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Summary:

After buying webOS and Palm for $1.2 billion, HP pulled the plug and open-sourced the platform. The first fruits of that labor are appearing as multiple devices are getting ports of the new Open webOS, keeping Palm’s excellent mobile operating system alive for many fans.

HP webOS
photo: HP

True to its word, HP released version 1 of the Open webOS software for mobile devices before the end of September. A beta version was available for months prior, but this edition, released last Friday, includes support for the Enyo development framework so that developers can create JavaScript apps for devices running the new platform. Open webOS software is the direct descendant of Palm’s webOS, which HP bought in 2010 for $1.2 billion and effectively shut down the platform after disappointing HP TouchPad reviews and sales.

When HP decided to open source some of its webOS assets, I wondered what might become of the effort. Clearly, I wasn’t thinking enough of the tinkerers out there that port software to new smartphones and tablets because those very folks have wasted no time in getting Open webOS on at least three devices already.

The low-cost Raspberry Pi — a small, $35 computer with an ARM chip and various other input/output components — is already running on the Open webOS platform, courtesy of an enthusiast known as “aaa801.” The system boots into a terminal console on the Raspberry Pi as there wasn’t a user interface available at the time of the project. But HP surely has an interface: The company ported Open webOS to an HP SmartTouch computer, building a desktop-like version of the webOS environment:

Galaxy Nexus running Open webOSNeed more proof that webOS is gaining a second, third or fourth life? The versatile Galaxy Nexus smartphone already has a working port, although hardware acceleration isn’t up to speed. As a result, the operating system isn’t what I’d call usable by a typical smartphone user. But it looks nice – see the video here — and shows what could have been had HP maintained its hardware efforts from the Palm purchase. HP has recently said it would be getting back into the mobile market, but my suspicion is that it will do so with Microsoft Windows Phone as the primary system.

Last up — for now, anyway — are reports of the Asus Transformer Prime being the latest Open webOS device: The Android tablet has a work-in-progress version of Open webOS that sounds promising, mainly because the Prime has a keyboard dock to go with the touchscreen tablet. Again, like the other ports, there’s a ways to go before folks can easily install the new platform on a Prime and run it without fear of crashes or other issues. Still, progress is being made in short order.

So what’s to be gained here for fans of Open webOS? I’m thinking of a system that’s similar to Google Android in that it can easily be tweaked and installed as people see fit but without the backing of carriers. That second point is a good one in my eyes. Carriers still have an abundance of control over which mobile devices and platforms are supported. If Open webOS maintains or increases its momentum, it could be the platform where users are in control. Not the majority of users, of course — most people still like supported ecosystems and devices — but for a select group, Open webOS will continue to live on and on.

  1. Absolutely love the title. It’s awesome when tech nerdom and fantasy nerdom collide!

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  2. Stefan Etienne Monday, October 1, 2012

    Great title!

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