WebOS has had quite an interesting life. It was developed by Palm to run the Pre, but smartphone and its successors were hardly successful. When the Pre failed, HP bought a floundering Palm and promised to bring the OS to a plethora of devices, everything from printers, to smartphones, to the all important tablet.
What looked like a promising new beginning quickly disintegrated into confusion. When the TouchPad failed to impress, HP announced that they would be killing both it and the yet unreleased Opal and possibly WebOS as well, leading to a firesale of unsold tablets. This reignited interest in WebOS, and sparked rumors of an acquisition by both HTC and Samsung. HP didn't appear to know what they planned to do with the software, but was putting some thought into the fate of WebOS.
And there you have the story of WebOS, the open source fourth player in the iOS/Android/WP7 wars. Its story could have ended here, had HP decided to simply kill off the brand. Fortunately for everyone, today they announced that far from killing, they will actually be open sourcing the WebOS software.
What this means is that developers will now have access to the full source code of the software, allowing them to make custom versions for different devices, much like they can with Android. The community will also be able to modify and create updates for existing WebOS devices, but HP is planning to retain the final say on updates for official WebOS hardware.
Even with HP still technically in charge of official updates, the current potential for WebOS is now huge. Not only can fans make ROMs for their favorite devices, manufacturers could potentially make their own devices based on WebOS much the same way they do with Android.
It remains to be seen how many people will get behind the newly open source WebOS, but I certainly think that HP made the right decision here. Instead of keeping WebOS locked up in house where nothing would be done with it, they released it to the many eager developers waiting to make something out of it. The Linux-based OS now has a lot of potential, and I can't wait to see what people make out of it.