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Insiders Call HP's WebOS Software Fatally Flawed

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the some-terms-here-seem-non-parallel dept.

Businesses 191

Hugh Pickens writes "Some of the people involved in creating WebOS, the HP TouchPad's core software, now say the product never had a fighting chance because it relied on WebKit, an open-source software engine used by browsers to display Web pages, that just didn't have the horsepower to run fast enough to be on par with the iPhone. 'Palm was ahead of its time in trying to build a phone software platform using Web technology, and we just weren't able to execute such an ambitious and breakthrough design,' says Paul Mercer, who oversaw the interface design of WebOS and recruited crucial members of the team. 'Perhaps it never could have been executed because the technology wasn't there yet.' Another problem was the difficulty in finding programmers who had a keen understanding of WebKit as Apple and Google snatched up most of the top talent including Matias Duarte, vice president of human interface and user experience for WebOS, who left for Google a month after HP's acquisition of Palm. 'When he left, the vacuum was just palpable. What you're seeing is frankly a bunch of fourth- and fifth-stringers jumping onto WebOS in the wake of Duarte's leaving.' CEO Meg Whitman has announced that HP will release the WebOS code for anyone to use, similar to Google's open-source strategy with Android, but some say WebKit will still leave WebOS underpowered relative to Apple's software."

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191 comments

Am I missing something? (4, Informative)

dnaumov (453672) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562564)

But doesn't Apple's Mobile Safari used the very same WebKit?

Re:Am I missing something? (5, Informative)

Dupple (1016592) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562576)

Yes it does, but Safari is not an operating system. That's what you're missing

Re:Am I missing something? (5, Informative)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562754)

Yes it does, but Safari is not an operating system. That's what you're missing

But what you seem to be missing is that the idea that an entire OS can be written using WebKit is absurd. Are WebOS's device drivers and filesystem written in JavaScript?

WebOS uses WebKit to render its user interface -- the same way Safari, Chrome, Opera, the Android browser, the BlackBerry browser, the Symbian browser, etc., all do. From this article, you'd think all of those products should be failures.

I think it more likely that the reporter is quoting sour grapes from a former WebOS manager who blames tools and frameworks for his projects failure. Quoting elsewhere in the same article:

From concept to creation, WebOS was developed in about nine months, this person said, and the company took some shortcuts. With a project like this, programmers typically start by creating the equivalent of building blocks that can be reused and combined to create different applications. But with WebOS, Palm employees initially constructed each app from scratch. Later, they made such blocks, but they were overhauled once by Palm and then again by H.P., forcing programmers to relearn how to build WebOS apps.

Ah. I see.

Re:Am I missing something? (4, Informative)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562800)

*WebOS uses WebKit to render its user interface* and you compare that to web browsers, where it's reasonable to use the webkit to build the favorite pages menus and such. and that's exactly what the bitching is about. iphone doesn't render the whole ui using webkit. neither does android or symbian. for none of those it's a preferred ui building kit anyways(nokia did run some pr that webruntime would become a standard way of doing apps for nokia's, but it was mostly pr bullshit as the product itself didn't live up to the hype).

Re:Am I missing something? (3, Insightful)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562864)

*WebOS uses WebKit to render its user interface* and you compare that to web browsers, where it's reasonable to use the webkit to build the favorite pages menus and such.

Why is it reasonable to render the UIs of Web apps using WebKit but unreasonable to render any other kind of UI using WebKit? Your objection doesn't make any sense. If WebKit is totally unsuitable for rendering UIs then Web-based apps must be unusable on iOS, Android, and BlackBerry, all of which use WebKit to render Web UIs. I don't understand the artificial distinction you're creating between "Web UI" and "every other kind of UI."

Explain to me this: In all of the (presumably many) times you have used a WebOS device, has the performance of the UI been your #1 complaint? What didn't you like about the UI on WebOS?

Re:Am I missing something? (0, Flamebait)

jo42 (227475) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563006)

Why is it reasonable to render the UIs of Web apps using WebKit but unreasonable to render any other kind of UI using WebKit?

Performance, dumbass. C (or C++) based OpenGL (i.e. iOS) will always run circles around WebKit rendering HTML (i.e. WebOS).

Re:Am I missing something? (0)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563030)

Performance, dumbass. C (or C++) based OpenGL (i.e. iOS) will always run circles around WebKit rendering HTML (i.e. WebOS).

Riiiight. And you say that as an experienced developer, yes? Because A.) I have never heard of the UI of a handheld application requiring significant processor resources; and B.) I have never heard anyone complain about the performance of the WebOS UI. But yeah, C is "faster" than JavaScript, that took a lot of brain cells on your part.

Re:Am I missing something? (1)

binarylarry (1338699) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563086)

WebKit isn't written in JavaScript. It's written in C++, so your earlier analogy doesn't make any sense.

Javascript integration is a separate feature that isn't even core to WebKit (which is why you see Chrome using V8, Firefox using *monkey and Safari using their latest JS JIT/interpreter).

Re:Am I missing something? (3, Insightful)

dave420 (699308) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563290)

Performance doesn't always equal "significant processor resources", fyi. The argument seems to be somewhat above you. As an owner and user of Android, iOS, and WebOS, I can assure you that WebOS did indeed suffer from great performance issues in the UI, such as a lack of response, and an almost complete disability to integrate nicely with the more complicated aspects of the platform's hardware.

Re:Am I missing something? (1)

RCL (891376) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563320)

Just compare user experience of Google Documents with Excel or even Libre/Open Office (the latter one apparently uses Java, but even with Java it performs better than GD). As a benchmark, try to use Google Docs to load, edit (copy/paste, etc) and visualize (graph) 25 000 lines long CSV file (each line containing only pair of two numbers, e.g. timestamp and a sampled value).

