Hewlett-Packard has finally come to a decision about the fate of webOS, months after its efforts to load the software platform onto tablets and smartphones ended in anemic sales and failure.
“HP today announced it will contribute the webOS software to the open-source community,” read a Dec. 9 HP statement. “HP plans to continue to be active in the development and support of webOS.”
That means HP will release the webOS code as an open-source license, giving a broad cross-section of players-from developers to HP engineers-the ability to tweak and enhance as they see fit. HP will serve as an “investor” and work to “avoid fragmentation” of webOS, although the extent of any monetary investment in the platform remains unclear, according to the company.
HP could have sold webOS or mothballed it entirely; as an open-source project, however, the platform has the potential to expand across products from multiple vendors, in a way similar to Google’s Android.
HP had previously expressed high hopes for webOS, which it inherited as part of its $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm in 2010. It later loaded the operating system onto the TouchPad, a tablet it hoped would compete with Apple’s iPad for share of the burgeoning U.S. consumer tablet market. However, within six weeks of the TouchPad’s July 1 release in the United States, anemic sales led then-CEO Leo Apotheker to order to product line terminated with extreme prejudice. At the same time, he killed HP’s nascent smartphone strategy, based on devices also acquired by Palm.
Then, just a few weeks later, HP’s board forced Apotheker out. This left the final decision about webOS up to current CEO Meg Whitman, who had to decide whether to sell, license keep webOS in-house, or make it open-source. In early November, several technology companies, including HP rival Oracle, were reportedly circling the option of buying webOS from HP, if only for the patents.
By choosing the open-source option, of course, HP effectively takes a bath on its Palm-associated costs.
HP, meanwhile, will continue to pursue the tablet market by alternate means. During an Oct. 27 conference call, Whitman suggested that HP would partner with Microsoft for a set of Windows 8 tablets, which would succeed the Windows 7 tablets the company already markets.