10 Reasons for Geeks to Love HP webOS

31 BY unwiredben

There comes a time in a Linux-loving geek’s life when he or she needs a new challenge. Making desktop apps isn’t hacking it anymore and building yet-another-website seems passe.  If you want to jump into the world of mobile, here are a few reasons why HP webOS is the platform for you.


#1: It’s free.

There’s no cost to become a developer.  You don’t have to pay any sort of fee to download the SDK or submit apps. The webOS emulator is free and our tools support development on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. We also have discount programs to help developers to get their hands on real devices.


#2: We give you full access to your device.

You don’t have to jailbreak or root your device.What other platforms call jailbreaking or rooting, we call entering developer mode.  We don’t make you jump through hoops, purchase device certificates.  or use questionable tools; instead, we provide simple shortcuts from our launcher and phone apps.  Just tap on the “Just Type” search bar and enter “upupdowndownleftrightleftrightbastart” (the classic NES Konami code!); an icon appears that lets you toggle this mode on and off. In developer mode, you can get full access to the device over your USB cable.

#3: It’s Linux.

Once you’re in dev mode, it’s just Linux and WebKit.  You can get a fairly functional shell on the device by using the command “novaterm” on Mac/Linux or by using “pdk-device-install” and PuTTY on Windows.  We have many of the essential Linux commands available, tools like cp, vi, grep, find, diff, top, tar, and gzip, making it easy to find your way around the system.  We include scripts in our SDK to sideload ssh and gdb.


#4: A lot of it is familiar technology.

We use the languages and APIs you already know.  Most apps are written in JavaScript with the presentation layer as HTML and CSS.  We provide a framework to make writing apps quicker and to make accessing system features easier.  For webOS 2.x and earlier, it’s Mojo, and for webOS 3.0+ it’s Enyo.  We’re also working with leading mobile JavaScript frameworks and tools to make sure that their code can work well for webOS applications.

If you want to use C and C++, our main build tool is gcc and our main APIs are SDL and OpenGL ES, both widely used systems with lots of support material online and in books.


#5: The source is easy to find.

Since apps are written in JS, it’s easy to find lots of examples just by poking around on the device.  The in-ROM apps are all in /usr/palm/applications.  Some have been compressed for faster loading speed, but we usually still have the original source there too.  For the open-source parts of our OS, we have opensource.palm.com with all the tarballs and patches for the pieces we ship on phone.


#6: Our tools are hardcore developer-friendly.

You don’t need an IDE, but you can use one.  Our main tools are command-line tools like palm-package and palm-install, but we ship an Eclipse integration plugin.  Our emulator is a x86-based build of the OS running in the open-source VirtualBox system.  We also have a web-based IDE at ares.palm.com that lets you build apps in your browser with a nice layout designer and a code editor based on Mozilla’s Bespin project.


#7: You can try cutting edge stuff.

Doing background work on our devices is pretty easy; apps can be bundled with services based on node.js. JavaScript apps can call native code using the hybrid PDK model where the code runs as a plugin. You can try your hand at 3D graphics with OpenGL ES or do remote device control using Bluetooth serial.


#8: Our developer support is awesome!

The webOS developer forums are very active and members of both the developer relations and engineering team often answer questions there when other forum members don’t jump on them first.  We also publish a lot of information directly on developer.palm.com and we hold great events like our Developer Workshops all around the world.


#9: webOS Homebrew Rocks!

We have an awesome independent developer community in webOS Internals that does things like replacement kernels, new system services, and overclocking tools. Our community produces innovations that have made their way into later webOS releases; for example, we liked the page cache compression work that they did to improve webOS 1.4.5 so much that we made it part of our standard Linux kernels on webOS 2.0. HP hasn’t tried to stop or silence these groups; instead we work with them when possible and even give them hardware to help with their explorations.


#10: Your open source project can make a difference.

Many of our best applications are open source, available either via our App Catalog or through homebrew channels including FourSquare, drPodder, pReader, Spaz (Twitter client), Relego (Read It Later client), and Preware, People have already ported over a bunch of Linux games using our SDL system, and there are efforts to bring lots of languages and tools onto the platform. If you’re an expert in porting some important bit of Linux technology, there’s likely a niche for you here in the world of webOS.

Comments (31)

  1. [..'] says:

    Those are nice and all… Just ship your phone and tablet already. Then I MIGHT take a look…

  2. Isaiah says:

    As a long time webOS fan I agree with everything you said. However, there is one problem. Geeks like fancy hardware (and lots of choices), this is the one reason I no longer own a webOS phone. HP needs to get better phone hardware and offer more choices if the want to compete. Give me webOS on HTC EVO-like hardware and I will be happy!

