Will WebOS succeed as open source?

By on December 14, 2011
HPWebOS

Meg Whitman and Marc Andreessen finally announced what the HP plans are for the once vaunted WebOS operating system – open sourcing it for the greater good (HP to Contribute webOS to Open Source).

Doesn’t it seem like Meg Whitman and the HP team just had enough of the constant questions around the future of WebOS? They have been dogged by it since Apotheker announced they were jettisoning it from HP in the summer. Now, at least, we have resolution – for those that still actually care.

Is this a good thing? Can WebOS compete on a global scale as an open source alternative to more established ecosystems? Is this a last ditch attempt to put a brave face (or lipstick or botox) on an unwanted and unloved product? What about the hardware questions that keep coming up – will HP build hardware for WebOS? Should they build hardware? What small, nimble company will use this to build the first real sub-$100 tablet and disrupt the industry?

For me, this move is about saving face. If there was value to this product someone would have bought it. Perhaps RIM would have looked at it a year ago but they bought QNX. Perhaps Nokia would have looked at it around the same time but they cozied up to Microsoft. So, perhaps HP held on a year too long to look for a new home for WebOS. Perhaps this was their only real alternative to shutting it down completely.

Google tried the whole open source OS thing – and continues to try – but what they are doing hasn’t been true to the core of open source. They have held back versions of Android because, hey, it is a competitive world out there and they are running a sprint against some of the biggest companies on the planet. How do you balance between fiscal responsibilities and community demands when you are a publicly traded company with revenue expectations and a finicky audience? You tend to side with the board on those things. At least HP won’t be running into these issues.

The one good thing about what Whitman and Andreessen are saying is that this effort will be truly open source. No specifics were given about the structure to govern this but Whitman believes it will take 4-5 years to materialize – which is a long time in this world. Will WebOS be relevant then? Who knows but what can they lose by doing this now – they aren’t relevant today.

About Rob Woodbridge

I'm Rob, the founder of UNTETHER.tv and I've spent 14 years immersed in the mobile and pervasive computing world. During this great time I've helped some of the most innovative companies grow their business through mobile. If you are in need of a mobile business advisor or coach, connect with me here to schedule a 30-minute chat.
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