% fortune -ae paul murphy

Carrion call: HP nears Buffalo Jump

When you look at HP today, it's hard not to see DEC - Digital Equipment Corporation. Both companies made their reputations by making great products and providing lots of support for the academic and research communities developing the software that later drove sales. DEC started to die as soon as it cost managed its way out of that strategy - abandoning the Unix research community for Windows in search of services sales to the IBM customer base, only to see Microsoft leave it at the alter while its former developers drove new sales at Sun, SGI, and HP.

When NT cam along to drive the dot dumb boom the forces within HP that wanted to replicate DEC's strategy by partnering with Microsoft and Intel won out over the Unix bigots, the developers were forced off HP-UX, and cost management set in as a way of life. Unlike DEC, which was almost entirely dependent on computers and related services for its income, HP had its printer and PC divisions to fall back on -and a giant merger to confuse the masses. As a result evidence of its demise has been slower to reach the public, but the handwriting's plainly on the wall -this is a company with nowhere left to go but down.

There's Itanium, of course, but Microsoft is going from x86 to PowerPC, not EPIC -and, without them, what's HP to do for software? No remaining Unix development community, remember?

So what can they do? Well, where garbage trucks collide, you tend to see street litter. Walther Hewlett, for example, wanted to treat the printer division that way, spinning it out as a separate company. Even today, that's not a bad idea and may be the company's last chance to produce real value for its shareholders. The instrumentation group has almost vanished from sight, but it too has some loyal customers and maybe some decent people - so another spin-off?

Sun's on an acquisition spree - I don't know what they'd get from taking over HP's Unix server business but maybe there is something to discuss and a phone call or two wouldn't break the budget. Imagine: a csh that works, on PA RISC!

That would leave the PC business. Somebody at HP must have Lenovo's phone number? This should be an easy sale, just mention that you still have some of DEC's DOD business left, and besides, Lenovo's got to be smarting over being kicked out of fourth place in the American PC market by Apple - another %$%# Unix vendor!

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.