HP’s WebOS Going Open Source, Tablets May Return

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WebOS, the software behind HP’s failed TouchPad tablet and Palm’s failed Pre smartphones, is getting another shot at life as an open source operating system.

That means anyone, from bedroom programmers to rival tech companies, will be able to install WebOS on phones, tablets, PCs, printers and other devices, tweaking the software to suit their needs. Whereas WebOS was originally supposed to be an Apple-like product, with hardware developed and controlled by one company, it’ll now be more like Android, available to anyone who wants it.

(MORE: HP’s WebOS Failure Proves It’s Hard to Be Like Apple)

Opening up WebOS is a cheap way to try and make it more popular. Instead of exhausting a huge amount of resources to build up the platform, HP can rely on outside help to make improvements and sell devices. The more widespread WebOS becomes, the more likely it is to attract app developers. Meanwhile, HP says it’ll be “an active participant and investor in the project,” and will retain a team of employees to keep things organized.

If the plan succeeds, HP can step in and make its own WebOS devices. That may include new tablets, HP CEO Meg Whitman told The Verge, but probably won’t include smartphones.

Clever as that sounds, it’s not clear what HP hopes to get out of WebOS aside from some hardware sales down the line. For Google, a big justification for Android is the continued dominance of Google Search on mobile devices. HP doesn’t have anything like that on the line. Even if the company builds WebOS into an Android-scale success, I don’t see much money in it unless HP’s own hardware becomes wildly popular.

Still, HP’s decision is good news for people who like WebOS and want to see it live on, and for people who already own WebOS devices. On that note, the last batch of $99 TouchPad tablets go on sale this Sunday. Buying one is even easier to justify now.

MORE: HP’s TouchPad: A Promising Tablet That Needs More Polish