Main image of article WebOS: Is HP’s Neglected Acquistion on its Death Bed?
HP TouchPadHewlett-Packard announced that webOS, the mobile operating system that powered later generation Palm phones, was being open-sourced just a few months ago. A glimmer of hope for the neglected platform to some, but by that time most of the hardware team was already dismantled. Up until that point, webOS was in limbo, with rumor mills churning out stories of HP looking for a buyer. After the announcement, HP cautiously stated that it would restart the development of the hardware team and devote resources to help the open-source community shepherd webOS. However, some doubted whether such a partnership would be feasible given HP’s lack of open source experience. Just weeks ago, my feed lit up with news that most of the webOS team’s management had left HP. Now another round of cuts has hit the engineering team. According to one source, Meg Whitman and her executives are making no effort to stop them. Given webOS’s complexity, without a team dedicated to handing over its reigns to the open source community, its future looks bleaker than it did just weeks ago.

Ahead of its Time

WebOS was quite possibly the only real contender to iOS in terms of feature set and integration. That is, until it was acquired by HP. When it was initially released, its sophisticated gesture interface, combined with a better multi-tasking and notification system, was ahead of its time. However, Apple had already established a smooth system of complementing software, hardware and content. It used that “ecosystem” to perch the iPhone OS on while it shored up the lack of advanced features webOS already had. WebOS never could get the traction it needed to overcome the landslide that Apple and Google were unleashing. By the time HP released its TouchPad, the iPad was in its second generation. Unlike competitors Microsoft and Apple who try, try again, HP pulled the plug when it realized the device was too little, too late. When HP saw the success of Android, it decided to try the open source gambit without understanding what it takes to nurture a community of developers. HP probably thought it was going to orchestrate development and conduct the symphony of developers. However, open source folks, love them or hate them, are notoriously independent and usually not driven by personal gain. I once heard it said that leading a team of developers is like herding cats. Open source developers are probably more like every type of cat from manx to lion with a few mules, squirrels and jackrabbits thrown in to keep things interesting. (No disrespect to developers intended.) So herding that diverse group is all but impossible. Perhaps that's what the management team of webOS realized. Or perhaps they didn’t agree with HP’s plans. Until they start talking, we can only speculate. When I got a chance to use the first webOS phones and some prototypes, I was impressed by the UI's sophistication. The multitasking and other architectural features I’m not qualified to comment on. I was told that despite the “fatal flaw” of Webkit and shortcuts taken that needed to be revamped, the design was something none of the other mOSes could touch. Despite all the brouhaha over Android and iOS, webOS is a hidden gem among mOSes. For those reasons, I hope webOS isn’t on its last breath.