HP is pulling out of the consumer market. It’s dumped webOS products and keen to sell off its PC and laptop division as it looks to concentrate on the business-to-business side of its operation. To become the man behind the man, rather than just be the man, so to speak. 

It’s a dramatic move and one that has shocked the industry. 

Incredibly, for such a big move, the announcement that the company was ditching the mobile operating system was buried in a press release announcing it was about to buy Autonomy, Britain’s biggest software company - something that will help it take on the IBMs of this world. What’s more amazing is that it comes just days after the announcement of the Google Motorola deal. 

As Bob Dylan says, “The times they are a-changin'.”

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With production halted of the TouchPad, the Veer and the Pre 3, HP now has the job of convincing someone else to take over the reigns and do with webOS something it couldn’t achieve itself - convince people that it’s a good OS. 

That is going to be a hard sell, mainly because, while most agree that the core OS is good, developers haven’t flocked to it, instead preferring to develop for Android and Apple’s iOS. A lack of developers and exciting hardware meant that webOS never really got started. HP had plans to put it in every laptop, in every PC, even in its printer ranges to help it get traction, but that’s unlikely to happen now. 

So who could buy it? The obvious suggestion would be Samsung, LG or HTC. Each of these companies have, in the last week, found themselves in a difficult predicament, but none more so than HTC. The owner of its main operating system, Android, has just bought Motorola and is therefore now able to make handsets itself. That could mean that HTC could get cut out of the loop, playing second fiddle to Google and its own hardware division. 

Its other OS, Windows Phone 7, is about to get a boost, but Microsoft has got a “special partnership” with Nokia, who is going to be making WP7-powered handsets and nothing else. That means HTC could be squeezed out on that side too. There are the Qualcomm OS Brew handsets of course, but that’s not going to light any real fires any time soon. 

Buying webOS and then customising it with the Sense UI could make very good sense for HTC, therefore. It gives the company its own mobile operating system and means that it will be safe from further developments in both the Android and Windows Phone 7 world. 

Combine this with the company’s strong range of smartphones and you could have webOS offerings that are stronger and more attractive than Palm or HP were ever able to provide. 

While Palm or HP have failed to make it work, HTC has, over the last five years, fostered a strong community. And that fervent customer base is likely to embrace the company’s own OS and develop apps for it.

It just simply makes sense (pardon the pun).

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So, that’s webOS, but what about HP’s laptop and desktop PC division?

HP is the most successful laptop maker in the business. Sales are down, but it’s still a very strong proposition and it’s clear that such a sale, if and when it happens, isn’t going to be cheap. Like IBM, who sold its laptop business to Chinese firm Lenovo, the company is looking to get out of the consumer space so it can concentrate on other areas (strangely, it is still keeping hold of the consumer printer business). 

Having the number one spot means HP is going to look for a high premium for its laptops, and that means only a handful of companies will be able to afford or want them. 

And who'd bet against Google making a bid?

It’s a crazy idea, but buying HP's PSG (Personal Systems Group) division would propel the search giant into a fully-blown consumer electronics company overnight, and subsequently mean that its hardware portfolio line-up would include mobile phones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs - thereby putting it on equal footing with Apple and really turning up the heat on the head to head rivalry. 

If Google did buy HP, it could quickly boost Chrome’s adoption (pre-installed of course), as well as tap into so many other areas within the home computing arena. It could also follow through on what HP was looking to do, and put Android or Chrome OS on every laptop or PC sold, offering a light OS for when you don’t want the full Windows Experience. It would also be a massive dent for Microsoft, something Google would no doubt enjoy as a side benefit. 

What’s clear is that these times really are a-changin'. If we had written this article seven days ago, the idea of Google buying not just Motorola but also HP’s laptop division would have been laughable. A week later and it’s already bought one of those, how long before it looks to buy the other?

What do you think? Would Google's acquisition of HP's PC division be a good move? And what about HTC buying webOS? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below...