Hewlett Packard (HP), the venerable technology firm and computer manufacturer, announced today that it will acquire smartphone-maker Palm for $1.2 billion. HP intends to expand support and development of Palm’s well-regarded WebOS mobile operating system, scaling it to new phones and other devices like tablet computers.

Palm has been faced with a number of challenges recently, and while WebOS is much-adored by tech pundits and users it has not met with wide success in the marketplace.

According to preliminary information, Palm will continue to operate as a semi-independent business unit within HP and will retain much of its current leadership team, including CEO John Rubenstein. Palm shareholders will receive $5.70 per share and the merger is expected to close in the third fiscal quarter of this year.

As a Palm user and long-time Palm fan, I am cautiously optimistic about this turn of events. Hopefully it will lead to better phones and faster development of my favorite mobile operating system.