Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Re: Hurd on the Street

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By eachus
April 6, 2005

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Making that statement implies intent. Slash and burn may be a bit extreme, but his intent is clearly, IMNHO, to do at least two spin offs.

Personally, I think that at HP the need is not for spin offs of say the printer business. It is to structure the computer business more rationally. IBM certainly shows that it is possible to have a hardware and software agnostic structure to your computer business and still make money. But HP is going to have to offer some difference from Sun, IBM, and Dell to attract customers--and keep those they have.

What does HP have to offer? First, in the desktop (and laptop) market they offer both Intel and AMD CPUs, and have a fairly good presence in storefronts such as Best Buy, in addition to sales into large companies. IBM has recently sold its personal computer business; I think it would be a mistake for HP to do likewise. Compete with Dell on quality, not necessarily price, and HP can have a profitable business. (Competing with Dell on price is a fool's errand.)

In the server market, they have me too Intel lines, the best current four-way Opteron box, and the Itanium2 line. All other hardware is on life-support, and other than pulling the plug early, there is not much that can be accomplished with the Alpha and PA-RISC lines at this point. Selling them would be selling customer base and loyalty at a fire sale price. Not good.

The operating system arena is more interesting. I think that HP should try to do more with OpenVMS. They also sell HP-UX, Linux and Windows. HP-UX needs to be kept if HP intends to stay in the enterprise computing business. Linux and Windows have no real value to a spin-off. If Hurd were to put more resources back into OpenVMS, it might help the company, whether or not it was technically cost effective. OpenVMS users moved to Itanium2 will be captive customers for an indefinite future.

Printers? Could be spun out, but why? A long time ago, I was talking to an owner of a small software company and a pet shop. I allowed how that must be nice, the pet shop provided cash flow, and the software business profits. No, he replied, right now the cash flow from the software company is allowing me to upgrade the pet shop. Oops! Not to surprisingly, the pet shop followed the software business into bankruptcy within a year.

The printer business is not a pet shop, but it is a source of cash flow. And in the computer business, companies with a source of cash are in much better shape than those that have to rely on the computer business for cash flow. The computer marketplace is much more mature than it was thirty years ago, but the truism remains that it is very hard to generate net cash flow from the computer business. IBM is large enough to do it, as are Microsoft and Intel. Other than those three everyone is a shark in a sea with bigger sharks--reinvest any cash flow and possibly some fresh capital, or get eaten by a bigger shark. Yes, HP is probably a big shark--with indigestion from eating Compaq when they hadn't finished digesting DEC. But there are still bigger sharks out there. However, the only way to survive is to continue to grow until the company is not viewed as a potential lunch by competitors.

Spinning out smaller parts of the business is putting blood in the water.

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