Bloomberg News

Hewlett-Packard Plans to Turn WebOS Into Open-Source Project

December 12, 2011

(Updates with CEO’s comment in fourth paragraph.)

Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Hewlett-Packard Co. will turn its WebOS software into an open-source project, aiming to get outside developers to embrace the struggling operating system it acquired in last year’s $1.2 billion purchase of Palm Inc.

WebOS will be offered under an open-source license, meaning developers and hardware manufacturers can tinker with it and bring their own versions to market, the Palo Alto, California- based company said today in a statement. Hewlett-Packard said it will remain active in developing and supporting WebOS.

The company has deliberated what to do with WebOS since August, when it announced plans to stop producing hardware that used the operating system, including Palm Pre phones and the TouchPad tablet. While WebOS was praised for its innovation when it debuted in 2009, Palm and then Hewlett-Packard both had trouble using it to gain market share in mobile devices.

“WebOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable,” Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman said today in the statement. “By contributing this innovation, HP unleashes the creativity of the open-source community to advance a new generation of applications and devices.”

WebOS was developed by Palm under its former CEO Jon Rubinstein -- now a Hewlett-Packard executive -- before the computer maker bought Palm in July 2010.

Grand Plans

The operating system powered Palm smartphones and the TouchPad, which Hewlett-Packard introduced in July of this year. In February, then-CEO Leo Apotheker said he’d planned to install the operating system on every Hewlett-Packard personal computer. The company also said it would include the software on certain printers.

After disappointing sales, Apotheker pulled the TouchPad and WebOS phones from the market on Aug. 18. That day Hewlett- Packard also announced a $10.3 billion acquisition of software maker Autonomy Corp. and discussed spinning off the PC division. Investors sent the shares tumbling 20 percent the next day, and Apotheker was ousted a month later.

WebOS has been a drag on profit. In fiscal 2011, which ended in October, Hewlett-Packard posted $1.64 billion in expenses related to the decision to stop making WebOS devices.

In a July reorganization, Rubinstein took a new product development job in the PC group. Then in August the company’s WebOS software developers joined a group headed by former chief technology officer Shane Robison, who has since departed.

Whitman has been revisiting her predecessor’s decisions as she tries to stabilize the company. On Oct. 27, she scrapped Apotheker’s proposal to spin off the company’s $39.5 billion PC division.

--Editors: Nick Turner, John Lear

To contact the reporters on this story: Aaron Ricadela in San Francisco at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom Giles at

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