Word came yesterday that all HP PCs will begin shipping with WebOS installed in a dual boot mode. The report was in Business Week but I saw it in the Washington Post. While the news that HP will ship dual boot PCs by itself is not earth shattering, I think in context it may with hindsight be seen as the beginning of the end for Windows and Microsoft's monolithic dominance of the computer world.
We all knew that after paying 1.2b for Palm's operating system, HP was going to do something with it. Most believed that HP would use WebOS in tablets or perhaps even a future HP smartphone. That in and of itself would be a major blow to Windows. HP is a major Microsoft partner and the biggest PC maker in the world. They figure to be a player in the tablet market too as the market moves away from desktops to mobile solutions. The fact that HP might move into this tablet/mobile future with their own WebOS as their horse had to be more than a little unsettling to Redmond. Now to hear that HP's PCs will be dual boot with WebOS as well has to be downright nightmarish for Microsoft.
Lets not run away with ourselves here. Just because PCs have a dual boot option with WebOS doesn't mean people are going to abandon Windows. You could have your desktop or laptop dual boot Windows and Linux for a long time (though I don't remember HP, Dell or another big PC maker offering the dual boot option across the line). Most people stick with Windows. It is what they know, all of the apps they run are made for it. Windows/Linux dual boot machines just never got off the ground.
With the advent of virtual desktops it has been possible to run Mac/Windows machines for a few years now. In fact most people I know with Macs run Windows on their boxes at least sometimes. The sheer number of apps that run on Windows and are Windows only all but guarantees that this will be the case for at least the next few years.
In the case of WebOS the app advantage is even starker. There are currently only about 6,000 apps in the WebOS app store. That is compared to something like 350,000 in the Apple app store. The amount of Windows apps (for desktops, not phones) is higher even. Even Window's phone has done a decent job of attracting developers to the platform. So WebOS is not going to kill off Windows anytime soon.
However, as we move away from desktop apps and more to web apps, this numbers advantage becomes less important. If your app is running via the web, who cares what the OS is, as long as you have a browser. Also more and more of us are unchaining from the desktop and going mobile (one of my favorite songs by The WHO)
Apple's iPad2 is out and is forecast to dominate the tablet market. Android is quickly becoming the leading smartphone platform, as well as a player on tablets. HP will have WebOS on tablets. While Microsoft is making a valiant effort on Windows Phone, it is still a ways back in the pack. Mac may be approaching 10% of a slower growing PC market share. Linux may never be a player on the desktop, but is certainly a formidable competitor in the server market. It seems Microsoft is under siege from all ends.
One day in the future people may not take for granted that Microsoft is the dominant OS company it has been for most of our lives in tech. Looking back, HP's decision to make all of their PCs dual boot with WebOS could be seen as an important milestone.