Wednesday, July 08, 2009

WebOS'es, Big Oil, and The Nutty Professor

I'm not going to talk about it. However, it reminds me of some things from my past...

First, let me take you back to 2001. I was working for a start-up in the East Bay called RMX. We claimed to be the "Yahoo of convenience stores." In other words, we were a portal for owner/operators of convenience store/gasoline stations. We were backed by Chevron. All of their non-company stores used RMX to get data from Chevron, like when their next delivery of gas would be and how much it was going to cost them. They would also get promotional stuff from Chevron and other folks who sold lots of goods at convenience stores. Anyways, noticed I said non-company stores. Most gas stations selling Chevron gas are not owned by Chevron, they simply buy their gas from Chevron. Those stores were all required (by Chevron) to use RMX. Ch-ching. However, Chevron's so called "company owned, company operated" stores, or CoCos, did not use RMX :-( The reason? They did not have computers in these stores for fear that employees would waste time surfing the web and playing solitaire.

Being a savvy start-up whose income was tied to the number of stores using our service, we came up with a clever idea. We built the first WebOS. Ok, so not really, but close. We built a Windows program that would take over the Windows shell. So no explorer.exe for you. The new shell, would embed an IE control with the page automatically opened to the RMX portal. There was no navigation bar, or bookmarks, etc. If you tried to leave the RMX portal, we'd catch it and send you back. If you tried to close the shell, it would reboot the computer. There was no escape! WebOS FTW!

Anyways, many years later I would join another start-up called Sharefare (later renamed Ludi Labs.) Our goal was to build a WebOS! Our vision of a WebOS was a platform that handled all of your common tasks: email, bookmarks, photo/video/music management, blogging, etc. It was all through the web with all of your data stored in ... no not the cloud. We did not use that buzzword (maybe we should have.) Instead we had what we called a "cell architecture" and your data was stored in your cell. This was the brainchild of our founder/CEO, The Nutty Professor (Alan Bush, who is a great guy and brilliant to boot.) Our architecture was to have a UI layer on top of the WebOS. We called this the WebTop and that was my job. I wrote a programming language for the WebTop and implemented the language using a flammable combination of Java and JavaScript. It was a lot of fun, and probably the most academic exercise I will ever get to experience in my professional career. We never got to put it in the hands of customers, but at least I got a patent out of it.

So there, I've done the WebOS thing. Twice. Do people want this? I have no idea. In one case, we created a super-simplistic "OS", forced it on people, and did not care about their feedback (ok technically Chevron did the second two things.) In another case, we went for it all, but we never got the thing out the door, partially because it was a huge task.

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