HP announced its plan to purchase the people and assets of Palm for $1.2 billion, reminding me of another grab from the past. That acquisition of Compaq more than eight years ago signaled the end of HP's 3000 futures, even while the company took on new environments. Embracing Palm seems an echo of that strategy (buying innovation that was being thumped in the market) and it marks a notable turn on HP's course.
Hewlett-Packard is purchasing an operating system, one that's not open or an industry standard. You have to go a very long way back to find that sort of play. In fact, it's that very Compaq deal that marks the last time HP acquired an OS or two.
In this week's case it's WebOS, widely praised but under-adopted, developed by top talent and well-loved by the modest base of users who use it for their Palm Pre smartphones. “Palm’s innovative operating system provides an ideal platform to expand HP’s mobility strategy and create a unique HP experience spanning multiple mobile connected devices,” said Todd Bradley, executive vice president of HP's Personal Systems Group. “And, Palm possesses significant IP assets and has a highly skilled team."
Eight years ago HP's acquisitions were OpenVMS as well as the NonStop environment, a pair of operating systems that had built loyalty and ardor among IT pros. Like WebOS, they weren't growing. HP didn't pursue Compaq for these environments, but it didn't cut them off like MPE/iX, either.
The history of acquired software is not a pretty one for HP, however, from the Allbase relational database for the 3000 in the 1980s right up to the Mercury Interactive test software purchase in 2006 for $4.5 billion. OpenVMS and NonStop at least had critical mass when HP took them in. WebOS has technical superiority over other mobile environments. Adding it to the HP portfolio shows that control of technology is becoming important in mobile computing, at least. It's a start, or maybe a return to the days when Invented in Here was an asset HP knew how to sell.