MWC: The rise and fall of Web-based operating systems

By Nathaniel Mott , written on February 26, 2013

From The News Desk

Barcelona has been overrun by mobile operating systems. Home of the Mobile World Congress (MWC), Barcelona has played host to the rise of Firefox OS, the "whimpering" end of webOS, and the merger of Bada, Samsung's own operating system, and Tizen, an open-source, HTML5-based operating system.

Firefox OS has captured many of the headlines from MWC 2013. The first Firefox OS devices, built by ZTE and Alcatel for developing markets, were announced; the operating system's global expansion and plans to reach the US by 2014 were made public; and Sony, LG, and Huawei were revealed to be developing Firefox OS phones just as Samsung, which has seemed content to use whatever mobile operating system presents its source code, gave it a snub.

Mozilla is promising an open, developer-and consumer-friendly operating system with Firefox OS. The nonprofit company previously discussed its decision to utilize HTML5 for its operating system with me, arguing that the open Web is better for a mobile ecosystem than the closed approach of iOS and Android. This year's announcements at MWC 2013 will take some time to come to fruition, but, like Canonical and its long-term plans for the Ubuntu operating system, Mozilla seems content to enter the mobile market at its own pace.

And so it happens that the preeminent Web-based operating system begins its rise just as its predecessor continues to fall. WebOS (technically "webOS," but typeset this way for our sanity) has been sold to LG for use in smart television sets. LG's intent for the operating system, which it bought from HP -- which, in turn, bought it with the rest of Palm in 2010 -- is vague at best; The Verge reports that the company seems "hesitant and even confused" as to why it purchased the operating system.

Eulogies for WebOS have cropped up around the Web, with TechCrunch and (predictably) WebOS Nation pouring one out for the presumed-dead operating system. This is a far cry from just three years ago when HP said that it would "double down" on WebOS -- a promise that was broken after the HP TouchPad was discontinued and underwent a fire sale just months after its release.

LG, like HP before it, has committed to maintaining an open-source version of WebOS. What effect this will have beyond keeping the WebOS faithful among the flock for another few years is hard to tell. Maybe WebOS, as it exists right now, will simply be used to power LG's smart televisions and the false hope of everyone who dared love it.

In other, non-depressing news about mobile operating systems, Samsung has confirmed that it will incorporate Bada, its operating system, into Tizen, an HTML5-based operating system built on MeeGo's ashes. (Spotting a trend?) Only "the best features" of Bada will make their way into Tizen, but the operating system will support Bada apps "out of respect for its fallen comrade."

Samsung, which dominates the Android market (and the smartphone market in general), has long been rumored to be mulling a shift to Tizen. “The Tizen was born as Samsung hoped to lighten its growing dependence on Google on concerns that its top position in the smartphone market may weaken following the Google- Motorola tie-up,” Byun Han Joon, a Seoul-based analyst at KB Investment & Securities, told Bloomberg Businessweek in January. (Fear seems to be a two-way street, as the Wall Street Journal reports that Google is anxious about Samsung's massive market share.)

MWC 2013, which is still going on, will be remembered for a few things. One is the fact that someone at Asus thought selling products called the PadFone and the FonePad was a good idea. The other is that it played host to a potential rise of Web-based operating systems even as it provided the backdrop for another's eclipse.

[Image Credit: Mozilla]