HP Decides to Open Source WebOS

After much discussion, Hewlett-Packard on Friday announced that it will not sell its webOS unit but instead contribute the platform to the open-source community.

The company said it will “continue to be active in the development and support of webOS,” but handing it over to the open-source community will help improve applications and Web services for next-generation devices.

“WebOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable,” Meg Whitman, HP president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices.”

HP said the underlying code of webOS will be made available under an open source license, allowing developers, partners, HP engineers, and other hardware manufacturers to add their spin to the OS.

The company pledged to release a charter for the project under the following principles: the goal of the project is to accelerate the open development of the webOS platform; HP will be an active participant and investor in the project; good, transparent and inclusive governance to avoid fragmentation; and software will be provided as a pure open source project.

ENYO, the application framework for webOS, will also be made available in the near future, as well as a plan for other components. HP called for input and suggestions on its blog.

The announcement comes after HP reportedly held an “all-hands” meeting about the future of webOS today. The fate of the well-received but beleaguered mobile operating system has been up in the air since August, when HP announced plans to ditch support for webOS-based devices like the HP TouchPad tablet, as well as its PC business.

When Whitman came onboard as CEO, however, she reversed course and said HP would retain its PC business. During a conference call about that decision, Whitman said in analyzing its Personal Systems Group (PSG), HP explored whether webOS was tied to PSG and “the answer to that is actually no,” Whitman said. HP needed a “more holistic experience around webOS,” she said at the time.

The question then became, will HP keep webOS, sell it, or release it to open source? In pondering possible buyers for webOS back in August, PCMag’s Jamie Lendino said the open-source option was his favorite.

“HP indicated it’s already thinking of powering some printers and car tech systems with webOS. That wouldn’t be open-source, but it’s the kind of thing you do with an open-source OS. Why not let others do the same?” Lendino wrote.

“WebOS is infinitely more usable than OpenMoko ever was. And we all know by now that while Android itself is open-source, it really isn’t by the time carriers and phone vendors are done with it. It’s also mired in patent licensing issues that do end up costing vendors real money.”