WebOS Developer Interview With Pivotal Labs

Pivotal LabsPivotal Labs are a California Bay Area based software development consultancy who've worked with a lot of big names, including Twitter, Best Buy and Salesforce.com. Named by Ed Colligan in Palm's CES presentation as one of the first webOS software partners, they've been working with webOS and the Mojo SDK for some time now, helping other developers for the platform get up to speed on the new tech.

On Friday we had a chance to talk with their VP of Business Development, Christian Sepulveda, who shared some insights about Pivotal's experience with Palm's shiny new toys. Read on for the interview transcript, or to listen to the audio.

Pivotal Labs Audio Interview (13:36)

Pivotal Labs Interview Transcript

Palm Infocenter: This is Tim Carroll for Palminfocenter.com, and I'm speaking with Christian Sepulveda, Vice President of Business Development at Pivotal Labs. Hi Christian – how are you?

Christian Sepulveda: I'm good thank you.

PIC: Alright – first, could you tell us a little bit about Pivotal Labs and what you guys do?

CS: Sure. So, we're a software consultancy based in the Bay area of California, that tends to do a lot of software development for our clients – so, we're not a typical outsourcing shop, we tend to focus on core development, and our emphasis on agile process is a big part of our offering. So we try to work with our clients directly and many times with their developers directly and transfer our process along with ownership of the project.

PIC: Okay, so you develop software for other – for clients, and so forth.

CS: Right. So, some of the clients are publicly listed on our website include people like Salesforce.com, Best Buy, Twitter and a whole variety of others but those are probably some of the more recognisable names.

PIC: Right, right. So how long have you guys been working with Mojo and the webOS?

Palm Pre PartnersCS: For a few months now. We were involved a little while before the CES – some time before the CES announcement.

PIC: Right – Pandora were telling us that they were invited to a developer camp at Palm around Thanksgiving, were you guys a part of that?

CS: We were.

PIC: (laughs) How was that? How did you find the experience?

CS: It was great. I mean, it was definitely – without going into details – it got us excited about the platform. It was – we saw a lot of possibilities and basically pursued a stronger relationship from there.

PIC: Right. So how come – why did Palm come to you guys? Did you have particular expertise that made you an attractive development partner to them?

CS: We'd like to think so – we basically have a pretty good set of clients and a very good reputation for delivering software and being able to keep up with changes and be very flexible and fast-moving. So we'd tend to think we're a good partner to work out things in a pre-release setting where there is some change and you need people to be able to keep pace.

PIC: Okay – so, without going into too much detail, would you be able to tell us what you're working on with webOS? Is it a mobile version of Pivotal Tracker, or something similar?

CS: I can't really go into details, other than to say we're working with some other third parties to help them get some great apps on the Pre. We'll probably put out an app or two ourselves...

PIC: Gotcha. Okay, a two-part question – you guys have had a chance to peek under the hood with Mojo, as it were, so it's a good opportunity to ask – are you guys familiar with development for the original Palm OS? And do you think there'll be a big adjustment for developers who want to move from that to Mojo and webOS? Any big surprises for them – anything that's sort of pleasantly different, anything they might miss?

CS: I personally don't have a lot of familiarity with development for the original Palm OS. Some of our developers do and some of these same developers are working with Mojo. I guess I could say that there's definitely a lot of – I think the transition won't be hard at all. I also think that the – how could I put this? A lot of what's in Mojo is based on common tools and languages already available. The native applications using Javascript and HTML is noted on the developer website for Palm – those technologies are generally readily accessible to most developers anyway. So I think not only existing Palm developers but most developers will actually find it very easy to get acclimated to the platform.

PIC: Okay, well that actually kind of leads into my next question... Palm are obviously betting that this is going to attract a whole new generation of web developers who may never have programmed for mobile devices before. Web development skills – do you think they're easily ported to webOS?

