Update: HP to go open source with webOS

HP chief Meg Whitman announces company will 'contribute' webOS to open source community

Hewlett-Packard is turning to the open source community to save webOS.

The company announced today that it will "contribute the webOS software to the open source community," though HP "plans to continue to be active in the development and support of webOS."

HP made the announcement in a press release issued in conjunction with an "all-hands" meeting called by CEO Meg Whitman to inform employees of the mobile operating system's fate.

I have to say, it seems like a pretty good move and could help HP recoup some of its investment in webOS, which it purchased last year from Palm for $1.2 billion. I'll be curious to see how open source developers react.

One question, though: What does this mean for the 600 HP employees working on webOS? I have to believe many programmers are going to lose their jobs since development work essentially is being outsourced.

Segments of the press release are below:

By combining the innovative webOS platform with the development power of the open source community, there is the opportunity to significantly improve applications and web services for the next generation of devices.

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

HP will make the underlying code of webOS available under an open source license. Developers, partners, HP engineers and other hardware manufacturers can deliver ongoing enhancements and new versions into the marketplace.

HP also will contribute ENYO, the application framework for webOS, to the community in the near future along with a plan for the remaining components of the user space.

Beginning today, developers and customers are invited to provide input and suggestions at http://developer.palm.com/blog/.

And here's my initial, wildly speculative and inaccurate post below, which didn't even consider the possibility of HP going open source with webOS:

Supposedly we'll know in a few hours the fate of webOS, the Hewlett-Packard mobile operating system that the company left for dead in August as part of a major strategic change under former CEO Leo Apotheker.

After Apotheker was fired, new CEO Meg Whitman reversed his decision to spin off HP's PC division and said last month that she was revisiting the fate of webOS, which the company purchased last year from Palm for $1.2 billion.

Now Whitman has scheduled an "all-hands" employee meeting for 1:30 p.m. Pacific time on Friday to announce her decision.

Remember when NBA star LeBron James scheduled an ESPN television special in July 2010 to reveal whether he'd re-sign with the Cleveland Cavaliers or take advantage of his free agency to join another team? Only delusional Cavs fans thought (or, more likely, hoped) the self-serving TV spectacle would end with James announcing he was sticking with his long-time team. And sure enough, James concluded the show by telling the world that he was joining the Miami Heat.

This is the same kind of deal. Whitman isn't calling an "all-hands meeting" to tell employees that HP will revive webOS so that HP can continue selling TouchPads at a loss.

I'm 99% sure she's going to give a little propaganda pep talk to employees and then lower the boom. Maybe she'll announce that HP has a sales agreement to sell webOS and, with it, the 600 employees who work on the mobile operating system. Or maybe she'll say HP is seeking a buyer.

There's even a chance she'll announce that HP is just throwing in the towel, though it's hard to see why the company would be willing to eat that kind of loss if it could sell the division in a fire sale, much as it's done with $99 TouchPad. Plus it would suck for 600 people to suddenly be out of work.

But given the set-up here, I just don't see HP plowing ahead with webOS. We'll know soon enough.

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