HP turns to open source community to keep WebOS going

By Stuart Sumner
12 Dec 2011 View Comments
HP Touchpad tablet

HP will release its smartphone operating system WebOS as open-source code, in a move that mirrors Google's decision to open up the Android mobile operating system in 2007.

Both systems run on a Linux kernel but Android has a broad reach of approximately 200 million devices, according to analyst firm Canalys, while the WebOS platform has a far more limited user base.

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This may make it difficult for HP to incentivise developers to devote time to the platform.

In August, former HP CEO Leo Apotheker said that the company would stop producing the hardware that runs WebOS, namely the Touchpad tablet and WebOS phones, leaving the software with an uncertain future.

However, Meg Whitman, the CEO who replaced Apotheker in September, has agreed to provide the code to the open-source community, in a bid to increase its chances of success.

She has said that HP would continue to be an active participant in the operating system's further development.

Some critics feel that it may be too late in the day to encourage developers away from the popular and stable Android and iOS platforms, and that HP should have made this move earlier.

Information systems consultant and open source advocate Chris Puttick said that the firm should have open sourced the software as soon as it acquired it.

"Frankly if they'd released the code on first acquisition they'd now have a successful product line," he told Computing today.

Nick Dillon, technology analyst at Ovum agreed that whether HP decided to release the code or keep it in-house, it should have been more clear about its intentions from the start.

"However, as it is, it's been very confusing for developers, and hard for them to commit to the platform."

Dillon explained that a recent Ovum survey revealed worrying results for HP if it hopes to see the software receive increased community attention.

"We've just completed a survey of mobile developers and seen only four per cent either developing with WebOS now or planning to."

In any case, Dillon explained that HP probably wants help from the open source community in its bid to steal market share from Google, Apple and Microsoft.

"Having the necessary talent and time are main factors. You shouldn't undervalue how difficult and competitive the smartphone platform business has become.

"And HP probably doesn't have the necessary resources or the courage to see it through itself," said Dillon.

HP acquired the WebOS platform in April last year for £770m when it bought software firm Palm.

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