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Did HP just give webOS 'a death sentence'?

Analysts don't expect major hardware vendors to build products using the OS

By Nancy Gohring
December 9, 2011 07:58 PM ET

IDG News Service - As an open-source project with uncertain backing, webOS has a tough road ahead of it, analysts said on Friday.

"This is a death sentence but an honorable death sentence," said Avi Greengart, an analyst with Current Analysis. "HP is saying, 'We're washing our hands of this but making it available for anyone to play with as they see fit.'""

He was referring to HP's announcement Friday that it will contribute the code behind webOS to the open-source community. But the company left a number of unanswered questions that have left experts to wonder if webOS has a future.

For instance, while HP said it would "continue to be active" in supporting and developing webOS, it didn't say how exactly it would support it. Since a successful mobile OS would likely require significant backing, analysts wondered if webOS will attract enough investment. "It can't exist by itself as a science experiment," said Will Stofega, an analyst with IDC. "It has to get support."

Such backing will be key for developing the OS and for attracting application developers.

"If you were really looking to go out and build an ecosystem around your product, this probably isn't the one with the greatest traction," Greengart said. A phone maker targeting markets in the West, where the user expectation is "gimme apps or gimme death," is not going to choose webOS, he said.

That's because even under Palm and HP, webOS struggled to attract application developers.

Jack Gold of J. Gold Associates agreed that without a driving force behind webOS, it's unlikely to be successful. "Why is Android successful? It's not because it's open source. It's because it's driven by Google," he said.

WebOS runs the risk of following other Linux-based projects that have tended to progress slowly, he said. "The mobile world works at 10 times that pace," Gold said.

HP didn't specify which open-source license it would release the code under. Jay Lyman, a senior analyst at The 451 Group, expects it to use an Apache license. It's one of the more permissive licenses, allowing developers to mix open source with their own proprietary code and sell products that use the combined code, he said.

HP also did not say when it will make the code available. Some efforts to move proprietary code to open source drag on for lengthy periods of time, as with Nokia's Symbian OS. However, that was a complicated situation since Nokia had some of its intellectual property wrapped up in the code, Lyman said.

He expects the process for webOS to be less complex, and since it is being open sourced by HP, a major user and supporter of Linux, the code might be released by the first half of next year, he said.

Reprinted with permission from IDG.net. Story copyright 2014 International Data Group. All rights reserved.
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