HP webOS Moves To Open Source And Onwards To Uncertainty

As HP moves webOS to open source, more questions than answers remain even as HP claim the move is in the best interest of webOS


HP bought Palm, webOS seemed like the best bargain HP could have ever got. It has however proved to be more of a sticking point than a launchpad. One thing has been clear through the on-now off-now story of HP and webOS, they simply have no idea of what to do with it. This is what happens when a company that makes PC’s and printers tries to break into the mobile space with a half hearted gesture. On the flip side, look at Google and Android.

The one thing Google did was to commit to go all the way and stick to what they do best, cloud applications. So, in a sure sign of this, Google created the ecosystem for Android, partnered with hardware manufacturers and let loose the operating system on the market. But HP have had problems with mobile ever since former HP CEO Leo Apotheker began wavering on HP’s mobile and computing business aspirations even in the midst of the emerging complexities of being in the mobile business. Thankfully, one thing new HP CEO Meg Whitman did was to revoke the PC business closure announcement but she has also opted to stick to the mobile exit strategy.

Now in another move that tries to get HP out of making the hard decision to close down webOS, HP have announced that they will be turning webOS over to the open source community to continue development and maybe, just maybe, make something out of the stalled OS. In the statement, HP CEO Meg Whitman says rather too confidently;

“webOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable,” said Meg Whitman, HP president and chief executive officer. “By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices.”

Many industry analysts see this move by HP as a less acrimonious way of simply saying they do not care about webOS any more. After all, chief executive Whitman has also said categorically that HP will not be getting back into the mobile business. The biggest dilemma HP face now is what to do with webOS AFTER it has been adopted by the open source community. With issues such as licensing and organizational structure still uncertain, it’s not clear exactly how HP hopes to support the development of webOS.

It may be that HP hope that by making webOS open source it will become more appealing to hardware manufacturers who may be attracted to the dynamic OS, which will not attract any licensing fees. But we saw that with Nokia’s Symbian, which died a natural death after Nokia pulled the plug on it in favour of Windows Mobile. And this is also easier said than done as we recently saw Samsung, who have massively adopted open source Google Android, quietly working on their own proprietary Bada with the recent launch of three phones running Bada 2.0, demonstrating Samsung’s commitment to their own OS.

HP on the other hand have hinted at getting back on the tablet PC bandwagon in 2013 but this may only be a stick-and-carrot strategy to get developers interested in the faltering OS. What’s actually interesting, however, is that webOS is actually a very robust mobile OS and many industry experts have come out to say it may even be better in many ways than iOS and Android. It’s anyone’s guess what webOS would have become in the hands of web maestros Google.

Nevertheless, HP may be trying to play two competing positions by going long and short on webOS in the hope that if it does take off, HP will be the ones to reap the benefits and if it goes the other way and tanks, HP won’t be the ones left holding the baby. In any event, HP have a tricky time ahead if they are to convince manufacturers, consumers and the developer community that webOS is worth the trouble and especially when HP have so far demonstrated exactly the opposite.

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