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All-volunteer org aims to revive HP's dead OS

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The webOS smartphone platform may be dead at HP, but a group of volunteers hopes to see it rise from its ashes by bringing a new device using the OS to market within the next three years.

Calling itself Phoenix International Communications, after the legendary reincarnating bird, the group says its goal is "to assist in the development, manufacturing, and implementation of new hardware running webOS."

"Phoenix is making webOS possible again by creating strategic alliances with companies from around the world with the same vision for webOS," reads the group's mission statement. Did we mention they want their phone to run webOS?

For those who don't recall, the webOS platform was first developed as the last gasp of PDA and smartphone pioneer Palm, before Palm was gobbled up by HP in 2010.

At first, HP claimed to have big plans for webOS, going so far as to say it would put a webOS UI into every PC it sold by 2012. Even printers would get the webOS treatment, we were told, while tablets based on the platform would send HP rocketing past Apple in the fondleslab market.

Like so many of HP's plans in recent years, however, it didn't quite work out that way. HP bungled its webOS phone and tablet business in spectacular fashion, going as far as to kill off its TouchPad fondleslab mere weeks after bringing it to market.

Soon, webOS wasn't looking like such a hot commodity. By November 2011, HP was reportedly looking to sell it off. Only after finding no buyers did it turn to its inevitable last refuge, open sourcing the platform in hopes that the community would breathe some life into it.

That's where Phoenix hopes to step in. These days, HP is being cagey about any smartphone plans, but Phoenix believes a webOS-based smartphone with "that Phoenix touch" could "start a fire throughout the social sphere, internet and beyond."

Considering how competitive the smartphone market already is, that's a tall order, and it's early days yet for the all-volunteer organization.

In an interview with Technology Review, Phoenix's Matthew Zakutny said the group's first goal was to get webOS running as an app on existing smartphones. So far, they have it working on just one – Google's Nexus S – and it runs "extremely slowly."

Over the long haul, however, Phoenix plans to produce one or more smartphones running native webOS, potentially by working with one of the smaller device manufacturers based in China. Their first target will be to produce a low- to mid-range smartphone, with higher-end devices coming later.

Zakutny said the group is currently working on a Kickstarter application, in hopes of using the crowd-funding site to raise $180,000 or more toward production of the device.

Whether Phoenix will be able to follow through on its ambitious plans, however, largely depends on its ability to attract more talent to its cause. The organization's website says it is divided into three groups – marketing, development, and finance – but given that Phoenix also has three cofounders, those groups might currently be small.

Anyone who thinks they might be able to flesh out the organization is encouraged to apply. The group says it is currently looking for "graphic artists, developers and yes eventually testers."

"If you are curious and want to dig deeper to find out what we are about, feel free to send us an email telling us how you'd like to help. You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter," the group's website says. ®

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