Four months after discontinuing its webOS device business in the face of mediocre sales, Hewlett Packard announced it will make the webOS platform's underlying code available under an open source license. HP adds it will continue to actively support the development of webOS, which it acquired in 2010 when it purchased Palm for $1.2 billion.
According to HP, it will open-source webOS in an effort to encourage developers, partners and rival hardware manufacturers to continue work on the platform and deliver new versions into the marketplace. HP will participate and invest in webOS's ongoing evolution, promising "good, transparent and inclusive governance to avoid fragmentation" and delivering software as a pure open source project. HP also will contribute Enyo, the application framework for webOS.
HP CEO Meg Whitman told TechCrunch it's possible the company could build a webOS-powered tablet in 2013, despite discontinuing sales of the TouchPad tablet and corresponding webOS-powered smartphones in August. In the interim, HP plans to release a tablet running Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) forthcoming Windows 8 sometime in 2012.
The overhauled webOS joins a growing community of open source mobile operating systems headlined by Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) market-leading Android. In late September, Intel halted development of the MeeGo open-source mobile platform to throw its support behind Tizen, the new Linux-based cross-architecture device software platform spearheaded by the Linux Foundation and LiMo Foundation. Reports also indicate Intel's onetime MeeGo ally Nokia (NYSE:NOK) is developing Meltemi, still another new Linux-based OS designed to power low-end feature phones. Open-source software development initiative Mozilla additionally plans to release its web-based mobile operating system in mid-2012, with developers scheduled to get their first look at the OS by the end of this year.
WebOS nevertheless faces an uphill battle as it seeks to attract developer attention. According to Appcelerator and IDC's Q3 Mobile Developer Report, conducted weeks prior to HP shuttering its webOS device efforts, only 18 percent of developers expressed strong interest in writing apps for the TouchPad and just 12 percent indicated enthusiasm for building Palm Pre/Pixi smartphone apps. Only Symbian and MeeGo ranked lower on developers' list of priorities.
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