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.

HP Produces More Of A Discontinued Product

John Gruber questions the point of HP’s decision to do a final run of TouchPad manufacturing. I’ll propose a likely theory:

iSuppli says the Bill of Materials for an iPad 2 (32 GB GSM) is 336.60 when you add in manufacturing. That same iPad retails for $729.00. This is common sense. There’s R&D, marketing, shipping, and of course profit. Keep this in mind. The retail price is not the break even. It’s a profit. HP is selling their Touchpad’s at $99 and $149 I believe, for 16 GB and 32 GB respectively. A loss, but not quite as substantial as comparing to retail pricing would lead you to believe.

Secondly, it’s important to keep in mind that costs aren’t incurred as products are produced. Supply chains often require commitments. HP likely spent considerable funds securing the parts for the Touchpad. They also spent money tooling the factory. This money is already spent. Contracts were signed (they might be able to get out if they pay a penalty + accept some bad will with vendors they may need in the future). Costs that exist regardless of their decision. This is like selling tickets to a sports event you can’t attend at a loss, because it’s better than being stuck with tickets you can’t use and being out 100% of the cost.

I suspect the primary purposes of this last production batch are as follows:

  • HP already incurred the majority of the cost with R&D, parts, etc. Using up the inventory they have is a way to recoup some of these funds, vs. selling back to the vendors or finding other interested parties. Given it’s a mobile device, parts may even have been custom fabricated to meet the specs and confined space.
  • HP wants to preserve it’s relationship with it’s supply chain.
  • HP isn’t giving up on tablets, they are giving up on WebOS tablets. Might as well get some tablets out there and find out how the hardware does in the wild so building v2 with new software can learn from v1. Again, most of the costs were already incurred.
  • HP isn’t (officially) giving up on WebOS, they are just giving up on WebOS tablets. Until they figure out what to do with it, either license to someone, use on other products, spin it off might as well keep the ecosystem alive so it retains some value. HP invested a lot of money in it. HP has almost 600 employees on it. Loosing a little more cash on hardware to keep demand in the ecosystem up for a few months may not be a bad investment.

Overall, it seems surprisingly logical to produce another batch. It costs HP a lot of money to cancel the product so quickly. They are taking the loss regardless. Might as well try and reap some rewards and recoup some cash from it.

Bestselling Laptops

Mark Pilgrim has a great picture of the top laptops on Amazon.com right now. What I found interesting is that the first Windows laptop is #6 (and no it’s not running an Intel), The #1 and #2 goes to Mac OS X and Linux.

  1. Apple Macbook 13″ (2.4GHz)
  2. Asus Eee 4G 7″ (900MHz)
  3. Asus Eee 4G Surf 7″ (800MHz)
  4. Apple Macbook 13″ (2.4GHz)
  5. Apple Macbook 13″ (2GHz)
  6. HP Pavilion DV2740SE 14.1″ (2Ghz AMD Turion 64 X 2)

Taking a look at the competition it’s pretty clear why. The Times They Are A-Changin’.

That new 9″ Asus Eee looks pretty nice. What would be ideal is if they made the 7″ with a higher resolution and kept the price the same. 9″ is a little large for this class of mobile computing.

Recycle Old Ink Cartridges

I noticed this yesterday when looking up what model ink cartridges I needed to order. HP will send postage-paid envelopes for ink cartridges to be recycled. I ordered several which should last a while and hopefully will get then in a few days.

They don’t advertise it too well, but it’s not a bad program. So if you have a HP printer send them back. Boxes are available for businesses who go through a lot of ink.