Open Source WebOS: A Win For Windows Phone?

Microsoft's mobile business will get a big boost from HP's decision to open source webOS, says one analyst. Is his logic sound?

Ed Hansberry, Contributor

December 11, 2011

2 Min Read

Friday, HP finally made a decision on what to do with its webOS division. Rather than sell it or shutter the division, HP decided to release the code under an open source license. This decision is unlikely to have much effect on Android or iOS for the foreseeable future, but Windows Phone, which is bouncing around with single-digit market share, could be impacted by this decision.

HP has yet to determine what open source license it will use for webOS. There are literally dozens. Google uses the Apache license a majority of the time for Android, and it is rumored HP is considering the same. That would give webOS a bit of an advantage, as a lot of open source developers are used to working with code under the Apache license.

Senior analyst Colin Gillis at BGC Partners said, "the real winner here is Microsoft. It no longer has to contend with what would have been another viable operating system as it prepares to launch its Windows 8 tablets."

His logic is that HP is putting webOS out to pasture and the open source community won't do much with the platform, at least when it comes to smartphones and tablets.

I am not sure that assumption is a slam dunk though. Android is open source, but it's no longer free. As of mid-October, Microsoft was earning licensing revenue on 53% of Android devices. Those that aren't paying Microsoft a license fee are incurring legal fees in negotiations or legal battles with the software giant. That might encourage some manufacturers to give webOS a serious look. That would only apply, though, if HP continues to develop the platform. HP hasn't committed yet to what it will invest in the platform going forward.

If it invests heavily, then another open source platform may take hold, and that wouldn't help Microsoft at all. If, however, HP did this only to save face and will put this project on the back burner, then Windows Phone is likely to benefit most.

I am not sure how much it can benefit though. After all, the only platform that has smaller share than Windows Phone is webOS. I think Microsoft has the most to lose if HP puts some effort into it, but gains little if HP walks away.

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