There doesn't appear to be a whole lot of love for Hewlett-Packard's (NYSE: HPQ) spunky $1.2 billion deal for Palm (Nasdaq: PALM). Shares of HP have shed 4% of their value since the acquisition was announced -- essentially chopping $5.5 billion of the computing giant's market cap for a deal that's a fraction of its body weight.

I realize that backing this deal isn't popular around Fooldom. Tim Beyers thinks this may be the worst deal ever. Rich Smith thought that Palm was heading to $0, months before it was fashionable to say so.

I think they're both wrong about this -- and you'll be hearing from Tim next week when he presents the bearish argument to this Dueling Fools segment.

For now, let me take it from the top.

The power of proprietary
A decade ago, Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) couldn't catch a cold or a hot streak. It was just a niche player with a stand-alone operating system. The real shakers of the computing space were Dell (Nasdaq: DELL) and Compaq (the latter unceremoniously acquired by HP in 2002), carving out the mainstream market with their Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT)-powered PCs.

Times have changed. Sure, you can still make some decent coin rolling out Windows 7 systems. But hardware makers aren't being laughed off the selling floor anymore when they dream of building cheaper systems that lean on Linux or Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android and Chrome. As more computing applications move to the cloud, the actual operating system is becoming secondary to online connectivity.

One would think that this climate could be treacherous for Apple's sales of premium Macs and Macbooks, but it's not. The company is delivering record results because proprietary software, coupled with style, creates a healthy mystique.

HP could have continued to play with the operating systems available to everybody -- and it will. But now, it has the chance to build up Palm's critically acclaimed webOS platform into more than just a smartphone catalyst.

Buying Palm isn't just about legacy Pre and Pixi smartphones. Sure, it will be great if HP becomes a niche player in smartphones, but webOS has far greater implications for tablets, netbooks, and perhaps even full-blown computing down the line.

HP has tried to stand out in a crowd with unique products in the past. Its MediaSmart high-tech televisions and original iPaq handhelds were ahead of their time. Rival Dell has also struck out in trying make its mark in everything from MP3 players to flatscreen TVs.

Palm is a small wager -- just 1% of HP's market cap, really -- that can pay off big if webOS lands the company enough style and proprietary points to join Apple at the big kids' table.

Take two tablets and call me in the mourning
Everyone's been scrambling since Apple cleared a million iPads in under a month. They're not moving feverishly to rush their tablets to market. They're actually running for shelter. They want to distance their product releases from the iPad, the same way that movie studios shuffle release dates to stay out of the way of tentpole blockbusters.

Some companies are even deciding to start from scratch:

  • Microsoft is killing off its dual-screen Courier.
  • A Rodman Renshaw analyst reports that Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM) is backing off plans for its Android-powered BlackPad tablet.
  • HP is also apparently changing its mind on its Windows 7-powered iSlate.

Once Apple set the iPad's pricing as low as $499, it didn't make sense to be one of the potentially many hardware companies putting out indistinguishable Android or Windows gadgetry. Any potential rival for Apple's tablet will have to come out with something strong and original.

Can that willing rival be HP, with a webOS-powered iSlate?

I'm sure Tim will counter that a platform is nothing if it doesn't have developers. If he does, he'll be absolutely on point. Support from Palm for webOS was strong in theory but weak in execution. It didn't help that Palm was a resource-strapped company. Once smartphone sales softened, there was little reason to spend time coding applications for a fading audience, when Apple's App Store and Google attracted hordes of developers with their rapidly expanding market share. It also didn't help that Apple and Big G added insult to injury by bribing developers with free smartphones and cash prizes, making it clear that little ol' Palm just wasn't cut out to play in the big leagues.

HP changes everything, though. Developers can tackle webOS a little more confidently with HP's backing. CEO Mark Hurd has earned his turnaround guru wings, and if his vision includes Palm -- as it certainly seems to -- then it's a safe bet that webOS will be a lot bigger a year or two from now than it is at this sad moment.

HP will make this work.

Come back early next week to read Tim Beyers' bearish perspective. What do you think of last week's acquisition announcement? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.

Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers choice. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is starting to see more smartphone products creep into his home lately, but he does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.