Only 20 months ago HP paid $1.2 billion to buy Palm, with webOS the apparent reason for the otherwise odd-seeming purchase. Now the company is releasing the system on an open source basis.
The move comes as HP completes the process of clearing its stock of the TouchPad, the tablet computer that the company produced using webOS and then ditched just seven weeks later amid disappointing sales. That led to it shifting remaining stock through a variety of in-store clearance sales, online bargains and finally a big push on eBay.
While the company has indeed sold out the entire manufacturing run, some were sold for as little as 20% of the original retail price: a bargain for consumers who didn’t mind the lack of updates and ongoing support, but almost certainly a money loser for HP. The company has already chalked up $2 billion in total costs for the aborted project.
It appears the on-paper finances may be one of the main reasons for the open source decision. Had HP simply shut down everything to do with the remains of Palm, it would have to revise its valuation of that part of the company to zero, thus listing yet another huge expense on its next accounts. The decision to go open source solves that problem, while apparently confirming HP’s earlier efforts to find a buyer were unsuccessful.
Instead it still technically has a webOS division, with around 100 staff. They’ll work on ways to use the system in new devices. Although HP boss Meg Whitman hasn’t ruled out another tablet, she’s not promising anything in 2012, and other sources speculate the work will be much more experimental rather than targeted at mass-market consumer devices.
It also appears HP will be hoping that the open source community is able to come up with some creative uses for, or modifications to, webOS. If that’s the case, HP retains both the technical know-how and the infrastructure to take advantage.