Don't underestimate the power of native UI ;-)

Re:Am I missing something? (3, Insightful)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563424)

I have never heard of the UI of a handheld application requiring significant processor resources

Graphical rendering of your screen is most processor-intensive part of the unit. It's why iPhones and iPads have a dedicated GPU [wikipedia.org] What - you think those page wipes and zooming were done by the main cpu? That would be a cpu made with unobtainium.

Re:Am I missing something? (4, Informative)

FyRE666 (263011) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563656)

"I have never heard of the UI of a handheld application requiring significant processor resources"

Guessing you've never played any games that were more demanding than Angry Birds then. The fact is that WebKit is fine for rending web content, but developers need lower level access to get the performance required for non-web apps.Even if the device could just about grind along at a reasonable pace using a WebKit based version of a native app, the fact the processor is working a lot harder will lead to much shorter battery life, and in some cases the device becoming noticably warm.

Web-based interfaces on mobile devices are find for simple apps with mostly static content, but for a nice responsive and efficient UI then native (or at least a fast virtual machine) is required.

Re:Am I missing something? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563068)

the ui's on webos could have been made vastly different, had the design choices been different. they might have had a normal widget homescreen etc.

it's not unreasonable to use "web technologies" to build some ui's, but it's never optimal and you limit yourself from doing lots of things and make lots of other things complex to achieve.

most 3rd party "cool" sw for webos seem to use sdl anyways.

a web browser that uses web technology to render it's favorites, settings etc views for example, those ui views are relatively simple. but using html + js to build a drawing application would be just suicide.

Re:Am I missing something? (1)

gbjbaanb (229885) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563254)

and, of course, if "browser" based UIs are truly poor, then I don't hold out much hope for Windows 8.

Re:Am I missing something? (2)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563372)

Because WebKit is stil broken for some basic functionality, like applying CSS3 transforms after scaling at a factor of less than 1:1 - something that Firefox, Opera, and even IE9 get right..

It's one thing to have a web browser that needs to scale at less than 1:1 - you can call the OS to handle it. But what if the web browser IS the OS? Then you are, as some slashdotters would put it, boned.

Re:Am I missing something? (3, Interesting)

chrb (1083577) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562896)

iPhone web apps [apple.com] do use webkit to render the UI though. Are web apps too slow to be usable as a result of this? Did users complain that WebOS was too slow? And if so, was it really slow because of webkit? This article [thenextweb.com] clearly blames the hardware rather than the software, stating that WebOS itself ran twice as fast on iPad level hardware. And if WebOS was too slow to be usable, then how come everyone raved about it once they dropped the price? Very few people are so enthusiastic about platforms that are so "fatally flawed". Was it all just marketing hubris?

Re:Am I missing something? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38563108)

iPad 2 hardware is roughly comparable to other tablets. Apple is one of the primary developers of Webkit, though, so you can expect the iOS version of Webkit to be very well optimized. AFAIK those iOS-specific optimizations are not open source.

webOS became a lot faster after the first patch release. IMHO it was usable even before the patch, but the real problem was that it just wasn't as polished as the iPad 2 yet HP still tried to charge $500 for it. Even Android tablets had trouble competing with Apple at that price point, and Android can at least boast a respectible app market (although tablet-optimized apps are still terribly lacking).

Re:Am I missing something? (1)

justforgetme (1814588) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563610)

Using webKit to render UI is technically brilliant. It's only drawback is that the process isn't as CPU efficient as is commanding C libs directly (AFAIK iOS and android do this) due to the added abstraction. Definitely universal rendering frameworks is the correct way to go, unfortunately webOS was a half effort endeavor and therefore never got the hardware to make it shine, nor did it get the performance optimization it deserved.

Anyway, now that it is going to be open sourced someone will come up with a way to accelerate the webKit renderer and lay the foundations for what is going to become the next generation of small device OSes.

Re:Am I missing something? (1)

chrb (1083577) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562930)

Can we please use the correct terminology? Webkit is not an operating system. An application launcher is not an operating system. A graphical desktop is not an operating system.

Re:Am I missing something? (2)

pmontra (738736) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563100)

Don't be too hash on them, this site is about news for geeks but anybody can register and comment ;-)

Re:Am I missing something? (4, Informative)

SharkLaser (2495316) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562584)

The browser uses, of course. But they're talking about the whole OS. WebOS is supposed to work fully using WebKit to render it. iOS doesn't render the UI and apps with web browser.

Re:Am I missing something? (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563698)

Win8 is also using the browser as "app platform" (as one of the options, though). We'll see if it truly is not viable, or if HP just did it wrong.

Re:Am I missing something? (2)

Wordplay (54438) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562592)

I expect it's forked pretty heavily for customization and optimization purposes. If HP couldn't get good WebKit talent, they'd have been stuck with something much closer to vanilla performance.

I can also see not wanting to adopt the same platform if your hardware isn't competitive.

Re:Am I missing something? (1)

SharkLaser (2495316) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562602)

I can't understand why they didn't try to work with Opera tho. Opera Software has years of experience in embedded systems, mobile phones, Wii, hotel tv's... They have the tech and knowledge.

HP's management must really suck, basically. (1)

Medievalist (16032) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562984)

What I get out of this is that it's impossible for anyone with real talent to work productively for the people in charge of HP's WebOS.

Opera's guys have major talent, as you pointed out, so they'd probably be unable to work with them either.

