Major media reports have gone as far as to claim that HP is only keeping webOS around to get tax breaks from cutting its losses later on. Some insist that it is HP trying to avoid a public relations blunder, and at least offer up cleaned-up source code.
Much of this is not true. The webOS team has gone as far as to demonstrate a powerful new web browser, based on QtWebKit, and is working with community hackers to offer a version that will be backported to the HP TouchPad and webOS 3.0.
One concern did pop up, that HP wasn’t hiring, despite all these departures. The webOS team insisted that they were hiring, but PhoneNews.com could not confirm it. We even noted to the webOS team that there weren’t any webOS openings on the HP jobs web site.
That problem was rectified this week, when HP posted 20 jobs to the HP jobs web site. Only three of them have been seen before, and PhoneNews.com monitors the jobs site weekly as part of our inside-industry analysis.
The bad news however, is a severe underscoring of how much of the webOS team has departed HP. Nearly all of the positions are high-level, senior engineer spots.
The jobs almost read as a laundry list of people you would want to hire for a Linux-based startup if you just got funding. This author should know, as he tried to do exactly that three years ago.
The positions range from the benign Java engineer, to the air-gasping title “Director, System Software Engineering” — and the description reads just as air-gasping as well:
We are looking for an experienced leader with strong technical skills to lead the webOS System Software Team.
This individual will manage kernel code and core drivers, networking stack (Wlan, BT, telephony, etc…), graphic sw, etc… Will also be responsible for general adaptation subsystems such as sensors, security, audio, camera, etc…as well as the entire multimedia stack (middleware and codecs).
All of the positions are engineering related, or require advanced engineering degrees/experience. None of the positions appear dedicated to hardware.
The People, Places, and Things That Got webOS Here
Palm circa 2005 to today, in about four sentences (in case you didn’t need 10,000 words on the subject): Palm got venture funding to reboot its aging, crusty smartphones. It hired the father of the iPod/iPhone, Jon Rubenstein. After much feuding internally, webOS 1.0 shipped as Linux + WebKit + Bugs. Sprint sales didn’t do well, and Verizon pulled the rug out from under Palm. After two blundered launches, Palm ran out of money and got bought by HP; which corporate-gropthinked it into failure.
Editor’s note: The Pre Plus still serves a great purpose for Verizon customers in 3G-only areas. Even on metered data plans, you get 5 GB of free mobile hotspot that’s more reliable than LTE tethering on Verizon.
Disgraced former HP CEO Leo Apotheker fired the hardware team, before even deciding how to sell webOS. This decision has embattled the webOS team, as HP has stated they intend to resume hardware production for webOS in the future, but lack the human assets to do so. Apotheker was ousted by the board after a vote of no confidence, concerned that he was too quickly transforming the company into another IBM; a company lacking any consumer-facing initiatives, products, or services.
Furthermore, without sufficient hardware engineers, Open webOS development is limited to devices that were planned to ship over a year prior, lacking modern hardware to improve the feature set or capabilities for webOS to take advantage of.
Current CEO Meg Whitman halted the shutdown of the webOS team, and decided ultimately to turn webOS into an open-source project, aimed at rivaling Android. HP believes, and has stated publicly, that they believe manufacturers will look for an alternative to Android, as Google has acquired Motorola. While Google claims to have a firewall in-place to avoid favoritism towards Motorola, the company also turned down offers to spin off the hardware division to manufacturers such as Huawei.
At the same time, HP also decided to retain its Personal Systems Group (PSG), which may provide problems for HP in convincing other large companies to embrace webOS. The PSG is responsible for HP’s line of PCs, printers, and tablets.
For Whitman, the decision to keep webOS may have been more personal. The corporate titan ran unsuccessfully for Governor of California, and campaigned heavily on the promise to remove California’s onerous “Startup Tax” – an $800 per year fee on all companies operating in California, known and hated by small businesses technology startups. Technology startups often need to be close to Silicon Valley in order to gain funding and partnerships, but lack the operating capital to pay nearly-four-figure expenses on a whim, especially when it takes multiple years to incubate before funding.
Governor Jerry Brown has refused to cancel the startup tax, leaving Whitman in a position to foster webOS as a startup innovation play in her new role at HP.
Under the Apache license, startups will be able to fork webOS, like Google’s Android. However, since webOS provides a standard Linux userland, startups can more easily adapt webOS for purpose-built applications, such as embedded devices. webOS has the power and performance customizations of Android, with the extensibility of standard Linux.
HP has stated they intend to ship Open webOS 1.0, the open source continuation of webOS, in September of this year. It is hard to believe, in this reporter’s mind, that HP will be able to accomplish that goal unless it fills those positions quickly.
Considering the threats the mass-media has made (rightly or wrongly) about the future of Open webOS, HP may have to resort to lucrative compensation packages to even fill these positions. If HP is gutted before years end, these employees may not even secure unemployment benefits when terminated. Most of the people qualified for these positions, are already gainfully employed, and have little interest in jumping onto a ship that has stability concerns.
Even more concerning, is who HP is not hiring. No evangelists, no developer outreach, and no platform outreach for other hardware vendors. It still isn’t clear to PhoneNews.com who the public relations representative at HP is assigned to the Open webOS team, and we’ve asked many times in the past to no response. As such, we were unable to contact HP for comment, but would be happy to do so if someone can find us a press contact to do so.
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