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Restoring a Touchpad to original state

The world of old hardware software is full of shadows. I got the privilige to borrow a Touchpad - the extremely short-lived tablet running Webos - but discovered it was running Android. Encouraged by its owner, I set about trying to bring it back to its original state.

This was a real rabbit hole. I found myself spending an evening searching, hitting dead links, downloading stuff linked in forum posts, finding different information depending on the age of the link, weird hacked versions of old software and things preserved by archive.org.

For the impatient, I give you:

The steps, final version

For those up for more words, the details:

The good doctor

Back in the day, the restore would have been simple. Okay, simpler. HP provided a tool called Webos doctor which can reset and reinstall Webos devices. Of course, by now HP has shut down all its Webos stuff, leaving links pointing out into the void. Happily, this was the easiest hurdle to clear. I quickly found myself on archive.org, where both the download page and the actual files were preserved in pristine condition. Many different versions of Webos doctor were available, able to restore various versions of Webos to various devices.

This with multiple versions turned out to be significant. The versions went up to 3.0.5, but in the end 3.0 was the one I was able to use to perform the actual restore. Some forum posts seemed to point to it somehow being more able or stable than later versions. I have no idea, and my problems and solutions were classically mixed up, but 3.0 was what I got going. Once that worked, I could apply successive newer versions without a hitch and finally get the Touchpad up to 3.0.5.

But I am skipping ahead.

Back to square zero

Webos doctor turned out to be a Java application. That always gives me a bit of a shiver, but apart from the misery of installing Java - no thank you, I do not want Yahoo to be my start page - it worked as if new. This amazed me even more when it turned out the setup process involved installing some terminal software used to communicate with the Touchpad. This software - Novacom and its companion Novaterm - was installed and set up to run automatically on system launch. Unfortunately OS X has changed its launch infrastructure since the good Doctor was released, meaning Novacom was properly installed and available but would not start automatically. Instructions were available for us with terminal experience to easily fix it, and I did, but I am not sure it was required since Novacom can also be started and stopped as needed from the terminal. Regardless of method, the rest of the restore process needs Novacom to be up and running.

Many instructions I found for the rest of the process mention downloading and installing the Novacom package separately, but I never needed anything apart from what Webos doctor installed for me.

Great, now I had the terminal software humming along and Webos doctor inviting me to click next and begin the restore. Click. Wait. Failure. Darn. Now what?

I am not sure how, but it dawned on me that the Touchpad's drive was formatted and partitioned in a way completely unfamiliar to Webos and the Doctor. I think forum threads about Webos doctor stopping at a certain percentage lead on to saying it could be a drive thing. Perhaps there was a way to reformat the drive? Perhaps that would help? Since my Android-running tablet essentially equated to a bricked device as far as tools were concerned, my options were limited. Still, even here a giant had provided a shoulder of a forum post for me to stand on. Back into the terminal I went, using Novacom and step by step copying and pasting of one command at a time to reformat and repartition the drive in just the right way.

Fingers tightly crossed, I ran Webos doctor again.

Bingo!

It worked! The install finished, the Touchpad rebooted. Webos launched in all its glory … and we hit the final roadblock.

Avoiding the cloud

Webos is new enough that online services were assumed to be there. Part of the initial setup was phoning up to HP's servers to fetch the license agreement (and probably send some stats back home). That worked … not much at all these days. Worse, there was no skip button even after the requests most thoroughly timed out.

For a while, I wondered if this would be the final, unpassable cliff face of a problem. For a while, I found nothing promising.

But then, I found talk of something called devicetool. Another Java program, no less. It would require digging into the right version of Webos doctor to extract some kind of image file correct for my device and OS version, transplanting that into devicetool and then running it with the Touchpad in recovery mode. That would make it skip initial setup and boot right into normal use mode.

Even better, I was spared that file surgery step. Someone had created a version of devicetool with the needed file (files?) already included. The full instructions still mention a lot of file copying, but I do not recall needing to do that. (It was, however, late at night on a work day, so please correct me if I remember incorrectly.)

I ran that, rebooted, and …

Restored Touchpad running Webos once again Restored Touchpad running Webos once again

Cards. Beautiful cards.