In a bit of a double-whammy this morning, I learned that two major players in the open-source community have made strange moves of their own. HP’s Palm webOS, which they adopted for the princely sum of $1.2 billion, was almost the next leader of mobile phones and tablets. And then HP did an about-turn, sold all the tablets they had made on a fire sale and then stopped in-house development of webOS completely. And then dropped it down a mine shaft.
The OS resurfaced this past week in an open-source Beta powered by HP’s engineers, presumably in their spare time. The mobile OS was recently ported over to the Apache 2.0 GNU license and is now available for tinkerers for play around with. I predicted that the OS wouldn’t die, but I never saw the open-source move coming.
What’s interesting is that the project has also enabled support for webOS to appear on the OpenEmbedded platform. For those of you who don’t know, most embedded hardware runs either Windows Compact Embedded or some form of Linux, which is kept on soldered-in flash-based chips. Its usually pretty difficult to design something like an embedded platform with a touchscreen for use as a terminal and for that most developers tend to use Windows CE with a software overlay for touch devices. webOS aims to change that by being built for touch interaction from the ground up, while also having the very light hardware requirements that allow it to fit into the compact embedded space. This would make a very interesting project for a company that wants to deploy internet terminals, for example. This is a perfect example of the open-source community making opportunities available for companies looking to use the software.
But another giant in the open-source community has used legalities to effectively close off doors to other competitors in the cloud computing space. Google recently acquired the right to use a patent it filed back in 2009 entitled “Network based operating system across devices.” This patent effectively puts any open or closed platform that has ambitions to become an online OS at the mercy of the search giant. It covers virtual all aspects of “providing an operating system over a network to a local device” in a manner that would apply to any cloud OS that uses software other than a web browser. And even the web browser, as an entity that is regularly updated and would, conceivably, fill the role as operating system framework, would be touched by this patent.
Now you may not consider this to be of much concern to you but it is a big concern for Nvidia. At their launch of the next generation of Quadro and Tesla cards, Jen-Hsun Huang had a brief demonstration of their cloud gaming initiative. The company also had plans in the pipeline to allow for streamed desktops in the workplace, simplifying the rollouts of thin clients that we’re seeing more and more. Unlike Intel’s virtulisation technology with VT, Nvidia’s approach, called VGX, allows for one Quadro or Tesla card to provide up to a hundred unique streamed desktops all from one server. Its still compatible with Citrix’s Xenserver but it allows companies to use less powerful servers with a lot of PCI-Express slots for the GPUs. And best of all, it streams a network-based operating system across multiple devices. Yes, I can hear Google clapping in the background as well.
So in a nutshell, Google owns the patent for cloud computing if you’re streaming a desktop OS across multiple devices. That kind of creates a massive headache for companies like Teamviewer, who might have to pay royalties to use the patent from now on. It’ll more protect Google’s Chrome OS from being attacked by other companies with similar services and this especially a blow to OnLive.
Will Google use this patent for trolling other companies? That seems to be the biggest thing on everyone’s minds, regardless of how this protects Google’s own assets. What do you think, dear reader?