Matt Gemmell

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Open Source webOS

tech 1 min read

As the entire industry reported today, HP is going to make webOS open source. That’s a terrible shame.

John had an apt analogy for the situation:

I think this is just the difference between putting your dog down and letting it free on a distant mountain road.

Don’t get me wrong: I want webOS to have a bright future. Before Windows Phone 7 came along, webOS was the iOS competitor to watch. It has many nice touches, and it dares to differ from iOS without doing so mindlessly or gratuitously.

Open source probably isn’t that bright future. Viable consumer operating systems, particularly those for touch-screen devices, come about due to a host of factors - but the two key ones are:

  1. A clear, coherent vision for the user experience…

  2. … enforced by absolute tyranny.

That’s the opposite of open source. People talk about “design by committee”, but open source is more commonly lack of design by dozens of committees.

Want to know what happens when you make an operating system open? The same thing as when you leave your car open: sooner or later, it ends up smelling like a urinal.

The people most happy about webOS being open source (the geeks, early adopters, developers and tinkerers) are its least qualified stewards if it’s to survive and flourish. Sorry, but you’re probably just going to ruin it for everyone. If you think Linux is a counterexample, ask your granny to use it for a day.

Can an open source webOS become a successful consumer OS for touch-screen devices? Absolutely. Will it? Signs, sadly, point to hell no.

Unfortunately, when you open-source an operating system, what you usually end up with is an open source operating system.

(Enjoyed this? I sound the same on Twitter.)