This Feb. 9, 2011 file photo shows a close up of a Hewlett Packard TouchPad during a Palm and Hewlett Packard announcement in San Francisco. The TouchPad runs on webOS. (Associated Press)

Hewlett-Packard made the decision to make the source code of webOS open for the whole Web community, effectively abandoning the software that it acquired when it bought Palm in 2010. The software, which got fairly universal praise from reviewers for its innovative design, was often overshadowed by clunky hardware.

Now, any developer or hardware manufacturer who wants to take the system and make their own modifications to it, can. In a statement, HP chief executive Meg Whitman said that the platform is the only one “designed from the ground up to be mobile, cloud-connected and scalable.”

Throwing webOS to the open source community could do one of a few things. In a frankly unlikely scenario, it could provide developers another option to make a competitive operating system to Android and iOS. Or, as ZDNet, Wired and others have already proclaimed, it could languish as a system only used and loved by a small group of developers and enthusiasts.

But there’s a third option, too, that could give the overlooked system a bit of legacy. Since HP is throwing open the figurative doors to the system, parts of it system could be adopted and adapted. Developers could take the best of the system and figure out how to work them into their own projects, possibly even putting them to use in other open platforms like Android.

Only time will tell, really, because webOS’s fate depends almost entirely now on the whims of tech geeks. HP will stay “active in the development and support of webOS,” the company said Friday, but it wasn’t clear how much of each the company will continue to do. Several media reports indicate that Whitman confirmed that HP will make webOS-powered tablets, like in 2013. Whitman has said in the past, however, that the company will be focusing on making tablets powered by Microsoft’s upcoming Windows 8 system.

HP’s news is also probably good news for people who snapped up the TouchPad when it dropped to fire sale prices of $99. HP says that it will continue to provide support for those devices, and the open source platform likely means that at least some developers will continue to make apps and other improvements to the system.

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