February 28, 2013
A Thorough Chill of the OS Business
The consumer product maker LG has announced it's purchasing the webOS team, talent and tech from HP. This means a company whose lineup includes french door refrigerators now owns the most modern mobile OS in the world. As it turns out, great technology like webOS doesn't have much value in the hands of a company which can't create demand for the magic.
There's so little value left in webOS that the joint release about the sale says "HP and LG do not expect this transaction to have a material impact on either company's financial statements." And so, without even a report of what webOS cost, HP froze itself out of another OS product line.
Some operating systems not only have enduring value, but they are also drawing top talent to their community. It happened late last year for RedHat's Linux; Jeff Vance took his next step away from HP's 3000 guru days, when he made his transfer from K-12 vendor QSS to the Hat. Vance arrived at QSS with gusto for newer development environments and got to ply his passion for years there.
But the signals sent by selling off an innovative OS for "no material impact," well, they say a lot about how system makers create their value in 2013. The mobile OS that was going to unseat Apple made its HP departure with the same language as 3000 customers shared about MPE/iX. The end of the line wasn't really the end of the line, was it?
At webOS Nation, the site's editors watched HP turn to a commodity technology the vendor doesn't own. They asked "Is this the end of webOS, or just the end of HP and webOS? Is this news of an HP Android tablet a nail in the coffin of Open webOS -- or is it just a nail in the coffin of HP webOS?"
Just swap in MPE/iX in those questions and you can hear the echo of 2002-05. An avid vendor base wanted a further life for MPE/iX, but HP didn't even want to sell out of that OS. The company got asked, too, in the months that followed the 3000-exit decree from HP. "Sell us the 3000 business, since you're getting out," one MPE stalwart vendor offered. HP declined while it went cold on its most storied business OS -- one used at big sites, too.
However, knowing deep secrets of extraordinary technology still has its advantages, even today. An HP veteran of 31 years sat at the Old Austin Cafe next to us last night. My friend Scott Hirsh, formerly of the 3000 world's system manager leadership and now tackling tech presales at Dell, wanted an authentic Texas chicken-fried steak to enjoy with us. That HP fellow "couldn't help but overhear" us raving about history and HP and the 3000. A handshake later he was sharing colleagues-in-common with Scott.
The HP veteran had started out in sales at the Neely Region (the US West) and soon moved to 3000 sales in the Series III era. He'd held jobs as a CE and an SE in a company where software was designed to sell servers. Where even a Local Area Network offering became LAN/3000. Just because it was a standard tech didn't mean HP wanted to brand it.
"I miss the days of Bill and Dave," he said by way of introduction. We were all on the same team for awhile over our steaks. But he also was carrying the torch of tech in newer environments, installing 3Par storage with its many nuances for an HP site.
"These days I never see the inside of offices at HP," he said when we talked about changing technical structures. He's on the road 80 percent of the time, with the off days at his home office. An expert in the 3000's OS might find a similar future, if they can find customers who still value their operating system.
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