HP's new CEO, Léo Apotheker has told his company that all Hewlett-Packard PCs will ship with WebOS in 2012 along with Windows (at least for a while), according to a Bloomberg Businessweek report. If so, it's a major slap in the face to Microsoft, serving as HP's public vote of no-confidence in Microsoft's plans to make Windows 8 mobile- and touch-friendly in 2012 and perhaps as the first step in filing for divorce from the Microsoft half of the Wintel duopoly.
A lack of confidence is eminently understandable. Microsoft has stumbled along for years in the mobile space, and it's been uneven in the desktop space.
A decade ago, when the hot mobile platform was the Palm OS, Microsoft's Windows Mobile (then called Windows CE) was a credible competitor for that era of low expectations. When the iPhone debuted in 2007 and changed the game, Microsoft responded more than a year later with the anemic Windows Mobile 6.5, an operating system almost no one adopted. Then the great hope was Windows Phone 7, which shipped last fall missing basic features such as HTML5 support, copy and paste, and security. Its sales have been anemic as well. (Microsoft's later pairing up with the fast-falling Nokia only undermined the sense of desperation around Windows Phone 7.)
Then Microsoft said in January that the next version of Windows -- what everyone calls Windows 8 -- will run on the ARM chips commonly used in mobile devices, and it hinted at support for touch gestures and other mobile technologies so that the new version can be used in tablets. (Never mind that Microsoft claims Windows 7 works as a tablet OS. Have you seen one outside of a Microsoft demo? I thought not.)
The frustrations with Microsoft are at a boil
If HP believed that this time Microsoft will actually deliver on its promises, it wouldn't need WebOS PCs because Windows 8 would do what WebOS is supposed to do. I don't know anyone who actually believes Microsoft's promises any more -- it's cried "wolf" way too often. But HP's oh-so-public vote of no confidence is likely the act that will break the logjam and let those doubts and frustrations gain voice. Former Microsoft CTO Ray Ozzie fired the warning shot last fall in his famous post-PC memo; today, that worldview is fast becoming the conventional wisdom, and Microsoft is not among the wise.