Ina Fried

Recent Posts by Ina Fried

HP Has No Easy Answers for webOS

Reversing course and keeping the PC business was a relatively straightforward decision for new Hewlett-Packard CEO Meg Whitman.

Indeed, when HP first announced its plans to jettison the business, I was racking my brain trying to think of another example of a company getting rid of a unit that was the biggest in the world at what it did. Nonetheless, had the company decided to sell or spin off the unit, it probably would have had more than a few options.

But, when it comes to what to do with webOS, the situation Whitman and HP face is a lot tougher. Though praised for its interface, the fact is that the mobile operating system has suffered from a lack of resources under both Palm and Hewlett-Packard. To thrive, operating systems need good hardware, masses of interested developers and a backer with deep pockets and long-term focus.

The most logical potential acquirers have clearly taken a pass — some of them quite publicly. HP could, of course, continue to fund webOS itself, though it continues to lose talent from that unit — most recently Richard Kerris, who headed the company’s outreach to developers.

Plus, it’s not like the mobile world is hurting for options. Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android are the obvious leaders, but Microsoft and Research In Motion are also in the game and neither can really afford not to succeed.

One interesting option — one that has circulated within HP, though has yet to win favor — is to simply give away webOS and its developer tools to the community, allowing it to be an open source alternative for mobile (and potentially other) devices.

Whatever HP is going to do, it had better act fast or the discussion will be moot. As Jack Ma recently noted of Yahoo, technologies that are neglected are like flowers that don’t get attention. They wither and die.

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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work