Re:Am I missing something? (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562606)

Obviously you're missing that 'The best engineers at HP' couldn't understand that not only is Webkit the same rendering backend as Apple's, but it's also the same rendering backend as Linux's competitor to Firefox, and fast enough even on 15 year old hardware to offer an acceptable if not speedy experience. So given the specs of the WebOS devices it is most certainly fast enough to compete with Apple's solutions. Now mind you they might've f'd it up somewhere else in the chain, or not understood it well enough to make rendering optimizations that would give it that 'real time' feel, but all that is on them, not Webkit.

Re:Am I missing something? (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562726)

Eh, no. Firefox uses Gecko.

Safari and Chrome use WebKit.

Re:Am I missing something? (1)

Stewie241 (1035724) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562902)

I didn't see him claim Firefox used Gecko, though he was vague in regards to what browser he actually was referring to. My guess would be either Konqueror, which probably had a bigger market share in the past, or Google Chrome, but it would be hard to call that Linux's competitor to Firefox, though it probably is the major alternative to Firefox on the Linux desktop.

Re:Am I missing something? (1)

NemosomeN (670035) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563070)

He didn't claim Firefox used Gecko (it does), he did claim that Linux's competitor to Firefox used WebKit. Konqueror is where WebKit came from, but I'd hardly call it a competitor. I wouldn't call it anything more than KDE systems' default browser. I highly doubt many linux users actually use it as anything more than a fallback.

Re:Am I missing something? (1)

Stewie241 (1035724) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563342)

Bah. I meant Webkit when I said Gecko. I think I alluded to everything you said in my post, which may have been clearer had I not substituted the word Gecko when I meant webkit. But I fully agree, that nobody seems to use Konqueror anymore.

Re:Am I missing something? (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563506)

he did claim that Linux's competitor to Firefox used WebKit

Of course, the REAL fail is thinking that there's such a thing as "the linux browser". Linus Torvalds doesn't make browsers, and there are plenty of "Linux browsers" out there. Arora (QT4), Chrome, Galeon, Firefox, Konq, links, lynx, reKonq, Seamonkey, all sorts of plasma mini-browsers, whatever ... you get the picture :-)

Re:Am I missing something? (1)

unixisc (2429386) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562862)

I thought WebOS was just another distribution of Linux, so how can it be dependent on WebKit? Yeah, if it was trying to use some WebKit based browser as file manager, I can see how, but is that what they were using? From what I've read here, WebOS ain't much better or worse than Android - it's just that its pricing model didn't initially come anywhere close to market price, for whatever reason, not that WebOS itself is a kludge or anything.

Most stupid story (-1, Flamebait)

Pascal Sartoretti (454385) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562574)

WebKit, an open-source software engine used by browsers to display Web pages, that just didn't have the horsepower to run fast enough to be on par with the iPhone

WebKit is the basis of Safari, see here [wikipedia.org] .

Most stupid comment (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562622)

Safari is a web browser. WebOS is an OS. WebKit doesn't run native iOS apps. What the article is saying is that WebOS apps running inside WebKit cannot compete with iOS apps running natively (just like web apps running in Safari can't compete with native apps - which Steve Jobs didn't believe at first, and it took jailbreaks and Installer.app to convince him otherwise).

Re:Most stupid comment (1)

dna_(c)(tm)(r) (618003) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562712)

What the article is saying is that WebOS apps running inside WebKit cannot compete with iOS apps running natively.

The article doesn't say that. You infer that. The summary doesn't even mention iOS apps.

.

But frankly, I don't agree with the analysis that using webkit must necessarily be less efficient than having another layout and rendering mechanism. Perhaps implementing behavior in javascript instead of C would add a little overhead that might be too much when dealing with slow processors...

Re:Most stupid comment (1)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562748)

Normaly (and on all real cases available) a web browser is slower than other GUI toolkits because it has to solve a plentora of other problems, not just showing things on the screen, and the toolkit can do just one thing. Besides that, software embebed on browser is written in Javascript, that is interpreted and again, normaly (and on all real cases available) interpreted languages are slower.

But none of those probems must be this way. They just happen to be.

Re:Most stupid story (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562626)

You're the one being stupid. Safari != iPhone. WebOS renderds whole OS with WebKit while iPhone has its native functions for actual UI and apps.

Re:Most stupid story (4, Informative)

rolfwind (528248) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562628)

But safari is not iOS. Just a browser.

If wikipedia is correct:

HP's Palm WebOS uses WebKit as the basis of its application runtime.

IIRC, one of the major things with iOS was that graphic routines would be given priority over everything else:
http://www.inspiredgeek.com/2011/12/07/why-android-graphics-are-laggy-while-ios-is-smooth-facts-practical-reality/ [inspiredgeek.com]

Seems to me that it's all a fundamental UI issue.

Re:Most stupid story (2, Informative)

dabadab (126782) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562868)

IIRC, one of the major things with iOS was that graphic routines would be given priority over everything else

Why does this bullshit have to be repeated over and over again?...
It's simply not true: Android also have higher priority for that as that's a very-very-very basic technique. If you would take a look at the original article [google.com] , it's spelled out very clearly.

Re:Most stupid story (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562638)

WebKit, an open-source software engine used by browsers to display Web pages, that just didn't have the horsepower to run fast enough to be on par with the iPhone

WebKit is the basis of Safari, see here [wikipedia.org] .

I hope you are joking. Safari is not Apple's operating system. There is a difference between using a technology for web browsing and as a complete OS.

Re:Most stupid story (3, Insightful)

Richard_at_work (517087) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562660)

It is, but webapps on iOS run into similar performance issues as highlighted in this story - Apple don't accelerate the version of WebKit which is used by webapps that are launched from icons on the desktop as much as the version of WebKit which their Safari browser uses, and its pretty noticeable.

