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HP hopes revamp will boost its software profile

Hewlett-Packard consolidates its 25 software products into two main packages, creating the centerpiece of its e-commerce vision.

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HP outlines Web software strategy
Duane Zitzner, president, HP Computing Systems
SAN FRANCISCO--Hewlett-Packard consolidated its 25 software products into two main packages Tuesday, the centerpiece of an e-commerce vision that attempts to rise above the squabbles of competitors Sun Microsystems and Microsoft.

As expected, HP consolidated all its software packages into two suites: its existing OpenView package and its new Netactions package. With the move, the Palo Alto, Calif.-based computing giant hopes to lift its $2 billion-a-year software business out of obscurity.

"For the first time, we have an integrated software strategy," Bill Russell, vice president of HP's software solutions organization, said in an interview after the event here. "We pulled software together in one place."

Part of the new strategy, Russell said, was shucking six or seven businesses that HP deemed secondary in importance. These included the Smart Content business that HP sold to Cisco Systems and the desktop management software business that it handed off to Novadigm. The money raised from selling those businesses will support future software products, notably e-commerce programming tools HP plans to unveil in coming weeks, he said.

HP uses the label "e-services" to describe its vision for incorporating the Internet into businesses' operations. And, naturally, the company bills its own software as the best way to bring these e-services to fruition. With e-services, HP hopes the Internet will become an integral part of business processes--everything from ordering parts to looking up who will back up data for the lowest price.

The e-services plan, introduced nearly two years ago, preceded similarly breathless Web services announcements in recent months from Microsoft, Sun and Oracle.

HP, however, hopes to steer a path that draws from both Sun's Java-based "ONE" vision of the future and Microsoft's competing .Net plan.

Using XML (Extensible Markup Language) and assorted other standards, HP customers will be able to tap into both worlds, Russell said. "We're very focused on helping (customers) use XML to bridge the gap between Java and .Net," he said.

HP's attempt to bring all its software under one cohesive umbrella makes sense, said Giga Information Group analyst Mike Gilpin. HP's acquisition of Bluestone Software in October provided a key piece to make that strategy possible, he said.

The acquisition gave HP an application server product, which is software that handles e-business transactions by being the middleman between a person's Web browser and a company back-end databases.

"If you're going to have e-services, you need a place to implement that service, and Bluestone provides (HP) with its combination of tools and the application server," Gilpin said. "They didn't have it before and it was a significant piece missing."

Hope for a lingua franca
Another key piece of the e-services vision is E-speak, announced in May 1999 and now taking its first baby steps in the market. E-speak, now part of the Netactions suite, is open-source software that automatically finds services on the Internet and cuts deals according to preferences such as price, speed or quality.

Rajiv Gupta, head of the E-speak initiative, acknowledged in an interview that E-speak took awhile to get going.

"There was a gestation period," he said. But a week and a half ago, HP put the software on its product price sheet, Gupta said, and there are several customers paying HP for E-speak support services.

In addition, HP's Laserjet printer group has begun using E-speak to link the accounting and inventory systems of HP and a supplier, Printronics. And next week at the GSM World mobile phone conference in France, HP will announce that a major mobile services company is using E-speak as a critical part of its back-end system.

A key measure of the success of E-speak will be adoption by its competitors, a move HP tried to encourage by making it open-source software that anyone could use and modify for free. Now IBM, Microsoft and Sun all are inviting HP to contribute its intellectual property to standards groups interested in E-speak, Gupta said.

One key part of E-speak is its ability to constantly reassemble business relationships by discovering new services and brokering new deals. That method stands in contrast to today's world, where electronic interactions are laboriously set up in advance and changed only with difficulty.

"This is about taking what used to be static to make it more fluid, to allow it to change," said Duane Zitzner, head of HP's computer systems division.

Web services all the rage
A number of HP's competitors also have grand visions for meshing business operations with the Internet.

Microsoft over the summer announced its Internet strategy and two-year product road map that included a new version of the Windows operating system tied more closely to the Web, new versions of its e-business infrastructure software, and new software development tools.

Oracle countered Microsoft in December with its own Web services strategy. The database software maker shipped new software, called Oracle 9i Dynamic Services, which builds such Web-based services as currency translation, claims processing and travel booking. The software is included at no extra charge with Oracle's database software.

Sun last week announced its Web services strategy that ties together its Forte for Java software tools, iPlanet e-business software, Solaris operating system and Java. The announcement included a product road map, such as new forthcoming versions of Forte software development tools that will allow programmers to build Web services.

Meanwhile, IBM will be shipping its Web services software within the next six months.