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Report: HP trying for 'end-run' around Windows

Business Week cites anonymous sources that say the PC maker is developing its own operating system to bypass Vista.

Is the biggest PC vendor in the world looking to give customers an option besides Windows?

An article appearing in BusinessWeek this week cites anonymous sources who say Hewlett-Packard is at least looking into it. "Sources say employees in HP's PC division are exploring the possibility of building a mass-market operating system," the article states.

HP Touchsmart Windows
HP Touchsmart is an example of the company's efforts to provide a user experience on top of Windows. Hewlett-Packard

The operating system would reportedly be Linux-based, but would be tweaked to be more accessible to mainstream users. Those same sources say it's part of an HP plan to become less dependent on Windows, and to compete better with Apple for the same type of person who would consider a Mac, which has its own operating system on its computers touted as more user-friendly than Vista.

HP isn't confirming the report, but had previously been open about the formation of a new group within its Labs that developed the touch-screen technology and special software used in its TouchSmart PC. The software lets users get around certain features of Vista to do certain multimedia tasks more easily.

Phil McKinney, CTO of HP's Personal Systems Group, didn't deny the company is looking into it, but said it didn't make much sense to build its own operating system. "Is HP funding a huge R&D team to go off and create an operating system? (That) makes no sense," he told BusinessWeek.

Maybe not for HP, who's the world's leading purveyor of Microsoft software, through the approximately 50 million PCs the company ships around the globe each year. The article also points out Intel's recent support for Netbooks, mini-notebooks that use its Atom processor and run Linux, and Dell's decision to offer Linux as a Windows alternative on some of its PCs.

They're not the only ones. Asus makes a motherboard called P5E3 Deluxe/WiFi-AP. It allows a PC to boot directly to Windows or any other operating system installed on the hard disk. Basically this alternative operating system, provided by DeviceVM to Asus, is another way to do an end-run around Windows.

Whether Windows' dominance is in any actual danger of disappearing, Microsoft has already begun to fight back. Last week it rolled out the beginnings of a high-profile and expensive ad campaign starring its co-founder Bill Gates and comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The responsehas been, well, mixed.