Redmond Diary

By Andrew J. Brust

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HP and Microsoft: That's What Friends Are For?

On Wednesday, HP pre-announced the second coming out for its recently acquired Palm webOS mobile operating system. I happen to think webOS is quite good, and when the Palm Pre first came out, I thought it a worthwhile phone. I was worried though that the platform would never attract the developer mindshare it needed to be competitive, and that turned out to be the case.

Then HP acquired Palm and announced it would be revamping the webOS offering, not only on phones, but also on tablets. It later announced that it would also use webOS as an embedded solution on HP printers.

The timing of this came shortly after HP had announced it would be producing a "Slate" product running Windows 7. After the Palm deal, HP became vague about whether the Windows-powered slate would actually come out. They did, in fact, bring the Slate 500 to market, but by some accounts, they only built 5000 units.

Another recent awkward moment between HP and Microsoft: HP withdrew itself from the Windows Home Server ecosystem. That one hurt, as they were the dominant OEM there. But Microsoft's decision to kill Drive Extender had driven away many parties, not just HP.

On Wednesday, HP came out with their TouchPad, and new phone models. Not a nice thing for Windows Phone 7, but other OEMs are taking a wait and see attitude there too, I suppose. There was one more zinger though, and it was bigger: HP announced they'd be porting webOS to PCs.

No Windows Phone 7? OK. No Windows Home Server? Whatcha gonna do? But no Windows 7 either? From HP? What comes after that, no ink and toner?

Some people think Microsoft's been around too long to be relevant. But HP started out making oscilloscopes! The notion that HP is too cool for Windows school is a bit far-fetched. This is the company that bought EDS. This is the company that bought Compaq. And Compaq was the company that bought Digital Equipment Corporation. Somehow, I don't think the VT 220 outclasses Windows PCs.

What could possibly be going on? My sense is that HP wants to put webOS on PCs that also have Windows, and that people will buy because they have Windows. And for every one of those sold, HP gets to count, technically speaking, another webOS unit in the install base. webOS is really nice, as I said. But being good isn't good enough when you are trying to get market share. Number of units shipped matters. The question is whether counting PCs with webOS installed, but dormant, is helpful to HP's cause.

Seems like a funny way to account for market share, and a strange way to treat a big partner in Redmond.

Posted by Andrew J. Brust on 02/10/2011

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