HP: WebOS Is Now an Open Source Project

WebOS may be more tenacious that we thought. The Linux-based OS with a rocky history has officially risen from the ashes of HP’s TouchPad bungle to be reborn as an open source project.

HP made the announcement Friday, in the wake of increasing speculation that we would all learn the fate of the beleaguered OS before day’s end.

Introduced by Palm at CES 2009, webOS was on an upward trajectory, first with the launch of the Palm Pre mobile phone and then when HP scooped up a stumbling Palm for $1.2 billion in 2010. Excitement grew to a fever pitch when HP unveiled an aggressive plan to roll WebOS into everything from their printers, to desktops and laptops to new phones and, most importantly, the HP TouchPad.

A few months later, after a somewhat tepid response to HP’s 10.1 inch tablet, HP’s then-CEO Leo Apotheker scuttled the tablet and, it seemed, the WebOS business. A $99 HP TouchPad fire sale over the summer proved that there was still interest in HP’s tablet and, more importantly, the WebOS platform.

But HP’s new CEO Meg Whitman has kept her plans for WebOS vague until now.

The company will now “contribute webOS to open source license” — another way of saying that the code will be available under open source license. HP’s role will be an active one as it continues to contribute development, engineering and support resources.

Next steps include engaging with the open-source community to define the WebOS open source charter and develop a plan for how that will be governed. It will likely run under an Apache-style license.

What does this mean for current TouchPad and Pre owners? Sources tell Mashable that they can expect to receive software updates in the future. In fact, one source told us that this move will accelerate platform and ecosystem development, benefiting current and future users.

“Future” is a clear indication that more HP webOS hardware could be on the radar. HP is not committing to this, though. However, our sources note that the open source nature of the new webOS could drive it onto hardware from a variety of vendors.

Of course, some open source projects can get a bit too open. Some complain that, for example, the Google Android community is forking the code. Certainly, Android developers enjoy reskinning the mobile OS and are often out of step with platform updates found on other Android products.

HP is looking to avoid platform confusion. Our sources indicate that it will use a Redhat/Fedora model, one which more strictly controls enterprise-level Linux. If this works, it means that HP may have final say on what webOS updates look like. That kind of control could mean that future versions of webOS work on existing hardware, like the TouchPad.

Making webOS open source leaves the door, well, open for a variety of options. But is this the magic bullet that will save the platform and put HP’s mobile plans back on track? Let us know in the comments.

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