What you can learn from the rise and fall of WebOS

Om Malik talks with Michael Abbott of Twitter at Mobilize 2011

Om Malik talks with Michael Abbott of Twitter at Mobilize 2011WebOS has had its fair share of ups and downs. The mobile operating system was developed by Palm in 2008. In the spring of 2010, Hewlett-Packard acquired Palm and soon said it would put WebOS to work in its iPad rival, the Touchpad tablet. But in August 2011, just one month after the Touchpad’s launch, HP announced plans to discontinue the Touchpad and all other WebOS devices. The WebOS technology is now up for sale, and its future is uncertain.

But there are still good lessons that can be learned from WebOS’ journey, says Michael Abbott, the former Palm executive who led the development of WebOS before joining Twitter as VP of engineering in May 2010. In an onstage conversation with Om Malik Tuesday at GigaOM’s Mobilize conference in San Francisco, Abbott said that he remains proud of his work on the WebOS platform and cited a few key takeaways from what’s happened with the technology.

  • With the right team, less can really be more. “Having a small, very focused team, a relatively small team, you can do a lot in a very short period of time,” Abbott said. “The majority of WebOS was developed in a year, by that was done by people who worked incredibly long hours to get that done.”
  • Tear down the development walls. WebOS ran into problems partially because the software was developed so independently of the hardware devices it was meant to run on, Abbott said. “When you develop both software and hardware and you bring it together, it’s important that all that’s done in concert. That’s one of the key lessons for me.”
  • A software project’s legacy can have a life after death. WebOS itself is still on the block, and it could well be acquired by another tech firm. But even if the operating system itself does not live on, aspects of it almost certainly will. “There were novel things we were doing around notifications, and how you could enable a notification to not distract what you were currently doing,” Abbott said, noting that he could see that being influential on how future technologies are developed. “I’m still hopeful. I’m an optimist. But we’ll see.”

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