HP's most recent CEO Meg Whitman kept her promise when saying we would know webOS's fate within 2 weeks. In fact, there was only a week between this promise and the official decision, handed down yesterday. HP has decided to open source webOS. According to Whitman,
webOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable. By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices.
In addition to webOS itself, ENYO, the development platform for webOS will also be headed to the community in the coming weeks, as well as the remaining components.
This could either save or destroy the platform. Hit the break for my take on the future, the reasons for the decision and a letter from Whitman to employees.
Open source is almost never the answer, but it is often the answer to a major public relations disaster. This has been where HP has lived for the past 6 months - every decision they have made has seemed insane, and the CEO making those decisions has since been fired. Whitman has had an uphill battle, and it seems she and the board felt that there was no way to win it. After the major lineup announcement in February and then subsequent discontinuation of the line in August, there was no way out for HP that didn't end with the media asking if they made the right decision - that is unless they spun it off to the open source community.
With this decision, HP has taken control of the story and changed the narrative. Now, instead of articles about if HP can save webOS, the articles will be about the people who have ported it to the Apple iPhone or HTC Rezound. So, instead of making HP look stupid, it will all look like HP has done a great thing here. In reality, any software that ends up in the open source community ends up dying off, often in an ungraceful manner, see Google Wave.
So, what is the fate of webOS in the real world? If you have an existing webOS device, there will most likely continue to be a central app store. If you have always wanted a webOS device but didn't buy one, you have the ability to build your own version of the OS for your device. As for mass-produced webOS devices, the Veer, Pre3 and TouchPad were probably the end of the line.
For a more positive outlook on the platform, here is Whitman's email to HP employees.
From: CEO – Meg Whitman
Sent: Friday, December 09, 2011 2:03 PM
Subject: webOS to be contributed to the open source community
TO/ All Employees
SUBJECT/ webOS to be contributed to the open source community
Today, we announced that HP will contribute our webOS software to the open source community and support its development going forward. We believe that this is the best way to ensure the benefits of webOS are accessible to the largest possible ecosystem.
Since we announced the discontinuation of our webOS devices last August, the executive team has been working to determine the best path forward for this highly respected software. We looked at all the options in the market today and we see a clear need for a platform that is both open and has a single integrated stack.
webOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected, and scalable. By providing webOS to the open source community and other hardware vendors we have the potential to fundamentally change the landscape.
HP engineers, partners, other developers and hardware manufacturers will be able to contribute to the development of webOS. Together, we have an opportunity to make it the foundation of a new generation of devices, applications and services to address the rapidly evolving demands of both consumers and enterprises.
I would like to thank the webOS team for continuing your efforts under very difficult circumstances during these last couple of months. Your dedication is very much appreciated.
This is a very positive move for the development of our people, our software and HP overall.
We strongly believe that the best days for webOS are still ahead.