Over the recent US Labour Day weekend, two of Hewlett-Packard's senior executives posted letters explaining that the development and marketing group for WebOS were being moved from the Personal Systems Group that makes PCs (and had made the now-defunct TouchPad tablet) to the Office for Strategy and Technology. This has caused a minor stir in the blogosphere, but it's just the move HP said it would make when it pulled the plug on all its WebOS devices three weeks ago, including the TouchPad tablet and the Pre, Pixi, and Veer smartphones, and said it may leave the PC business altogether, not just the mobile business. When HP announced the death of its WebOS hardware line just five weeks after the debut of the TouchPad, it said it would retain the WebOS software and investigate its use elsewhere in the company. Well, the Office of Strategy and Technology is the group at HP that does just that. If anything, the twin announcements by PC group chief Todd Bradley and strategy chief Shane Robison confirm that WebOS devices are dead at HP. Robison's statement is also very clear that his group is exploring ways HP might make money from WebOS. There's no commitment to the platform beyond that exploration. Still, there's a strain of thought out there that somehow WebOS will rise phoenix-like from the ashes, despite the bullet to the head it took from HP's top leadership just three weeks ago. There's zero evidence to support this belief. In fact, the formal transfer of WebOS out of the PC group makes it much more unlikely that if the PC group is sold or spun out into its own company that it will be able to use WebOS in its mobile products. I believe that if the PC business decides to reenter the mobile business, as Bradley says it should (and he's hoping to run that spun-off business), it will use Android or Windows 8. Those are the only two real options for licensable tablet OSes — assuming Windows 8 actually delivers on its tablet aspirations, of course. Trip Chowdhry, the canny analyst at Global Equities Securities, said this weekend that the "harsh" statements made by HP and its controversial CEO Léo Apotheker when HP killed the WebOS device business may have been designed "to wake up the lazy executives" at HP to the fact that real change is needed. Chowdhry also noted that since the shocking death of the WebOS device business and the decision to explore dumping the PC business, "the sprit of survival is picking up at HP, which may be a unifying force for HP, which has traditionally been heavily influenced by internal politics." If true, that's a shocking way to run a company, indicating a bureaucracy out of control and/or out of touch, a civil war among senior managers, or other Shakespearean dysfunction. No wonder my colleague Bill Snyder argues that the entire HP board should be fired, along with Apotheker, and why he likens the management at HP to the doomed Hamlet. Whatever game is afoot at HP, WebOS is at best a pawn, an easy sacrifice to make by the top executives as they try to reshape beleaguered HP. It's not likely to survive this drama. Pawns rarely do.
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