Open webOS Professional Edition to be how Gram makes money
When HP decided to offer up webOS as an open source operating system, there was one question nagging at the back of our minds: how is this going to make them money? We're not really concerned about HP being able to pay their bills, but given the current fiscal state of HP, they're not too inclined to waste money on projects with little profit potential. A purely open source operating system isn't going to result in an abundance of cash flow on its own.
Having already written down a $3.3 billion loss on webOS, HP's still ponying up cash to fund webOS operations as part of the newly-quasi-independent Gram. They even paid for a swanky new office remodel to host the company. But that still doesn't explain how Gram is going to make money. We got a bit of a hint of that when HP completed the open sourcing of Open webOS 1.0 late last month; the open source version of webOS was lacking in any of the expected cloud services (App Catalog, backup, etc) we've come to know as part of webOS, but HP said that they would be willing to provide those services through a business agreement with a partner manufacturer.
That's one piece of the Gram-making-money puzzle. The other will be Open webOS Professional Edition.
Open webOS PE vs. Open webOS follows a similar model to that of Red Hat. The Fedora open source Linux-based operating system is an open source project free for any and all to use, the company offers on a subscription basis the Red Hat Enterprise Linux operating system on top of that with support and additional enterprise-related bits. This business model of giving away the base product for free and selling vital services on top of it resulted in Red Hat bringing in $1.13 billion in revenue in 2012.
For Gram, Open webOS PE is an opportunity for income. As HP SVP Martin Risau said in an email to the transitioning employees of the webOS GBU/Gram, they "anticipate that once ODMs [original device manufacturers] look at Open webOS, they will be enticed to come to Gram for the professional version".
Whether or not this will prove to be a viable strategy is still up in the air. While fans of webOS continue to be rather fervent, there's not yet been a demonstration of sustained popular demand for webOS. Open webOS PE is going to need to be more than Open webOS with reintegrated back-end cloud services. It needs to be markedly improved from the features standpoint. These ODMs Gram is hoping to draw in are used to Google's Android and maybe Microsoft's Windows Phone, where the heavy feature lifting has been done already and the ODM gets to customize the OS (at least with Android) for what they think their customers want.
It will likely be a while before we actually see Open webOS PE products out there. As Risau wrote, "This is just the first step in a long-term strategy."