A couple of weeks ago, you could be forgiven for not ever having even heard of webOS, but now after HP CEO Leo Apotheker confirmed that starting in 2012, every HP PC will include the ability to run webOS in addition to Windows, if you profess to having any understanding of mobile platforms you have to profess to have at least some understanding of what webOS is and why it is important.
webOS (and that spelling is correct, lowercase web uppercase OS) is HP’s latest, and arguably most interesting acquisition. Initially developed by Palm, webOS is a proprietary mobile operating system running on the Linux kernel. webOS was introduced by Palm in January 2009 as the successor to Palm OS. at the time that it was introduced it was widely acclaimed for its integration of Web 2.0 technologies, open architecture, multitasking capabilities and ease-of-use. Unfortunately it came too late to revitalize Palm and became one of the key motivating factors behind HP’s acquisition of Palm in 2010. As a mobile operating system, webOS is significantly more advanced than Apple’s iOS in several key areas, most significantly in its support for multitasking, as well as its ability to support over-the-air software and operating system updates.
Operating system capabilities aside, the most significant thing about webOS is HP’s aspirations for its use. to reiterate every HP PC will include the ability to run webOS in addition to Windows and that is quite important.
Initial expectations are that webOS will be offered as a duel-boot solution that can launch one operating system or the other, rather than making webOS applications available from within Windows. As an initial low cost strategy this make sense, but fall short of what is both practical and possible for delivering webOS in the future. Few, if any, consumers or businesses will be in a position to run webOS exclusively,and using a dual-boot configuration to switch between operating systems will be an unattractive prospect for the majority of users. One option for HP to consider would be a webOS emulator, but really HP would be better off considering the integration of Windows and webOS on a client hypervisor platform allowing seamless switching between applications in a single managed environment. Given that webOS it is not slated to ship on HP PCs and laptops until 2012 this strategy would be quite achievable if HP were to invest a little more effort in integrating client hypervisor solutions such as Virtual Computer’s NxTop or Citrix’s XenDesktop.
Another option would for HP be to consider taking a leaf out of Dell’s book and delivering webOS as a completely independent system in the same vein as Dell’s Latitude ON, using an ARM designed processor installed on a daughterboard. Given the low power requirement of the ARM processor, and the long battery life of some of HP’s Intel based laptops, it may be possible to run a webOS/ARM enabled laptop for a much as 24 hours without recharging.
This puts HP in a rather interesting position. For the first time since the late 1980s, when IBM aspired to having its own desktop operating system with OS/2, there exists an enterprise-class hardware vendor with both the ability and ambition to take on Microsoft directly (Apple does not count, it fails the enterprise-class criteria), only HP is attempting something far more ambitious. HP is looking at delivering a single operating system capable of working on desktop, laptop, tablet, smart phone, printer, and espresso machine. This certainly exceeds Microsoft’s ambitions and abilities, and even Apple’s latest indications for some way short of HP’s goal.