Like Pacquiao, HP's WebOS Fighting for Respect

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What do HP's mobile operating system efforts and Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao have in common? A lot more than the Pac-Man's failed HP TouchPad and Veer sales pitches.

I know when you think of Hewlett Packard Co. and failed mobility efforts, you think Glee’s Lea Michelle. Pacquiao-HPBut there’s a better, more delicious irony in Manny Pacquiao, arguably the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter, holding HP’s WebOS-driven Veer and TouchPad devices as they were on the ropes and ultimately went down for the count.

Millions of hits, indeed.

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As it turns out, WebOS and Pacquiao ended up in pretty much the same place. If you don’t follow boxing, here’s the tale of the tape. Pacquiao, one of the greatest fighters in his weight class in history, has been forced onto a sort of a comeback trail because he lost a fight to a clearly inferior rival in June in what everybody who has ever watched a professional fight agrees was the worst judge’s decision in the history of boxing. It was the Filipino champion’s first loss since 2005.

Hype. Loss. Bad decisions. Questionable calls. Scrappy comeback. HP, WebOS and the Pac-Man have a lot in common, right? It gets better. Pacquiao recently announced his next big fight will be Dec. 8, not against Timothy Bradley, the fighter who controversially beat him, but rather against Juan Manuel Marquez, a guy Manny has already beaten twice before. It’s a fight nobody is clamoring to see.

Plug the other mobile OS heavyweights -- Google Inc.’s Android and Apple Inc.’s iOS – into this tortured metaphor and you get the idea. For the fight fans in the crowd, iOS is Bradley and Android is Floyd Mayweather Jr. There will be no respect until you take on one of these two. Avoiding them leaves you looking weak and damaged.

While both boxer's camps were defending Pacquiao-Marquez version 4.0 late last week, HP officially, if somewhat quietly, released Open WebOS to the world. After some fits and starts in the wake of HP’s $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm in 2010 -- a move ostensibly made to get its hands on the mobile device operating system at the heart of such stellar devices as the Palm Treo -- the company kicked WebOS to the open source curb, where it continues to scrap for respect as a much-needed open alternative to Android, iOS and Microsoft Corp.’s upcoming mobile-centric Windows 8.

The Palo Alto, Calif., vendor in August spun off its WebOS mobile device operating system unit and associated development and cloud services into a completely new and separate company called Gram. No time frame was given, but insiders peg Gram’s official kickoff in the next couple of months.

Announced in an understated blog post, the release of Open WebOS 1.0 shows the system running on a TouchSmart PC as Chief Architect Steve Winston touts more than “75 Open WebOS components delivered over the past nine months.” Not bad, except that according to Wilson, all of this open-source community development effort is targeting things like hotel kiosk applications, embedded systems, multi-platform customer service apps and the like.

Hotel kiosks? Where’s the Android trash talk? Where’s Mayweather? Embedded systems are the Juan Manuel Marquez of technology.

The lukewarm reception to the WebOS 1.0 release is likely due to the fact that while the platform supports fundamentals such as e-mail and Web browsing, it still lacks basic elements such as media and audio components, updated network management, a Bluetooth stack, and Qt5 and WebKit2 development support. All are in the works, Winston said.

Martin Risau, the HP senior vice president and WebOS unit head who announced the Gram spinoff, touted the new 1.0 release saying he was, “proud that we did what we said we would do in January. This achievement gives us the credibility to execute our future plans.”

Jim Zemlin, executive director of The Linux Foundation, joined in, adding that Open WebOS “is poised to deliver an open-source build environment that developers will thrive from. We expect the community around the project to continue to grow. All the right tools are in place.”

One can hope. Maybe Risau and team are saving their best Android/iOS flurry for the next fight down the road when their fighter has better chops. Still, one big problem remains in HP’s apparently waning interest in the ongoing development of WebOS. Even HP’s own CEO, Meg Whitman, seems conflicted about the company’s fight card. She has reiterated HP’s commitment to getting back into the smartphone and tablet scrap. But it’s starting to look like HP is betting on Android for at least one of its phone projects. That lack of WebOS support from the mothership could prove a damaging body blow.

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