The Slow, Sad Death of webOS

by Steve Wildstrom   |   October 27th, 2011

Sad face TouchPad

When Hewlett-Packard killed off TouchPad and Pre hardware in August, executives said that the webOS software that powered them would, somehow or other, be kept alive. At the time, I was skeptical if for no other reason than that HP would have a terrible time hanging on to key tallent while the future of the software was being resolved. Sadly, that prediction is coming to pass.

The latest blow to what little future webOS may have is the departure of Richard Kerris, head of developer relations for the (now defunct) webOS Global Business Unit, who is taking on a similar role at Nokia. The success of a mobile operating system is heavily dependent on the work of third-party app developers and the shortage of webOS apps played a significant role in the platform’s failure. At the end of August, Kerris had been at least guardedly optimistic about the future of webOS.  ”Once we come out with the right hardware partner, which we will announce, we’ll be fine,” he told me.

But soon thereafter, HP broke up the webOS business unit, laying off most of the staff and transferring responsibility for the software to the corporate office of strategy and technology. But that office will cease to exist Nov. 1 with the retirement of Executive Vice President Shane Robison.

At this point, it seems extremely unlikely that much of anything can be salvaged from the webOS debacle. HP might find a buyer for a pile of code and whatever intellectual property rights its acquired from Palm, but it no longer seems to be much of a going concern.

This looks like the last chapter in the strange history of Palm software. Back in 2006, PalmSource,  the struggling company that had been set up to develop and license Palm software after the original Palm was split into software and hardware pieces, sold itself to Access, a Japanese software company. Access had planned to rewrite the Palm software, then used in the pioneering Treo smartphones, on a Linux base. Both nothing ever came of the project and Palm OS, like it would seem, webOS, was never heard of again.

 

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.