The "story" here is that everything in WebOS is WebKit based - there is no Dalvik or Cocoa equivalent (I'm not sure as to the validity of that statement as I'm not interested in WebOS, but everything I have read indicates that it is correct), which are much closer to the metal and thus have a performance advantage.

Real argument: "Not the iPhone". (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562586)

But WebKit powers lots of other technologies like Chrome and Safari.

I think the real argument they are making for WebOS's inability to beat the iPhone, was that WebOS isn't the iPhone. i.e. their plan to succeed was by definition unable to beat the competition. And this is not the failure of a technology, but instead the failure to be visionary.

Webkit? (3, Informative)

ameen.ross (2498000) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562596)

According to TFA, WebKit isn't the main cause, but (and I quote):

But a former member of the WebOS app development team said the core issue with WebOS was actually Palm’s inability to turn it into a platform that could capture the enthusiasm and loyalty of outside programmers.

Nonesense (4, Interesting)

anton.karl (1843146) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562614)

There are a number of reasons why the TouchPad failed, but the quality of WebOS is not one of them. WebOS is a rare exception of improvement in GUI design at the OS level these days and it works quite smoothly. The problems are things like the lack of quality software that runs on the platform. I couldn't care less about having thousands of apps for silly tasks but a tablet that doesn't even have decent support for reading PDFs is just obviously going to fail. The basic apps that come with the TouchPad just never reached a mature stage. As for the management aspect of things, I won't even go there.

Re:Nonesense (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562778)

agree. all of the major apps had critical bugs or feature deficiencies. Facebook didn't show updates from all people, adobe reader had no search our page turning while zoomed in. Web browser was missing functionality and often rendered pages in a glitchy fashion. email app didn't allow download of certain docs (discovered at a critical moment in a meeting). all if these were showstoppers for me. cyanogen has a lot of force closes on my touchpad and battery life is much lower, but the apps are great. webos is fine as an OS, But the app ecosystem was missing. not surprising really. they should have open sourced from the start

Re:Nonesense (3, Insightful)

gayak (745124) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563040)

Certainly true is many aspects, but PDFs aren't one of them. Acrobat Reader works just fine, I use my Touchpad to PDF formatted papers often. There are few key apps missing (but not many to my tablet usage), and the user interface is still something no other tablet can currently provide (it actually uses the advantage of bigger touchscreen, unlike Android Honeycomb for example, which still relies in several places on small icons and stuff that would fit nicely in a small screen). Maybe it was ahead of it's time though.. HTML5 will caught eventually and then tablet could run the same programs, thus removing the need for platform specific programs. But is that too late..?

Re:Nonesense (1)

jhzorio (27201) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563156)

How can you write that the TouchPad doesn't suffer from the lack of a GOOD application to read PDFs ?
It's the biggest gripe I have with mine.
- Many PDFs can't be read.
- Zoom factor is ridiculous. And not preserved when switching page.
- Application is slow (but is it a software or a hardware problem ?).
Reading PDF on a TouchPad is really a pity, and the fact that the application is Adobe Reader makes one wonder about Adobe commitment (or, worse, skill).

Re:Nonesense (5, Informative)

rsmith-mac (639075) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563114)

I'm sorry, but it's not nonsense. The article is spot on.

WebOS as a GUI design absolutely has its merits (the cards really are fantastic) - but then that's not what the article is claiming. The article's claim is that WebOS was immature and slow and that's absolutely the case.

Just booting the damn thing takes 77 seconds [anandtech.com] (versus 31s on a Galaxy Tab). Never mind the anemic performance of their WebKit implementation - which carries right on over to application performance since most applications are written against WebKit - which is why at best it's less than half as fast as an iPad 2 [anandtech.com] with similar performing hardware and still spends most of the time trailing the now-ancient iPad 1.

The 3.0.4 update fixed this somewhat, but not a ton. It's still slow and it still chugs, it just does so somewhat less often than with the shipping software. The poor thing can't even play YouTube videos above 480p most of the time.

Though you're not entirely off base; you are absolutely right about the applications also being a problem. The IM client is probably the best part and it only gets worse from there. The PDF reader is especially atrocious as you noted, and a big part of that is because they're rendering everything in WebKit, saving the result to an image file, and then displaying that to the end user.

Anyhow, no, WeOS is not a fine OS. It's yet another collection of interesting concepts that weren't executed on correctly and require a level of performance today's hardware can't provide. Relying on WebKit for so much of the OS - and thereby a combination of interpretation and JIT compiling - was a stupid idea. These are still fundamentally embedded systems, and with embedded systems the closer you can be to the metal the better off you're going to be. Of course in Palm/HP's case all of this was punctuated by particularly inane decisions like logging every last thing to MLC Flash memory that doesn't like small writes.

As a TouchPad owner I'm doing little at the moment besides waiting for someone to port Ice Cream Sandwich to it. It may not have the slick multitasking of WebOS, but at least Android has the performance to actually handle multitasking along with everything else a tablet should be able to do smoothly. WebOS is crap.

In other words (1)

assertation (1255714) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562616)

WebKit is to tablet PC operating systems as SmallTalk was to object oriented languages. A great idea existing before the state of the art could support it.

Wow, that isn't burning bridges (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562630)

That's nuking bridges from orbit. So the team, which he recruited, is a bunch of fourth- and fifth-stringers? He really doesn't want to hear from them again, I guess. Next time just unfriend them on Facebook, mkay?

