The conspiracy theorists will have had a field day with the news that HP has spent $500,000 to upgrade their membership of the Linux Foundation to “Platinum” level. Taken together with the other recent announcement that Martin Fink has taken over as HP Chief Technology Officer and Director of HP Labs, you might imagine that Linux is viewed more positively in Palo Alto than before. Perhaps it is HP’s way to shoot a polite warning across Microsoft’s bows so that the folks in Redmond don’t assume that they can simply march all over the market of their OEMs without consequences. I don’t know.
HP has been without a CTO since Shane Robison retired soon after Meg Whitman took over as CEO. At that time HP said that Robison would not be replaced and it seemed that he took some of the blame for the strategic decisions around the HP Touchpad fiasco, the upheaval around the prospect of selling off HP’s Personal Systems Group, and the overpriced purchase of Autonomy. For whatever reason, in the interim Bill Veight acted as the strategy lead for HP.
Martin is an interesting guy. His most recent assignment was to head the Business Critical Systems (BCS) division, the group that engineers HP’s Superdome IA64-based high-end systems that were the subject of fairly bitter litigation between HP and Oracle in the past year. In a nutshell, Oracle had concluded that IA64 was a dead platform and didn’t want to put any more engineering effort to make their products work on Superdome. HP naturally didn’t appreciate this very much and the lawyers went to battle. Fink featured in the thrust and parry between the two companies, which eventually ended up when the judge ordered Oracle to live up to their agreement with HP.
But before BCS, Martin was HP’s Linux leader for a number of years and he placed a huge role in making HP a player in the Linux market. He fought to make Linux respected in HP’s Microsoft-dominated plans and grew the business over the years, something that I always respected even when I wasn’t quite on the same side.
I’m not sure that Martin’s history with Linux and Superdome make him a natural enemy of Microsoft’s. I think he is a pragmatist who will do the right thing for HP’s business and that probably means staying reasonably tight with Microsoft while exploring other opportunities for the world’s largest IT company. This is the only reasonable course for an HP CTO, especially one who also has direct oversight of HP Labs. The challenge with HP Labs has always been to transition the result of research and the discoveries made in Labs to the HP businesses. This has happened over the years with great results such as Inkjet printing, but the pace of technology evolution has increased to a point where Labs doesn’t seem to have kept up as well as it did in the past. It’s been a while since I was involved with HP Labs, but I have seen little reported in public in the last 30 months to show that the success rate for transition is any better than it was. I suspect that the reinvigoration of HP Labs will prove to be a huge challenge for the new CTO, one for I wish him all the very best of luck.
People and organizations change over time. A new person in a new role brings a new voice and new perspective to the challenges faced by companies. It will be interesting to see how the new HP CTO makes his impact in time, perhaps even by making HP an even better platform for Linux?
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