For a unified experience on a PC, WebOS would have to be the host and Windows the guest, like on a Mac. That way, WebOS provides the key facilities for touch, gestures, communications integration, and alerting to both WebOS apps and to Windows apps. It would do so through a UI translation layer, which is how Mac OS X gestures can be used in a Windows VM. HP would have to provide the translation layer, but the Mac virtualization experience shows that approach is in fact doable.
The issue of course is whether WebOS can run a virtualization client. WebOS, after all, is a pretty lightweight OS. Yes, Citrix Systems plans to have its Citrix Receiver thin client for WebOS tablets this summer, but remember that thin clients are easy: The server does all the heavy lifting, and OS integration is limited.
One technology that may allow a WebOS PC to integrate WebOS and Windows is something called Type 1 virtualization. (Type 2 virtualization is used for running Windows on a Mac.) OK Labs, which is partly owned by Citrix, has a Type 1 hypervisor technology that allows both OSes to be guests, with the hypervisor providing the access for applications to the facilities needed in the hypervisor and in the other OS. OK Labs has demonstrated the technology on a primitive cell phone, the Motorola Evoke, that runs Linux and Qualcomm's BREW, and it's the technology that Motorola Mobility is using to run the desktop version of Firefox on its dockable Atrix smartphone due this spring.
Type 1 virtualization could be complex to implement, though, if it is meant to provide Windows apps access to WebOS's unique facilities -- which to me is a key goal of a hybrid PC. Type 1 virtualization is typically used to separate OSes for security purposes while providing access to a common set of hardware services. For this approach to work well in a WebOS-Windows hybrid, it would likely mean the unique WebOS services must be made available in the hypervisor. Still, if WebOS is too lightweight to run Type 2 virtualization, the Type 1 approach might do the job.
All of this is speculation until HP reveals its actual plans for WebOS on the PC. Still, don't be surprised to see virtualization end up as the enabling technology for a hybrid device that runs mobile WebOS and desktop Windows apps in an intermingled, or at least easily toggled, environment.
This article, "How HP could create the WebOS PC," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at InfoWorld.com. Follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter at MobileGalen. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.