A Hint Into HP’s Position on webOS Community Development

Some folks have been worried, and perhaps rightly so, that HP might squelch the open “hacker” nature of the webOS “homebrew” development community. After all, HP is a much larger company than Palm with seemingly more corporate interests and a much larger base of customers to support. Given the general distrust of large corporations (which this blog does not share, incidentally), some have assumed that HP will shut down the open access to the webOS core that has enabled efforts such as patching and overclocked kernels.

However, OSnews reports on HP’s generally positive attitude toward Linux and open source, which might bode well for the future of the unofficial webOS development that has been so popular among more technical Palm customers. In a nutshell:

Obviously HP has embraced the open-source model as far as being profitable goes– so many aspects of IT live off of it. Whether they like it or not, just about any company in the IT field has had to deal with open source; I personally don’t feel that HP has the attitude of having to deal with open source but rather getting to.

According to Garbee, HP has a somewhat unique approach to open source. HP participates not just by funding projects but truly getting their hands dirty as a direct open source member, collaboratively supporting existing community values and behaviors and developing even more robust enterprise capabilities. HP is especially unique in the open source field in that they have only ever used existing licences: HP has never created its own license. In addition, HP was an early contender in fighting license proliferation, or when pieces of software cannot be combined because their licences are incompatible. Finally, HP combines its efforts with Linux distributions in order to bring the most effective solutions for its customers.

None of this guarantees that HP won’t see reasons to close down webOS. Certainly, the existence of pirate sites that are giving away paid apps is of concern, and is made possible by the ability to put webOS into “developer’s mode” and install applications outside of the official channels. Also, HP may desire to maintain more control over the look and feel of webOS and avoid creating the perception of performance and other issues that can be caused by unauthorized patching and kernel substitutions.

But, given its roots as an engineering company founded in a garage, HP may recognize the value of such an informal “skunkworks” and see the efforts of the webOS homebrew community as ultimately pushing the envelope and pointing the way to constant improvements in the mobile OS. As OSnews reports, HP Open Source & Linux Chief Technologist Bdale Garbee had some very encouraging points to make regarding the value of open source to creating a vibrant platform:

He outlined the community development model (in his words: "no one company in charge; a range of contributors with varied interests, abilities, and motivations") and the freedom of choice ("users have flexibility in how they acquire support for open source technology; any user can become a developer or pay someone to develop or support… on their behalf; if ‘upstream’ ever behaves unacceptably, developers have the power to ‘fork’"). He said that, to profit while maintaining the openness of open source, HP needs to add unique value that customers want to pay for.

Hopefully, we can add this attitude toward open source to the litany of other great things that HP brings to Palm in making webOS the most exciting mobile platform.

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