There has been no shortage of reaction to HP’s move to make the Linux-based WebOS open source software. Below, I offer some of my thoughts on the meaning for the different players affected.
*What’s it mean for WebOS?
Moving WebOS to open source was best option for HP. It retains some value in the software depending on its involvement. It is also the best fate for the code, rather then being sold or simmered to its IP and patent value or even used as another weapon in the ongoing mobile software patent wars. Still, the move comes amid huge developer and consumer uncertainty for WebOS. Nevertheless, at least WebOS was already in the market with a compelling products, the Palm the Pre, in the modern smartphone market. WebOS will hopefully have a faster path to open source than Symbian since the former is based on Linux. I still think the greatest opportunity for WebOS may be in serving as an open alternative in the market, particularly after Android has proven to handset makers, wireless carriers, OEMs and others that a Linux-based, open source mobile OS can succeed in the market and provide profit for multiple parties. Furthering this opportunity, WebOS may be even more attractive to these key vendors, channel players and other stakeholders who are tired of the IP and patent stress and expense around Android. Of course, Android was not under patent or IP attack until it was successful in the market and the same may be the case for WebOS, though we think its IP roots and history in touch and smartphone technology are less complex in terms of origin and ownership.
*What’s it mean for competitors?
For Apple, an open source WebOS means more market pressure and open pressure, more competition for developers and a real danger WebOS hooks into the Android ecosystem. WebOS may also be harder to attack from a patent and IP standpoint since it is older and more singular in ownership (Palm and now HP). Other factors include HP’s own formidable patent portfolio and the perception of Apple as a patent aggressor, which would be reinforced if it attacked WebOS the way it has gone after Android.
For Android, it may finally get a dose of its own open medicine, feeling the pressure of another Linux-based, open source mobile OS that is familiar to many developers, compatible with newer smartphone technologies and appealing to handset makers and other key OEMs. However, WebOS is also a validation of Android, which paved the path for mobile Linux and open source to finally break through beyond geeks to reach a mass consumer audience.
As for other proprietary players such as Microsoft and RIM, another open source rival is bad news. It presents another open source option and potentially serious competition on developers, applications, devices, carriers and consumers. An open source WebOS may also make Android, in effect, more open with faster, easier access to code for both Android and WebOS compete. This could make it even harder for these older, proprietary players to get developer or consumer mind share that is already slipping.
*What’s it mean for open source? Really, there is no downside for open source except that it will be viewed as a form of software cemetery if WebOS is not developed or delivered to market. HP’s WebOS move does give open source greater prominence in mobile software. Again, it is a validation of Android, which is Linux-based and open source, and shows that we haven’t seen the last of mobile Linux and open source software in Android.