Thursday, September 20, 2012

State of Affairs

So, what exactly has been going on with HP and webOS? This artcile, written (mostly) by Neil Ballard, explains. 

In December, HP announced a plan to contribute webOS to the Open Source Community. For many, this was HP's best opportunity to gain a meaningful foothold in the increasingly competitive mobile space. What Palm realised was that a thriving developer community was crucial to any mobile OS success and this strategy was thoroughly engaged. Now, with HP's release of the fundamental framework of webOS into the Open Source world, HP has invited developers to become involved more than ever to help rejuvenate the platform. HP laid out a set of operating principles for their roadmap:

  • The goal of the project is to accelerate the open development of the webOS platform.
  • HP will be an active participant and investor in the project
  • Good, transparent and inclusive governance to avoid fragmentation 
  • Software will be provided as a pure open source project

Now, we are in September, the month of the highly-anticipated release of Open webOS 1.0, and HP has been true to their word in releasing core components of the webOS framework into the Open Source community.

January saw the initial open source release of Enyo 1.0, and also, Enyo 2.0's core, the foundation for future Enyo development as a beta. These initial releases whet the appetite of many developers, allowing them to showcase the power of the Enyo framework and its broad compatibility, be it mobile or desktop.

Roll on to February, and the commitments continued. Extensions to QtWebKit, Isis (HP’s modified QtWebKit-based browser), the integration with the Javascript core and UI Enyo widgets fortified webOS' standards-based web development opportunities. The release of these components enabled developers to create an immersive user environment that can be built on any web platform.

As we headed into March, HP remained faithful to their commitment and we were met with a bumper set of releases throughout the month. The QtWebKit framework expanded to incorporate a vast library of components crucial for media and graphics compatibility, which gave developers the ability to work with the most immersive and robust graphics and audio possible. The first of the major underlying technology allowing webOS to run on hardware (Nyx) was also released to allow communicating with the Linux Standard Kernel, Version 3.3. Not only that, but HP also released the database engine used in webOS (DB8), and Novacom, the necessary tool required for hardware communication via USB. As a bonus, HP also released some components from webOS 3.0.5, the latest release of webOS used on the HP TouchPad.

April came and so did more lines of code for Open webOS. The support for Node.js and updates to Enyo and Ares were released. Ares is the "first mobile development environment hosted entirely in a browser, lowering the barriers for web developers to jump into mobile development". In addition, a bonus treat was the release of Luna, the System Manager, two months ahead of schedule. Unexpectedly, HP delivered another bonus release in the form of webOS CE, the community edition. The open source version of webOS 3.0.5 allowed users to “modify your TouchPad experience and then apply that learning to Open webOS 1.0 in the future."  Already, the webOS Ports team released ‘LunaCE’ (pronounced ‘lunacy’). What is LunaCE? In a nutshell, it is the LunaSysMgr from webOS 3.0.5 released in a single package, containing both bug fixes and new features. For a more detailed description, click the link above. It is, however, in beta, so take the precautionary steps here to install it.

Right on time, July saw the release of Enyo 2.0 into production from beta status. While Enyo 1.0 only worked on webOS devices, Enyo 2.0 comfortably works on any device with a modern browser. Bringing the Onyx user interface to web applications that can run on almost any operating system invites developers to investigate what can be achieved with Enyo 2.0.

Last month, HP just made their deadline for the August release of the Open webOS Beta. The webOS team spent countless hours and lines of code (well, not completely countless: over 450,000 lines) to keep their promise of this Beta release to the public. It includes 54 different webOS components and two separate builds to use! If you are an ambitious developer, you can hit up the Github to download and build it on your desktop/laptop running Ubuntu. Sorry for you average users out there; this is a beta, after all.

So, now with the Beta of Open webOS out in the wild on various desktops, and with the Community Edition of 3.0.5 running as LunaCE on many TouchPads, where is webOS headed? We're now in September, which means the countdown to the release of Open webOS 1.0 has begun. But there is something else brewing at HP concerning webOS. Some may feel this is a terrific thing, whereas some feel this is HP’s way of abandoning webOS without taking the blame. This ‘thing’ is GRAM. Gram is claiming to be a new company that will focus on the core strengths of webOS, Enyo, and a variety of Cloud offerings. But the internal email found in the previously posted link says that Gram is in ‘Stealth Mode,’ and in stealth mode they are. There hasn't been much information concerning this company since, other than a registered domain for There’s not thing there. Yet. Actually, the only details that we have are that they are making shirts and bags

Where does all of this leave our beloved OS? webOS itself currently sits in a position where a sort of Application Market ecosystem exists but without any new hardware in the near future. This limits the user base of webOS to the actual number of already existing in the general public. And with the limited production run of HP TouchPads and Pre 3s, the benchmark devices have become quite a rarity. The cancellation of any future webOS hardware created the lack of this fundamental ingredient that exploits webOS’ true capabilities in the mobile market place. It is precisely this predicament which divides the attraction for developers– an ability to “write once, run everywhere” by embracing the Enyo framework as the basis of their future web-based application development, but no native device to fully exploit the power of the underlying software the framework was built for. Yet, that is the beauty of the Enyo framework. It was built from the ground up to enable cross-platform development eliminates the dependency on OS specific hardware.

There is no doubt that HP’s decision in making a transition to Open Source has been welcomed by developers and fans alike, and it is with hope that once Open webOS becomes available, the issue of of not having dedicated hardware capable of running the OS will become less of a problem.             

It’s true that as the time of Open webOS release draws nearer, there is a sense of excitement and buzz surrounding the OS. The release of this very magazine is a small testament to the underlying community support behind webOS. Whilst the giant big blues of this world remain cautious on their position in divulging resources into the OS, the heart of webOS its developers and community still beats, loud and proud.

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