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HP lays off 500 at WebOS division — PC group next?

Sep 20, 2011 — by LinuxDevices Staff — from the LinuxDevices Archive — 1 views

HP will lay off 500 WebOS workers this week as part of its discontinuation of its Touchpad tablet and Pre smartphones, suggesting that any potential sale of WebOS will not include a large staffing contingent. Meanwhile, the CyanogenMod modding project has made headway on its port of Android 2.3 to the TouchPad, adding 3D gaming and 720p video support.

The fallout from the Aug. 18 Hewlett-Packard corporate strategy left turn is beginning to take shape in the form of real effects on people — 500 of them for starters.

HP confirmed Sept. 20 that it has started workforce reductions in what remains of its WebOS group and Palm smartphone business. Several staff members already have left on their own volition; more than 500 are expected to lose their jobs involuntarily in the next few days.

The PC-making Personal Systems Group, which is also being decimated by the new corporate plan, is expected to be next up for the chopping block. An HP spokesperson sent this memo to our sister publication eWEEK:

As communicated on August 18, 2011, HP will discontinue the development of webOS devices within the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2011, which ends Oct. 31, 2011. As part of this decision, the webOS GBU is undergoing a reduction in workforce. Today's actions are part of this initiative.

HP remained vague on its plans for the Linux-based WebOS operating system, which it received along with its Palm acquisition in 2010, stating: "During this time, we stand by our commitments to our webOS customers and will work to ensure that support and service for customers are not adversely affected. HP is exploring ways to leverage webOS software."

HP dropped some early hints

HP offered a clue to its future plans back on July 11, when it transferred WebOS division head Jon Rubinstein to the Personal Systems Group a mere five months after a splashy media event introducing the WebOS-run HP TouchPad tablet (pictured), as well as the Pre and Veer smartphones. HP replaced Rubinstein with Stephen DeWitt only about a month after the TouchPad and the new phones hit the stores.

Perhaps another early indication of change was when one of the lead Palm Pre designers, Peter Skillman, left HP immediately after then-CEO Mark Hurd was asked to leave HP in August 2010.

Former SAP chief executive Leo Apotheker, who eventually replaced Hurd as HP's chief executive in November 2010, was known as a software advocate with no experience in the mobile world; this was another — albeit more apparent — clue as to HP's long-term plans.

A former Apple employee who contributed significantly to the Apple iPod and iMac, Rubinstein was named CEO of Palm in June 2009, just days after the successful launch of the Palm Pre. HP then bought Palm in April 2010 for $1.2 billion, and Rubinstein, naturally, moved to HP.

Rubinstein now answers to HP Executive Vice President Todd Bradley in the PSG, but the future doesn't look so good there right now, either.

At this point, no one knows what HP will do with the WebOS and personal systems IP and facilities — the main ones are located in Houston and in Northern California. HP has indicated that it is considering licensing deals and perhaps an outright sale of WebOS.

Samsung has denied rumors that it plans to buy the WebOS IP and other assets, while HTC has suggested it's still considering the possibility. In any case, if HTC or another company does buy WebOS, it will be available with a much smaller staff, or perhaps no staff at all.

Cyanogenmod Android TouchPad project progresses

The discontinued HP TouchPad, which won a reprieve of sorts when HP and BestBuy discounted the 9.7-inch tablet sharply to $99, has gained an improved Android port from the CyanogenMod project. The project was announced in late August, following another porting project called TouchDroid, which has since been largely disbanded.

As reported by Liliputing, CyanogenMod has posted some new videos showing major updates for its TouchPad-friendly version of Android 2.3. Enhancements include support for Wi-Fi, basic audio support, accelerometers, and limited support for the Android Market on the TouchPad.

This was followed by a Sept. 20 video that shows HD video and 3D gaming, among other enhancements (see video below). Audio glitches have been fixed, according to the video, and the software now makes use of both the cores on the 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon processor.

3D gaming demonstrated on CyanogenMod Android port for Touchpad on YouTube
Source: CyanogenMod
(Click to play)

Chris Preimesberger is a writer for eWEEK. Eric Brown contributed the CyanogenMod report.

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