Hewlett-Packard Co (HP) will turn its WebOS software into an open-source project, aiming to get other hardware makers to embrace the struggling operating system (OS) as an alternative to software from Apple Inc and Google Inc.
WebOS, acquired in last year’s US$1.2 billion purchase of Palm Inc, will be offered under a license that lets hardware manufacturers and software developers access its source code and use it freely in products, the Palo Alto, California-based company said yesterday in a statement. HP will remain active in developing and supporting WebOS.
“The thing we recognized about WebOS is it really is a remarkable platform,” CEO Meg Whitman said in an interview. “It was not the right thing to just shut it down. It shouldn’t be wasted.”
The plan resolves a months-long debate over how to deal with software that drew praise for its innovation when it debuted in 2009, yet failed to help its owners gain market share in mobile devices.
HP will make WebOS available to makers of tablets, smartphones and other devices under a license that requires companies using it to contribute their changes back to the project, company executives said.
The company also plans to set up a “governance committee” of as many as six members, including HP technicians and outside developers, to approve changes to WebOS code.
The move is designed to help prevent fragmentation of the software that would slow its momentum by letting device makers bring incompatible versions to market, Martin Risau, Whitman’s chief of staff, said in an interview.
“We want to do it right,” he said. “We want to make sure WebOS is not going to be fractured.”
The company announced in August that it would stop producing hardware that used the operating system, including Palm Pre phones and the TouchPad tablet.
Whitman considered options for WebOS, including shutting it down and selling the intellectual property, or striking a partnership, she said. Now, HP itself will benefit from the decision and will likely release new WebOS-based hardware devices in 2013, she said. The company probably won’t release any more smartphones using the software.
“I think we’re out of the smartphone business,” she said.
Hewlett-Packard’s decision will benefit electronics makers that want alternatives to Google’s Android operating system and Microsoft Corp’s Windows Phone and planned Windows 8, said Tim Bajarin, president of researcher Creative Strategies Inc.
“The hardware developers have been looking for a third OS option, especially for tablets,” he said. “What they really want is a third OS with no strings attached.”
Developers can also write WebOS applications using the HTML5 programming language, Bajarin said.
Now, HP’s task will be releasing the open-source version of the code in a timely fashion while attracting more interest in the platform.
At the same time, the company is working to replace portions of WebOS’ source code licensed from companies including Microsoft and Oracle Corp with open-source alternatives, said Sam Greenblatt, chief technology officer for advanced technologies at HP. For example, the system uses Microsoft digital rights management software and the Berkeley DB database from Oracle, he said.
WebOS was developed by Palm under its former CEO Jon Rubinstein — now an HP executive — before the computer maker bought Palm in July last year. The operating system powered Palm smartphones and the TouchPad, which HP introduced in July this year.