webOS is widely considered to be a promising mobile OS, but HP's decision to open source it seems more of a death knell than it is an optimistic prospect for the future.
The very moment Apotheker was dismissed, speculation began that webOS might live on. I can unashamedly say that I identified with this hopeful school of thought. In the weeks since, however, Meg Whitman has publicly put off the decision, and my confidence has waned.
If HP had immediately turned around and offered to open source webOS, I would have felt positive. The software was running on a high following the Touchpad fire sale, and many bloggers had been singing the praises of the dying platform. In the time since the fire sale, however, Apple has released iOS5, Android has hit version 4.0, and Windows Phone 7.5 has received heaps of endorsements.
In short, the market has changed, and webOS has suffered a fundamental death in the eyes of the community. Once the compelling underdog, webOS has become little more than an after thought. HP has shed webOS staff, support, and has now pushed the platform away with only vague hope for revival.
Meg Whitman has left the opportunity open for HP hardware implementation, but my impression is that this is just wishful thinking. Possibly even vague gauging of market interest, but nothing truly meaningful. Whitman further implies that a tablet would likely arrive after 2012. Given the pace of development on competing platforms, how could an understaffed and woefully unsupported project possibly keep up?
Sure, developers could feasibly adopt and resuscitate the platform, but what manufacturer would implement it? Potential suitors like Amazon and Barnes & Noble have adopted forked versions of Android. Facebook is reportedly set to do the same. Would HTC or Samsung really take on webOS development? Seems unlikely.
Another HP tablet built using webOS? Well, that'd be nice and all, but what incentive is there to build for the platform now? Who is likely to build apps for a platform only loosely supported by its parent company?
The outcome that seems most likely is developers retrieving some useful elements and components from the OS, and leaving it dissected and lifeless in a dusty corner somewhere on the Internet. Maybe even in some HP printers too.
Whether webOS is open and available or not, the platform as we know it is dead, and that is a shame.
Rather than face an uproar over what it could have been, HP has made the crowd-pleasing decision of open sourcing webOS. The drama and scandal of the situation is now over, and it's likely the interest and life of webOS will slowly begin to fade.
Of course, I'd happily be proven wrong.