CS: I think many of them are. Not all of them. There will probably be some differences, just because you're writing a native application instead of a typical web-browser response type of thing. But I think people will be able to use most of their skills and that is definitely the intention. We've seen with our own developers that they've come up to speed very fast.

PIC: Okay. You've made a blog posting on your website where you said that the Mojo experience was more like using Rails or Django and less like using C++. Would you be able to expand on that at all – what makes it so? Is it that Mojo is a more productive environment than C++...?

CS: I can't get into too many details here, to be honest... I can say that Pivotal's been around for awhile and we've been looking at the mobile space also for awhile. And while we've done work on some other platforms and done projects there, we haven't really made a big mobile push until now. And a big part of that was because of the platform and the fact that we basically think it's really solid for developers and lets you really focus on your content and the user experience rather than ugly infrastructure and overhead in the language.

PIC: So... is it more productive then? You can get more done with less coding?

CS: I definitely would say that.

PIC: Great. Okay, so let's say I'm a hotshot C programmer and I want to take on webOS. What should I be looking at if I wanted to prepare for Mojo?

CS: I think it's the same things that you should be preparing for when you look at general web application development. A lot of it depends on what your familiarity is, with the languages and the options. If you're a Javascript developer – if you have experience with Javascript and HTML5 then I think you're going to find the transition simple. If you're a C++ developer who's never touched the web I don't think it's a question of what do you do to prepare for Mojo so much as your skill set matching with current web technologies.

PIC: Do you think it'd be – in your opinion, as developers – are web languages easier to pick up than C++? Let's say you're a complete novice at developing altogether and this'd be your first programming effort-

CS: My opinion is without a doubt, yes. I mean, I am a former C++ developer. C is the first language I learned, moved to C++ and then the Java revolution et cetera... so seeing all those different transitions I definitely think it's a lot easier to pick up the current languages. This also goes outside the Mojo stuff, to Rails, Django etc. I think they're a lot easier for people to get their head around. They basically have a nice – you can get productive quickly and then as you learn more you can do more and more powerful things. I think that's going to be consistently true here too.

PIC: Okay, great. Some people have been wondering how a web-language-based platform like webOS and Mojo is going to make sense for things like games and media players. What's your take on that – what sort of games might work well on webOS? What might not?

CS: That's probably going to be hard for me to answer without going into things that I can't really talk about – I definitely think there's going to be a lot of good possibilities and I'm going to have to leave it at that.

Pivotal Labs

PIC: (laughs) Okay then, fair enough. So, onto Pivotal Tracker – it's designed to help agile software development. Do you think Mojo lends itself well to agile practices – y'know, like test-driven development? Do you think Palm are trying to provide a more modern approach to software development with Mojo?

CS: I think Palm is definitely looking to adopt and integrate a lot of new ideas, but they're also not looking to require people to work in a particular way. So for example, where Pivotal is a very – I mean, we definitely have very strong opinions about process – I think Mojo's open enough that it'll accommodate whatever sort of development approach and practices that people have. That said, for Pivotal's part, we're definitely going to be open-sourcing and releasing a variety of tools to help developers that are interested in adopting agile practices and bringing them to Mojo.

PIC: Okay - a more general question now: what would be your opinion of the state of mobile development in general. I mean, there's so many new platforms out there... does Palm coming out with yet another one make things harder? Or is it more that webOS's new method of merging browser and native applications – is that the wave of the future we're looking at here?

CS: For my part, looking at it, making our own guess on this, I think you can divide the mobile world into, very simply into two basic camps. There's kind of a very old style of development that I think platforms like Symbian and some others represent, where you're doing anything from native C and C++ to – you might be doing Java even. I have some experience with Windows CE development and it's... okay... but I think it's kind of a different paradigm. I think then you're seeing with Android and to a degree even iPhone a sort of newer thinking and I think webOS is definitely going to be at the forefront of newer thinking.

PIC: Okay, so moving on a bit – have you guys had a chance to play with the Pre hardware at all? What was your take on it?

