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In early December, Meg Whitman, the CEO of Hewlett Packard Development Co Lp (HP), brought the rumour-mill to a halt by announcing that WebOS will become an open source operating system. There was speculation that the OS would be sold off, licensed or wound down altogether; instead, the platform source code will be made available to anyone willing to use it, similar to Android and Symbian mobile operating systems. Open-sourcing an OS can be a lengthy process as parts of WebOS are licensed from third parties, so HP has to replace them, find workarounds or purchase the patents before releasing the code to the public.
With Symbian largely abandoned, manufacturers looking at open source platforms are restricted to Android. While Android is popular among consumers, it’s not free. Manufacturers pay royalties for its use to Microsoft Corp as a consequence of prolonged, much publicized, litigation. WebOS, on the other hand, will truly be open source and free. However, open sourcing it and getting developer interest and consumer mind share will take time, 4-5 years to quote the CEO. By that time, Windows 8 will have been on the market and both Android and iOS will have gone through several refresh cycles and will become increasingly entrenched in their positions. This makes the platform’s climb back to the market a daunting task.