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HP CEO talks consolidation, management software, and Seinfeld

Speech at the high-profile conference almost entirely free of specifics on HP products or its relationship with Oracle.

SAN FRANCISCO--For the record, Hewlett-Packard CEO Mark Hurd would not let Oracle grand poobah Larry Ellison beat him at tennis.

These and other important questions were answered in a more conversational approach to the afternoon keynote slot at this year's Oracle OpenWorld here. In lieu of a traditional speech, Hurd, chairman and chief of the world's largest PC company, answered previously videotaped questions--most of which seemed canned--about a variety of topics.

The questions, posed by ostensibly random conference attendees, ranged from the obvious ("Should I buy an HP or a Dell?"), to the unnecessary ("Would you let Ellison beat you at tennis?"), to the mundane ("How much was Jerry Seinfeld paid to do the HP 'hands' commercial?").

And what did we learn? Hurd says to buy an HP (duh.); no, he played tennis at the college level and would never let anyone win on purpose; and nothing--Seinfeld's HP bit coincided with his recent movie from DreamWorks, with whom HP is partners.

But wait, what about software? Hurd says HP remains "heavily focused" on the management end of software--servers, systems, network, storage. "We're now the sixth biggest software company in the world," Hurd said. "We're different from other companies because we're very focused on that one category (management), and we want to lead in that category."

He was also asked to switch into clairvoyant mode and predict which tech companies will still be independent, major players three years from now. Though reticent to name names, his answer was essentially "not many." Noting the day's news of IBM's acquisition of Cognos, he predicted an increased rate of consolidation in the industry, and "more vertical integration, not less." It will all come down to the bottom line, he predicted.

"In the end, math wins. When you look at the math right now, in the tech industry, there are only a handful of players that have in excess of $100 billion worth of cash," he said. The better question, he said, is how fast that consolidation will occur. Though it's still unclear, "if the right combination of companies were to occur, it could accelerate" in the next two or three years.