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A Big Round of Face-Palms For HP

A Big Round of Face-Palms For HP

The Linux-oriented blogosphere reacted swiftly to HP's news that it's cutting webOS devices and mulling the sale of its PC division. A brief sound-bite sampler: "No competent management left," "HP blinked," "What were they thinking?" "Now it's simply too late," and "It'll be sad to see them go." Suffice it to say, then, this was not a popular decision among Linux lovers.

By Katherine Noyes
08/22/11 5:00 AM PT

Life tends to be pretty exciting even in an ordinary week here in the Linux blogosphere, but few can be compared with the one we just endured.

Not only did we learn of Google's Motorola Mobility purchase plans on Monday, but later in the week came word of HP's mother-of-all-face-palm-inspiring acts in the form of its decision to dump pretty much everything relating to webOS.

No wonder there's been standing room only at the blogosphere's bars and saloons over the past few days. In times like these, who doesn't need a little extra liquid comfort?

A Crushing Disappointment

Now, webOS, it should be noted, isn't just any old mobile operating system -- it's a Linux-based one, albeit proprietary and closed.

That, indeed, is surely a big part of the reason so many FOSS fans have taken this latest news so hard. HP's original announcement earlier this year caused considerable excitement far and wide, only to bring us crashing down again with last week's decision.

The analyses have been flowing as freely as the tequila down at the blogosphere's Broken Windows Lounge. In the interests of a little group therapy, Linux Girl took it upon herself to share what she heard.

'No Real Vision Left'

"This proves that HP simply has no competent management left -- a far, far cry from the old days of Hewlett and Packard," Slashdot blogger hairyfeet lamented.

"How long did Android take to gain real share? Something like a year and a half?" he pointed out. "They bring out a device that is overpriced, set a price point equal to the leader-of-the-pack iPad, and then pull the plug after barely a month?"

In short, "this is a company with no real vision left, they are flinging poo and hoping something sticks," hairyfeet concluded. "After Carly and Hurd gutted the place, I guess there simply isn't anybody left worth their salt at this point; it'll be sad to see them go."

'Nothing to Do With Linux'

Indeed, "this has nothing to do with Linux and everything to do with HP buying a floundering product and screwing it up even more," offered consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack.

"As an aside, HP seems to want to dump its low-margin businesses, but after cutting R&D I suspect that the only remaining high-margin business is their consulting side and the department that makes printer ink," Mack added.

"HP blinked" was blogger Robert Pogson's interpretation.

'WebOS Is a Neat Concept'

"Everyone knows that it takes perseverance to bring a new OS to market," Pogson explained. "The world of IT would be in the stone age if every product had to be a hit in its first quarter.

It's likely that "years of sucking up to M$ has weakened HP's heart," Pogson continued. "WebOS is a neat concept and would have worked with the right promotion. There was no BSOD in its introduction. It was smooth."

The same is true, for that matter, of HP's decision to back out of client PCs, Pogson asserted.

'Are They Nuts?'

"What's with that for the No. 1 OEM of the world?" he asked. "Are they afraid to sell small cheap computers with GNU/Linux that the world is demanding?"

HP was also No. 1 in thin clients for a time, in fact, "but was selling them for (US)$700," Pogson pointed out. "Are they nuts? The whole idea of thin clients is to improve price/performance a lot. Keeping prices high allowed Wyse to walk all over HP."

If HP "cannot make enough profit out of the tiny margins M$ leaves them, they should have pushed GNU/Linux and/or webOS, where they didn't have to give the big slice to M$," he opined. "For that matter, they should push ARMed thin clients and PCs so they would not have to give the biggest slice to Intel."

'They Are Giving Up'

Pogson has used HP products since the 1970s, and "they were always tops," he said. "Now they are cowards afraid of their own customers."

Customers "want small cheap computers, and HP could figure out a way to supply them profitably if it wanted," he concluded. "What are they going to do when customers demand small cheap servers? Give up?

"This looks like another surrender by a U.S. company," he added. "Instead of adapting and telling M$ where to go, they are giving up."

'What Were They Thinking?'

Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by "Tom" on the site, had a similar reaction.

"As the owner of an HP dv9000-series Pavilion that mainly runs linux, I'm not happy to see my trusty laptop become an orphan, and I'm sure I'm not alone," Hudson told LinuxInsider. "What were they thinking? Even if the personal computer market wasn't generating much profit, it still provided one-third of all HP's revenues and was a gateway for them to sell higher-margin HP-brand products like printers and ink."

HP, in fact, "sold more computers last year than any other vendor," Hudson asserted. "They had sufficient market capture to do something different, but threw it away."

'Now It's Simply Too Late'

Hudson has long wondered why no vendor tries to "differentiate themselves by selling dual-boot machines, taking advantage of the abundance of open source software out there," she said. "HP had enough market clout after the Compaq acquisition to stare down a post-DoJ Microsoft, but instead took discounts and cash to load up their laptops with crapware."

Had the company taken the dual-boot road, "they would have had a natural entry point for introducing webOS to the masses a few years later, and gotten further product differentiation," she explained. "HP could have created the 'year of the linux desktop' and generated future demand for webOS tablets and smartphones."

The reality, however, is that "long-term markets were continually sacrificed to hit each quarter's numbers and not rile up Microsoft," Hudson noted. "Now it's simply too late, especially in the mobile market, which has evolved into a duopoly, with Android at No. 1 and Apple iOS at No. 2.

"Like Nokia earlier this year, HP will find that there's a long-term cost to depending too much on Microzilla," she added.

'All HP Did Is Shoot Themselves in the Foot'

Now, "nobody's going to buy a failed tablet and smartphone business, nor a low-margin declining PC business, except at a vulture-fund pick-over-the-corpse discount," Hudson opined. "All HP did with this announcement is shoot themselves in the foot, the same as Nokia killed demand for their existing smartphones when they prematurely announced they would be transitioning to WP7.

"Will Uncle Ballmer find some way to funnel enough money to Nokia for Nokia to buy HP's computer business, and be even further dependent on Microsoft?" she mused. "Selling millions of laptops and tablets with Bing as the search engine, IE as the browser, Microsoft's Web docs as the Web docs solution, and tie-ins with Windows Phone and Xbox could be worth it."

That, of course, remains to be seen. In the meantime, Hudson concluded, "about the only bright spot is that much of WebOS is open source, and you can still grab the open source components from the Palm website."


Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.


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