Hewlett Packard has decided to open its webOS mobile operating system to developers and companies, potentially taking on Google's free Android platform that is popular with handset makers.

HP, which acquired webOS in a $1.2 billion purchase of Palm in 2010, had been trying to figure out how to recoup its investment after a failed foray into the smartphone and tablet market.

The technology giant said it will make webOS available under an open source licensing agreement but did not detail the terms of the licensing deal it plans to offer.

The future of webOS had been in limbo since August after HP killed its flagship webOS-based TouchPad tablet following poor sales.

While Google has the world's most-used mobile system with over 550,000 devices activated every day, HP's webOS could be an alternative to companies who are apprehensive that the Web search giant may compete with them directly in the smartphone handset market through its $12.5 billion purchase of Motorola Mobility.

The webOS platform, which had been HP-only software, is widely viewed as a strong mobile platform but has been criticized for having few applications - an important consideration while choosing a mobile device.

Most developers prefer to work on Apple Inc's iOS or Google's Android because both are on millions of devices - unlike webOS.

Making it open source changes the rules of the game and has the potential to make (webOS) more appealing, Van Baker, analyst with Gartner, said. It presents a potential challenge to Android but I wouldn't call it a real challenge until we get a little further down the road.

HP still has to make sure that the code is available and the tools for developers are as robust as those provided by Android to succeed, he added.

HP has not revealed its plans for any mobile hardware after the TouchPad was killed.