That is saying a lot (0)

assertation (1255714) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562634)

"WebKit will still leave WebOS underpowered relative to Apple's software."

Wow, that is saying a lot.

Re:That is saying a lot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562658)

No it isn't. It's saying building an OS on the webkit framework was a dumb move. They should have limited webkit to the browsing experience, like we have in iOS and Android.

Not really surprising (2)

blahbooboo (839709) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562662)

This isn't that surprising as I remember how much trouble WebOS had to get GPU acceleration working for developer access and use in gaming etc.

Re:Not really surprising (5, Interesting)

Stingray454 (1942828) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562708)

How true. I was involved in a project to create a "rich multimedia application" for WebOS back just before they killed it. Some usage of hardware just made the entire thing a nightmare. Built in video playback, for example - Took 2+ seconds to load a short video clip, screen flickered while you did, video playback didn't care about device orientation, and the controls were limited to "play" and "stop" (no pause, no seeking, no looping and so on.. well you COULD loop a clip, if you didn't mind another 2 seconds stall/flicker when the video restarted). Similar issues surfaced on most other hardware interfacing we tried as well. Maybe it could have been fixed in later versions, but overall it just felt terribly unpolished. Good ideas, bad implementation.

Open source community fixes these things. (3, Insightful)

unity100 (970058) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562678)

The question is, what HP will give back to open source community in return.

Re:Open source community fixes these things. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38563104)

Only if somebody cares enough to fix them. Open source isn't a magical fix for software issues.

You mean there's a difference between engineers? (2)

WalrusSlayer (883300) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562682)

Another problem was the difficulty in finding programmers who had a keen understanding of WebKit as Apple and Google snatched up most of the top talent

But wait, I thought that engineers were just pluggable resources...

Re:You mean there's a difference between engineers (2)

marcosdumay (620877) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562762)

Don't read too much into that statement.

There is a difference between nails too.

Evidence shows another thing? (1)

Superken7 (893292) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562714)

Last time I checked, WebOS was really snappy and smooth, and provided a great user experience. Maybe games were hard to code, but the apps I tried out when the first WebOS phone came out felt MUCH smoother than my Android phone.

There are probably many reasons why WebOS failed, but I am very confused by this statement given how well WebOS felt (And I have read the same from many many users in the Internet). The complaints about WebOS were never that it felt like a web app, too limited or that it felt too sluggish, but rather the lack of apps and devices.

Am I missing something here?

Re:Evidence shows another thing? (5, Informative)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562840)

Maybe games were hard to code

Not really. WebOS doesn't force you to do absolutely everything with HTML/JavaScript, contrary to the article (and a lot of the assumptions in this thread). Palm is kind of a victim of its own hype in this respect. Palm told the world that everything in WebOS was based on Web standards to get across the idea that anyone with Web development experience should have no difficulty learning how to code apps for WebOS using what they already know. What gets lost in all the talk about HTML, though, is that there's also a Native SDK for WebOS that lets you code more processor-intensive stuff in C/C++ etc. I don't know if final versions were ever shipped, but they've demoed Doom, Quake, and OpenGL apps running on WebOS.

The New York Times reporter was obviously only marginally technical and not very familiar with the WebOS platform, and he was quoting self-serving statements by a former Palm exec who wants to excuse the fact that (by his own admission) his team failed to execute its own ambitious plans.

Re:Evidence shows another thing? (1)

branchingfactor (650391) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563034)

The self-serving statements were from an HP exec who wants to excuse the fact that HP wasted $1.2 billion.

was there a widgets library for the native? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563174)

because that's important bit of information.

games don't need it usually, and most games for webos were just linux apps running on sdl(that played without recompile with some tricks on maemo).

Re:Evidence shows another thing? (4, Informative)

jalefkowit (101585) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563194)

WebOS doesn't force you to do absolutely everything with HTML/JavaScript, contrary to the article (and a lot of the assumptions in this thread). Palm is kind of a victim of its own hype in this respect.

That's true now, but it wasn't true when it mattered, at launch. When the original Pre shipped (which was the first public release of webOS), there was no native SDK available; the HTML interface was the only interface available. Later on Palm released the native SDK, but it was too late; by that point webOS had already lost momentum in the marketplace.

(It's worth noting that this is exactly the same thing Apple did with the iPhone; originally that device was web-apps-only too, and it wasn't until after much wailing and rending of garments that Apple relented and provided a native SDK. But Apple could get away with that because of the iPhone's position as the first real personal smartphone, which made it sexy even if it wasn't as developer-friendly as it should have been. The Pre had no such safety net.)

Re:Evidence shows another thing? (1)

Dan East (318230) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563520)

Android was also similar in this regard - developers could only use Java for development at first until the NDK was created, which allows C/C++ development of native binaries for maximum performance. Really, the platform would have been crippled without it from a gaming / multimedia perspective.

Microsoft is still too dense to make this realization with Windows Phone. They still only allow C#, which although performance issues due to lake of native support probably isn't the extreme issue it was with webOS or even Android, it still is a massive barrier to code portability and getting developers to support the platform with their existing iOS and Android products.

Web Obsession (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562724)

There seems to be an increasing obsession with using browser technology as *the* technology, and it sucks big time.

The web started as a way of displaying text - and later text plus graphics - with a mechanism to like pages across machines; its that latter bit that is Tim Berners-Lee's brilliant insight. Unfortunately - and this clearly isn't TBL's fault, he'd have needed a crystal ball to have seen what was coming - people wanted to use the browser to ever more sophisticated stuff (essentially to become a means to run remote applications), and this got bolted on top of the HTML. In a sane world, the browser would have provided a set of widgets and the means to manipulate them (basically, a GUI library, but sandboxed) and would have exported an API to manipulate them, and HTML should have been an application layer on top to make text presentation easier. Instead, we have a system where the HTML is exposed via the DOM as the API, and that is what you manipulate. The result is the HTML/CSS/JS abortion that we fight with today.

