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Commentary: Hewlett-Packard takes out Linux insurance

HP is taking out cheap insurance with its hiring of open-source advocate Bruce Perens, just in case Linux becomes more of a force in the marketplace than anyone expects.

Hewlett-Packard is taking out cheap insurance with its hiring of open-source advocate Bruce Perens, just in case Linux becomes more of a force in the marketplace than anyone expects.

See news story:
HP hires Linux luminary
Users negotiating with HP can use this new commitment to Linux as a ploy in negotiations, but they should not expect HP to develop Linux into a replacement for HP-UX. Linux will fit into HP's product set as an operating system for embedded and low-end boxes suited for peripheral, nonstrategic operations only, and where users request it as an application or Web server.

Overall, the problem for Linux is that for it to become a serious contender against HP-UX and Windows NT, HP and the other large Unix vendors must invest large amounts of development resources in it. But if they do that, they cannot afford to give Linux away--they will need to sell it for prices comparable to their present Unix versions. Then the HP sales force, for example, would be forced to decide whether it sells Linux or HP-UX--and the HP-UX team has a great deal of political clout that it will use to protect its sales. Therefore, we believe Linux will lumber along with great potential but with only moderate commercial success.

However, the chance exists that Linux will become a larger force than everyone outside of the Unix server community expects. If it does, then Perens and the reinvigorated and renamed Linux Systems Operation will give HP at least some credibility in that market. This move is a cheap way for HP to buy a fig leaf to cover its nakedness in the Unix server arena in case Linux does become important.

Users should restrict use of Linux to ancillary, noncritical applications--such as non-mission-critical Web servers and server appliances that require little or no support. Although users can bring up Linux as a tactic to try to get some pricing concessions during negotiations with HP, a more effective strategy is to negotiate with two vendors simultaneously and play one off the other. Under no circumstances should users consider Linux in place of HP-UX, Sun Solaris, IBM AIX or Windows NT for mission-critical applications.

Meta Group analysts Dale Kutnick, Peter Burris, David Cearley, Val Sribar and William Zachmann contributed to this article.

Visit Metagroup.com for more analysis of key IT and e-business issues.

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