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WebOS Crawls Out of Purgatory and Into Open Source

By Richard Adhikari LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Dec 9, 2011 2:15 PM PT

HP announced Friday it will contribute webOS to the open source community.

WebOS Crawls Out of Purgatory and Into Open Source

The decision seals the fate of the operating system, which HP acquired when it purchased Palm for US$1.2 billion in April 2010.

Since then, the Pre smartphone line running webOS flickered out, and HP's TouchPad tablet, launched in July, only took off when production was discontinued and prices sank to $99.

HP will make the underlying webOS code available under an open source license, and it will enlist the open source community to help define the charter of the webOS open source project.

HP will also contribute ENYO, which replaced Mojo as webOS's software development kit earlier this year, to the open source community.

"We didn't want to put a timeline on [when webOS would be released to open source], but we want to make sure we underpromise and deliver," Sam Greenblatt, HP's chief technology officer for advanced technologies, told LinuxInsider.

"This could be a very good move for HP to be seen as something of a white knight but also to get out from underneath the ongoing development costs that keeping webOS in-house would entail," commented Charles King, principal at Pund-IT.

Going Open With webOS

WebOS is a Web-centric multiplatform operating system that's mobile, cloud-connected and scalable.

The platform lets developers build apps using standard Web technologies, HP said. Further, webOS' single integrated stack lets apps move between platforms.

The operating principles for the open source webOS project will be to accelerate the open development of the platform; to provide good, transparent and inclusive governance to avoid fragmentation; to provide software as a pure open source project; and to have HP as an active participant and investor in the project.

What's Going to Happen and When

It'll be a while before webOS is made available to the open source community at large.

"We have some proprietary code that we've got to get out of," HP's Greenblatt said. "It's only 11 pieces of code, and one of them is the database. Once we get that out, the base will go in and it'll be shortly contributed to open source."

The question of which open source organization will get webOS is "still under discussion," Greenblatt stated.

So is the question of which open source licensing protocol to adopt.

"We are looking at any license right now that basically provides copyleft so we get back any contributions from the open source community," Greenblatt explained.

Copyleft is the practice of using copyright law to offer the right to distribute copies of a work and its modifications freely while requiring that all modified and extended versions of the work are also free for distribution.

HP and WebOS Products

Whether HP will continue offering the TouchPad or other devices running on an open source version of webOS remains to be seen.

"We're hoping HP will be among the pool of people who will look at utilizing webOS," Greenblatt said, adding that "any manufacturer" will be able to use the platform.

WebOS has a Linux kernel, so it can run on any platform or device that runs Linux, or on any browser, because it runs Webkit, Greenblatt pointed out.

Will Open Source Keep webOS Alive?

HP's planned contribution of webOS to the open source community does not necessarily mean the platform will take off, or even survive.

"Sun [Microsystems] did a similar thing when they open sourced Solaris, but that didn't get much interest beyond the existing Solaris community," Pund-IT's King told LinuxInsider.

"A lot depends on what HP means by 'open source,' and what part it'll continue to play in managing webOS," he added.

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