A year after HP discontinued its webOS smartphones and tablets in 2011, the company began the process of open sourcing the software behind those devices. And that allowed a team of independent developers to keep the dream of webOS alive… sort of.

The webOS Ports team has been developing a fork of the operating system called LuneOS since 2014, but only a handful of (mostly old) devices are officially supported and developers have been pretty quiet for the last few years: up until this month the most recent release of LuneOS was nearly five years old. But that changed on February 15th, when the team released LuneOS Eiskaffee, the first stable build of the operating system since 2019.

WebOS has a somewhat complicated history: the operating system was developed by Palm as a last-ditch attempt to compete with Android and iOS. It introduced some interesting ideas like support for applications built using HTML5 and other web technologies, and a card-based multitasking interface that was later adopted by other operating systems.

But that wasn’t enough to keep Palm competitive, and the company sold its intellectual property to HP, which took over development of webOS hardware and software… very briefly. The company’s HP TouchPad was the only tablet ever to ship with webOS, and it was discontinued shortly after launch.

Ironically, HP’s fire sale following the cancellation of the TouchPad made it a popular device: it was one of the first genuinely decent tablets you could buy for $99, but only after HP slashed prices to clear out remaining inventory. And it had an interesting afterlife once hackers figured out how to replace its barely-supported webOS software with Android.

HP eventually sold webOS to LG, which adapted it for use on smart TVs. And that’s pretty much what it’s used for these days. But LG continues to offer an open source edition of webOS, and that’s useful for the folks behind LuneOS, who can continue to base their smartphone and tablet operating system off relatively up-to-date builds released by LG for smart TVs.

So what’s new in LuneOS Eiskaffee? Among other things, it brings a bunch of under the hood improvements a move from Qt5 to Qt6, updated versions of pulseaudio, wayland, and other base components, and a rebasing of the entire operating system on LG’s webOS OSE (Open Source Edition) software, which means LuneOS gets the benefits of sharing a code-base with LG including the fact that LG has tested its software on production devices (even if those devices are mostly TVs).

LuneOS developers have also added support for more devices including the PinePhone, PinePhone Pro, and PineTab2. Since those devices support a close-to-mainline Linux kernel, not only can they run webOS/LuneOS apps, but they also support Waydroid for running Android apps.

Other supported devices use Halium, which means that they use Android 9.0 drivers for communication between the hardware and software.

Those support devices are, like I said, mostly pretty old. They include the supported devices include the Google Nexus 4, Nexus 5 and Nexus 7 (2012 model), the Xiaomi A1, Redmi 5, and Redmi Note 4X, and HP TouchPad. But one of the goals the webOS team has is to “provide a GSI image for newer Android (9.0+) based devices” so that it’s relatively easy to flash a Halium-based build of LuneOS on most newer Android devices that have unlocked bootloaders.

There are also builds of LuneOS available for the Raspberry Pi 2 and Raspberry Pi 3 as well as VirtualBox Emulator image that allows you to test the operating system in a virtual machine.

Just don’t expect a complete, fully functional, or entirely up-to-date experience. According to the release notes, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done. Right now there’s no support for audio in web apps, for example, but the team says it plans to address that when it updates the browser engine from Chromium 94 to Chromium 108.

The team also says there’s work to do on the camera and multimedia architecture, and the roadmap calls for adding “new basic apps… such as Camera, FlashLight, Audio Player, Video Player.”

You can find downloads at GitHub, and device-specific installation instructions at the webOS-Ports website.

via @[email protected], webOS-ports, legacywebOSforums, and GitHub

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  1. It would be great if this system could be used in TVs. In terms of functionality, no one could match the LG TV.

    1. Modern TV webOS can’t do much other than Watch stuff and play bad html5 games and cloud game.

  2. The shortcomings of WebOS is the reason I found Liliputing. Many years ago Brad wrote an article about how to replace it with Android on the HP Touchpad

    1. Me too, 100%. I used my touchpad for years, all because of this website. I’m not a very nostalgic person, but webOS, and my HP Touchpad, will always bring me warm feelings. I’m happy with Android and my pixel phones, but I’ll always wonder what could have been if webOS caught on. In my personal opinion, it took Android several years to catch up with webOS and iOS, both of which were better than Android for a while.