue. Why has such an obvious bug slipped through?

    in summary webOS was fundamentally flawed from the ground up. Perhaps HP eventually realised this, and the fact the webOS, although looking funky, was not a production-ready product and only with significant effort spent in redesigning it would it become a production-quality, viable platform suitable for consumer products where reliability is key, as that lowers support costs, hence reducing the unit cost and improving profitability.

    1. P. Lee
      Go

      I think the point is that it can be fixed.

      The current webos implementation may have flaws but hopefully there is some interface separation between the framework and the OS, so the OS can be updated to a better static kernel or different startup mechanism without disturbing what sits on top. A better application scheduler might be slotted in.

      Perhaps some of the drivers can be improved. There may be things that HP as a corporate may not wish to do but the OSS community is happy doing - such as providing a new kernel which requires all the major apps to be recompiled, or writing a new browser to replace the existing one.

      Open-sourcing the drivers will also help the Android community improve the Android support, even if webos goes nowhere. So hopefully better battery life will arrive for everyone.

  24. BoxedSet

    HP buys Palm, HP makes pigs ear of selling product (Compaq and Alpha anyone?), HP dumps product at loss. Thankfully the printing and server products pay for all this corporate suicide...

    Apple sifts thru webOS code, adds features to iOS and patents them as theirs. The circle is complete yawn

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    MS win here, potentially

    One less competitor for Win8 tablets

    No more dual boot PCs that would be popular with consumer and enterprise buyers

    Real question is when HP say they will support it, what do they actually mean? I don't think the IBM-Linux model will apply here.

    I wouldn't want to be on HP's webOS dev team at this precise moment. Good luck to everyone there.

  26. Milo Tsukroff
    FAIL

    History Repeats Itself - HP Stuffs Good Product Down The Loo - Can U Say IPaq?

    History repeats itself. HP bought Compaq and then dithered with its iPaq line until they crap-engineered it into oblivion. I have some 2nd-hand iPaqs people gave me. I am frustrated they never fixed the simple problems like memory corrupting when loading a document more than about a half-Meg in size. Complaints were met with, "Is it under warranty? No? Well come back to us when it is." Applications fought each other. Hardware broke way too easily - the most easily broken was the recharge bracket! The poor-step-child attitude of product support destroyed the iPaq line.

    Then the iPhone came out. It basically had just the same capabilities as the iPaq. But it was fully functioning and well-supported. And the rest is history.

    So the history of the Palm purchase has gone down the same route. But HP is learning. It took them less than 2 years to bring WebOS down, a lot lot less time than it took to destroy the iPaq.

    1. phil 27
      Go

      Familiar

      What your missing, is there was a linux port to ipaq called familiar linux, and while that may have been niche and long dead, a lot of good ideas and projects kicking round the embedded world grew out of that or were uplifted by its needs. Gpe and opie wm for one.. Im sure that expertise and lessons learned went onto webos in the early days.

      Most of the work on famiiar was by a few guys at HP's Labs, who were gifted time to the project by HP themselves, and there was a build cluster also supplied gratis by HP. I remember the huge amount of work contributed by Jamie of HP Labs who drove the pace of progress like mad.

      Oh and a guy from europe caused loads of hassle on the mailing lists and eventually everyone fell out just when it was bearing fruit, and someone threw their toys out and sat on the domain etc, it was almost like certain individuals were against the whole thing because someone could see potential in what was being done right back there. What was his name now... Florian something or other. Might have been Florian Mueller...

      I hope webOs goes on, giving us all more choice in the tablet market. Android is a secret walled monitored garden, IOS is a public monitored walled garden, and real linux on tablets is still very niche and in its infancy (kudos to Archos for their gpl compliance though!)

      1. Grease Monkey Silver badge

        I agree totally. I was still using memory map on an iPaq until very recently when the GPS jacket failed. The iPaq still works and I'll keep it in case I see another GPS jacket cheap.

      2. Grease Monkey Silver badge

        "What your missing, is there was a linux port to ipaq "

        Forgot to mention that what everybody seems to be missing is that an awful lot of iPaqs were made by HTC. Remember the hw6500? People raved about that little beasty, but it was really an HTC. HP fumbled badly with the ipaq line, HTC of course went on to bigger and better things from basically the same devices.

  27. genericallyloud
    Meh

    webOS vs B2G

    Obviously webOS is much more mature, but anyone willing to devote serious time into keeping webOS alive would probably prefer participating in Boot2Gecko. I mean, that's about as open source / open web as you're going to get if that's your reason for liking webOS.

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