On webOS Going Open Source

webOS is going open source. I’ll start by saying I’m rooting for webOS. I’m skeptical webOS will have much success given the announcement. An OS is a huge undertaking. A mobile OS is even more difficult.

Define “open source”

The press release says “underlying code of webOS available under an open source license”. Technically Apple can say the same thing with OS X and iOS*. Working on or with an OS is an investment. A very large investment. If it’s not complete or nearly complete, it’s not going to fly. Similarly unless the license is free enough, it’s not worth the investment. It sounds like it will be pretty inclusive and liberally licensed (Apache could be a good choice), but until that happens, I wouldn’t place any bets. Especially with HP’s seemingly bizarre behavior lately.

Ecosystem/Community

Building an ecosystem and community around that is going to be tough. Years ago with no competition except a stale IE. AOL gave $2M US Dollars to start the Mozilla Foundation and that had open source legs for years already under Netscape. While few people knew of “Mozilla” and even “Firefox” both in name and concept were a while away, it was a popular browser on Linux and in some more technical crowds. webOS is starting off against Google Android. Google has resources. Google isn’t Microsoft in this story. Google won’t be Microsoft.

Mozilla was also “just” a browser with much less surface area than a mobile OS. By that I mean hardware and dealing with the Linux community intricacies. Releasing the source alone won’t do it. HP reportedly had about 500 engineers working on webOS. That’s the type of effort it takes. Google puts substantial resources behind Android.

Lastly, people don’t install open source OS’s on their phones. They don’t install any OS’s on their phones except upgrades. That means hardware partners are critical for any viability. Hardware vendors already have deals and plans with Google. This is going to be tough to penetrate. Mozilla never had much luck getting desktops to ship with Firefox. The vast majority of users choose Firefox. On desktops, at least for now that is an option. On mobile hardware that’s not generally the case.

Even if someone comes up with a way to root and “upgrade” Android and/or iPhone devices to run webOS, you can be sure hardware vendors and mobile providers will be in front of Congress the next morning to outlaw the practice and stop it (or claim it’s “wiretapping”). Given the money behind App Stores and mobile payments, which is already a mess, there’s too much money there. These “rogue” devices could be banned from major networks if it got traction.

I’d love to see it survive and thrive. I’d love to see a PC like community of hardware vendors. But it’s going to be an uphill battle.

More than likely, pieces will be taken and strapped to Android as a HTML5 based Adobe Air like platform for building/deploying apps. It may also find some use in non-mobile purposes from entertainment devices to home alarms. As more devices become ARM based computers vs. microcontrollers, webOS like Android could be a way to get started building an interface. I see that as being more likely than continuing as a mobile OS.

A successful open source project takes a lot more than most give it credit for. Source alone doesn’t do it. It’s the community and ecosystem that sustains a project, not a tarball.

* I’d consider Android half open considering it does source dumps and develops largely in private.

Anyone else think some dev’s don’t blog enough

I say this because all to often, Ben Goodger’s checkin’s make me curious 😉

XPInstall UI… Not done just yet but getting closer.

That’s about all we see. No screenshots, no blogging.

Some of the Bugzilla bugs are rather vague as to whats being done. Not to much details. IMHO it would be nice to start seeing some more documentation of the day to day changes, in more understandable terms. The Burning Edge is a great website for day to day stuff, but not to much information on each thing. Just a mention.

Not a “complaint”, or a “criticism”, or intended to start a flame war, or a giant thread over at Mozillazine . It’s purely intended as a suggestion for anyone looking for a good way to unite the community a bit.

I think since the Mozilla Foundation formed, the communication went down a bit. Not sure if that’s because more contributions are coming from remote computers, rather than Netscape. Or perhaps it’s pure overload of work over at Mozilla Foundation Headquarters as Asa notes.

In any regard, I hope after the holidays, when things settle down a bit, we see some more. First David Hyatt got sporadic with posting, then many followed.

I’d say one of the best sources right now is Henrik Germal’s Blog. A real quality job in keeping everyone informed on what’s what.

Mozillazine is of course great as well, but not as nitty gritty on the dev work as Henrik can be. With good reason, they tend to orient more toward the general community, rather than the ubergeeks.