Just as Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) unveils an early look at Windows 8, its next-generation operating system, it faces the prospect of renewed competition from another operating system: Hewlett-Packard's webOS, which the manufacturer apparently intends to port onto devices other than its own.
"I happen to believe that webOS is a uniquely outstanding operating system," HP CEO Leo Apotheker told an audience at AllThingsD's D9 conference in San Francisco, according to a June 2 Reuters report. "It's not correct to believe that it should only be on HP devices."
HP inherited webOS when it purchased Palm for $1.2 billion in 2010. While Palm has limited use of the operating system to smartphones, HP's intentions are much more broad-based, extending to tablets, laptops and desktops. Previous reports indicated that HP will run webOS alongside Windows in a dual-boot configuration.
HP's move stands to reap substantial benefits for the company, according to some analysts. "webOS is HP's Trojan horse to marry cloud, mobile and social," Ray Wang, principal analyst of Constellation Research, wrote in an email to eWEEK after HP first announced its plans. "It's a smart move in leveraging an underused asset."
The first PCs dual-loaded with webOS will apparently begin shipping in 2012. This summer, the manufacturer plans to release its TouchPad tablet, featuring a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor and integration with webOS smartphones.
"webOS will be adopted by many partners who provide services to small and medium businesses," Apotheker reportedly said at the conference.
According to the latest data from Net Applications, the various versions of Windows hold an 88.89 percent market share, followed by Mac with 5.39 percent and iOS with 2.38 percent. That hints at some substantial challenges facing webOS in its quest for broader adoption, despite HP's apparent willingness to plunge into the operating-system market.
If webOS devices begin shipping in broader numbers in 2012, the OS will run head-on into Windows 8, which is widely expected to release during the same period.
Microsoft offered early glimpses of Windows 8 at the 2011 Computex conference in Taiwan and the D9 conference. (Note that "Windows 8" is Microsoft's internal codename for the operating system, and may change before the as-yet-unannounced release date.)
"This represents a fundamental shift in Windows design that we haven't attempted since the days of Windows 95, presenting huge opportunities for our hardware partners to innovate with new PC designs," Mike Angiulo, corporate vice president of Windows planning, hardware and PC ecosystem, reportedly told the audience during a June 2 demonstration at the Computex conference.
Somewhat like webOS, Windows 8 is expected to scale on devices ranging from tablets to full-size PCs. The user interface is heavily reminiscent of that for Windows Phone, and consists of large, colorful titles that display information and activate applications.
Microsoft has posted a demonstration video of Windows 8 in action on its Website. Other features include ability to display two apps side-by-side on the screen, access to a "traditional" Windows file system, and Silverlight via an all-new Internet Explorer 10. Applications can be "snapped" to one side of the screen, an evolution of the "Aero Snap" feature already present in Windows 7 and Windows Vista. Windows 8 will also support the full version of legacy applications such as Office.
That built-in legacy, along with its sizable collection of ecosystem partners and developers, is Microsoft's best bet for retaining the lion's share of the operating system market over the next few years. But HP evidently wants to take a page from Microsoft and port its webOS far and wide-setting the stage for a conflict between the two companies. But how intense will that conflict actually get?