WebOS 2.1 - Give It a Spin with Emulation Through the WebOS SDK!

It seems like only yesterday that Palm announced its brand new Linux-based WebOS and Palm Pre, ready to shake up the world with awesomeness and Linux in a little package.  They matched that announcement up with a nifty little SDK that emulated the entire OS in VirtualBox, and was released as a .deb package for Ubuntu.  Someone even posted a HOWTO on the Linux Journal web site about it!

Wait... that wasn't yesterday?  It was over two years ago?  

Palm has since been sold to HP, you say?

Oh, excuse me.  Sorry about that.  It seems that the only constant in this world is change.

The last two years haven't exactly been rainbows and sunshine for the WebOS, economically speaking, but the HP acquisition of Palm  appears to have given the WebOS project a breath of fresh air.  They've announced a new version- WebOS 2.1, which includes native support for node.js, and some other cool developer features, such as "Exhibition Mode". Léo Apotheker, HP's new CEO, claims that their goals for WebOS are to be sold on 100 million devices a year and be included in every HP PC by 2012.  Those are ambitious goals, so wouldn't it be nice to get to kick the tires of the OS that will be prevalent in (HP) tablets, smart phones, PCs, and printers soon?

Guess what?  You're in luck.  An emulated version of WebOS is available in the WebOS 2.1 SDK. The SDK still runs by using the VirtualBox emulator and allows you to kick the tires of the newest version of the OS, allowing you to see if it's truly ready for prime-time.

Interested?  OK, let's do this.

(This HOWTO assumes that you have a Linux system that can install Ubuntu .deb packages.  If you would like something other than .deb files to be available for Linux installs, I'd suggest contacting Palm at pdc@palm.com to request them to release other versions, either now, or in the future.  Currently, the .deb package appears to be the only officially distributed version.)

Step 1:  Sign up for a Palm Developer Account at http://developer.palm.com/ (Alternatively, head directly to the Ubuntu SDK download page here.)

Step 2: If you have VirtualBox (3.2) and Java installed, skip these steps.  If you have VirtualBox 4.0, be advised that the SDK isn't yet compatible with VirtualBox 4.0 releases yet.  Directions for how to get Java and VirtualBox are listed in the Ubuntu SDK HOWTO.

Step 3: If you have a 64 bit installation, make sure that you have ia32-libs installed.

Step 4: Download the WebOS 2.1 SDK, as well as the palm novacom package that is appropriate for your system.  Go to the directory where you downloaded the files, and install those packages as directed:

32 bit systems:

sudo dpkg -i palm-sdk_2.1.0-svn409992-pho519_i386.deb
sudo dpkg -i palm-novacom_1.0.64_i386.deb

64 bit systems:

sudo dpkg -i --force-architecture palm-sdk_2.1.0-svn409992-pho519_i386.deb
sudo dpkg -i --force-architecture palm-novacom_1.0.64_amd64.deb

Step 5 (for developers only): If development is your thing, download the documentation/code samples, and check out the Build Your First App Tutorial, SDK Sample Projects and Developer Video Library.  Also, you can install the WebOS Eclipse plugin.

Give WebOS a try.


At this point, you can open the emulator by typing "palm-emulator" in the command prompt.  Keep in mind that the WebOS devices usually have a "gesture area" below the screen, and that isn't present on the emulator, nor are the multi-touch capabilities like pinching to zoom.  However, there are some emulated gestures that can be performed using the keyboard and mouse:

  • Escape - Back Gesture
  • End - Flick Up Gesture
  • Home - Center Button
  • Left/Right arrows switch applications
  • Shift - Shift
  • Alt - Option
  • Double left mouse click - zoom in/out

WebOS is a Linux based OS with a lot of potential.  Developer and community support will go a long way in making this OS ready for its time in the limelight.  If your experience with the emulator has whet your appetite for the real thing, check out the Palm Developer Device Program and the Palm Developer Mailing List, as you may have the opportunity to obtain hardware at substantial discounts.  Either way, enjoy your WebOS experience, powered by the flexibility of Linux.


Linux rocks!
Personal blog: zootlinux.blogspot.com


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Krishnan's picture

I don't know why all LINUX based OS's should use JAVA for their application development, and why not some other language/package. There seems to be less differentiation factor between each of these phones, when it comes to development. MS is the only one which abstains from JAVA and understandably. Why not leverage RUBY, PERL, PYTHON or even shell scripts. Not that I am unhappy with JAVA, but I am thinking it's not good to have all your development on something that's not yours. What if the rug is pulled from underneath.

