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If you're going to do something, make it matter

HP's newest advertising campaign struck us at webOS Nation as interesting, if not outright ironic given the part of HP that we cover. It's an aspirational concept: "Make it matter". Here's the narration from the 60-second spot that introduced the campaign:

"It's something you're born with, and lives inside you, inspires the things you choose to do, things that may not always change the world in a big way, but can change it in a million little ways. You do what you do because it matters. At HP we don't just believe in the power of technology, we believe in the power of people when technology works for you. To do the things that matter. To dream. To learn. To create. To work. If you're going to do something, make it matter."

HP's website dedicated to the campaign shows a number of ways that HP believes highlights the "Make it matter" concept, including medical information technology, environmentally-friendly data centers, distance education, and of course printing. This is HP, after all; if you can't tie it into printing, you're not doing it right. Though we bashed the launch ad a bit to start, we'll admit that it's kind of grown on us as we get to know the concept a bit better. It's certainly worlds better than that poorly conceived and even more poorly received "Everybody On" campaign HP launched right around the introduction of the TouchPad, Veer, and Pre3.

But then, even with the impatient Leo Apotheker's pistol cocked and his finger hovering over the trigger, ready to obliterate any chance webOS stood in the market, the webOS Global Business Unit was trying to make it matter. They released the Veer and TouchPad and were hard at work getting more apps into the App Catalog and improving the tablet and smartphones with updates that improved stability, increased speed, and added functionality. Had webOS been given a chance under Apotheker it might have been able to matter, but we'll never know.

With webOS now going open source, HP has a chance to "make it matter" again, but even after my visit to the Palm campus (full disclosure: HP payed for both my flight and hotel) I'm not overflowing with confidence that the higher level HP organization is willing to enable them to make it happen. There's something to be said for corporate secrecy; you don't want to tip your hand before you're ready to play your cards, but with the current shape of the webOS userbase (a relative non-factor in the grand scheme of both HP's customer base and the mobile market as a whole; sorry folks) and HP's ongoing effort to open source webOS, it's simply a different game.

Here's my problem: the roadmap. HP's done a decent job of adhering to that roadmap, yes, though sometimes, as with the still incomplete Ares 2, that adherence has been in spirit only. In speaking with some former HP employees (HP was careful to instruct employees not to discuss business with me, aside from Enda McGrath and those in briefings with me), there was a division about how they felt about the roadmap. Overall the opinion was that the webOS group had become focused on fulfilling the roadmap, even if the goalposts set were unrealistic. Some believed that that having a goal - no matter how unachievable it was - was still a good thing; others characterized the roadmap as typical of HP, setting benchmarks to be achieved without an eye towards the quality of the results.

Either way, we're approaching the end of the roadmap. August is slated to include the release of the Open webOS build model, the first Beta for Open webOS, and a final release. There's a lot of pressure on the webOS group right now to deliver on this roadmap, but yet we know they want to deliver a quality product. I don't lack faith in the HP employees working on webOS - if they were incompetent they wouldn't be doing the work they're doing - but I still need to question the higher HP organization's aim, lack thereof, or failure to communicate such.

When the Open webOS roadmap was unveiled in January we got an idea of what to expect over the next seven months. We're now in month seven, and we have no clue what comes in September. Not a clue.

The problem is, as I've been saying for the past seven months, open source is not a plan. Open source is a step in what should be a much larger plan. If HP's going to, as CEO Meg Whitman said at the outset of their plan to open source webOS, be committed to webOS for at least a few more years, then what comes after open sourcing it? Does HP just sit and hope that somebody picks up the newly open sourced operating system, despite that it's not fundamentally different than the webOS we already know. It might perform better and run on more things than the webOS of a year ago, but is Open webOS any better, and thus any more likely to succeed, for being open source?

What does a multi-year commitment mean to Whitman, the HP board, and the rest of HP's leadership? Is it just keeping on the lights wherever the webOS group is working until they're tired of pouring HP's diminishing profits into an unsuccessful venture, or does it mean that HP starts making webOS hardware again and doubles down on making it a success. Or does it mean that HP cuts the middle path and convinces other manufacturers to use Open webOS on their hardware (perhaps the moves of Google and Microsoft give Open webOS an opening here)? We don't know, and frankly I'm not certain HP knows.

As we come up on the one year mark of HP's colossally boneheaded decision to axe webOS hardware less than two months after the TouchPad launched, I sincerely hope that HP believes their own marketing advice when it comes to webOS: If you're going to do something, make it matter.