I work for a company (which is why I'm posting as AC) that is implementing what amounts to a desktop application (and which will be delivered to a relatively small number of specialist customers who will pay multiple thousands of dollars equivalent for licenses), implemented in Python using a well-known Python web toolkit, running under a Python web server, and displaying in a customised version of chromium. Plus, some custom compiled graphics stuff. And its a total pig to work with, you have all of the problems associated with a connection-less client-server, and all the extra problems of UI programming inside the browser.

If this was the way HP went, then they deserver to fail and thank (insert deity of choice) they did, rather than yet another noxious system was foisted on the world.

Bad article (4, Interesting)

Lennie (16154) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562760)

I think the people that wrote the article didn't really understand the HP/Palm people they talk to.

Web technologies will get a lot of a new API added in time, but to create the standards takes time, so Palm had to come up with them themselfs and it seems they could not get the right engineers (and standards relations) to add it to WebKit.

I think the conclusion should be:

WebOS is just to early.

Currently the Mozilla Boot to Gecko is doing something similair but they are also working on making all these new APIs new standards.

Re:Web Obsession (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562782)

You've only just noticed? I also don't understand this weird obsession with trying to make a page markup language into a platform: a task it was almost designed to be bad at. Ditto this odd reliance on HTTP as a transport for everything instead of using or designing more appropriate protocols.

Re:Web Obsession (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38563196)

Really, you don't understand? It began as an easy way to bypass IT, which is basically the redheaded stepchild in most organizations. From there it has simply grown into the complete clusterfuck that bypassing IT should obviously have resulted in.

Re:Web Obsession (2, Insightful)

TheDarkMaster (1292526) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562990)

I agree with you. It's just stupid to want to make a desktop application using HTML, you need to double (or triple) the work required for the same result. You can make a Paint using HTML? Okay, it's possible. But at what cost?

Wah! (0)

msobkow (48369) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562740)

The open source world gave us a crappy rendering kit and we were too damned cheap and lazy to fix it, so our product failed. Damn you open source!

Re:Wah! (4, Insightful)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563082)

More like: "We got this open source rendering kit for free and didn't have the skill or people to modify it to do what it was never intended to do. Damn you open source!"

Who writes this crap? (1)

sgt scrub (869860) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562766)

Since when has a renderer been the be all end all of an OS? Show the code. I got $20 saying someone in the FOSS can replace it without heavy lifting.

There seems to be a lot of confusuin here (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562814)

WebOS used WebKit as its foundation to render the display.

Have to agree (1, Insightful)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562828)

WebOS was never going to do anything other than fail. Things like google Apps might be ok for really light work where shared access is the most important feature but they are the goto for very few people. Otherwise dropbox would not be nearly so popular. Don't get me wrong [xh]tml + java script might be a wonderfully flexible thing to develop your shell in but its not going to provide the rich experience users want out of an application.

No matter what the industry shills and marketing droids try and tell you tables are about data consumption and limited types of data acquisition, not creation. Consumers use them to read, watch, and play, and some very limited musical composition with external instruments ( the tablet is really an acquisition device), I have seen tools to catalog private collections of books,music, and movies, and you see QR and bar code apps to look up prices, homepages, and real estate ads. That is how these things are used in the consume space. You see more acquisition type tasks in the business logistics and medical space but its a toy everywhere else. You have to deliver a positive and rich multimedia experience and "web" technologies are basically the lowest common denominator in that domain.

Yes lots of IOS/Android apps are thin wrappers around webkit or whatever render droid is using that works for facebook, wikipedia, imdb, etc but the games and more interesting applications are native or VM code because they need to be deliver the experience people want; java script + html DOM are just not flexible enough and things like canvas don't perform well enough for use on power conscious devices.

Sending what is a basically a web browser with some java script libraries out to compete against polished binary platforms in a consumer already dominated by well polished easy to manage binary apps was space was not and is not going to work.

Re:Have to agree (1)

DarkOx (621550) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562878)

For the record I am aware that you can write native code apps for webOS but that was not the preferred method being pushed by the vendor(s). We all know that working with lessor favored technologies from a commercial software stack tends to leave you abandon at the whim of some middle management guy at a company you have little or no influence over. So we know what technology the bulk of webOS apps were going to be written in and it was not going to be the C++ interface.

Re:Have to agree (1)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562884)

Sending what is a basically a web browser with some java script libraries out to compete against polished binary platforms in a consumer already dominated by well polished easy to manage binary apps was space was not and is not going to work.

Then it is fortunate that WebOS developers have an alternative. [palm.com]

webOS could have been so great if anyone had cared (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38562848)

I used NeXT os'es in the 90s. It's the reason there are Macs at my house today. What you got with NeXT and what you get with OS X is a superior user experience. It won me over to the point that I eventually abandoned linux and the BSDs for any use but serving web content.

I was all set to buy an Android phone two years ago, then I downloaded the webOS SDK. That was it for me, and within a week I had snagged a Pre Plus on Verizon. I just replaced it with a Galaxy Nexus when that phone launched a couple weeks ago. I also have a Toucpad, which dual boots webOS and Android via Cyanogenmod.

