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WebOS app development chief flees to Xobni

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You might have heard that Hewlett-Packard (s hpq) is still trying to sort out what it wants to do long term with its webOS mobile operating system. There’s been rumors of a massive shutdown and talk of salvaging the old Palm-designed OS or selling it off. But it’s clear the uncertainty is not a way to retain talent.

The latest sign is the departure of Michael Rizkalla, the former senior director of webOS application development at HP, who just started at Xobni, where he will be its senior director of mobile applications, according to his LinkedIn profile. Xobni tries to make inboxes and addresses books smarter on Outlook (s msft) and BlackBerry (s rimm) through its software and recently introduced apps for Gmail (s goog) and Android. Rizkalla exit follows the retirement of Chief Strategy and Technology Officer Shane Robinson and the departure of Richard Kerris, vice president, Worldwide Developer Relations for webOS. Palm also saw a number of executives leave after it was bought by HP last year.

The departure of Rizkalla highlights the bigger problem for HP. Even as it debates the future of webOS, the fact that it’s potentially on the chopping block has to be sending plenty of signals to the entire team. HP has already confirmed it would be pursuing layoffs of the webOS team, reported to be more than 500 people. The question is what happens to the rest. Do you wait for HP to shut you down or hope for a reprieve? Why not just take matters into your own hands.

At Palm and HP, Rizkalla was responsible for shipping some of the core apps on webOS and previously led the development of webOS 2.0. Now, it looks like he’ll be heading up engineering for Xobni’s mobile products. How many other talented people leave the webOS team before any decision to keep it or discard it becomes moot?

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