Amazon, Oracle, MS Awaiting webOS Decision?

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HP is making a final decision about the webOS garage sale and this could attract several buyers, says Nicholas Kolakowski

Hewlett-Packard’s executives are mulling what to do with webOS, the mobile operating system it acquired along with Palm in 2010.

HP previously announced it would terminate efforts to integrate webOS into a line of branded products. The question now is whether the company will sell webOS to another entity, keep the software and license it to other manufacturers wanting to produce their own devices, or turn out the lights on the platform for good.

Considered evaluation

HP CEO Meg Whitman hosted a meeting with the webOS team, according to The Verge, but announced no final judgment. “It’s really important to me to make the right decision, not the fast decision,” she reportedly told the room. “The economics of this business are tough.”

It seems unlikely that HP will make another attempt to produce webOS devices on its own. During a conference call on 27 October, Whitman suggested that HP would remain in the tablet business, but in partnership with Microsoft. “We’re certainly going to be there with Windows 8,” she said.

If HP does sell webOS, it might not recoup the entirety of the $1.2 billion (£753.7 million) it originally shelled out for Palm and its assets. Nonetheless, some companies might be interested in taking the property off HP’s hands:

Oracle: Reuters suggested that Oracle “might be among the likely technology firms interested in the asset”, according to an unnamed source “close to the matter”. Oracle president Mark Hurd was the one who masterminded the Palm takeover when he was CEO of HP, evidently seeing the former’s intellectual property as valuable. That sort of thinking might dominate current discussion in Oracle’s boardrooms, especially if the company sees that IP as a door to creating new products in mobility and ubiquitous connectivity.

Amazon: Given the litigious atmosphere gripping the tech world these days, a company could do well to augment its intellectual-property portfolio with a raft of patents. Purchasing Palm’s assets on the cheap could give a company like Amazon a little additional IP cover as it drives further into the mobile segment. The question is whether Palm’s patents would offer sufficient protection from an Apple or other tech titan with a huge legal team. Also, Amazon already has a cross-licensing agreement in place with Microsoft, which (at least in theory) protects its Kindle Fire from one of the more aggressive companies in the space.

Google: The need for patent protection might drive Google to make a play for webOS. However, the search-engine giant is in the midst of swallowing Motorola Mobility, and perhaps lacks the appetite to make another high-profile acquisition so soon.

Intel: Intel has made no secret of its desire to expand into new areas. It previously spearheaded the development of the MeeGo operating system. The webOS assets might provide further building material for its mobility plans.

Microsoft: Redmond could make a play for webOS, if only to deprive a competitor of its patents and code. A Microsoft play, however, would be heavily dependent on price; the company’s spent a pretty penny this year on Skype, and its executives might balk at paying out hundreds of millions – or even a billion – for an asset with questionable ROI.

Hewlett-Packard: Whatever HP’s decision, webOS will most likely live on – if only as a series of patents used to block a looming legal threat.

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