2011-02-09

HP + Linux = Ending the Microsoft Addiction?

HP has been best known for its peripheral computer devices, especially printers and scanners, though it is also well-known for its desktop computers, and, to a lesser extent, laptops and netbooks. Its printers and other peripherals are held in high regard for fully working with Linux distributions out-of-the-box, but it has never officially supported Linux among its product portfolio. Sure, it has sold business-/enterprise- and server-grade computers with SUSE (SLED, not openSUSE), but those are tucked away in dark corners of its website; even Dell, with its on-again, off-again, relationship with Ubuntu, does sort of advertise its Ubuntu-based machines. Well, that's all about to change at HP.
Today, HP first announced a couple WebOS-based phones and a new WebOS based tablet to compete with Apple's iPad. WebOS is HP's mobile operating system based on Linux; as far as I know, other than using the Linux kernel and base GNU tools, WebOS is not related to Android, and the two will probably compete in the mobile marketplace. But the most exciting part came later: HP announced that not only would WebOS come in phones and tablets, but it would also make its way into its printers and PCs. That's right: HP is introducing its own Linux-based competitor to Microsoft Windows. Sweet! This could, after all, be the oft-proclaimed year of the Linux desktop.
Of course, with this new announcement comes new responsibilities; now HP has absolutely no excuse for their peripherals not fully supporting Linux, considering many of them will run Linux under the hood. Then again, as I said earlier, HP has been pretty good to Linux so far in terms of peripheral support.
But there's another aspect to HP's WebOS announcement. If you noticed, WebOS is supposed to be a mobile platform; yet, it's being ported to conventional desktops as well. This is similar to how Ubuntu's Unity interface, originally designed for netbooks and similarly small screens, will become the default interface for desktops as well, and how future versions of Google Chrome OS will likely be very much like Android scaled up for netbooks. In addition, it looks like GNOME 3 was also designed with small form factors in mind, what with the Activities feature and the panel only being able to show the active task, and this has been scaled up for traditional desktops. I think there's a new trend here of creating new interfaces designed for mobile devices and then scaling them up for desktop use, and I think for that reason it's true that the future of end-user computing is in mobile devices. A while back I wrote a post about how Microsoft's push for Windows 7 on netbooks was misguided and that it should scale up the Windows Phone 7 interface instead to make better use of hardware resources, similar to how Apple scaled up the iPhone's iOS for use in the iPad instead of trying to cram in Mac OS X. Well, now that we're seeing mobile OSs being scaled up to full desktops and not just netbooks, I don't think Microsoft is just misguided anymore — I think they're dead wrong, and I think it's already costing them.
The only concern I have though is that WebOS on desktops and laptops may be relegated as a lightweight "instant-on"-style OS secondary to Microsoft Windows, similar to what Asus did for a while on its laptops and netbooks. Then again, HP seems to be pretty darn serious about WebOS for desktops, and not just because consumers want something fast; they recognize that consumers also want the same polish found in modern mobile OSs, so I don't think WebOS will be playing second fiddle to Microsoft Windows on future HP desktops/laptops.

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