Author's Comment

Ross Larson's picture

WebOS uses JavaScript, not Java, as its main language. Both WebOS and Android have native C++ development toolkits available.
WebOS calls their C++ toolkit the PDK:
Android calls their C++ toolkit the NDK:

Concerning Ruby, Perl, Python, and shell scripting:

For Python in WebOS, check out the PyPalm project at
https://github.com/grundprinzip/PyPalm . Also, check out this thread on the Palm Developer forum concerning Python:

For Android, see the Google Code page for the Android Scripting Environment (ASE):

I hope that these links provide you some resources for using different programming languages on Linux-based smartphone operating systems.

Linux rocks!
Personal blog: zootlinux.blogspot.com


Toni's picture

No Windows, Apple or Google for me. Nokia is going the same road by not standing by Meego.. This leaves HP with WebOS. I'll wait for the release of the Pre3 (with WebOS 3.0). Or is there any other Linux-based alternative in the smartphone market?

Author's Comment

Ross Larson's picture

Smartphones that use Samsung's "bada" platform can use either a Linux or proprietary kernel.
I'm not sure how "Linux-y" the platform actually is, as I have very limited experience with it.

China Unicom recently announced a Linux based smartphone OS called "Wophone OS", but I'm not sure that that there are plans to release it to North America or Europe.

Linux rocks!
Personal blog: zootlinux.blogspot.com

i'm still waiting this in my

anang shikamaru's picture

i'm still waiting this in my country..it's hard to find palm here :(

Hope they fixed a few of the ... features...

David Lane's picture

Well, as a long time Palm user, I was really psyched to get my Palm Pre+ when my Centro finally came off lease. One of the things I was looking forward to was the improved OS.

Fast forward a year and I am less than happy with WebOS. We will skip the bashing, and the lack of any usable additional applications (like a good mileage and expense tracker) but highlight a few short comings. Things that I had standard on my Centro, that I had migrated from my first Palm Pilot no longer worked. The memo feature, which was great in the old OS is now a "pretty" but unsyncable "post-it" note, meaning that any notes you had (like recipes, short cuts, passwords, etc) are pretty much useless and unfindable and unrecoverable. I no longer even use the feature and I lived in my memos.

I am also not jonesing on the lack of support for basic office automation. Sure I can read a Word document on my Palm, but the ability to edit it is gone. But hey, I can now watch movies (end sarcasm).

But what really gets me is the mobile hotspot. It would seem that some flavors and versions of Linux, like Fedora, Red Hat, and Ubuntu don't like the hotspot. They probe it and wait for an ack. Which never comes because the hotspot was not designed to spec. Which makes using the Palm Pre as a hotspot for Linux devices problematic - and that is on good days. My UNR 9.04 works, 9.10 doesn't, nor does Core 13 or RHEL 6.

I could go on, but come renewal time, an Android is likely where I am going. Palm used to make some good, cutting edge devices. The Centro was a work-around when my Treo went bad. The Pre is the end of the line.

David Lane, KG4GIY is a member of Linux Journal's Editorial Advisory Panel and the Control Op for Linux Journal's Virtual Ham Shack

Why not distribute it as a disk image?

Brendan Kidwell's picture

Uhm, why isn't it distributed as a simple cross-platform disk image like a "Virtual Appliance"? BitNami has no problem distributing prebuilt servers for VirtualBox and VMWare using a single image file. You should be able to install more than one VM platform's client drivers side-by-side before you distribute; the incorrect ones on the target machine just won't run.

Anyone wishing to try WebOS on a non-Debian system or with a newer version of VirtualBox: I recommend downloading the .deb, opening it in an archive tool, and extracting the VirtualBox files. You'll probably be able to run the disk image on anything, possibly after a quick conversion step.

Author's Comment

Ross Larson's picture

One of the reasons that HP/Palm chose to package the emulator up the way that they did was to allow application developers to use the same commands to develop applications on the emulator as well as on physical devices. This is accomplished through the novacom daemon and the programs that were packaged with the virtual machine. A good explanation of the entire emulator framework is here:

I am a little sad that the SDK isn't available for non-Debian systems, and I think users who wish to use it should find workarounds, but also give feedback to HP to indicate to them that you wish future versions to be multi-distro friendly.

Linux rocks!
Personal blog: zootlinux.blogspot.com