After weeks of consideration, Hewlett-Packard has confirmed plans to contribute webOS to the open source community. On the one hand, that's good news for webOS lovers who want to see the mobile operating system live on. On the other hand, the timing of HP's announcement essentially proves that HP itself has serious doubts about webOS's viability as an open source project amid Apple iOS and Google Android dominance.

First, the background: HP essentially acquired webOS technology when HP purchased Palm for $1.2 billion in April 2010, hoping to cash in on the $100 billion connected mobile device market. At one point, former HP CEO Leo Apotheker predicted webOS would become a standard operating system for a range of HP devices. But in August 2011, Apotheker killed the webOS TouchPad tablet and smartphone initiative, essentially putting the future of webOS into doubt.

When HP's board ousted Apotheker and named Meg Whitman as the company's new CEO in September 2011, Whitman promised to take a close look at webOS's future. Her decision arrived today when HP announced plans to open source webOS.

Is This Really Good News?

But here's the reality check:
  • Good News: When technology companies want to make big, impressive news announcements they usually do so on Tuesdays -- giving reporters and bloggers ample time to organize their thoughts on a Monday, digest the news on Tuesday and cover the development throughout the week.
  • Mixed or Bad News: When technology companies want to downplay news or a business development, they typically do so on a Friday afternoon, when most readers, reporters and even anonymous bloggers like yours truly are starting to think about the weekend.

What HP Said

HP made the webOS open source announcement today -- Friday, Dec. 9. According to an official statement from HP issued today:
"HP plans to continue to be active in the development and support of webOS. 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."
HP plans to invest in the project but plenty of questions remain:
  • Will HP ever introduce new hardware based on the webOS open source project? HP didn't make any firm commitments today.
  • Which hardware companies, if any, will dive into the webOS open source effort? It's too soon to say.
  • Is there room for webOS to truly compete with Apple iOS and Google Android? Hmm...
  • Can the webOS open source project truly achieve credibility after HP -- with zero notice -- abandoned its own webOS hardware development earlier this year?
  • What is the fate of HP's own webOS team?
HP says developers and customers can offer input and suggestions at http://developer.palm.com/blog/. The VAR Guy will be watching to see if webOS attracts an open source crowd... or simply fades away.