Linked by Thom Holwerda on Fri 15th Sep 2017 21:27 UTC

I have become the unofficial standard bearer for webOS, the operating system created by Palm for the Pre and its successive devices. It was a wildly innovative and smart foundation for a smartphone done in by performance problems, mediocre hardware, and most of all by US carriers who acted as kingmakers for other companies.

So as the bearer of a thoroughly-tattered banner, I’ve been hearing a lot of people ask what I thought about the iPhone X and how it borrows many of the ideas first introduced by Palm. Here’s what I think: it’s great, and also it’s silly compare the state of tech in 2017 with the state of tech in 2009. Just because Palm did some stuff first doesn’t take away from Apple is doing them now. Context matters, and our context today is very different.

WebOS had some great ideas, but on a technical level, the operating system was a mess. It was a major battery hog, slow, and basically nothing more than a tech demo made in WebKit on top of a largely unmodified Linux kernel, running on mediocre hardware. WebOS wasn't a product worthy of the Palm name.

Thread beginning with comment 649106
To read all comments associated with this story, please click here.
STRONGLY disagree
by StephenBeDoper on Wed 20th Sep 2017 21:19 UTC
Member since:


I remember you expressing the same sentiment at the end of the Palm retrospective - I let it slide them, because it seemed like a throwaway comment that was based mainly on a bad first-impression, rather than the result of any substantial analysis or insight.

But since that now seems to the "official" OSNews position on webOS, I think it deserves comment:

It was a major battery hog, slow,

That is nearly the complete opposite of my experiences. Re: "battery hog," both of my Pre3s still get at least 3-4 days of battery with light use, 2-3 days with heavier use (that is, unless I do something stupid like leave wifi or other battery-intensive tasks running unnecessarily).

Re: "slow," I've heard that criticism repeated many times - but again, that wasn't my experience. I think there's some truth to it, but that reputation is largely an outdated holdover from the earlier, admittedly-underpowered webOS devices. I held off until the Pre2 came out, and quickly upgraded to the Pre3 when it was available in a North American version - and compared to those devices, I found contemporary Android phones much slower & less-responsive, with contemporary iOS devices being about the same, if maybe a little faster. But when compared to iOS, I considered that to be a more-than fair trade for proper multi-tasking & a more sophisticated UI.

I'm the in-house "IT guy" for the company I work for/am part-owner of, and do a fair amount of tech support for customers' phones (mainly setting up EMail accounts that they have hosted with us) - so while I didn't personally use every Android phone & iPhone released, I did have a decent sampling of experience with the most popular ones. The only "modern," post-iOS mobile OS/device that I've used that was unambiguously faster & more responsive than webOS was Windows Phone 8 on a Lumia 520... though it became treacle-slow after I made the mistake of installing WP 10.

Personally, I think that one of the biggest tragedies of webOS is that it was killed-off just after hardware worthy of it had finally been released (technically, before it was released). Having ridden the BeOS roller-coaster back in the day, being a webOS fan/user definitely felt like deja-vu.

and basically, nothing more than a tech demo made in WebKit

I haven't looked at the source code of the lower-level webOS pieces (and honestly don't have the coding skills to evaluate their quality) - but if your characterisation is accurate, then I think that makes the end results all the more impressive. It's UI/UX mopped the floor with contemporary Android releases/skins, and arguably* iOS as well.

*I say "arguably" because I do recognize that, while webOS had a much deeper/more flexible UI, it also had a correspondingly-steeper learning curve. In other words: it took longer to learn the ins-and-outs of webOS' UI, but it was more faster & more effective once you did. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that webOS provided a more "Apple-like" experience than early iOS - at least, as judged against the standards of pre-OS X Apple, back when they still employed people like Bruce Tognazzini.

It also seems to be one of the most easily-hackable modern mobile OSes, at least as evidenced by the numerous third-party patches/mods on PreWare that allow things like adding tap-and-hold in the browser to open links in a new card, adding a "move to folder" option in the EMail client, adding an auto-BCC option in the mail client, etc. Granted, those are things that should have been there out-of-the-box, but I do still appreciate that the OS at least allows third-party devs to fill in the gaps. I see it as being similar to BeOS in that regard, in terms of having gaps in functionality due to limited development resources - but at least making it easy for third-parties to fill in those gaps by providing a flexible, easily-extendible foundation.

on top of a largely unmodified Linux kernel

And how is that a bad thing...? I can't think of any disadvantages that that conveyed - and as an IT/OS geek, I can think of plenty of advantages. The main one is that all of the knowledge I have from using Linux on other devices is easily-transferrable to webOS. In that regard, webOS also provided the easiest, most unfettered access to the UNIX-y goodness under the hood of any mobile OS I've used (with the caveat that I, sadly, never got to play with any of the Nokia Linux-based mobile devices - though that's definitely on my bucket list). I'm certainly no Linux fanboy (BeOS & Solaris 4 life!!!!1111oneoneeleventy), but I'll admit that I do appreciate the consistency of having the same OS running on my servers, router (OpenWRT), HTPC (Mint + Kodi), and phone - along with the convenience having SSH access to all of them.

WebOS wasn't a product worthy of the Palm name.

While subjective, and while I don't agree - I can still understand where you're coming from on that one. I went from a Treo 680 to a Pre2 and had almost the same exact same reaction at first - partly, I think, because it had a vaguely similar aesthetic to PalmOS, so I had expected that it would work the same way. That said, after 6 months or so using of the Pre2 and getting used to the differences in the UI & the new concepts introduced in webOS, I came to prefer it to the older OS - and when booting up the Treo to look for an old contact, I was struck by how much clunkier & archaic the PalmOS UI felt in comparison.

I realize I'm starting to run up against the character limit - so I'll just end by saying: if genuinely you want to give webOS a fair shake & the depth of analysis it deserves on the best hardware it shipped on, then I'd strongly recommend picking up a Pre3 - the Pre2, while decent, really didn't do it as much justice as its predecessor (the 3 was a worthwhile upgrade just for the larger screen & VASTLY improved keyboard). They can be found for peanuts on eBay - hell, I have two of them & would be happy to give you my spare as long as you covered the cost of shipping it from Canada.

Reply Score: 2