Monday, July 05, 2010

The HP Tablet and the Elephant

Recently HP bought Palm and in the acquisition press release announced that they are developing "... webOS based hardware products, from a robust smartphone roadmap to future slate PCs and netbooks". In all the discussion of this event, nobody seems to be discussing the elephant in the room, or more correctly, the elephant who is no longer in the room.

Ten years ago, HP would not have dared announce that it was going produce its own operating system (OS) in competition with the dominant Microsoft Windows OS. Then, most hardware developers had been cowed by Microsoft's aggressive and successful response to any attempt to develop a rival operating system. To give a couple of examples, in the early 90's the Go Corporation had developed its Penpoint OS for handheld computing. Then in 1992, Microsoft announced its own Windows for Pen Computing. Go Corporation faltered, was taken over by AT&T and then the project was shuttered. Another example is the fate of Be Inc. who had developed BeOS, initially to power their own hardware. In 2002, Be Inc. sued Microsoft claiming that Hitachi had been dissuaded from selling PCs loaded with BeOS, and that Compaq had been pressured to not market an Internet appliance in partnership with Be. The case was eventually settled out of court with no admission of liability on Microsoft's part. However by this time Be Inc had admitted defeat and sold its intellectual property to Palm Inc.

In the late 90's Microsoft was so dominant that no Silicon valley Venture Capital firm would fund a start up that would have the remotest chance of challenging Microsoft in any way. Since then Microsoft seems to have been transformed from a lithe competitor into a stumbling giant. The Vista version of the Windows OS is widely regarded as a failure, and was quickly replaced by Windows 7. While the Windows Mobile OS for smartphones has been around for a long time and gone through several versions, it has been losing market share for some time. Recently Microsoft introduced a new smartphone, the Kin with much ballyhoo, only to give up on it six week later. There are plenty other examples of Microsoft's left hand not knowing what the right hand was doing, like the PlayForSure debacle.

We have come to the point where Microsoft is so crippled by its own self inflicted wounds that one of its most important OEM customers is going to use its own operating system on future slate PCs and netbooks. The elephant is no longer in the room.

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