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Update or die: HP issuing mandatory patch to save webOS device services

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HP webOS_640
HP webOS_640

Today is the four-year anniversary of the retail release of the first Palm Pre. It's also a day to reflect on the fact that each and every webOS device has what amounts to a ticking time bomb inside it, set to go off on July 23rd, 2013. A "Root Certificate" will expire on that day, and it's required to safely and securely access online webOS services including backup, restore, app catalog, and even activation. Both HP and the webOS community have been aware of this issue for some time, and many thought HP would need to issue a full OS update in order to save those online services.

Apparently not, as today the company will announce that it's issuing a "mandatory" update to a single app, the App Catalog, which will resolve the issue. If you have a webOS device either in your pocket or — more likely — in a drawer somewhere, you should power it up and install the update. Doing so should update your root certificate and allow your webOS to continue to communicate with HP's servers.

HP's solution is a bit of a hack

Make no mistake, HP's solution is a bit of a hack. A much more elegant solution would be to issue a full OS update — but you can assume that HP has no desire to go through the effort (and spend the money) required to get an OS update approved by the various carriers that once supported webOS. If you don't install the update by July 23rd, you'll need to fall back to another solution. As HP puts it, "After the expiration of the certificate on July 23, 2013 the user will need to set the system time back to a date prior to July 23, 2013 and follow the same procedure outlined above to update the certificate." To get around the activation issue, HP will allow devices to go through the "first use" with a bad certificate, and then update from there.

In the four years since webOS was released, the failures, buyouts, and drama that ensued have brought us to this point: the devices are no longer sold, the company has been split up between LG and HP, and webOS is only used by a dwindling number of enthusiasts and people trapped by two-year contracts. So the number of people actually affected here is surely quite low.

Those still hanging on have other options to fix up their aging webOS devices: WebOS Internals has created a "Survival Kit" that tech-savvy users can use to make their phones fully operational separate from HP's online services. Given the wild history of webOS under HP, it wouldn't be a bad idea to explore that option.