HP webOS Plans Could Irritate Microsoft

Microsoft could be irritated by HP's plans to port webOS onto PCs, even if those PCs continue to also run Windows.

Hewlett-Packard's reported intention to port its recently acquired webOS onto its PCs could be a smart move for the company, according to analysts. But it also risks antagonizing Microsoft, which until this point has been a major software partner.

A March 9 Bloomberg report quotes HP CEO Leo Apotheker as saying the move would create "a massive platform," with HP computers apparently running webOS alongside Windows in a dual-boot configuration.

HP inherited webOS when it purchased Palm for $1.2 billion in 2010. While Palm had limited use of the operating system to its smartphones, HP's intentions are much more broad-based, with designs on installing the OS on smartphones, tablets and now, laptops and desktops.

However the market responds to HP's efforts, the company likely faces something of an uphill battle in audience adoption. According to the latest Net Applications data, market share across all versions of the Windows franchise stands at 89.69 percent, followed by Apple at 5.19 percent. In addition, Google plans on launching a Chrome OS that will also compete for its piece of the market pie.

That being said, some analysts regard HP's move as a beneficial one for the company. "WebOS is HP's Trojan horse to marry Cloud, Mobile and Social," Ray Wang, principal analyst of Constellation Research, wrote in a March 10 e-mail to eWEEK. "It's a smart move in leveraging an underused asset."

In theory, webOS would allow HP to create Apple-style synergy between products in different categories. Unlike Apple, though, HP risks alienating a crucial partner.

"I have little doubt this further soured the relationship between HP and Microsoft, who likely wasn't given any heads up on this and has undoubtedly had to explain it to board members, financial analysts and a number of customers by now," Rob Enderle, principal analyst of the Enderle Group, wrote in a March 10 e-mail to eWEEK. "HP remains Microsoft's biggest seller of Windows PCs, and anything they can do to weaken the franchise-and this does that on paper-is a problem for them."

PCs dual-loaded with webOS will apparently begin shipping in early 2012. In the meantime, a more immediate challenge presents itself to HP and the operating system: the tablet market. On Feb. 9, HP unveiled the TouchPad tablet, which features a 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor, 16GB or 32GB of built-in memory, and integration with any webOS smartphones.

The TouchPad's hardware specs put it roughly level with other rivals in the space, but it nonetheless faces substantial competition from the likes of Apple's bestselling iPad and a rapidly multiplying number of Google Android tablets. HP also hopes to reinvigorate the Palm line of smartphones, which have attracted critical praise from some quarters but a generalized drubbing in the marketplace.