The strength of webOS was an elegant interface with some really smart approaches to usage that I still feel are superior to iOS and Android. I will grant that Android has shrunk that gap quite a bit with ICS, and I'm really happy with my new phone. On the tablet, webOS is by far the superior tablet os to Gingerbread, however it does seem to suffer from some deal breaking performance issues that mar the otherwise excellent user experience. I also like that the tablet version of webOS very much feels like a fusion of webOS and Gnome.

I don't know what Palm could have done to get more users and developers, and ultimately the lack of both killed this os. IF it had taken off, I would be using the latest and greatest webOS phone now instead of jumping ship to Android. If I could have the Android ecosphere on webOS I would in a heartbeat.

It's too bad, but better doesn't always succeed in the market, and webOS will have to be remembered as a great little mobile os that almost could. It probably didn't help that the device they had to attract a userbase was a plastic hockey puck with a 3.1" screen, in a market filled with sexy hardware.

H.P. (1)

Raenex (947668) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562850)

The New York Times really needs to move past putting periods after each letter in acronyms like HP. They do the same thing with acronyms like the NFL. It just looks stupid, because pretty much nobody else does that any more, even other newspapers. Language changes, and sometimes for the better.

Re:H.P. (3, Informative)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562992)

The New York Times really needs to move past putting periods after each letter in acronyms like HP. They do the same thing with acronyms like the NFL. It just looks stupid, because pretty much nobody else does that any more, even other newspapers. Language changes, and sometimes for the better.

That's not language, it's style. Many publications have their own style guides. The New Yorker, for example, follows many standards that seem archaic, such as including a dieresis on the second vowel of a double-vowel word, as in "coördination." It's done out of respect for the tradition and heritage of that specific publication. As for abbreviations, you may note that the Associated Press styles the abbreviation for the United Kingdom as "UK" (no dots) but the United States is "U.S." (with dots). The English language itself, however, includes no rules or claims about such matters.

For the record, the New York Times rule is simple: If you pronounce the abbreviation as a word (e.g OPEC) then it doesn't get the periods. If you pronounce it by spelling out each letter, one at a time (e.g. F.B.I., I.R.S., etc) then you include the periods. It makes some exceptions, however; for example, the names of television networks don't get the periods. It's just the Times' own style.

Who cares (4, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562880)

now say the product never had a fighting chance because it relied on WebKit

Who cares. The apathy is shallower than that.

It never had a fighting chance with the users because it was just another wannabe. What was special about webos from the user point of view, other than some "HP" branding, which in the old days meant something, but for more than a decade that brand has come to mean outsourcing, downsizing, clueless dilbertian executive management, hatred/screwing over of customers, and failure? So its just like my friends phones except it's not cool, and it can't run any of their apps. How profoundly unappealing to the users, and not because of the intimate details of the development library. "My alternative phone is just like yours except its not as good, not as cool, doesn't do anything yours can't do, yet costs just as much". How can that not fly off the shelves?

It never had a fighting change with 3rd party devs because it was just another wannabe. A wannabe has a chance if it does or uses something new and exciting, to balance out the lack of popularity. You know what would be weird? A mobile OS written completely in Ruby and Erlang. How truly weird, yet fascinating. I'd take some of my valuable holiday vacation time to play with that platform even if I were the only owner of that kind of phone in the whole world. Thats how internal OS library choices drag in developers. But, its just tech I can play with in more convenient systems, F that, I'll play with Android instead, or more likely play Skyrim some more. Whoops.

So that brings me back to my original summary. Does anyone not a HP employee, in engineering or astroturfing, being paid to toe the corporate line want to develop on webos? My guess is, "no". Who cares.

Nobody wants or needs it seems to be the actual "fatal flaw".

The standard /. car analogy is the famous Alaskan "bridge to nowhere" was not fatally flawed because it would have been much more appealing to paint it a slightly different color, it was fatally flawed because "no one" (rounded down to zero) wanted or needed it, other than the guys who built it.

Re:Who cares (2)

dcherryholmes (1322535) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563258)

"What was special about webos from the user point of view?"

1. Cards metaphor, true multitasking
2. Synergy, and the notification system
3. Bluetooth pairing even with non-webos phones, to accept calls and display SMS messages.

Off the top of my head.

Wasn't broke before ... (1)

Grindalf (1089511) | more than 2 years ago | (#38562928)

This OS wasn't broke before and was quite popular. Now it is (apparently). So who broke it? Who damaged the market? It had a good "stylus" metaphor which is way more precise than the stupid finger poking machines for artwork etc. And apparently it's open source now according to a recent press release. It has a very large amount of code and games written for it. I think the story isn't over yet ...

webos developer here - the "insider" has no idea. (5, Informative)

ardiri (245358) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563016)

um.. PDK (plugin "native" development kit)?

https://developer.palm.com/content/resources/develop/sdk_pdk_download.html

it was only the "enyo" and "web friendly" development environments that used webkit. you can write very powerful applications using native code (SDL, open GL) - which under the hood utilized CodeSourcery Toolchain—Sourcery G++ Lite for ARM. in fact, a lot of our games ran better on webos than on ios due to apple's insane requirement that there was no framebuffer available for graphics and you have to do everything via open GL.

i think these "insiders" do not know what they are talking about. but the fact that there are no more devices being made - i guess the whole discussion becomes mute.. relying on $99 fire-sales to get users to develop against does not work in my books.

Re:webos developer here - the "insider" has no ide (1)

maroberts (15852) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563048)

One wonders how many developers were made aware of this or whether they produced apps through the WebKit interface because they weren't aware of an alternative.

Re:webos developer here - the "insider" has no ide (1)

ardiri (245358) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563054)

when you download the SDK, you get the PDK included. this was only recently the way however - with 3.0 SDK.