CS: I was at CES when they did the demo and the definitely had it available for people-

PIC: Ah, lucky man...

CS: -at their VIP lounge, and it's a pretty amazing device. It just really is –it definitely evokes a lot of gadget lust.

PIC: (laughs) Yeah, sort of watching from afar here in Australia as I have been, it's been sort of making me drool over my monitor a bit... so, Palm, they've obviously taken a few hits lately, being stuck with the old Palm OS and stuff... do you think that Pre and the webOS, this has really brought them into the future? This is going to put them back in the game?

CS: I definitely think so. We're making that bet.

PIC: Okay, last question: do you have any idea, or a general guess, not asking you to reveal anything, but how long do you think we are from seeing Mojo made public? So that developers can get their teeth stuck into it?

CS: There I can actually honestly say I don't know much more than the public does. I believe that Palm's released publicly that they're looking at – at least for the device launch – I'm not even sure what it says, I think Q2 maybe, on their website... but I honestly don't know more than what they're saying publicly.

PIC: Okay, perhaps looking at it from a different angle then... is the version that you've been working with... does it feel more or less complete? Does it feel like there's bits missing at all?

CS: It's a great platform right now. Definitely.

PIC: Alright, I guess that sort of wraps it up, unless there's something where you're sitting here wondering "Why didn't he ask that?" Is there anything else you feel you'd like to get out there about your experience working with Mojo?

CS: Not to sound too much like a fanboy here-

PIC: (laughs)

CS: - we believe it's a great platform. We're kind of hardcore geek shop... we're very much... we're an incredibly geeky company. I may be the VP of Business Development, but that just means I have the most business inclination of all the technical people we have. We think this is a great platform and it really suits well our development style and development practices and it has us excited. And we haven't been excited about the alternatives yet.

PIC: Cool. Well, alright, that about wraps it up for us. Thanks very much for your time here Christian, I'll email you a link to this interview once we've put it up – and I wouldn't worry too much about coming across as a fanboy, you're about to go up on a totally Palm fanboy site (laughs). Thanks very much for your time mate.

CS: Thank you very much.

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Good interview

zuhmir @ 2/15/2009 1:07:54 PM # Q
I enjoyed reading it :-)

RE: Good interview
freakout @ 2/15/2009 2:38:22 PM # Q
RE: Good interview
mikecane @ 2/15/2009 5:37:00 PM # Q
Interesting reading. Nebulous as all hell, as I expected. Sheesh.

RE: Good interview
CFreymarc @ 2/17/2009 2:36:37 PM # Q
So in summary, it can be said like this ...

We were on board for a while since we are good at moving code to a new platform with an internal set of porting tools and we are still under the NDA so I can't say much else.

That was this interview for me.

RE: Good interview
freakout @ 2/17/2009 6:57:54 PM # Q
^^ you never know if you don't ask...

I apologise for any and all emoticons that appear in my posts. You may shoot them on sight.
Treo 270 -> Treo 650 -> Treo 680 -> Centro
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pre's gaming SDK...

analogue wings @ 2/15/2009 1:47:08 PM # Q
..is gonna be Flash.

IIIc -> M105 -> Zire 21 -> Tungsten T2 -> Treo 650
RE: pre's gaming SDK...
freakout @ 2/15/2009 2:38:05 PM # Q
I suspect that may be the case too, although it's nothing but a guess at this point. On gaming - my issue with it on Pre is going to be the same as iPhone: it's hard to do it right without physical buttons. It'd be nice if they'd at least kept the d-pad of the Treos. Still, I'll reserve judgement till I actually play with one myself...
RE: pre's gaming SDK...
LiveFaith @ 2/15/2009 4:47:47 PM # Q

The Pre has like 452 hard buttons on it. Landscape may be a challenge,but not portrait.

Pat Horne

RE: pre's gaming SDK...
mikecane @ 2/15/2009 5:35:24 PM # Q
>>>The Pre has like 452 hard buttons on it.


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