A long time ago, I published the ten things that HP could do, right away, to fix webOS.
I do want to thank those at Palm/HP that emailed me with the words of encouragement. Unfortunately, each and every one of them that did, have left the webOS and Enyo teams.
I wrote that article because I feared HP wouldn’t do a single one of them. And, as I feared, HP pretty much failed to do each and every one. We’ve written off webOS, and there’s evidence HP may do the same when their fiscal year ends. However, they are still hiring (and, as an apparent response to our last reporting, set up a domain for it too). Still, it’s clearly questionable what direction webOS will take.
That said, this week’s webOS news is about as much of a headache as the past year’s webOS news.
First, HP said that old webOS devices can’t run Open webOS 1.0, because they aren’t able to handle a Linux 3.3 kernel. Problem is, many have argued that HP’s chip vendors (namely, Qualcomm) do maintain closed-source builds of that code, which HP won’t release.
While it’s understandable that HP can’t open-source such code, the Android TouchPad debacle underscores this, releasing closed binaries are still an option. That would allow for an Open webOS 1.0 Community Edition, similar to the HP TouchPad version that HP is building because it, in their words “care about the community”.
It doesn’t help that HP’s communications are vary varied.
That’s not the problem, though…
Really though, this shouldn’t have happened. HP’s webOS team should know that the easiest way to ignite interest in Open webOS, would be to enable $50 devices to take advantage of the platform. All those old Palm Pixi and Pre units qualify.
Even if carrier issues would not permit HP to release such a build, HP could offer a version that would convert these devices into Airplane Mode developer/enthusiast units. Instant traction that would get consumers asking (other) manufacturers to build Open webOS devices.
Even if HP is correct that it would not have been possible to use Pre/Pixi first-generation hardware with Linux 3.3… then they shouldn’t have made Open webOS 1.0 require Linux 3.3. The Linux 2.6 kernel works just fine. Ask Android 4.0.
Qt: The Next Big Uh-oh
HP decided to embrace Qt. That’s not a bad move, at least, I said to myself at the time. After all, it’s the one thing Nokia won’t gut.
Only then Nokia gutted it. I’ll save my comment on Nokia’s blunder for a little later.
It does, however, leave me resigned to the fact that HP is now in an even worse position. There is no major company spearheading Qt.
HP may now be in the same exact position that Palm was in when it launched webOS 1.0, supporting code that is well-designed, but obsolete. HP now has three choices, dump Qt, fork Qt, or buy Qt.
I’m not sure if there are better options for HP, really. Dumping Qt would be costly in development time. A new WebKit branch would have to be massaged into webOS all over again. Forking Qt would mean massive development resources to maintain their own branch, see “dumping Qt” five seconds ago.
Buying Qt from Nokia would be the easiest solution, and give HP powerful cross-platform development tools to form the basis for a true rival to Apple and Android. I have no confidence that HP is bright enough to do this one. None. Meg, if you’re listening call me, seriously. Barring that phone call, I doubt HP will buy Qt from Nokia, and blow the last good chance for HP to have its own end-to-end solution.
Boy, could it use one, too. With Surface, Nexus (and Motorola), as well as iPhone leaving HP on a sinking island with no OS vendor that isn’t getting into the hardware business themselves. Qt would give HP the ability to build apps on its own codebase, perfect for webOS to grow into a desktop, mobile, and embedded OS. Only HP won’t do it. I’d love to be wrong.
If HP can’t do it, I’ll do it myself
Instead of doing what would gain instant traction, HP says they’re targeting “future” devices. Excuse me, but with what traction? What manufacturers? What developers? Nobody has committed to Open webOS. Nobody. And, if there was someone out there willing to do so, we would have heard about it by now.
Even companies clearly unhappy by the direction Motorola-Google-Android are taking, are not embracing Open webOS. Why? Again, consumers doubt the platform. We’re now in another painful Catch-22 that the webOS team has built for themselves. They are blocking their own solution to the traction problems that Open webOS will face.
This is a bit personal for me. If you’re a strong follower of my work, you’d know that Intel pulled the rug out from under me, as I was building a MeeGo gadget. That hurt. I’m a strong supporter of open Linux, but it’s clear to me that big companies, just don’t get how to make it consumer-friendly.
I am resigned to the notion that this is a task I’m going to have to take up myself… and I’m already well under way on that.