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Hewlett-Packard Plans September Release of Open-Source WebOS

January 27, 2012

(Updates share price in final paragraph.)

Jan. 25 (Bloomberg) -- Hewlett-Packard Co. plans to release its WebOS mobile operating system as open-source software by September, relying on the same approach to licensing that Google Inc. uses with Android.

The company, which gained WebOS in its $1.2 billion acquisition of Palm Inc. in 2010, said in December that it would turn the software into an open-source project, meaning outside programmers are free to tinker with the code and use it in their own smartphones, tablets and other devices. In addition to releasing the operating system in the coming months, Hewlett- Packard will introduce open-source software tools called Enyo 2.0 today to help developers write WebOS applications.

“The marketplace wants more choice,” Chief Strategy Officer Bill Veghte said today in an interview.

Hewlett-Packard is trying to drum up interest in WebOS as an alternative to mobile platforms from Google, Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. The move followed lackluster sales of Hewlett- Packard’s own WebOS products, including the Palm Pre smartphone and TouchPad tablet computer. The Palo Alto, California-based company ceased production of those devices last August.

Hewlett-Packard would rely on a licensing system for WebOS called Apache 2.0, which Google uses when phone and tablet manufacturers adopt Android. The Android operating system, embraced by Samsung Electronics Co. and HTC Corp., has become the most widely used smartphone software.

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Using Apache will give software developers an option they’re already comfortable with, said Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, a San Francisco trade group focused on open-source software. The license gives companies the freedom to adapt and distribute software while requiring that copyrights are preserved and enforcing other conditions.

“It’s a smart move in that it’s a mainstream license,” Zemlin said. It’s widely accepted by the consumer-electronics industry, he said. Hewlett-Packard’s biggest challenge is not having a device maker committed to using the open-source version of WebOS, Zemlin said.

William Hurley, a general manager at software-development company Chaotic Moon Studios in Austin, Texas, said developers’ interest in making WebOS apps has waned since Palm first unveiled the software in 2009.

“It’s zero-point-something as a percentage of what we do,” said Hurley, who goes by “Whurley.”

New Devices?

Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Officer Meg Whitman said in December that she considered multiple options for WebOS, including striking a partnership or shutting it down and selling the intellectual property.

Now that it’s open-source, Hewlett-Packard may support the software by building its own WebOS devices again. The company will probably release new WebOS-based hardware in 2013, Whitman said. Still, the company doesn’t plan to release any more smartphones using the software.

Other companies also could use WebOS in products that aren’t conventional computing devices, said Sam Greenblatt, Hewlett-Packard’s chief technology officer for advanced technologies. The software, which is built on top of the so- called kernel of the Linux operating system, could be used in televisions and in-car navigation and entertainment systems.

“Any hardware that uses Linux is a candidate,” Greenblatt said.

Hewlett-Packard shares fell less than 1 percent to $28.32 at the close today in New York. The stock tumbled 39 percent in 2011, its second straight year of declines.

--Editors: Nick Turner, Tom Giles

To contact the reporters on this story: Aaron Ricadela in San Francisco at aricadela@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Tom Giles at tgiles5@bloomberg.net


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