HP to Release webOS to Open-Source Community

Just months afterannouncing plans to halt sales of its webOS-based smartphones and tablets and leaving the fate of the technically excellent but poorly selling mobile platform up in the air, HP has rendered a verdict. The computing giant will release webOS to the open-source community, giving it a second chance with technology enthusiasts.

"webOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected, and scalable," HP CEO Meg Whitman said Friday. "By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open-source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices."

This is a pretty big gift: HP paid $1.2 billion for webOS maker Palm in April 2010 and embarked on a strategy in which webOS would be integrated into its core PC products as well as a new family of mobile devices. But as has always been the case for the doomed platform, HP's webOS-based smartphones and tablets didn't sell well. And by mid-2011, the company realized it needed a change in strategy. So it ceased development of webOS devices and began examining an exit strategy.

While the fate of webOS is in no way assured by this move, the platform certainly deserved to perform better in the marketplace, due to its technical excellence and simple, web-based development model. One-time mobile device leader Palm created webOS as a replacement for its Palm OS system; the platform is based on a modified Linux kernel, and the first webOS-based smartphone, the Pre, shipped in June 2009.

Unfortunately for Palm, by the time the Pre shipped, the company had essentially run out of money, preventing it from adequately supporting the device, which was slow and short on RAM, and sold only via Sprint in the United States. Future versions of the Pre, and a smaller webOS phone called Pixi, fixed shortcomings and brought the platform to Verizon Wireless. But by then, it was too late, and the company was shopping around for a buyer. It found one in HP.

According to HP, the underlying code of webOS will be made available under an open-source license, giving developers, partners, HP engineers, and hardware makers unfettered access to the system, which can be modified into new versions going forward. It will engage the open-source community to guide further development, and contribute its ENYO application framework for webOS as well.

Developers interested in this intriguing change should stay tuned to HP's webOS Developer Blog.
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