From the outset, we couldn't have possibly gotten it better, open source developers as a collective can make changes and improvements much more quickly and efficiently than the vast bureaucratic corporate structure of HP ever could. And speaking from a consumer's own vantage, we have another free operating system to contribute to the highly valued element of choice. As well as being a free operating system, webOS exhibits polish, the kind of quality you'd generally expect to pay for.
Looking past the thin veil of optimism, none of this changes the fact that HP webOS failed tremendously, such to the point that it was actually dead for a period of time. It doesn't change the fact that there is yet to be any worthy complementing hardware for webOS and in no way does it contribute to the operating system's relatively minute app developer community. It offers no succour for the fact that iOS, Android and even Windows Phone already have significant market share to leverage whilst webOS has virtually none to boot. Most importantly, it doesn't change the fact that HP is still yet to find any significant value proposition in webOS to gain hardware partners.
It's quite clear that keeping webOS as a proprietary OS in the hands of HP was no longer a viable option. The fledgling operating system was already skating on thin ice even before HP's immense Touchpad failure, and the heat of the competition from Apple and Google was slowly melting away at HP's chances of even minor success. The Touchpad, as the inaugural HP/webOS tablet had to be pretty darn good, but it wasn't.
I've always believed that it takes multiple subsequent impressions to eliminate the sentiments from a single first impression, and HP's first efforts at a truly mobile operating system in webOS left consumers and pundits with a sour sour taste. It would take the bare minimum of two years to manufacture sufficient subsequent efforts to try and clean the taste, and even then, imminent slow sales could hamper the webOS image even further and render the $1.2 billion acquisition essentially worthless. It would be too risky. Leo Apotheker wasn't completely out of his mind to cancel HP's webOS project altogether.
So, as much as persevering with webOS would have been a desirable trajectory, the plan was ultimately destined for failure. HP had various other options including licensing and selling the operating system off. Both these options I believe would have been higher on HP's priority list given their capabilities of monetization. But licensing was always an unreachable dream given the free availability of an operating system in Android with a lot more to offer, and there simply isn't a discernible target market large enough for those hardware manufacturers wanting webOS purely for diversity. To add insult to injury, clearly nobody was interested in buying webOS from HP.
By the looks of it, open sourcing was just a last resort for an HP that had completely run out of ideas. They couldn't make it work for themselves, they couldn't license it, they couldn't sell it so they've decided simply give it away.
HP is a profit-seeking corporation, they certainly wouldn't want to open source and wouldn't have made the decision had they not be in a position that forced it. The soul reason that Google voluntarily open-sources Android is because they have an ecosystem to tie users into so they can profit from users consequentially by putting their services into as many hands as possible.
All HP has is a lonesome operating system, tied into an ecosystem with little value, and no web services aside from a fairly deserted sandpit of an app store attached to it. Open sourcing doesn't cater to HP's personal vantage aside from the distant goal that perhaps they could capitalise on webOS in any way in the future if it ever gains any traction - but that's a far-fetched dream with various apples and green robots obstructing the path to the gold medallion.
Despite the aura of optimism and excitement shrowding the open sourcing of webOS, webOS is still in a poor position to compete. I hate to be the pessimist, in fact, I'm usually the optimist - I believed for a long time that if Sony played it right they could compete against Apple's iPod, I still believe that RIM can get right back into the smartphone game and I believed that HP had a shot at tablet market share if the Touchpad hadn't been a year out of date.
webOS has polish, it has a clean interface, it works darn well but that's not enough for a world so invested in apps, content and cross device integration. HP's open source plan will maintain webOS as a niche platform for a community of passionate webOS die-hards, but it will never find the mainstream traction HP were hoping for simply because it doesn't have the ecosystem lever that companies like Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft possess.