From the TouchPad's ashes rises the phoenix of open source |

From the TouchPad's ashes rises the phoenix of open source

Posted 30 Aug 2011 by 

Ruth Suehle (Red Hat)
(4 votes)
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HP's attempt to kill the TouchPad proved two things: the appeal of a $99 tablet and the power of open source communities.

The first is clear--even if you hadn't decided how a tablet would fit into your life, it's a lot easier to figure it out for $99 than for $500. Too bad the BOM to build the TouchPad was more than $300. (Maybe it's time to subsidize tablets.)

The second is still a work in progress. But what we've seen so far is evidence of the ability of open source communities to do just about anything, including bring the dead back to life. (Generally without zombie side effects.)

Many have said that HP should simply hand webOS over to the open source community. Instead, they're considering licensing it to other manufacturers. Wouldn't it be something to see a world with a truly open tablet? Unfortunately that looks pretty unlikely.

But open source always has a Plan B. In no time after HP announced the TouchPad would be discontinued, a group formed to port Android to the device. More groups formed. There was a setback. A $2,300 bounty for a working port. Strange reports that it had already happened. It would be a pretty big upgrade--Android and its hundreds of thousands of apps working on this pricey hardware instead of webOS with just a tiny fraction of that. (HP in retrospect might reconsider their position that number of apps doesn't matter. A tablet cannot live on Angry Birds alone.)

Finally yesterday, two exciting ideas came together: the highly popular CyanogenMod and that $99 tablet. It's not perfect yet, but it's a start. Meanwhile, if you were lucky enough to get one of the discounted devices, you could try putting Ubuntu on it--and still dual boot to webOS if you'd like to keep it around.

No, Android is not 100% open source. But it is 100% the spirit and way of open source that is making this resurrection possible. There was an opportunity and a need, which is all a group of willing hackers need to go to work. Giving any good project over to the community means giving it life.


Open Source Evangelist

Putting a working, full-blown Linux would be great to see. Currently other than Android there are no options and so people are stuck with the App-store list of limited applications while a whole world of apps are available for the Linux platform.

Plus with the recent changes in the Gnome 3 and the Unity desktop environments, they seem to be a good fit for tablet use.

I'm tempted, if I can get my hands on a $99 one!

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KDE's Plasma Active is designed to run on tablets. It's 100% open source. And it is running today on a couple of tablets. There a some videos out there. Search for "plasma active".

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While I would love to see both a full Android port and an open-source webOS, I think there's a key thing to remember here: the problem with the TouchPad was the hardware. The webOS engineers have been saying since before the TouchPad release that HP crippled the product by shipping it with inadequate hardware. Someone unofficially managed to shoehorn webOS onto an ipad2, and it ran twice as fast.

There is surely a hobbyist market for cheap but low-end tablet hardware. It existed for at least a year before the TouchPad, was mostly running Android out of the box, and they have sold very poorly. The curent rush on the TouchPad seems more like bargain hunting than anything else.

It's too bad that HP hasn't opened either the TouchPad or webOS to libre/open source. I'd love to see someone like Red Hat offer to take webOS over from them.

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Ruth Suehle leads community marketing for Red Hat's Open Source and Standards team, including the Fedora Project and is the moderator of the Life channel here on She's co-author of Raspberry Pi Hacks