HP tells Sun to get its facts straight

Sun execs say they're telling it as it is: HP's Unix offering is on its last legs. HP says they're flat-out wrong.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
Hewlett-Packard has formally demanded that Sun Microsystems and its president, Jonathan Schwartz, stop publishing what it calls "misleading and factually incorrect statements" about HP's commitment to its version of Unix--but Sun is standing firm.

On Sept. 28, HP sent Sun a letter criticizing Sun publications that say the HP-UX operating system is doomed, due mostly to the chips that HP is pairing with the operating system. HP said its strategy is sound and Sun's assertions are completely unfounded.

"We want our customers to know we're committed to HP-UX for the long term," Don Jenkins, vice president of marketing for HP's Business Critical Systems group, said in an interview. "If (Sun) checked the facts, they wouldn't be able to support the statements they are making."

HP wants debate to be "aggressive and competitive," Jenkins said, but intentionally misleading customers or (the media) is not a practice we consider appropriate."

Larry Singer, Sun's chief marketing officer, said HP's letter took issue with a Schwartz Web log posting, an opinion by Singer on Sun's Web site and an online ad. But asked whether Sun would change the materials, Singer said Monday, "it ain't happening."

Sun's assertions about the longevity of HP-UX derive from a conclusion based on market realities, and Sun stands by it, Singer said. "We absolutely think HP-UX is dead," despite HP's recruitment and support plans.

Public displays of disaffection
The debate highlights the spats that can ensue when companies take their gripes directly to the public. Sun didn't respond graciously after IBM distributed an open letter asking it to unfetter the source code of its Java software. And Schwartz's attacks on Red Hat have prompted a critical response from the Linux seller on the issues of software patents and open-source software.

At the same time, marketing agreements can override such rivalries. Sun, which has lambasted Microsoft for years, has made room on its Web site for an "exclusive" interview with Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer.

Taking the offensive in the current spat, Sun's Singer said HP isn't afraid to discuss its conclusions about Sun. When HP CEO Carly Fiorina meets with potential customers, Singer said, she brandishes slides that show Sun's stock price slide and tells customers that "Sun is just irrelevant and everyone knows it's about to go out of business," Singer said.

But HP is sticking to the facts in that kind of an attack, Jenkins said. "Sun's stock price performance is a matter of public record. I'm sorry if (Singer) doesn't like it if we point that out to customers," he said.

Sun's attack, however, has "overstepped the bounds of normal business practices," Jenkins said. "We think Sun has maybe become desperate in the way they've gone about saving Solaris."

Chips on their shoulders
Sun is launching its marketing attack because it sees HP-UX customers as easy prey for its sales force. Sun argues that HP is abandoning those customers by canceling its own PA-RISC chip line that is the most widely used foundation for HP-UX and by failing to bring HP-UX to x86 chips--an undeniable force in the server market.

HP is encouraging its HP-UX customers to move from PA-RISC servers to those using Intel's Itanium over a period of years. At the same time, HP is bolstering the operating system with high-end features from Compaq's Tru64 Unix, which also is being phased out.

The changes mean that customers must switch to new hardware over a period of several years. As long as a switch is inevitable, Sun is trying to encourage a switch to its own products through a program called HP Away. Part of the campaign touts the fact that Sun is bringing its Solaris version of Unix to servers based on the widely used x86 chips such as Xeon and Opteron.

HP-UX, by contrast, runs only on PA-RISC and Itanium servers. "We don't right now have any strategy to put HP-UX on x86," Jenkins said.

Stay tuned
The letter, initially made public through a Friday article by "Computerworld Today," was just one of a handful sent through a private "back channel" that Sun and HP use to discreetly point out factual slip-ups, Singer said.

But more publicity is all but inevitable. Sun plans to rebut the letter publicly in coming days, Singer said. And Schwartz is likely expand the attack because of HP's letter.

"This kind of thing stimulates Jonathan," Singer said. "There might be changes to the blog, but my guess they'll by more assertive."