HP didn’t take an axe to webOS on Friday when it announced it was releasing webOS to open source. Instead, it’s killing it by degrees by releasing it to a community without any real hardware company backing and few prospects of finding any.
Unless, HP decides to build devices running webOS, it’s hard to imagine anyone else will either, especially after HP killed any positive webOS vibes with its on again/off again/on again strategy.
Just last week, Adobe announced it was open sourcing Flex, its way of kicking their Flash programming environment to the curb, leaving it in the hands of the community to support from this point forth. As one commenter pointed out on dZone, it was less cruel than killing it altogether, but wasn’t exactly an optimal situation.
webOS is the next technology to be open sourced. As Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols wrote on ZDNet, there are precious few details about how this is supposed to work. We only know that it’s going to be open source in some form.
But Lance Ulanoff writing on Mashable reports that his sources indicate (these are unamed) that this will be a tightly controlled open source implementation, more like Red Hat Linux than Android with its many forks.
But to what end really? Vaughan-Nichols optimistically pointed to manufacturers looking for a third option — where Windows hasn’t worked (at least so far) and RIM is fading fast–that might take a look at webOS, but I can’t imagine how they can take this whole thing seriously at this point.
Let’s not forget that HP bought Palm with much promise. There was the Leo Apotecher speech about putting webOS on every device, even printers. The developer community got stoked. HP started making plans for phones and tablets, and then just as fast as they launched, they quickly pulled the plug.
That leaves HP with an OS that isn’t even running on HP devices (at least for now). So it’s open source, but what does that really buy anyone? Without a group of committed developers — and anyone who was developing for webOS is probably not feeling warm and fuzzy about it right about now- — or a big hardware manufacturer, where can this go?
Android is open source too and it’s very popular. Not to say there isn’t room for more than one open source mobile OS because I’m sure the market would be happy to have something in place to put a check on Google, but I’m having a really hard time picturing how this is going to end even reasonably well for webOS.
So we have an open source mobile operating system that with apologies to Bruce Springsteen, HP has left wounded, not even dead, and very little hope that someone is going to come along and resuscitate it. I just don’t see how this is adds up. ]]>
HP certainly thinks that mobile is still in play. In a Fast Company article earlier this week, Phil McKinney, president and CTO of HP’s personal systems group had this to say about the mobile competition. “Everyone’s trying to make it seem the conclusion has been decided. We’re still in the top of the first inning.”
What would you expect him to say — that he’s giving up? Not likely. Like any good baseball manager, HP is going to keep pulling strings until the last pitch and see what happens — as they should.
Licensing WebOS could be a double-edged sword for HP though. When you look at the tablet and phone market, as of this moment, Apple and Google are clearly dominating. When it comes to the tablet, the iPad continues to blow away the field. HP gets it turn at bat on Friday when the HP Touchpad hits stores.
If the other competitors from Samsung to Motorola to RIM are any indication, HP’s prospects are not terribly bright. So far, when people buy a tablet, in overwhelming numbers they are choosing the iPad. Back in March, admittedly a life-time ago in tablet time, Apple Insider reported that 82 percent of potential tablet buyers said they would choose iPad. Those kind of numbers don’t bode well for HP, no matter what inning it is.
Licensing could end up fragmenting the tablet market even further. HP is not the first company to face this conundrum, but I’m willing to bet they are thinking that it’s better to have a larger total WebOS user system in place than it is to worry about protecting the company’s own hardware sales because the more companies building hardware running WebOS, the more developers have to pay attention.
It’s not without merit, but HP isn’t Google. It’s a hardware company first and foremost and as such it needs to sell HP branded tablets and phones. Let’s say a company like Asus licenses the WebOS technology and releases a nifty little tablet that is nicer and cheaper than the one from HP. Would the licensing money (and the fact they were spreading the WebOS love) make up for the fact that they were also possibly undercutting their own market?
It’s not easy to say. Nor is it clear how many vendors would want to run WebOS, adding yet another OS to the already murky mix. Android has the advantage of being open source and therefore free. Companies licensing WebOS would have to figure in operating system costs as they do when running Windows Phone 7. The question is can they price it attractively enough to make it worthwhile for companies to choose WebOS without making it so cheap they don’t make any money.
This is not a market for the faint of heart, that’s for sure. HP is late to the game and as such is going to have to get creative to force its way in. I’m just not sure if licensing is going to help them or hurt them.
Photo by Tom Raftery on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License. ]]>
Let’s review the line-up first:
Confused yet? I know I am and I’m finding readers are too, mixing up the different OSs in discussions — and how can you blame them?
Joe ‘Zonker’ Brockmeier, a veteran technology journalist who has been covering open source for many years thinks Google needs to get its act together around these operating systems or risk market confusion.
“Yeah, I think that Google is stepping all over itself marketing-wise. It needs to do better at explaining its roadmap, where all these things fit, and how they’ll come together,” Brockmeier said.
And that’s part of the problem right there. It’s hard to know what you’re talking about when referring to Google’s OS roadmap, and the way the different versions get implemented (or not) simply adds to the confusion.
Brockmeier isn’t as concerned as some around Android fragmentation, but he can see where it could alarm users. “Initially when people were talking about Android fragmentation – when carriers were slow in shipping point upgrades to users (like 2.1 to 2.2) I wasn’t too concerned. It’s not optimal, but it’s also not the end of the world” he said. Brockmeier added that having multiple operating systems isn’t the end of the world either, but it’s not very good for users and it’s a big red flag for anybody who’s paying attention.
Brockmeier wonders why Google didn’t simply extend Android to the Netbook, rather than coming out with yet another operating system. “It’s hard to see why Google is also pushing ChromeOS when it could nudge Android onto netbooks – and, in fact, one OEM has done this with the Motorola Atrix. I think the Atrix configuration makes much more sense than the browser-based OS that just runs Web apps. They could do the Web apps plus other apps by beefing up the browser that ships with Android,” he said.
Regardless of what you might think of Google’s operating systems in general, you have to admit that the approach they’ve taken could be troublesome for users. The Google naming conventions don’t help (Froyo, Honeycomb, Ice Cream Sandwich and so forth).
What we have are the ingredients for a muddled marketing picture. Google could avoid this if it just decided on a single code base and built all of the pieces on top of that. As it stands, they have way too many operating systems and potentially a lot of bewildered users — not to mention IT pros who must be wondering just how many operating systems they are going to have to support from the same company.
Photo by lrargerich on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License. ]]>