Former Palm exec: WebKit to blame for failure of webOS

Former Palm and Hewlett-Packard executives tell The New York Times that the webOS mobile operating system was essentially doomed to failure, blaming dramatic flaws in the platform's technological makeup. "Palm was ahead of its time in trying to build a phone software platform using web technology, and we just weren't able to execute such an ambitious and breakthrough design," said Paul Mercer, former senior director of software at Palm, who supervised webOS's interface design and recruited many critical members of the development team. "Perhaps it never could have been executed because the technology wasn't there yet."

Mercer blames webOS's failures on Palm's decision to embrace the WebKit open source web browser engine, stating the move prevented applications from running at the same speeds accomplished by rival platforms like Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS. But another former member of the webOS development team said Palm was unable to build an operating system capable of attracting the developer community, adding the company took too many shortcuts during the nine-month process of ushering webOS from concept to creation. Still other former employees pointed the finger at then-Palm CEO Jon Rubenstein, saying he failed to comprehend the logistics of building a new operating system from scratch.

HP acquired webOS in 2010 when it purchased Palm for $1.2 billion--in August 2011, it discontinued its webOS device business in the face of mediocre sales. Last month, HP announced it will make webOS's underlying code available under an open source license in an effort to encourage developers, partners and rival hardware manufacturers to continue work on the platform and deliver new versions into the marketplace. HP also will participate and invest in webOS's ongoing evolution, promising "good, transparent and inclusive governance to avoid fragmentation" and delivering software as a pure open source project.

HP CEO Meg Whitman has said it's still possible the company could build a webOS-powered tablet in 2013. In the interim, HP plans to release a tablet running Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) forthcoming Windows 8 sometime in 2012.

WebOS nevertheless faces an uphill battle as it seeks to attract developer attention. According to Appcelerator and IDC's Q3 Mobile Developer Report, conducted weeks prior to HP shuttering its webOS device efforts, only 18 percent of developers expressed strong interest in writing apps for the webOS-based TouchPad tablet and just 12 percent indicated enthusiasm for building Palm Pre/Pixi smartphone apps. Only Symbian and MeeGo ranked lower on developers' list of priorities.

For more:
- read this New York Times article

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