HP Chief Talks Up WebOS On The Desktop

HP CEO Leo Apotheker says public clouds, broad WebOS distribution and data analytics are HP’s top priorities

In his first meet-the-press-and-analyst conference, new Hewlett-Packard chief executive Leo Apotheker on 14 March laid out in both general and in specific terms where he wants to take the IT giant in the next two years.

In the process, Apotheker revealed that HP is about to roll out a new platform-as-a-service business for cloud system building, it is planning to open a new applications store during the next year, and it intends to continue doing business as usual with Microsoft – even though it will be installing its own WebOS in numerous new devices.

WebOS on the desktop

The latter point was especially interesting following the announcement on 9 February that HP is using its Palm-created operating system not only in tablets and smartphones, but also in new fleets of desktop and laptop PCs to come out later this year and beyond.

HP, the world’s largest producer of PCs of any kind, has sold a high number of Windows-installed PCs and servers in the last two decades. Thus, the WebOS announcement at the TouchPad and smartphone launch on 9 February appeared to cloud the future of the longtime relationship between the two companies.

“The WebOS is an unbelievably attractive piece of technology in that it can interconnect seamlessly a number of various devices. It is simply an outstanding web operating system,” Apotheker said in response to a question from eWEEK.

“We’ll be shipping this first on the dedicated devices – the smartphones [Pre3 and Veer] and the tablets [TouchPad and Slate]. From that day forward, there will be wave after wave of technology coming out for the WebOS platform.

“Thereafter, you will see us put our WebOS on our Windows PCs. Starting with our smartphones and tablets, we hope to reach 100 million devices [sold] per year. We’ll put the same technology on our printers… we see this as a massive, very global platform,” Apotheker said.

But then, Apotheker assuaged Microsoft fans with his next statements. “Just to be absolutely clear: Microsoft is a great partner; Microsoft will remain a great partner. The way we have enabled our WebOS technology is to leverage the entire Microsoft ecosystem,” he said.

Apotheker added that the WebOS will be installed in addition to Windows on many PCs “as soon as the right Windows version becomes available.” His clear implication was that Windows 7 and previous versions of the Microsoft system are not included in this future strategy.

HP Software Vice President Todd Bradley, later in the day, was asked whether WebOS should be considered a “friend or foe” to Windows. Bradley’s answer: “I see it as an enhancement [to Windows]. You use WebOS through the browser to take advantage of all those great applications it offers.”

Finally, HP Vice President of Services Ann Livermore noted that because HP employs more than 16,000 engineers schooled in Microsoft software and services, that HP’s commitment to Microsoft technology will remain a strong one.

HP and Oracle: Icy Relationship

The HP-Oracle relationship has been an icy one ever since Oracle acquired Sun Microsystems in January 2010 to immediately become a competing full-service IT systems maker.

Asked about how he sees this relationship continuing in the future, Apotheker was candid. “Our industry is characterised by a relatively new noun: coopetition. We have a coopetition situation with Oracle, and that’s fine,” Apotheker said. “Where the companies need to compete, we will compete; we will partner when we need to partner. What really matters is the customer. I will say, in a clear and unequivocal way, that we will do whatever we need to do to keep our current customers happy.”

Apotheker, a former chief executive of SAP who took over at HP on 1 November, 2010, used his professorial persona to lay out his company’s agenda in other areas, including cloud computing as the keystone of the company’s strategy going forward.

Apotheker, whose name is pronounced “Lay-o appo-TECKER,” said the HP application store is expected to open either later this year or sometime in 2012, and will contain a high number of consumer and enterprise applications for the cloud.

“We envision this to be an open [standards] cloud marketplace that will offer secure, scalable and trusted enterprise applications and services catalogs that will be second-to-none in the industry,” Apotheker said.

HP Wants to Build Out Developer Community

To enable all this new development, HP will build out its developer community to make these applications timely and relevant, Apotheker said.

Apotheker didn’t offer specifics about the new cloud services that HP will be rolling out in the coming months. What is known is that HP is developing a portfolio of services, ranging from infrastructure to platform services, along the lines of Amazon, IBM, Rackspace and other current providers.

Apotheker said that despite all the emphasis on cloud-system building that HP is now demonstrating, the company will continue to service legacy-type stacked data centre systems in an effort to “leverage HP’s core strengths in traditional IT systems”.

Apotheker admitted that when he took office last fall morale at HP “wasn’t very good” following the ouster of the previous chief executive, Mark Hurd. In August 2010, Hurd became embroiled in a well-documented sexual-harassment case and was known for being a hard-boiled business manager.

“I can’t put a number on it, because we haven’t taken a measurement lately, but I think [morale] is a lot better now,” Apotheker said. “I’ve met about 100,000 [of HP’s] people, and my feeling now is that they’re feeling a lot better now about where we are and where we’re going.”