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HP CEO gives tech mixed outlook

In a keynote address, Lew Platt warns Internet World attendees of the dangers of the Net's boom and outlines the PC maker's near-future plans.

LOS ANGELES--In Lewis Platt's electronic world, there are a few serious flaws with the typical rosy, world-in-harmony outlook that pervades the technology industry.

In his keynote speech here, the Hewlett-Packard (HWP) CEO outlined a near-future world of consumers, businesses, and electronic appliances linked via a reliable global network.

It was the type of stuff one might expect to hear from the chief executive of a major technology company.

But Platt ended his speech today to a half-filled auditorium of Internet World conference attendees with a few atypical warnings.

"Technology has made society less personal, and this will only increase," he said. He also worried that the Internet could go the way of television, which has "dulled our senses and converted intelligent conversations into sound bites.

"As the Internet becomes more pervasive and more commercial, it also runs the risk of making our lives worse," he added.

Despite the warnings, Platt is pressing ahead with his company's strategy to place HP products everywhere--from the backbone to the periphery of the new networked world.

The "Electronic World" campaign is an effort to tie together HP's offerings--including imaging, Unix and Windows NT servers, business process software, and home PCs--into a unified strategy for a networked world.

"We're playing broadly," Platt said.

In a press Q&A after the speech, the executive reinforced HP's emphasis on the PC market, acknowledging that current trends in that business don't look good.

"Fortunately, that's not our main business," he said, alluding to PC-only competitors hit hard in recent weeks. He also alluded to price cuts in computers and servers but gave no specifics: "We do intend to remain competitive, but we'll stop short of being suicidal."

Addressing a comment that HP lacks a Unix database software strategy, Platt said his company prefers to partner with outside developers such as Oracle, Informix, and Sybase rather than do in-house development.

He also addressed HP's move to work with the federal government to give the computer industry some leeway in the sale and export of security solutions that use strong encryption. HP recently has been granted export licenses. "It's a positive development for HP and a sign that the industry and government are able to work out compromises," Platt noted.

Platt and his executive staff also touted HP's lead in providing the computing and Internet infrastructure for the upcoming World Cup 1998 soccer tournament this summer.