HP's webOS goes open source

By Glenn Chapman

After a bad start with the ex-Palm WebOS, HP is making the operating system open source. Photo / Supplied
After a bad start with the ex-Palm WebOS, HP is making the operating system open source. Photo / Supplied

Hewlett-Packard is making its webOS mobile operating system available to the open source community and changed course on plans to abandon making tablets based on the platform.

HP will take another shot at making webOS tablets, most likely in 2013, Meg Whitman, the chief executive of the world's number one computer maker, said in an interview with technology blog TechCrunch.

HP said it will continue to work on and support webOS, but the software platform will become open source, meaning that developers anywhere can tinker with it as they wish and it will be available for anyone to use free of charge.

"WebOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable," Whitman said in a statement.

"By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices."

Palo Alto, California-based HP announced in August it would stop making smartphones and tablet computers using the webOS software acquired from Palm in a $1.2 billion deal last year.

Citing disappointing sales, HP announced on August 18 it was discontinuing the TouchPad, a tablet computer powered by webOS, just seven weeks after it hit the market.

Two weeks later, HP said it planned one last production run of the TouchPad, which became a hot seller following a price cut from US$499 to just $99 and the announcement that it was being abandoned.

TouchPad was the top-selling tablet computer in the United States after Apple's iPad in the first 10 months of the year, market research company NPD Group reported last month.

Whitman, who replaced Leo Apotheker as HP's chief executive in September, told TechCrunch that HP will likely develop webOS-powered tablets in 2013 and will "bet heavily" on tablets running Microsoft's Windows operating system.

Making webOS open source naturally leads to HP making devices for the platform and operating an online shop selling third-party applications for webOS, according to Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group.

"The two fastest growing areas for personal technology are smartphones and tablets," Enderle said. "To make this viable, HP is going to have to play in those spaces."

The analyst said he believed the webOS move held promise since the mobile operating system is well protected by HP's patent portfolio and licensing deals the company has with Microsoft.

Google's open source Android operating system has been pounded with patent lawsuits from Apple and Microsoft, eating into its appeal for device makers despite the popularity of the platform.

WebOS security also promised to stem the kinds of problems Android has had with computer viruses being hidden in third-party applications tailored for devices, Enderle said.

"This is probably going to be a major portion of what defines her presidency at HP," Enderle said of webOS. "It has the makings of a signature project for Whitman."

- AFP

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