The ultimate fate of HP’s webOS mobile platform was finally revealed today. The company has announced plans to contribute its operating system to the open source software community. The move will open the door for other hardware manufacturers to adopt the operating system and ship it on their own devices.
We called for HP to open webOS last month in response to rumors that were circulating about the operating system’s future. As we pointed out at the time, key components of the webOS userspace stack have considerable value. We argued that HP, existing webOS users, and the open source software community would all benefit if the platform were opened. HP apparently reached the same conclusion.
“webOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected, and scalable,” said HP CEO Meg Whitman. “By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices.”
In a statement issued today, HP said that the underlying webOS code will be published under an open source license. The company will continue to play an active role in funding and developing the platform. Ongoing development will be undertaken in collaboration with the open source software community and other interested parties through a “good, transparent and inclusive governance” model.
It’s not clear yet whether HP intends to continue shipping new mobile devices with webOS. The company’s statement says unambiguously that the company will continue to invest in the platform and sees in webOS the long-term potential “to improve applications and web services for the next generation of devices.” It doesn’t, however, indicate whether we can expect to see new webOS smartphones from HP in the near future.
Regardless of whether new webOS hardware emerges from HP, the opening of the platform will still have tremendous value. The availability of webOS under an open license will likely enable third-party developers to produce custom ROM images for existing webOS devices, such as the HP Touchpad. It will also open the door for other hardware vendors such as HTC or Samsung to build their own webOS devices.
Another significant win for developers is the possibility of porting the webOS platform’s sophisticated HTML application runtime environment to other operating systems. This could allow webOS applications to eventually run seamlessly on Android devices or even desktop platforms.
There are still many licensing and governance decisions that need to be made before the effort will move forward. HP says that it wants to involve the open source software community in the process of making those decisions. That seems like a good way to get started and ensure that the project is inclusive from the start.