So HP has decided to Open Source the Palm WebOS…
HP today announced it will contribute the webOS software to the open source community.
HP plans to continue to be active in the development and support of webOS. By combining the innovative webOS platform with the development power of the open source community, there is the opportunity to significantly improve applications and web services for the next generation of devices.
I wish I had more to say on this but in truth this announcement doesn’t tell us anything.
Here’s the problem. A lot of people think Open Source is a scenario where you build something, give it to the world, and the world embraces it from there. But It doesn’t really work that way.
Every successful open source project has one thing in common: a group of people who are dedicated to it. Who treat it more like a religion than a hobby and who work very, very hard to make it successful. Sometimes it’s an entire company (Think Android with Google), sometimes it’s a foundation (Mozilla) and sometimes it’s just a small group of people (Linux in the early days). But whatever the case open source projects need that push.
In many ways an Open Source Project boils down to the willpower of its backers. It is a physical manifestation of their dedication to accomplish the task it was built for.
So HP saying they’ll “engage the open source community to help define the charter of the open source project” tells us nothing. Are they going to keep a full time staff on it? Are they going to put money into a foundation for it? Do they have dedicated staff members who are still so in love with the platform they’ll work on it in their spare time?
Those are the questions that will define what happens next.
Which brings me to the other important thing behind every open source project: Purpose. For an open source project to succeed it has to fill a void. Linux provided a viable open OS, Mozilla provided an alternative to IE and Android provided an alternative to iOS. For WebOS to succeed it has to find a void to fill and right now they don’t have one. There’s already a popular open mobile OS and a popular open desktop OS.
If I were a WebOS supporter I’d focus on the platform itself. The one thing WebOS did better than anyone was to create a platform for web applications that could function like native apps. They should ditch the underlying plumbing and treat WebOS as a Linux shell (it basically is a very developed Linux shell). Use WebOS to create what ChromeOS should have been: a Web based OS without native applications that is fully functional.
That’s a void that needs to be filled (and because you could adapt existing web applications to it you’d have a good chance of getting support.