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Open Sourced WebOS: A Chance At Mass Appeal Or Last Nail On The Coffin?

Jacob Chung |
December 11, 2011 | 11:41 a.m. PST

Executive Producer

WebOS will go open sourced but some analysts say it's doomed to fail. (credit blogee.net/Flickr)
WebOS will go open sourced but some analysts say it's doomed to fail. (credit blogee.net/Flickr)
Just when it seemed all hope was lost for the underdog operating system (OS), HP CEO Meg Whitman announced Friday the OS will go open sourced. But, is this a last ditch effort to gain mass appeal or just an effort to sweep away the OS into obscurity? 

One year since HP purchased Palm, the line has been pulled for HP's mobile devices running WebOS. This news--though quite disheartening for hackers, developers and WebOS enthusiasts--seemed imminent considering HP past experiences in the phone market with the unpopular iPaq line and its seemingly half-in approach to the Pre and Touchpad.

But, as it became quite evident with the closeout sales, WebOS still provided a usable computing experience for those looking for an alternative from Apple's iOS and Google Android. 

Hope In Numbers

With the Touchpad going for $99 and $149 during the fire sale, HP was able to get into the hands of more than 200,000 consumers its devices establishing itself as second place holder in the table wars. The high numbers bodes well for HP as it could encourage programers to develop software for the sizable community. 

Up-to-date Technology

Despite rumors, HP has not completely thrown in the towel when it comes to webOS support. There have already been two major updates to the OS this year and HP is expected to continue support for the OS for the near future. 

In addition, the technology that was built into the software makes it still a contender in the tablet market. 

From PCMag.com

"As HP's new CEO Meg Whitman said in a statement, webOS is already cloud-connected and scalable. It also already works with higher-resolution screens, dual-core processors, and mobile hotspot modes (none of which Windows Phone 7.5 supports, incidentally)." 


WebOS has always shown great potential to succeed, but some analysts say the company's unmotivated attitude in fighting for the OS is evidence the OS is likely doomed for failure. 

"I don't see what good that does at the end of the day," Marible Lopez from Lopez Research said to CNET in addressing HP's decision to go open sourced with webOS. "They've obviously demonstrated there's no commercial value for WebOS." 

That sentiment seems to be shared even with HP execs like CTO Sam Greenblatt who said, "We did this for broad market appeal, not the inability to sell it."

History of Open Sourced

What's also worth considering is the overall landscape of open sourced project. Roger Chen, reporter for CNET, brings up a good point. 

"The most successful examples of open-sourced projects, including Oracle's Java, Mozilla's Firefox, and even Google's Android, all have deep-pocketed backers," Chen said. "HP likely won't provide that kind of support." 

Sure HP will continue with webOS for the time being, but its latest attempt to sell of the division and recent write off of $3.3 billion to cover WebOS business shows the funding for webOS development are anything but deep pockets. 

Divide and Dilute

Finally a point should be made on the issue of divded open sourced efforts.

Take for example Android, arguably the most popular open sourced project in the mobile market. Though the popularity of the OS grew by leaps and bounds over the years because of it being open source, its also caused a lot of frustration for users and more and more developers added their own flavors to it. 

As PC Mag's Jamie Lendino puts it, "When disparate groups of programmers create new, distinct versions of the OS with different feature sets, they're no longer directly compatible with the existing 'official' code." 

This means the newest versions of Android may, at times, not be compatible with the mobile devices running highly altered versions of the OS like the Amazon Kindle, Nook Tablet or even handsets version like that of Samsung's or Motorola's (not at least until the developers put in the effort to make it compatible). 

But, no matter the hurdles, for Android a combination of Google's deep pockets and its high popularity with consumers has made it a success. 

So, will webOS see the same fate with its lunge into the open sourced world? Personally I remain optimistically critical. It's all up to the developers now.  

Reach Jacob Chung here

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