Pre to Postmortem

webOS

Proving that the journalistic integrity of the Internet is still utterly alive and well in some corners, Chris Ziegler has a phenomenal report concerning the demise of Palm and webOS:

It’s easy to look back at Palm’s story arc from 1992 to 2012 and feel a sense of loss and sadness — this was a company that pioneered PDAs, popularized smartphones, and developed a revolutionary new platform on limited resources with an extraordinary concentration of industry talent before meeting its demise at the hands of HP. Staffers we spoke to took a more positive view, though, and one summed it up particularly well: “You ever see 24 Hour Party People? You know the scene at the end where they’re playing Happy Mondays’ Hallelujah and Tony Wilson is standing over The Hacienda and he’s like, ‘well, it’s all over — we have to shut down. Take the turntables, take the barstools, let a thousand Haciendas bloom’? Well, that’s what this is like. It’s that there are still people there, but a lot of people left, and they’re bringing the spirit with them. A thousand webOSes will bloom, I hope.”

Fascinating, entertaining, and important work.

Core webOS Enyo Team Leaving HP for Google

WebOS

Chris Ziegler reports for The Verge:

The HP team responsible for Enyo — webOS’s HTML5-based application framework that debuted on the TouchPad — will be leaving the company and starting at Google shortly, The Verge has learned. What this means for the future of Open webOS is unclear; Enyo and the developers supporting it are central to HP’s open source strategy for the operating system going forward, and it’s hard to say whether this move will have any effect on the planned late 2012 release for version 1.0.

Any lingering wisps of hope for the beleaguered mobile operating system must surely now have passed. Although the loss is certainly a shame, I simply hope HP will begin to acknowledge the futility of the sustenance of webOS, and move on.

HP Announces Open WebOS 1.0

HP has today followed through with its December announcement regarding the open sourcing of its mobile operating system, webOS. Chris Ziegler reports for The Verge:

Following up on its December announcement that it would open source the platform — a last-ditch effort to make it viable — HP has gone into detail today on exactly when and how developers will be getting access to webOS code. The company expects the entire open sourcing process to be complete by September, while Enyo, the application framework that debuted on the TouchPad and underpins webOS 3.0, is available as of today along with related developer tools. When open sourcing is complete, the finished product will be known as Open webOS 1.0.

Somewhat surprisingly, HP claims that Open webOS 1.0 will be available for consumers to use on their current webOS devices later this year. Assuming people hold onto their Touchpads, it will be interesting to see what impact this has on the platform (if any).

Of further interest is HP's announcement that Open webOS will be switching to a Linux kernel, much like the one found in Android. Such a decision was presumably made in the hope that it will allow (and encourage) OEMs to implement Open webOS with relative ease across their hardware platforms. 

As I wrote back in December, webOS, as we know it, is dead. I stand by this sentiment.

While it's certainly admirable that HP has chosen to allocate resources to the continuity of the once-promising platform, I cannot help but feel pessimistic about its long-term prospects. Perhaps some developers will make use of elements and portions of webOS's underlying framework, but it is highly unlikely that the webOS we once knew will continue to exist in the consumer sphere.

Making a comeback even less likely is Brian X. Chen's recent New York Times report illustrating the lack of cohesion within HP, the severe issues with the OS's development, and the moniker, "the toxic asset."

webOS: The "Toxic Asset"

Brian X. Chen:

WebOS turned out to be something of a toxic asset. Several former Palm and H.P. employees involved in WebOS say that there was little hope for the software from the beginning, because the way it was built was so deeply flawed.

Despite my assertion of webOS's death in early December, I cannot shake my romantic longing for the underdog operating system. With design by Matias Duarte, focus on the web, and the forward thinking involved in the OS's general philosophy, webOS seemed the most legitimate competitor to Apple's iOS and Google's Android. And yet, it quickly fell by the wayside. Furthermore, as Chen highlights, the goodness of webOS seems limited to the concept, and that the platform has been stunted since its inception.

I long remained hopeful that the webOS team at HP was as optimistic as the rest of us, but Chen's report indicates otherwise. webOS even appears to have been underserved and rushed at Palm.

Pushing webOS into the open source realm sounded a death knell for the platform, but provided little in the way of closure. It was a drawn out, ugly affair, rather than a decisive, confidence-inducing maneuver.

But, oddly enough, this damning report of both Palm and HP's flawed approach to webOS has given me the closure that I needed. This report has affirmed any speculation regarding the death of the platform, and it has shown that its potential has been undercut since the outset.

Yes, perhaps there are 600 people still working on webOS, but the OS is unquestionably late. The forking of Android, rather than adopting nascent platforms like webOS, is set to continue, and webOS is undoubtedly set to fall into the recesses of the tech community's collective memory. In principle it could've been great, but in actuality, webOS is little more than a once attractive prospect that has been smothered by its various owners and developers.

The Fate of webOS

webOS is widely considered to be a promising mobile OS, but HP's decision to open source it seems more of a death knell than it is an optimistic prospect for the future.

The very moment Apotheker was dismissed, speculation began that webOS might live on. I can unashamedly say that I identified with this hopeful school of thought. In the weeks since, however, Meg Whitman has publicly put off the decision, and my confidence has waned. 

If HP had immediately turned around and offered to open source webOS, I would have felt positive. The software was running on a high following the Touchpad fire sale, and many bloggers had been singing the praises of the dying platform. In the time since the fire sale, however, Apple has released iOS5, Android has hit version 4.0, and Windows Phone 7.5 has received heaps of endorsements.

In short, the market has changed, and webOS has suffered a fundamental death in the eyes of the community. Once the compelling underdog, webOS has become little more than an after thought. HP has shed webOS staff, support, and has now pushed the platform away with only vague hope for revival.

Meg Whitman has left the opportunity open for HP hardware implementation, but my impression is that this is just wishful thinking. Possibly even vague gauging of market interest, but nothing truly meaningful. Whitman further implies that a tablet would likely arrive after 2012. Given the pace of development on competing platforms, how could an understaffed and woefully unsupported project possibly keep up?

Sure, developers could feasibly adopt and resuscitate the platform, but what manufacturer would implement it? Potential suitors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have adopted forked versions of Android. Facebook is reportedly set to do the same. Would HTC or Samsung really take on webOS development? Seems unlikely. 

Another HP tablet built using webOS? Well, that'd be nice and all, but what incentive is there to build for the platform now? Who is likely to build apps for a platform only loosely supported by its parent company?

The outcome that seems most likely is developers retrieving some useful elements and components from the OS, and leaving it dissected and lifeless in a dusty corner somewhere on the Internet. Maybe even in some HP printers too.

Whether webOS is open and available or not, the platform as we know it is dead, and that is a shame.

Rather than face an uproar over what it could have been, HP has made the crowd-pleasing decision of open sourcing webOS. The drama and scandal of the situation is now over, and it's likely the interest and life of webOS will slowly begin to fade.

Of course, I'd happily be proven wrong.