HP has published a blog post that describes the Open webOS governance model. The project will adopt a similar approach to that of the Apache Software Foundation. Code will be developed in public repositories and key community contributors will be able to earn commit privileges. The standard of inclusiveness and transparency set by this governance model will make the Open webOS project more open than Google's Android open source project (AOSP).
The webOS platform was originally developed by Palm, which HP acquired in 2010. HP had intended to use the operating system across a wide range of hardware products. That plan was abandoned by former HP CEO Leo Apotheker, who gutted webOS development while trying to extricate the company from the consumer hardware business.
Meg Whitman, HP's current CEO, announced in December that HP would liberate webOS and transition the platform to an open source software development model. As we wrote at the time, the decision created the potential for webOS to be more open than Android. The governance model that HP announced this week will put the project on exactly that course.
The Open webOS project and the AOSP both distribute their code under the Apache Software License, a permissive open source software license that allows code to be incorporated into proprietary derivatives. This means that the two platforms are equivalent in terms of licensing.
As we pointed out when Google chose the Apache license for Android, permissive licenses are a good choice for open source mobile platforms because they give hardware vendors and other adopters the flexibility they need to differentiate their products.
Google's governance model
The area where Open webOS and the AOSP diverge with respect to their relative openness is governance. Android is largely developed behind closed doors by Google and Google's partners. Google makes the Android source code available in large code drops that typically come after each major release.
Independent developers and companies that rely on the Android platform don't have access to the latest Android code while it is being developed and can't actively participate in the process. Many aspects of the platform roadmap are opaque and major API changes are typically not disclosed to application developers until late in the development cycle.
Google accepts Android patches from independent contributors, but the barrier to entry is set somewhat high. Key community members do not get commit access or the ability to engage in the decision-making process. The vast majority of community engagement around the AOSP code takes place in downstream forks that are maintained by the community. This happens at the platform level with projects like Cyanogen and also at the application level with projects like K-9.
The Open webOS approach
The Open webOS project will take a different approach. The components that make up the platform (such as Enyo and Iris) are being split into individual subprojects, each of which will act as its own upstream environment. The code is being developed on GitHub in public code repositories that are available to everyone. Contributors will be able to branch from the latest code and submit pull requests when they implement improvements.
Each individual subproject will have its own Project Management Committee (PMC) that will be responsible for coordinating the decision-making process, electing new committee members from the community, and determining which contributors will be given commit status. Such decisions will be made on the basis of meritocratic standards. Most of the developers who have commit access will initially come from HP, but additional community contributors will be added as outside engagement in the project increases. Rod Whitby, webOS community member and the founder of the webOS Internals group, is the leader of the community development PMC and is already committing code to one of the Open webOS subprojects.
In terms of code availability and transparent development, the existing components of Open webOS are already more open than the AOSP. Of course, there is still a lot more code to open. If HP follows through with its plan and brings more community members in on equal footing in both the PMCs and the committer pool, they can also achieve for Open webOS a much more inclusive and participatory development environment than the one that exists around the AOSP.
Another great aspect of the Open webOS development model is that the individual subprojects have been established with a broader mandate than merely perpetuating the webOS platform. Enyo and Isis, two key components of webOS that have already been opened, are being designed with portability in mind so that the projects will have broader applicability and can potentially be used in many other kinds of environments. This will help attract contributors and ensure that the projects stay relevant even if the webOS mobile platform fades away entirely.