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HP has had an epiphany. Again. This time it has decided to keep its troubled WebOS platform and hive it off as a fully fledged ‘start up’, complete with 600-odd staff and venture capital.

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The decision, made public last week, comes after the PC giant spent months humming and hawing over the destiny of the platform, after it said it would kill off the OS earlier this year.

This was followed by the frantic selling of HP’s TouchPad running the beleaguered WebOS for $98 for 16GB tablet here by Harvey Norman and again there was second round of cheap sell-off just this weekend on eBay’s HP store.

The Palo Alto based company also said in April it would sell off its profitable PC business, only to later overturn the decision under the stewardship of ex eBay Chief Whitman, who took over from fired German boss Leo Apotheker, after a series of fatal strategic errors over the future of the world’s biggest computer maker.

HP will “contribute the WebOS software to the open source community” and plans to continue to develop the platform, it said in a statement Friday.

And importantly, for the future of the previously stand alone platform, purchased from Palm for $1.2bn in 2010, it will be open source, meaning anyone with the skill set, including rival OS’s, could run or toy with elements of it, as announced Friday:

“Developers, partners, HP engineers and other hardware manufacturers can deliver ongoing enhancements and new versions into the marketplace.”

“By combining the innovative webOS 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.”

Currently, there are 750,00 devices running the OS, mostly its TouchPad device which is now the second biggest selling tablet after the iPad in the US, and could now be teetering close to one million after this weekend’s latest sell off.

 

HP will make a substantial investment in WebOS, Whitman told AllThingsD, and is “is a wonderful asset, actually,” she  insisted.

This means, in theory, one could see an Acer or Samsung device running the HP platform although given its chequered history to date, this might not exactly come to pass.

However, although WebOS is now here to stay HP will not run any devices on the platform in 2012 and is instead banking on Windows 8 which they are set to launch two tablets devices on and hope will give it a lift in the tab market next year.

“In 2012 as you know we’re bringing two Windows 8 tablets to the market, we’re excited about that, we’re going to be working with them [Microsoft] constructively, but there may be an opportunity in 2013 to think of a different device, maybe come back to tablets. “

However, she didn’t rule out running devices on WebOs in the future:

“Let’s just see how it goes, but obviously HP would be one of the likely suspect hardware manufacturers for webOS,” Whitman added.

“I won’t give you a dollar number but I will tell you that it will be a substantial software investment but it will not break the bank at HP. This is a wonderful asset, actually, but what I was telling employees this morning is you’re a start-up now,” she added.

“You’re a start-up with a number of people, 750,000 installed devices out there, and with your first venture capitalist, and that’s HP. And let’s go figure out how to change the world out there.”

 

And the Palo Alto boss was quick to sing of the praises of the OS it once was willing to ditch:

“WebOS is the only platform designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable,” Whitman said in a company statement.

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