HP aims to make webOS mainstream

All PCs and notebooks to ship with Windows and webOS next year

The news from the US overnight is HP will pre-install webOS on all its PCs in 2012. Short of HP deliberately stopping such PC shipments outside the US, Australians will finally get a taste of webOS and an alternative operating system other than Linux distributions and Mac OS X.

Consumers today can elect to buy a Mac or install Linux on their PC, but by far the lion’s share of client operating systems remains dominated by Windows and the OEM shipment monopoly it enjoys.

The big PC vendors like HP, Dell, Acer and Lenovo all ship Windows 7 almost exclusively. Only in the netbook market have we seen that dominance challenged to any degree.

However, with the advent of mobile computing this is all changing very rapidly.

Let’s consider the options we have for “client” operating systems today of the more portable kind:

  • Android
  • iOS
  • Windows 7 (tablet)
  • Linux distros (tablet)
  • Symbian
  • BackBerry
  • Windows Phone

Turn the clock back just a few years and half of those didn’t even exist which shows how much new software options can shake up the market.

It’s worth remembering here that when the first iPhone launched there was nothing revolutionary about the hardware - it was just another touch screen phone. The software and content ecosystem has made it a success.

Earlier this year HP announced a new tablet PC and range of smartphones running webOS exclusively, which demonstrates its commitment to the platform, but so far has not shown any interest in bringing the new products to Australia.

All that is (presumably) set to change with webOS coming to notebooks and PCs as HP is the number one PC vendor here and around the world, according to Gartner.

By having more control over the software device makers can move in directions they otherwise wouldn’t be able to

I’d be very surprised if webOS was pre-installed on some units for certain markets and at the same time withheld from other markets.

If webOS is installed with Windows on a PC, it could be either a dual-boot scenario, some form of virtualisation to achieve an “along-side” effect or a port of the application environment to Windows.

webOS is Linux-based so it can’t be “ported to Windows” as such, but if it is HP’s goal to attract more developers to the webOS mobile platform then a port of the development tools to Windows could well suffice.

Apps for webOS can be developed in WebKit (HTML and JavaScript) or lower-level languages like C and C++.

While just supporting webOS apps on its Windows PCs is plausible it’s nowhere near as interesting as HP offering a full-blown webOS interface as an alternative to Windows.

Having dabbled with offering various Linux distributions on its PCs in the past, HP now looks ready to go full steam ahead with webOS. Time will tell if that happens.

There are at least two good reasons for HP wanting to get more out of webOS:

  1. The success of iOS and Android
  2. Windows roadmap uncertainty

Point one is certainly the most compelling. The iOS-Android runaway train is transforming the way people use software and computers.

And if the success of iOS and Android on phones and tablets doesn’t have the PC vendors worried then it darn well should.

There will always be a need for notebooks and desktops, of course, but the buzz right now is all about ultra-portable computing and the sales numbers back up the hype.

The PC vendors will need to offer more than just a wintel box to survive in this new generation of “computing anyware”.

This leads nicely to point two, Microsoft’s Windows roadmap.

Over the past decade Microsoft has released a grand total of three major releases of its flagship operating system, one of them a failure.

I’ve discussed this dilemma for hardware vendors in a previous blog, MeeGo should have happened YeersaGo.

Does a large Windows OEM like HP wait for a “Windows 8” to maybe arrive in 2012 or 2013 or does it begin to offer its own software as an alternative with a shorter development cycle? Seems like a no-brainer.

By having more control over the software device makers can move in directions they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

With webOS available on all of its PCs and portable devices HP is at least giving itself an opportunity to capture new mindshare the way Apple and Google have done with iOS and Android.

And us consumers will have another option to consider on the desktop.

Follow Rodney Gedda on Twitter: @rodneygedda

Follow TechWorld Australia on Twitter: @Techworld_AU

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