HP Has Far-reaching Plans for its Linux-based WebOS

by Ostatic Staff - Feb. 10, 2011

 Yesterday, HP held a press conference where the company finally announced its plans for WebOS, its newly acquired operating system that happens to be based on Linux. The company is putting WebOS in a new tablet to compete with Apple's iPad, but WebOS is headed far beyond that, including becoming part of the brains behind HP's market-leading printers. That's yet another promising new market for a Linux-based OS, but HP's announcements are producing some desktop predictions that seem a bit lofty.

One of the more interesting reports from HP's press conference came from Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of The Linux Foundation:

"HP announced two new WebOS phones and more importantly an impressive new tablet that is a clear contender against the iPad. While I don’t for one second underestimate Apple, that was not the most interesting part of the event for me. The most interesting part of the event came near the end when HP announced that it is going to ship WebOS not only in phones, tablets and printers, but in PC’s as well. In doing so, the worlds largest PC supplier is indicating that they are going to ship PC’s without Windows. For Microsoft - who was nowhere at this event - that has got to hurt. Perhaps this really IS the year of the Linux desktop."

Zemlin sees WebOS as the "canary in the coal mine" for new Linux frontiers, and points to Linux as part of the underpinning of nearly every form of computing. Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols writes that WebOS could indeed be a contender including being one on laptops and PCs:

"What I found most interesting though was that HP is planning on taking webOS 3.0 to laptops and desktops as well. What’s this!? HP wants to get into the Linux-based desktop operating system business!? As my buddy from the Washington Post, Rob Pegoraro put it, 'We’re going to bring webOS to PCs' almost two hours into a keynote raises the bar on burying the lede.”

While HP's tablet device based on WebOS, announced at the conference, does look interesting, it's probably too early to pronounce that WebOS can make much of a dent in the market for laptops and PCs. Microsoft and Apple, in that order, still have that market very locked up, and some of the chatter surrounding HP's WebOS plans sound a lot like the chatter that arrived when Linux netbooks arrived. Have those wrested desktop market share from Microsoft in any significant way? No.

However, it is indeed notable that Linux-based operating systems continue to find niches where they can be very successful. Look at Android's success in the smartphone market. Consider HP's announcement that WebOS will become part of the brains of printers--which HP knows a bit about. 

Niche markets and non-desktop implementations may be a very promising part of the future for Linux, and there is nothing wrong with that. But HP's desktop WebOS plans don't spell doom for Microsoft and Apple.