HP To Make WebOS Open Source
December 11, 2011

HP To Make WebOS Open Source

Hewlett-Packard (HP) has announced plans to make the WebOS software code available under an open-source license, allowing other developers to alter it and release their own versions of the operating system for sale.

According to Aaron Ricadela of Bloomberg, the Palo Alto, California-based company made the announcement on Saturday. Ricadela says that the move is an attempt to get "outside developers to embrace the struggling operating system it acquired in last year´s $1.2 billion purchase of Palm Inc.," though HP asserted that they would continue to actively develop for and support WebOS.

Bloomberg adds that the company, which acquired the software in the July 2010 transaction, announced that they planned to cease production of hardware running on that operating system in August of that year. While WebOS garnered praise for being an innovative product shortly after its initial release in 2009, both Palm and HP struggled to have supported products like the Palm Pre smartphone and the TouchPad tablet computer make much of a splash among consumers.

"WebOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable," Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman said in a statement, according to Ricadela. "By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open-source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices."

Reaction to the move was mixed among technology experts.

PCMag's Jamie Lendino said that the announcement was "what I had hoped for all along“¦ open-source WebOS is cause for celebration, at least for the enthusiast, developer, and phone hacker crowd. Now the OS can live forever in the world of tweakers, free software fans, and possibly even in actual products."

Despite the unique challenges facing open-source software for mobile phones, including the involvement of carriers, and the age of the WebOS software itself, Lendino added that he was "optimistic" regarding its future.

"I believe this is the best outcome for the platform. It's clearly better than the alternatives, which were axing it altogether but holding the rights to the code, or HP releasing occasional new products that weren't competitive enough, thanks to a lack of resources from within the company," he said. "Plus, it guarantees webOS will live on at least in enthusiast circles, if not in brand new products (although as Linux shows time and again, don't ever rule that out, either)."

Conversely, CNET's Stephen Shankland said that the move "doesn't bode well for the future of the project“¦ There are two common outcomes when companies convert a complicated proprietary project into open-source software. One is that a vibrant community of contributors grows up around the project, expanding its abilities, broadening its popularity, and making it into a better component of a broader technology package."

"The other," he added, "is that the project, tossed over its sponsor's transom, sinks beneath the waves“¦ even if HP tries to keep WebOS as an actively developed operating system for tablets, for example, it may be open-source in name only. It wouldn't be the first time somebody threw a party and nobody came."

In related news, Leena Rao of TechCrunch reports that, while HP is scrapping use of WebOS in smartphones, it is considering releasing a line of tablets that use the operating system in 2013, citing comments made by Whitman during a December 9 interview. That remains an unconfirmed possibility, however, as the HP CEO emphasized that the company would be focusing on Windows 8 powered tablets in 2012, opting to "continue to invest in the existing tablet ecosystem."


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