  3. Anghel says:

    Ok. So you offer great software that’s very developer friendly. Kudos for that.

    But how about great devices?
    A slim smartphone with a 4 inch screen with no physical keyboard would be nice. One that will compete against iPhone 5 and Google Nexus S2.

    Good luck!

  4. rsanchez1 says:

    Too bad you can only try those hybrid apps. Despite the fact that they work on pretty much every device as long as it runs webOS 1.4.5, they are only allowed for the relatively very small subset of users running 2.1. But hey, with the Veer coming out, we’re supposed to forget about all Pre, Pre+, Pixi, and Pixi+ users like Palm did, right?

  5. #2: We give you full access to your device…
    #6: Our tools are hardcore developer-friendly…

    I am sorry (I truly like webOS) but there is still no basic access to the PIM:

    - sms/mms (read/delete)
    - call logs (read)
    - contacts (read/update/delete)
    - calendar (read/update/delete)


    - Google [full PIM]
    - Nokia (Symbian + WRT + Flash Lite) [full PIM]
    - Apple [partial PIM]
    - BlackBerry [partial PIM]
    - Bada [partial PIM]
    - Microsoft [partial PIM]



  6. Greg Eaton says:

    Well, at least HP is bold enough to open up comments on this. I hope they listen to some of the people who cared enough to look here and post a comment.

  7. Dmitriy says:

    Link to where we can get a cheaper phone to develop for one? I for one don’t have a spare 500 bucks to shell out on a dev device.

  8. p1itopre says:

    Add to missing APIs : camera, mic.

    The entire OS does not have a scroll bar (position indicator) for any page.

    Even the in house apps the apps are stunted since 1.4.5. The browser cant search text, cant change font/font sizes, cant save pages for later, etc. etc. The Email app does not have an option to search over body, etc. etc.

    It seems to me that HP has decided to only dedicate all its developers to the HP Touch pad. I remember seeing the find in page for the Touch Pad’s browser. Its really unfortunate .

  9. There are APIs for accessing contacts and calendars. In fact, you can register new services (say, Plaxo contacts or a calendar from a project management tool you use) with Synergy so they’re automatically synced on the device.

    I don’t think webOS will let you access call logs and text messages, but that seems like a security issue to me. I wouldn’t want an application to have access to that data. You can push a phone number to the dialer or a message to the messaging app, of course, but the user still has to initiate dialing or sending the message.

    On the topic of messaging, you can also register new types of clients with the messaging application, so it can be wired right in and integrated with contacts, so you’ll see conversations with the same person in one place, regardless of the transport you used to communicate with them.

    Just thought I needed to say something. I’ve had a great experience developing for webOS, especially as a C++ developer.

  10. mahrain says:

    I agree with rsanchez1, really strange for a company to throw away it’s entire installed base. Why not give them an update as well, maybe with some reduced functionality (like Apple phasing out the original iPhone and 3G) but still give them an OS update with the new API’s.

  11. DiscoJones says:

    Hi HPalm,

    the problem is the following:
    No one except geeks want to develop for a plattform that has almost no marketshare. When the pre came out I fell in love with webOS. By that time it was really by far the best mobile OS. But the Hardware was a joke. The pre battery drains down in less than 20 hours!

    Then the HP takeover. Okay I thought maybe HP has the people to get webOS on centerstage. BUT with Rubinstein still on board you poor guys were forced to repeat every mistake again and again.

    Instead of delivering you guys kept promising.
    I am sick of waiting for the pre3 and the touchpad. Instead I got me an iPad2 and a Nexus S.
    Right now I see no sense in putting any development effort into webOS as long as there are no new products broadly available.

    The old palm-time devs were told to relearn what the know for the new devices. Then you had for a very long time no new SDK available. Now the SDK is available but NO DEVICES.

    Seriously you should have delivered everything in one move when you held your webOS special event (was it february?).

    From a business perspective and not from a geek point of view: Why should I develop for webOS instead of android or iOS (given the precondition that my resources are limited and I can’t develop for all plattforms)?


  12. Tommy Fenyx says:

    I like all points, but I really appreciate number #9.
    I’m still waiting for 2.0 for my original Pre.

    webOS is for geeks and for all people who wants a OS with a huge potencial.

