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HP Releases More Details on the Open Sourcing of webOS

This morning, HP gave further details of its contribution of the webOs platform to the open source community. I find these details and the timeline associated with the release to be positive developments, both for Linux and for the wider mobile markets.

The WebOS stack represents a rich set of components that combined together create a comprehensive platform for mobile devices. The highlight of today’s announcement has to be the open sourcing of Enyo, the application framework for webOS. This is a powerful framework that app developers can use to build applications that will work across different platforms including iOS, Android, webOS and so on.

Companies announce open sourcing products and projects all the time. There are several decisions HP executives made in this process that I think signal they are on the right track:

  • webOS is moving to the mainline Linux kernel. This saves any device maker service and support costs since it will eliminate much of the custom code those companies need to support. They have committed considerable resources to working with the upstream project, which will insure their Linux investment will last.
  • Open sourcing Enyo, instead of keeping some components closed source, will ensure that the complete stack is available with no lock-in by HP. While this enables competitors to literally take the R&D HP has invested in this product and use it to target other platforms, it also ensures that device manufacturers and app developers can make full use of the whole stack; thus increasing the changes that webOs may be adopted and used in products.
  • By using the Apache 2.0 license, HP has smartly decided to use a standard and well respected license, instead of something unique, niche or proprietary. Everyone understands the terms of the Apache license, thus cutting down on the requirements for education or promotion.
  • By using and contributing to core upstream Linux projects, HP is hedging its investment. Contributions of code that make Linux more power efficient will not only help them in mobile but also in the data center where power and cooling are central costs.

While there are clearly other open source solutions in the mobile space with Android and Tizen, choice is always good in technology. By using a mainline kernel, this announcement is also good for Linux, since any work HP and others contribute to webOS (think power management, device driver support, etc) can end up benefiting all Linux users. And by “all” I mean all, not just those using a phone running Android. Since server and desktop Linux users also use the mainline kernel all can benefit from this work.

Will webOS be successful? That of course remains to be seen. I will be watching, like everyone else, for announcements of device support. But by making smart early and crucial decisions like this, the project has a much better chance of succeeding.


From CES: Will HTML5 Threaten the Closed World of the App Store?

Last week I attended the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. A few years ago CES was not on my calendar as a “must-attend” show. While there has been Linux in play in consumer devices for many years, only in the last few years has Linux become a fundamental building block of virtually all major consumer electronics segments, from mobile phones to televisions to stereo equipment to automobiles. CES is now an event I simply can’t miss.

This year I was struck by the shifting nature of software ecosystems. On one hand you had Steve Ballmer and Steven Elop repeating over and over how Microsoft and Nokia will be the "third ecosystem" to Apple and Android’s already successful ones. I find it ironic that what Ballmer means when he says he wants “to build the strong third ecosystem in the smartphone market” is that Microsoft and Nokia really want to be well, Microsoft and Nokia again. Except this time in third place. We all know that the rise and hold of Microsoft’s desktop domination was driven not by technology superiority but by the “ecosystem,” the availability of applications and peripherals supporting that operating system (OS), and only that OS. Microsoft and Nokia would like to return to that world with their mobile platforms. As Elop said, “We believe the industry has shifted form a battle of devices to a war of ecosystems.”

But are they too late? Will ecosystems really matter as much in the world of HTML5?

Let’s be honest. HTML5 is really just another way to say “the Internet,” and when it comes to breaking "ecosystem" lock in there have been fewer better mechanisms than the Internet. With HTML5, developers can target multiple platforms with their applications, making silo’ed app stores less important than they are today. Imagine a world where developers can use new tools to publish their apps to the Android, Apple, Amazon and “whatever else” store with one click. No 30 percent revenue share if they don’t want it. No proprietary programming interfaces. That is the promise of the Internet.

AT&T has made a huge bet on HTML5. Even Apple promotes HTML5 and touts that every Apple mobile device, every new Mac, every new version of Safari, will support it. As they say, "These web standards are open, reliable, highly secure, and efficient. Standards aren't add-ons to the web. They are the web."

A new developer survey out this week shows three quarters of developers are planning HTML5 projects. And, why wouldn't thye? The promise of "write once, run everywhere" has always been incredibly alluring for any developer who wants the widest possible market for her or her apps.

I believe that HTML5 will be begin to be very important in 2012 and will make great strides in leveling the playing field away from the largest two mobile ecosystems. I also think it will help Android, since Android on other devices, like TVs, are also prone to application ecosystem fragmentation. As Wired Magazine says in their discussion of ecosystem wars in the (Android) television market, “This trepidation around rallying around a common platform is troublesome for consumers, who ultimately just want to use apps that work.”

HTML5 could deliver that experience and fuel a truly open mobile world where ecosystems won’t matter quite so much. Of course the hardware vendors must support and enable those standards, and to do that they must see it as in their best interest. They must embrace HTML5 as a way to enhance their platform and reduce the costs of building and supporting a software ecosystem. While some see closed app stores as a way to differentiate and generate revenue in a tight margin business, I personally feel that the wisdom of the Internet, along with vendor opportunities for revenues (such as in-app transactions) will win. Only time will tell.


Welcome Tizen to The Linux Foundation

Today we are welcoming a new project hosted at The Linux Foundation. Tizen is a Linux-based, open source platform designed to address the future of HTML5-based applications across a variety of device types. We think the project has a lot of potential, both for its technology and the major players it has involved in it.

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What We Know For Sure on Linux's 20th Anniversary

Twenty years ago today Linux creator Linus Torvalds posted a message online that would change the world:

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Who Says You Can’t Make Money with Open Source?

This week yet another major global IT vendor will launch a product based on Linux - the HP Touchpad, which looks quite promising from early reviews. Even so, it is ironic that I still hear the following comment from a number of investors and business people:

“Open source is great, but you can’t make any money with it.”

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