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HP returns to the OS business?

A pair of reports in the IT blogosphere talk about Hewlett-Packard returning to the operating environment creation workbench. InfoWorld has a report which comments on a BusinessWeek article, both outlining an HP project to build a desktop OS which doesn't require Windows.

Linux will form the core of this HP project, which the vendor has dismissed as being a minor effort. For sure, HP sells millions of units of laptops, and fewer desktops, all shipping with Windows Vista, or downgraded to Windows XP. The HP project won't change much of the percentages. But it might point the way to a future strategy.

The BusinessWeek story suggests the HP effort is based upon the failure of Vista and Windows receding mindshare. Descriptions like "bloated" crop up in the article about Vista and Windows. It recalls the talk about NT's enterprise unreliability while HP was pushing HP-UX back in the 1990s. Hewlett-Packard got the Windows religion long after its rivals Compaq, Dell and IBM. Creating an environment of its own for desktops, based on universal services from Linux, almost recalls the Hewlett-Packard which built and fortified an OS like MPE/iX.

One HP 3000 veteran in the vendor community said HP's efforts would be better spent on porting HP-UX to an industry-standard architecture. Duane Percox of QSS, which is using both HP-UX and Linux in its migration strategies, said, "I would be more interested to hear them quietly assembling a group of engineers to get HP-UX to run on the Intel/AMD true commodity server CPU (Xeon/Opteron) and finally admit itanium is a bust."

For years now, HP has said that HP-UX is the enterprise environment it will continue to bolster with its own development. (And if a customer asks about OpenVMS, HP will add, 'Oh yeah. That one, too.') But the new project seems to say that Windows' current state of the art leaves something to be desired in the enterprise IT environment.

Shortcomings in Windows as an enterprise desktop choice may come as unwelcome messages to HP 3000 sites who are migrating — mainly because the majority of migrating sites are moving their 3000 apps to Windows-based environments. If HP wants to build an end-run around Windows, no matter how modest the project, what confidence does that generate for the Microsoft OS as a migration target?

Microsoft is reported to be making a quick push to get a Windows version 7 into the market by the middle of next year. Even through talk abouit the release is that it won't change enough to change the opinions about Vista, a Windows 7 in 2009 would emerge only about 2.5 years after Vista popped out of the development canal up in Redmond.

Given what HP is investing in services these days (see the EDS deal and its 44,000 employees), it's hard to imagine Hewlett-Packard making OS creation a key offering once more. The days of needing to build an MPE or an HP-UX are gone now. Google has even made its Chrome browser a neutral environment, another assault on the OS-on-hardware model of HP-UX and MPE.