In a blog post dated June 19 and aimed at their Palm Pre developer community Palm appears to give an indication that they’ll be accepting (or at least tolerant) of third party hacks to their new webOS operating system which recently debuted on the Palm Pre. I”m not a developer but from listening to several podcasts (and sleeping in a Holiday Inn Express last night) I’ve deduced that some portions of the webOS code isn’t protected from casual hacking which may create a fertile opening for hackers and developers. But is this a good thing?
In the back of my mind I wonder whether Palm might be headed down an old familiar path of easy and accessible OS hacks.
Remember back to the days when developers actually pushed out new applications for the Palm platform? I can distinctly remember loading up several Palm applications and suddenly experiencing instability. It seemed that any person with a PC and developer kit could call themselves a Palm programmer – and they did.
Remember when Palm applications were distributed through every corner of the Internet – and not through a central controlled App Store (which for all it’s negatives has one big benefit of presumed quality control).
From my admittedly amateur observation – taking on anyone and everyone as a developer and allowing “hacks” (which happens if your code isn’t secured) leads to general instability and overall much less usefulness of the Palm (or any consumer oriented) platform.
I flat out started to avoid any new Palm devices because so many of their third party applications appeared to me to be unstable and subject to frequent crashes. I had perhaps half a dozen Palm devices. My Treo only lasted maybe 6 months before I gifted it to my brother in law due to instability. The same held true for my other Palm devices. I remember loading them up with super helpful applications. Then I’d reach some critical point where a poorly hacked application would crash frequently. That usually spelled the end of my love affair with the particular Palm model I was using.
For those reasons I’m thinking that a “let them experiment with webOS” attitude that the Palm folks may be embracing could lead us again down the path of batches of crap apps that play POORLY with each other and are unstable, crash frequently and cause people like me to avoid the Palm brand.
Here’s an excerpt from the recent Palm Developer Net blog:
We’ve also begun getting questions about Palm’s stance toward the webOS development “experiments” that have emerged outside the early access program over the last week. We’re focused on building a robust and easy-to-use Mojo SDK, and an ecosystem that benefits developers, end users, carriers and Palm alike. As on any popular platform, we recognize that some developers will experiment in ways that cross official boundaries, but we believe that our formal offerings – and community efforts built around those offerings – will provide the best experience for the vast majority of webOS developers and users. (source)
You can complain all you want about Apple’s closed iTunes store and their sometimes lengthy App Store approval process. The end result (in most cases) is a thriving development community that keeps growing. In large part it keeps growing because people are confident in the downloads. In my opinion one thing that started to bring down Palm (amongst MANY things not the least of which was an antiquated OS and stale hardware design) was that many Palm applications became abandon-ware and many of them were generally unstable (probably due to lack of developer attention) as they became incompatible with the future Palm OS.
Admittedly the iPhone App Store is extremely young (when judged against Palm’s long history). So we may yet see the Apple iTunes App Store become filled with “abandonware” much as I observed happen with Palm. If that is to happen I think the whole Apple eco-system has a big advantage that the old Palm didn’t have — and that all downloads (and the core OS) are tightly controlled. If an app becomes abandonware in the future I’d hope that Apple develops a way to segregate those unused/unloved programs so they aren’t sold to unsuspecting iPhone downloaders. Now if only Apple developed a way to eliminate applications like Oops I Crapped My Pants they’d have a near perfect ecosystem.
Perhaps the webOS operating system will thrive with people hacking it to pieces and adding functionality that greatly benefits the community of Palm webOS users.
Perhaps it will attract only highly skilled programmers who implement great hacks that turn out to be insanely stable.
And maybe the marketplace has changed so that the general skill level (and programming tools) is much better than the era of the early Palm OS. I’m not betting on that. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned it’s that the past is a pretty good predictor of the future – and I’m hoping that Palm doesn’t repeat the mistakes of their past and ruin what could become a much brighter future.