  13. @Joshua Granick

    I could not find your mail/twitter so…

    I am not talking about getting data in but getting data out ;-)

    However I did not know you could do that:

    “On the topic of messaging, you can also register new types of clients with the messaging application, so it can be wired right in and integrated with contacts, so you’ll see conversations with the same person in one place, regardless of the transport you used to communicate with them.”

    I did not find it the documentation. In Synergy, you can register servers (connectors), not clients. Any hints would be greatly appreciated :-)

  14. Mark says:

    4 key factors to being seriously competitive with Apple:

    1) TomTom or Navigon — Or equivalently powerful Nav, garmin maybe??

    2) High End Games — (EA Sports, NBA Jam etc…)

    3) A fully functional HP Music and Movie store. (Cloud Based would be a huge edge on iTunes, with ability to stream or download to all my WebOS devices)

    4) A full TOUCHPHONE with a touch keyboard!! Basically a serious Iphone Competitor with WebOS.

  15. Pingback: 10 Reasons For Geeks to Love webOS | webOSroundup

  16. Tyler Larson says:

    All you need is the Flash Player support and I will convince everyone I know to buy a WebOS device. I think that all of it’s features are amazing, I love the application framework and Node.js as a base was an amazing choice. But as a developer I’m not impressed that it has taken years to get Flash released. Adobe is off pushing Playbooks while you are getting no love from the huge community of ActionScript developers. They have few options and RIM is failing, it would be great if you guys stepped in.

    • unwiredben says:

      We added Flash Player in webOS 2.1 on the Pre 2 device, and it is also on our HP Veer device coming out this weekend. It’s safe to assume that it’s a part of our platform going forward.

  17. qkslvrwolf says:

    I love webOS. I got a palm pre+ as my first smart phone, and still use it. I’ve purchased a xoom, which has only convinced me that webOS is a far better operating system than android is. I will probably sell my xoom and buy an HP touchpad when you finally release it, and I never do that sort of thing.

    My question is this: why the hell don’t you guys license webOS???? My ONLY problem with webOS is that the user base is too limited to attract enough developers to get the really cool apps (soundhound/kazaam, google goggles, good guide, qr codes locally, blah blah blah). If Palm or HP had licensed webOS, got it out in the eco-system…we’d have many more users and therefore a bigger pie for everyone (including HP!) to get a slice of…


  18. webOS is based on OpenEmbedded however there is no collaboration going on between our two projects. This is sad thing and a waste of resources.

    OpenEmbedded would love to see some mutually beneficial work to happen. :)

  19. mpalmiero says:

    Great phone and productivity OS. I’m so glad it’s alive and well. I was never a Palm user or fanboi before webOS, but I do wish HP kept the Palm name alive by naming the devices “Palm” like Apple named their devices iPhone. Palm was a name synonymous with hand held productivity devices. I would also like to recommend HP port one of their popular RPN calculator roms to a webOS APP!

  20. Fixred says:

    So, what if I don’t want the code for my app to be open source? Does that mean WebOS isn’t for me?

    • unwiredben says:

      Nope. We support closed source apps too! You can obfuscate your JavaScript or compile your code and use the PDK or hide your interesting IP behind a cloud service.

  21. DDevine says:

    I think WebOS is awesome for all of these reasons (plus a few more) but there is one thing that stops me.

    I can’t get a freakin device to run WebOS in Australia.
    Big show stopper.

    Give us hardware with WebOS and you get a user/developer base. Simple. Go do it.

  22. richs-lxh says:

    To the average Linux Geek, this looks like a ploy to get free (unpaid) developers to create your OS.
    Microsoft would get the same response. A proprietary company trying to suck up to the Linux community.
    Also as others have stated, where is the hardware?
    You’ll have to do better than this to compete with Android and Chrome.

  23. Scott says:

    “So, what if I don’t want the code for my app to be open source? Does that mean WebOS isn’t for me?”

    Why is open source a problem?

  24. Bruce says:

    Sounds good. Get WebOS to run on the Nook Color and I”m in! :-) More seriously, getting the crowd at XDA Developers interested might be helpful.

  25. Pingback: HP Touts WebOS to Linux Geeks

  26. noschmo says:

    These are excellent reasons and I’d love to develop for the platform. However, the phones are unappealing to me in every possible way. They seem like starter kits designed for little kids and teenagers with little fingers. I want a nicely sized screen with an Epic style keyboard or a nice on-screen keyboard. I want basic a VPN client that works. I want a browser that can handle user-supplied certificates. I want an email client that can handle Outlook Web Access. WebOS doesn’t give me any of that.