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Dave Courbanou

December 13, 2011

3 Min Read
Is webOS Destined for an Open Source Grave or Resurrection?

The VAR Guy has speculated, predicted and covered the details of HP’s decision to make webOS open source and you, dear readers, had quite a bit to say about it. For such a once obscure OS, the tech community has certainly taken an interest in the now “open” mobile OS. But is this the best way for webOS to survive? Here’s what I think an open source webOS world will bring us …

Although it may seem simplistic, the future of webOS really breaks down into pros and cons:

Alive Again

OEMs and other hardware manufacturers sick and tired of paying Microsoft patent royalties for every Android phone they ship could be seeing webOS as a welcome opportunity to cut costs and provide customers greater choice. We already know HTC has seriously considered using webOS, in addition to many other suitor rumors including Amazon. With OEMs potentially producing webOS phones, HP has a much wider audience and distribution. And now, like Android, modifications and enhancements can be made easily depending on device type and consumer use case. HP said it will help limit fragmentation, but to what extent remains to be seen.

Releasing webOS to the open source community also can help bring back the “webOS on every PC” promise former HP CEO Leo Apotheker once made. If I still had a netbook, I’d love to run webOS on it. I also once suggested HP could even use webOS as a thin client of sorts, and with webOS open-sourced, it could become a reality. But even more simply, webOS may gain popularity with those folks who dislike Apple’s world but equally detest Google’s UX design aesthetic.

webOS? More like DeadOS

On the flip side, throwing webOS into the wild with little more than promises of support by HP is a huge gamble. Yes, HP said it plans to make more webOS hardware, but that could easily change depending on the reception open source webOS gets. When a project is open-sourced, its chances of death are strong if the community doesn’t support it, or plain doesn’t like it. Couple that with the likely dwindling supply of webOS developers, and an open-sourced webOS already could be dead in the water. HP is definitely trying to show love to both developers and the open source community as it leads with ENYO and the developer blog, but it’s hard to say whether it’ll be enough.

This is the single most important factor to the success, because it leads into the second, more important, factor, relevance. In fact, I recently pontificated that webOS doesn’t matter anymore. With Android, iOS and Windows Phone 7 leading the pack, developers and OEMs already may view the mobile scene as too crowded and won’t want to waste their time and money gambling on a potentially defunct OS. To be fair, it should be noted that HTC, for example, could easily create one phone that supports multiple OSes, and allow consumers to choose the version they want, which likely wouldn’t cost HTC too much, but if demand for webOS is low, it could just be a reaffirmation of webOS’ sinking pertinence in the mobile world.

The Bottom Line

This time next year, we’ll have our answer. Either Android phones and iPads will be rooted and running webOS, with wild open source development taking the mobile OS to new heights and fun hacks, or webOS will fade into the background of obscurity like MeeGo. I don’t believe there will be any middle ground for webOS; rather it’s very much do-or-die time.

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