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When Did Hewlett-Packard Become a Copycat?

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Tough headline, I know. Trouble is, I don't know another way to describe Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) CEO Leo Apotheker's strategy to put the WebOS it acquired from Palm onto its PCs next to Windows.

It's like Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) putting Boot Camp onto its early Macs in order to convince consumers, corporate types, and developers that owning a Mac wasn't the digital equivalent of putting on a straitjacket.

Or in more updated terms, it's like Apple slowly merging the Mac OS and iOS in order to convince developers that its platforms offer the greatest profit opportunity.

Either way, this isn't the HP whose slogan used to be "invent." And yet borrowing from Apple's playbook is probably a good idea. Having PCs with WebOS means more devices for WebOS apps, which creates more incentive for developers to take time away from writing iOS and Android apps.

What troubles me is the timing and the nonchalance of it all. I'm having visions of Apotheker-led executive meetings in which a competitive review dictates strategy. Here's how it plays out in my head:

"Honeycomb looks great on tablets!"

"Yeah, and Chrome OS is going to kill it on netbooks."

"Don't forget the new iPad!"

"Right, and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) . Can't forget about Mr. Softy. At CES, Ballmer said they're going to put Windows on lightweight PCs powered by ARM Holdings' (Nasdaq: ARMH  ) processor designs. Developers need a reason to work with us!"

"OK, so let me get this straight. We need something to compete against Apple and the iPad, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) and Android and Chrome OS, and new lightweight Windows devices. Fine. Let's get the WebOS ready to run on a PC."

Maybe it's time. I just don't see how a copycat strategy that boosts access but not features changes anything. Do you agree? Disagree? Let us know what you think about WebOS, HP's strategy, and what developers want from the PC makers using the comments box below.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers is a member of the Rule Breakers stock-picking team. He owned shares of Apple and Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. You can also get his insights delivered directly to your RSS reader. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft and has written Apple puts. The Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. Its disclosure policy loves the smell of espresso on a cold day. Well, OK. Any day, actually.

Read/Post Comments (6) | Recommend This Article (1)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2011, at 2:34 PM, isitf8 wrote:

    Running a PC on WebOS or running WebOS on a PC. The later makes much more sense. Taking the linkage that exists between the Pre and Slate, expanding that to a PC is very smart.

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2011, at 2:50 PM, 1984macman wrote:

    Clearly, HP gets it that if it wants to truly compete with Apple, it needs to build an ecosystem like Apple has. But to get where Apple is now will require a nearly superhuman effort, and in the meantime Apple isn't exactly resting on its laurels. Still, it's better to get in the game late than to not get in the game at all.

    Competition is a good thing. Keeping Apple's feet to the fire can only make for better and better products. But CATCHING Apple is something HP can only hope to accomplish in their dreams.

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2011, at 3:03 PM, Henry3Dogg wrote:

    "Or in more updated terms, it's like Apple slowly merging the Mac OS and iOS in order to convince developers that its platforms offer the greatest profit opportunity"

    iOS and MacOS are differentiated versions of the same thing. The whole idea of merging them is nonsense. For an application, other than the degree to which the target devices require different user interfaces, the code is already the same.

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2011, at 3:09 PM, freemarket68 wrote:

    It is a good idea. Better late than never there, Copycats or not, people that move in second may not always be behind. Netscape x IE. Nokia x everyone else. Is Apple going to lose its lead? Unlikely in the consumer market. Corporate market, not so certain. I like the idea of a Windows machine with a fast webOS boot. Finally, webOS is a modern OS. I think it is actually stupid not to make that move, if you have a foot print spanning from servers to mobile and printers.

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2011, at 3:10 PM, rfaramir wrote:

    "I just don't see how a copycat strategy that boosts access but not features changes anything."

    By itself, yeah, not looking good. But perhaps, and I have no inside info to say it is, it could be a way of getting traction with WebOS as it is now before putting out an enhanced version later. If it were *selling* WebOS, it would make even more sense, but free gets it out into the public's mind.

  • Report this Comment On March 10, 2011, at 3:11 PM, rfaramir wrote:

    Oh, and I'm long AAPL, a Mac programmer, and a budding iPhone app developer. I totally agree with 1984macman.

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