Re:webos developer here - the "insider" has no ide (2)

RoccamOccam (953524) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563140)

The download link for the PDK used to be right under the link for the SDK on the Developer website. It was very clearly spelled out which kit did what.

Fatally flawed because it was web based (1, Interesting)

Kludge (13653) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563038)

I played around with a palm phone w/ webOS for a while. Its fatal flaw was not webkit, but that everything was web based. It assumed that you had unlimited wireless data. I could not even be boot up the phone without a cell data plan. It would not even use my wifi access point. The palm web site strongly recommended purchasing an unlimited data plan because it used so much data.
Then all the carriers dropped or heavily restricted their unlimited data plans. Ouch.

Re:Fatally flawed because it was web based (2)

Jjeff1 (636051) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563180)

What?
My old palm pre is on my desk right now, it operates in airplane mode and works just fine, with no cell plan at all. My data usage was less under palm as compared to my verizon android phone, though I suspect this is because there are more free ad supported apps on android.

webkit is the same in safari as in webos! (4, Informative)

lkcl (517947) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563058)

a number of people have caught on to the fact that the engine behind webos is the exact same engine as behind safari, but that safari is *not* the basis of apple's operating systems. the glue that makes apple's OS so dynamic is objective-C, which has built-in runtime dynamic data typing similar to DCOM. that means that components can interact, written in c++, or any other programming language including scripting languages, *without* having to recompile any applications.

no, if you want to know why webos is so fracking slow, you only have to look right here: http://opensource.palm.com/3.0.4/index.html [palm.com]

notice anything? keep scrolling down... keep scrolling down.. lmnop..q... ah ha!

qt4 qt4-4.7.1.tgz qt4-4.7.1-patches.gz

that's the reason.

how do i know this? it's because i was asked, 2 years ago, to get pythonwebkit up-and-running for an embedded client, running on a superb but very strange 400mhz ARM9 processor with access to 800mhz DDR2 RAM (for doing 1080p HDMI video). for an ARM9 it ran like lightning. *but*... when i put pywebkitqt4 on it, it not only doubled the amount of memory usage but it absolutely _hammered_ the processor.

the startup time _just_ for webkitqt4 alone was something like 90 seconds and took up almost all of the available 256mb of RAM. the next best was webkit-enlightenment (130mb and about 8 seconds). webkit-efb was what samsung sponsored for the "bada" initiative. next after that was webkit-gtk at around 6 seconds.

however none of these were acceptable, so i helped denis do a port of webkit to directfb. that got the startup time - on a 400mhz ARM9 - to a stunning 1.5 seconds.

if HP or Palm had paid myself and denis to do that work several years ago, things would have been very different: the startup time and performance of WebOS would have been staggeringly quick.

and the thing is, because the browser _is_ the OS, there's absolutely no good reason to even have GTK, QT4 or in fact any other "engine" underneath. why do you think google created an entire new direct-rendering API ("silk" i think it was called) for android?

lesson learned. only cost $1.2 billion. i would have been happy to have been paid 0.1% of that to fix the problem. talk about irony.

Re:webkit is the same in safari as in webos! (1)

Bananas (156733) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563360)

For the love of $DIETY, please, involve yourself with what is left of WebOS if/when it is released. Gnome, KDE, etc. are all showing their "age" and "Windows 95 everything-is-an-ugly-component" mentality. If WebOS is truly open-sourced (not fake open-sourced) then there is a slim, slim chance of having a desktop that actually would be a delight to use, instead of the goddamn window-explorer-desktop mindset that has dominated the GUI space for decades.

Re:webkit is the same in safari as in webos! (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38563458)

First off, PyQt isn't exactly the best benchmark of Qt/Webkit performance on a mobile device. Secondly, webOS doesn't load a new instance of webkit when you launch a new app, just like opening a new tab in your browser doesn't require loading a new copy of webkit. Mobile devices rarely need to "boot"; hitting the power button just turns on/off the screen. So system-level initialization time isn't critical for most people.

Finally, webOS doesn't use QtWebkit at all. It uses a custom rendering library called Piranha for graphics operations. The equivalent in Android is called Skia.

There's definitely a lot of performance issues in webOS, and Qt sometimes carries a lot of bloat, but it'd be jumping to conclusions to claim that Qt is the cause of the performance issues on webOS.

"Insiders", right... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38563064)

The problem was not WebKit. WebKit is what is fueling the web vs native app debate. The problem was a personnel problem. They were right that Palm couldn't snatch up top WebKit engineers. But when you have "insiders" that come out saying webOS was fatally flawed, you're already running on fumes. These insiders were a cancer that destroyed Palm from within. They weren't motivated to deliver a finished product for the Touchpad launch. It was these "insiders" who killed webOS.

HP management is made up of 4th and 5th stringers. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#38563220)

I think it's more like HP management is made up of 4th and 5th stringers.
You're only as good as the team you build.
In general, If HP didn't build shit, we wouldn't have to suffer with all the shitware they bundle on their PCs.
Replace 80% of HP mgmt/board C levels with something remotely competent, including the new so called CEO, Carly Fiorina v 2.x.

OS not the problem (2)

Jjeff1 (636051) | more than 2 years ago | (#38563322)

Palm Pre was my first smartphone, so perhaps I'm biased. But the user interface was far superior to andoid or iphone. It is just more intuitive to use, and easier to open apps and manage multiple open applications.

Palm failed due to underpowered hardware. Sprint was the first big carrier, they released the underpowered pre, then nothing to replace it. Pre 2 was never released in the US ( I don't think), same with Pre 3. The real story of the failure of webOS is really about the lack of hardware.
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