HP’s Smartphone Announcement ‘Soul Crushing,’ Says Matthew McNulty:

But Matthew McNulty, the former senior director of the HP Enyo team, Enyo being the successor to webOS, said he would be surprised if HP used webOS for its new smartphone since many engineers have left the company, including McNulty who departed HP for Google in May.

However, if he still worked at HP, McNulty said the announcement from Whitman would have been devastating.

Matt’s right, and I think he speaks fairly for most webOS/Palm people, current and former.

But I think we need to be careful about trashing Meg here. 

We have to remember that Palm (the company) was a bit of a cluster — and the first phone shipped when it had to, not when it was ready to ship. And Palm was running out of money. And then HP stepped in and turned Palm into a much better funded cluster, and HP really did try to help Palm be successful. Except HP then got sidetracked into its own series of clusters, whether it was Mark Hurd (who along with Shane Robison were the primary supporters behind buying and funding Palm) being forced out over his choice of dinner companions, or HP hiring Leo (WHAT WERE THEY THINKING? OMG, WHO THOUGHT THAT WAS A GOOD IDEA?) and Leo trying to blow up any part of HP he didn’t understand, which was big parts of the company. 

So when Meg was brought in, her primary function was as a field surgeon, trying to keep the patient alive long enough to get to the hospital. Massive damage was done to HP and to webOS, and most of the webOS damage was almost of the “innocent bystander at a drive by shooting” type as a side effect of Leo’s attack on the PC division. 

Meg could have just written webOS off and shut it all down as a damaged investment not worth fixing. Given how many much bigger and strategic problems she had at HP when they brought her in, nobody would have blinked at that. But she brought in Marc Andreesen to help her figure out what to do, and they committed even more funding to give it a third life as an open source technology. Whatever you think about Leo, HP and how badly they screwed up things with webOS and Palm, it needs to be remembered that at least a couple of toes were shot off by Palm itself with it’s own gun before Leo pulled out the Uzi.

And in all honesty, Meg has done a rather amazing job of giving WebOS another chance, and has been honest about it. She could have used the “there are just too many bigger problems I need to deal with” excuse and shut it down cold. She could have put it on life support, or funded it just enough to let it fail and then said “I tried”. She could have just stuck it in a closet and quietly killed it a few months later when things quieted down. But she put an honest effort and honest levels of funding into giving it a shot, and she deserves full credit for that. 

And to the credit of the folks sticking it out with webOS (unlike myself, who ran like a rat off the ship when I had a chance to without any regrets…) they seem to be doing what they need to do, and I’ve been really impressed with the results so far. So maybe, just maybe, what Meg set in place will succeed. I’m sure rooting for it. And she deserves credit for that. Given how badly Leo screwed everything up, I’m frankly amazed how much progress she’s made at HP so far. Still a long, hard path for the company as a whole before it’s fixed, if it ever is, but IMHO, it’s in good hands.