HP Readying WebOS Decision: Reports

By Nicholas Kolakowski  |  Posted 2011-11-08 Print this article Print

Hewlett-Packard is planning to host a meeting Nov. 8 where the fate of webOS will be announced, according to new reports.

Hewlett-Packard will host a Nov. 8 meeting to announce the fate of its webOS operating system, according to The Verge.

As suggested by a Nov. 8 Reuters report, the sale of webOS to another company is on the table: "Several technology companies have expressed an interest in buying the division, which is seen as attractive for its patents." That report, citing four unnamed sources "close to the matter," listed Oracle as a possible contender for the webOS assets.

HP acquired webOS as part of its $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm in 2010. Its first tablet with the operating system, the TouchPad, met with some critical praise but anemic sales upon its July release in the United States. Some six weeks after that debut, then-CEO Leo Apotheker announced HP was killing off the 9.7-inch device, as part of a major strategic realignment that also included the partial or full spin-off of its Personal Systems Group (PSG), the division responsible for manufacturing PCs. At the same time, he eliminated HP's nascent smartphone strategy, based on devices also acquired from Palm.

Analysts and the market reacted poorly to his decisions, though, and quickly forced him out in favor of HP's current CEO Meg Whitman.

Whitman made the decision to keep PSG under the company's roof. "HP objectively evaluated the strategic, financial and operational impact of spinning off PSG," she wrote in an Oct. 27 statement ahead of the conference call. "It's clear after our analysis that keeping PSG within HP is right for customers and partners, right for shareholders, and right for employees."

During an Oct. 27 conference call, she suggested that HP would remain in the tablet business-in partnership with Microsoft. "We're certainly going to be there with Windows 8," she said, "and we're going to make a long-term decision about webOS."

Due sometime in 2012, Windows 8 will pair the "traditional" Windows desktop with another user interface based on a colorful set of tiles, with easy switching between the two. The tile-centric interface is meant to operate on tablets, which in turn will allow Microsoft to finally compete against Apple's iPad in that segment.

If HP decides to sell webOS, it might not be able to recoup the entire $1.2 billion it originally shelled out for Palm. In theory, it could also license the software to other companies for their own devices. It also could shut down the unit entirely, and keep the patents. Whatever the scenario, chances are pretty good that webOS won't be HP's problem much longer. 

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Nicholas Kolakowski is a staff editor at eWEEK, covering Microsoft and other companies in the enterprise space, as well as evolving technology such as tablet PCs. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Playboy, WebMD, AARP the Magazine, AutoWeek, Washington City Paper, Trader Monthly, and Private Air. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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