With the major changes HP experienced this past August, the future of its webOS mobile operating system became unclear. At the time, the company effectively pulled the plug on its own webOS-based products, and admitted that it didn’t know what it was to do with the software from there-on-out. The final decision took a lot longer to arrive than we anticipated, but I think it was worth the wait: webOS is going open source.
This announcement has been met with mixed reaction, but for the open source community, this is a big deal. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, webOS has true potential to become a proper Android competitor, and for the sake of the consumer good, that’s something we need. Though Android seemed to be as open as could be at the get-go, it’s reached a point where consumers still don’t have enough control over their OS. Look no further than the recent Carrier IQ debacle to appreciate the reasons why.
Whereas Android’s source code is for the most part closed to public input, webOS in its open-sourced likeness won’t be. Once all of the appropriate code is released to the wild, we’ll have perhaps the most flexible mobile-friendly OS yet. The benefit with webOS is that it has been built from the ground-up to be used on mobile devices, and to be cloud-friendly. Meg says it best:
We looked at all the options in the market today and we see a clear need for a platform that is both open and has a single integrated stack.
webOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected, and scalable. By providing webOS to the open source community and other hardware vendors we have the potential to fundamentally change the landscape.
There are certain caveats to be aware of, however. Though HP is vowing full backing support of the OS, it’s going to be hard to compete with Google, which has had its Android OS become the most-used in the smartphone market. There’s also the aspect of the app store – who’s going to be responsible for that? If the platform is open-source, then we’re likely to have multiple options, which is going to be far more complex than Google’s simple Android Market or Apple’s App Store.
webOS also needs vendor support, and that’s going to be difficult to attain with the OS as it is now. Software is one thing, but for webOS to succeed, we need vendors like HP, HTC, ASUS and so forth to create their own devices using the OS. Once that happens, we might well see webOS become a true competitor to Android – and given its openness, that’d be amazing.