HP boosting multimedia in WebOS with MediaSmart move

HP also wants to put more resources into WebOS development

Hewlett-Packard on Thursday said it will bring strong multimedia and entertainment applications to WebOS by moving the MediaServer team into its Palm business unit.

"We'll put the MediaSmart Server team's multimedia and entertainment application experience toward developing the WebOS ecosystem," said Marlene Somsak, an HP spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

HP's expanded focus on WebOS comes at the expense of Microsoft's Home Server OS. HP said it would retire its line of MediaSmart media servers, which are used in homes to serve multimedia files and backup data. The servers used Microsoft's Windows Home Server OS. Microsoft in a blog entry earlier this week said that HP would not launch products carrying Microsoft's next version of Home Server OS, which is code-named Vail, and is due for release next year.

Beyond putting more muscle into WebOS development, the MediaServer team was moved for "further building the resources and talent necessary to take full advantage of the large and growing connected device market," Somsak said.

HP has said WebOS would be used in Internet-connected devices like smartphones, tablets and printers. The company declined to comment on whether WebOS would be offered in future media servers. HP announced WebOS 2.0 in October. It includes multimedia features such as support for Flash 10.1 and HTML5 for users to watch video on the Internet.

The MediaSmart Server includes software developed by HP for tasks such as remote and mobile media streaming, multimedia file collection and file conversion. The server carried a unique user interface developed by HP and allowed multimedia files to be accessed from computing resources including Windows or Mac computers.

The MediaSmart team could bring some interesting synergies to the WebOS team, especially considering what Apple is doing to integrate multimedia features across its products, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT. For example, the new Apple TV is able to stream content from iPods, iPhones and iPads.

"If HP moves ahead with a WebOS-based tablet, which seems likely, the MediaSmart team's skills in networks, remote multimedia streaming and file conversion could prove quite valuable," King said.

The move could also help HP build a souped up multimedia interface and working environment inside WebOS, said Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates.

"They can customize the hell out of WebOS," Gold said, noting that HP can't do that with Windows.

The move of the MediaSmart team also saves HP from having to pay royalties to Microsoft, he said.

HP is trying to standardize many consumer products around WebOS and the OS could help standardize the deployment of applications such as media players across tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices, Gold said.

The retirement of the MediaSmart line seemed more or less inevitable given Microsoft's decision to kill Windows Home Server's popular Drive Extender feature, under which multiple storage resources could be pooled together, Pund-IT's King said.

Microsoft is getting most of the heat from the Home Server user community over Drive Extender's demise, so HP many not experience any wash-back from that, King said.

HP and Microsoft have a long-standing relationship on PC and server software. But questions were raised about the relationship between the companies on mobile products in the wake of HP's acquisition of Palm for US$1.2 billion to further its mobile strategy.

HP officials vaguely said when the deal was announced in April that the company would retain a strategic partnership with Microsoft, and that granular details on its road map would emerge as the transaction with Palm closes. But HP still uses Microsoft OSes on a number of mobile devices, including Windows Mobile 6.5 on iPaq mobile devices, and Windows 7 on its Slate 500 business tablet.

The home-media server business has never really taken off for either company, so the fall-out from MediaSmart's retirement shouldn't affect the relationship between the companies, Pund-IT's King said.

"The companies have clashed before -- over Linux, for example -- but I doubt this will cause a huge amount of friction, at least for the time being."

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