James Governor's Monkchips

HP: Free to Invent

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With the launch today of the the HP Pavilion dv1000, a small form factor notebook and DVD player, HP is demonstrating a willingness to innovate in the multimedia space. At the heart of this innovation is independence from Microsoft.

One of the fundamental design decisions of the dv1000, codenamed Jakarta, is to include a Linux based instant-on system for playing DVDs, which runs alongside Microsoft software on the device. This Linux-based component alllows you to play DVDs instantly, without waiting for Microsoft Windows to boot up. This function is fundamental in making the device behave more like a “consumer electronics” than an “PC” device. HP calls this function, unsurprisingly, QuickPlay.

Linux, the software Microsoft has referred to as a “cancer”, is now right on its doorstep. The ghost is inside the machine. Inside the PC. This is not some geeky little Silicon Valley startup delivering a Linux based media player. Nor is it a Japanese interactive electronics company. This is HP–arguably MS’s most important partner—which plans to shape and define the ongoing convergence between “consumer” and enterprise IT, and has the scale to do it.

When HP closed the deal to purchase Compaq back in 2002 it was clear the industry had changed overnight. But it wasn’t apparent to everyone that one of the clearest implications was Microsoft was no longer is a position to define architectures for HP. During the 1990s Microsoft played a near perfect game of divide and rule against Compaq, Dell, HP, and IBM, building up near unprecedented power to define the software other vendors shipped. Microsoft was adept at ensuring that innovation stayed in the family–through contractual and licensing agreements with these vendors. Some of these deals, such as those between Microsoft and Japanese PC manufacturers, have not withstood the legal test of time. At least not as far as the Japanese Fair Trade Commission is concerned.

When HP acquired Compaq it established a market position that means it needs to worry far less about what Microsoft wants, or any other vendor for that matter. Concurrently, antitrust actions against Microsoft make it easier for PC manufacturers to make their own product decisions, rather than shipping Microsoft code by default. In recent months HP has dramatically accelerated its open source and Linux initiatives. It shipped Linux-based PCs before IBM. It announced enterprise class support for Linux, JBoss and mySQL. Now come Linux-based laptops. And the dv1000.

Perhaps most interestingly from an interactive electronics perspective HP is also releasing a line of products based on Apple’s iPod technology. Lets call them hPods.

This move is as close to open warfare as we have seen between HP and Microsoft in a long time. One would certainly have expected HP and Microsoft to be aligned on digital rights management and codec issues. but no – Apple gets the nod for music players. And so back to to Jakarta—and another, if not poke in the eye, then prod in the arm for Microsoft. HP wants to innovate and put the end user at the center of its thinking. It is apparently doing real marketing—that is, looking at the needs and desires of consumers in the marketplace and designing products and choosing standards accordingly, rather than building or bundling something and hoping customers jump aboard. By not allowing Microsoft or any other vendor to dominate its development plans HP can innovate and listen to the market more effectively.

I recently wrote that HP was perhaps too willing to drive digital rights management (DRM), and a Big Media agenda, into end user products, which might harm sales to tech savvy users. Hollywood and the recording industry, after all, don’t seem to have their customers’ best interests at heart. The green shoots of independence currently growing in HP’s interactive media products division seem pretty tasty however; as long as it can keep Hollywood at arm’s length.

I also look forward to seeing HP continuing to adopt similar approaches with its enterprise products: Linux to Microsoft interoperability is a key item on any enterprise wish list. Enterprises will certainly appreciate HP efforts here.

I should declare I am not a PC analyst and I have not yet seen Jakarta. This piece is about the idea and the policy behind it rather than the implementation, per se. Jakarta is is an interesting leading edge indicator.

HP of course won’t be the only vendor to deliver great Linux-based customer experiences. In fact as QuickPlay is based on code, built by a startup, that Fujitsu and Toshiba are also using in their products- see these links for background:

http://linuxdevices.com/news/NS9970329229.html
http://www.linuxdevices.com/news/NS1976138629.html
http://www.lcd-tv-reviews.com/modules/newbb/viewtopic.php/85-7-Toshiba-Qosmio—Instant-On-Laptop-TV
http://forums.sudhian.com/messageview.cfm?catid=45&threadid=59364

But HP is still innovating whether or not it built the actual widget. This industry is increasingly about packaging after all.

Wow – i just noticed something that certainly supports the independence thesis: the dv1000 press release evidently doesn’t mention Windows XP or Windows Media Player or any MS Office software at all. period. Its surprising Microsoft’s licensing agreements with HP even allow that. Centrino gets a mention, which is the only evidence the machine runs Windows XP (Intel is still working on its Linux drivers for wireless). The industry really is changing.

HP Invent—Indeed.

One comment

  1. Interesting history on the takeover of compaq by Hp. I actually am running linux on my HP Pavilion

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