2012-01-03

Dion Almaer on the history of webOS

Dion Almaer was head of webOS developer relations at Palm. He gives a nice account of the history of webOS. Quote:
There was a reason that people were excited when Palm announced webOS. The user experience was superior to iOS of the time in many ways (cards, network sync, multi-tasking, etc). For developers, especially Web developers, in theory they could write web apps that would live in this beautiful UI.

In practice, I admit that there were real issues. webOS 1.0 was more like a beta. Timing required that it just had to ship, but the performance wasn’t there and it was buggy.
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Needless to say, webOS 2.0 came waaaay too late and didn’t fix the core performance problems. In hindsight it would have been much better to have had a performance tzar who had people sitting with profilers open and fixing the darn problems.

Almaer’s post was triggered by the New York Times article “H.P.’s TouchPad, Some Say, Was Built on Flawed Software” (by Brian X. Chen). Almaer challenges two assertions in that article.

Assertion 1: Web technology is not ready for the mobile space. Paul Mercer is quoted with

“If the bar is to build Cupertino-class software in terms of responsiveness and beauty,” he said, “WebKit remains not ready for prime time, because the Web cannot deliver yet.”
To put that quote in perspective, Almaer mentions that Palm started with Mercer-created non-web technology (a JVM plus XML-based layout) and later switched to WebKit.

Assertion 2: Palm’s engineers weren’t capable. A “former member of the WebOS app development team” is quoted with

There were neither the right leaders nor the right engineers to do the job
Almaer answers this as follows.
Some folks are posting that Palm should have hired better caliber engineers, and that is just wrong… there were plenty there. The fact that they shipped webOS in the timeline that they did amazes me.
Having finished webOS so quickly is indeed impressive (compare that to how long it took Nokia to get MeeGo on a market device). Almaer does say, however, that there was “dysfunction throughout the company”.

Related posts:

  1. HP will open-source webOS and produce new hardware for it
  2. Try out a webOS app online

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