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HP to Open Source webOS

Claims there’s still an “opportunity to significantly improve applications and web services for the next generation of devices”

Unable to turn a buck on the thing after killing the tablet and smartphones it was meant to power, HP said Friday that it's going to open source webOS, the mobile operating system it got last year when it bought Palm for a sweet $1.2 billion.

It claims there is still an "opportunity to significantly improve applications and web services for the next generation of devices."

It's speculated that some Android OEMs might adopt it as a hedge against possible legal calamity since webOS is believed to have a stronger patent defense against Apple and Microsoft than Android, which is also open source, and because of Google's impending $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility, a potentially Google-favored rival. Whether webOS could give Android a run for its money at this point is debatable.

HP, which did not identify the open source license it will use, said its engineers would continue to be active in developing the widgetry and that the company would invest in the widgetry, hoping to avoid fragmentation by way of the project's governance. It is not clear how tightly HP will hug the project. Google demands common code and applications but its strictures are still being ignored.

HP said it would kick in ENYO, the application framework for webOS, in the near future along with a "plan for the remaining components of the user space." It played up the operating system's single integrated stack and multiplatform portability.

In a statement, HP CEO Meg Whitman, who has been wrestling with the problem of what to do with the orphaned OS for weeks and was hoping to sell it - or at least license it - to recoup HP's investment, said in a statement that "webOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable. By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices."

See http://developer.palm.com/blog/ where HP said it's in it for the "long haul." It is assumed HP will be going whole hog with Windows as its mobile platform unless, of course, it decides to take another whack at webOS.

After we wrote that, All Things Digital got off the phone with Whitman and HP board member Marc Andreessen. Whitman told the Dow Jones blog that HP's prepared to make a "substantial" investment in the now open source software, describing HP as the "start-up's first venture capitalist." She said the company might take another flier on the stuff in 2013.

Before that can happen "We've got to get a business plan, a product road map, a business model that we think will work, and decide how we're going to engage with other hardware manufacturers, how we're going to engage the open source community and that will determine ultimately the types and numbers of people" connected to webOS that HP retains.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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