HP makes WebOS open source, new WebOS tablet possible for 2012

So the fate of WebOS appears to have finally been decided by the powers that be at Hewlett-Packard. The mobile operating system, which the company bought from Palm in April last year for $1.2 billion, will be released to open source developers.

Many had been speculating that, following its initial decision in August to discontinue WebOS development, and after the lay-off of employees working with WebOS, HP would scrap or sell off the OS. But Thursday’s decision by the electronics company demonstrates it believes the thing still has legs.

In a statement published on its website on Thursday, the Palo Alto-based company said that “with the development power of the open source community, there is the opportunity to significantly improve applications and web services for the next generation of devices,” and that those who wish to will now be able to “deliver ongoing enhancements and new versions into the marketplace.”

The company said it will be “an active participant and investor in the project” to keep WebOS alive. Of course, offering it to the open source community means HP won’t have to spend anything on developing the platform. HP CEO Meg Whitman told The Verge that the company may even make new WebOS hardware next year, possibly another tablet, though as for smartphones she believed that line of business was over for HP.

Chris Green, principal technology analyst at Davies Murphy Group Europe, told the BBC that it was unlikely that WebOS would become a major platform to rival Google’s Android or Apple’s iOS. “It will appeal to many generic tablet makers out there – but its long term future will probably be to power HP printers, and other peripheral devices,” he said.

If nothing else, the decision to keep WebOS alive will please those who bought HP’s kind-of-defunct TouchPad tablet, whether it was before or during August’s fire sale. The device was a flop when it was offered at its regular price of $500, however, when it was scrapped and sold off cheap in August they flew off the shelves.

At just $99 for the 16GB model, it was a price many found hard to resist. And there are still a few knocking about, with a batch of refurbished models going on sale this Sunday on HP’s eBay store.

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