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HP will make its WebOS software available to open-source community

Megwhitman jose luis villegas reuters

Hewlett-Packard said it will make its WebOS software available to the open-source community and Chief Executive Meg Whitman said in two separate interviews that there are plans to create new WebOS hardware -- including tablets.

The announcement is the latest reversal for HP after the company indicated over the summer that it was going in a different direction. In August, then-CEO Leo Apotheker said HP would ditch its smartphones and TouchPad tablet computers and was considering spinning off its PC operations. Two months later, HP said it would keep making PCs under new CEO Whitman (Apotheker was fired shortly after his August announcement).

On Friday, the Palo Alto tech giant said that it planned to continue to be active in the development and support of WebOS, and that by combining the platform with the development power of the open-source community, "there is the opportunity to significantly improve applications and Web services for the next generation of devices."

The WebOS platform offers several benefits to the ecosystem of Web apps, HP said, including allowing developers to easily build applications using standard Web technologies. For device manufacturers, it provides a single Web-centric platform to run across multiple devices. 

"As a result, the end user benefits from a fast, immersive user experience," HP said.

The announcement sparked speculation that HP would get back into the tablet business, and in interviews with the Verge and TechCrunch, Whitman said the company planned to roll out new devices in the future, probably in 2013.

TechCrunch also obtained an internal email Whitman sent out to HP staff announcing the WebOS news. In it, the former California gubernatorial candidate thanked employees for their efforts "under very difficult circumstances during these last couple of months."

Of WebOS, she said in the memo: "Together, we have an opportunity to make it the foundation of a new generation of devices, applications and services to address the rapidly evolving demands of both consumers and enterprises."

So far, HP hasn't seen much success with its TouchPad tablets. The company had high hopes for the device as a rival to Apple Inc.'s iPad and for its smartphones, both based on the WebOS software that the company picked up in acquiring Palm Inc. last year. But neither the tablet nor such phones as the Palm Pri, Pixi and Veer have caught on with consumers, and after Apotheker's departure, HP was forced to slash TouchPad prices to $99, which spurred sales.

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-- Andrea Chang

Photo: Former California gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman was named chief executive of HP in September. Credit: Jose Luis Villegas / Reuters

 
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