In tough spot, Fiorina touts Net Renaissance

Just hours after her company's bleak earnings news, the company's chief executive touts a second Renaissance for the Internet.

Stephen Shankland Former Principal Writer
Stephen Shankland worked at CNET from 1998 to 2024 and wrote about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
3 min read
LAS VEGAS--It was one of Carly Fiorina's toughest missions since assuming the helm of Hewlett-Packard: trying to rally confidence just hours after her company reported bleak financial news that sent the stock markets reeling.

But in a Monday morning keynote address

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Fiorina describes her vision of a universal Internet
Carly Fiorina, CEO, Hewlett-Packard

at the Comdex trade show here, the chief executive of one of the world's largest computer corporations did her best to focus the crowd on the future. After leavening the atmosphere with some gallows humor about the financial news, she exhorted an audience of thousands to make everything they create--computers, gadgets, software and services--a part of the Internet and available to anyone.

The result will be a second Renaissance, with all the world using the Internet, not just the rich, computer-literate minority of today, said Fiorina, who in college studied the replacement of the medieval era with what she called a more enlightened time.

"The next phase of growth will be exponential only if every solution you can contribute can connect with every other solution on the planet," she said. "Anything else holds everyone back. It is medieval thinking."

Not surprisingly, HP has a vested interest in such a future. In a transformation that began shortly after Fiorina's arrival more than a year ago, the Palo Alto, Calif., company has been aiming its products at markets that can benefit from expensive back-end servers, Internet-enabled devices such as PCs or cell phones, and Internet services such as banking, language translation and personal calendars.

Along the same lines of connecting everything to everything else, Fiorina announced a partnership with Finnish cell phone giant Nokia that will enable Comdex 2000: Back to the future Nokia phones to connect to HP printers and print anything available on the Web, including email and theater tickets.

While HP has stuck doggedly to its vision for the future of the Internet, the road hasn't been a smooth one. Before the markets opened Monday, HP reported financial results well below Wall Street expectations.

"It had already been somewhat of a long morning for HP," Fiorina said at the beginning of her talk. "Do CEOs get to ask for a recount?" she joked, referring to the current presidential election turmoil.

Fiorina's speech harkened back to her Comdex keynote last year, when she called for an era in which computing technology is easier to use. "To make the Net useful, meaningful and indispensable, you have to start with people, not technology," she said Monday.

One technology HP backs to realize its Internet vision is Bluetooth, a short-range wireless netowrking technology HP is building into its notebooks and printers, Fiorina said. "The physical and digital worlds are being intertwined," she said, and Bluetooth will let each computing device "take full advantage of the resources around it"

When it comes to the software underpinnings that will allow gadgets to join together and take advantage of each other's abilities, Fiorina plugged HP's E-speak software and took a jab at rival Sun Microsystems' Jini software.

E-speak is designed to connect tens of millions of devices and has security features built in, a key feature when a device is communicating with others operated by strangers. Though she didn't mention Jini by name, she did criticize Sun's Remote Method Invocation (RMI) software, which is at the heart of Jini.

In another veiled jab at Sun, whose dominant position with its Java software long has irked HP, Fiorina advocated an egalitarian approach to new Internet technologies. In particular, she said that before HP agreeed to join the Universal Description Discovery and Integration (UDDI) consortium, the company required "equal voting rights to all members as a condition for our participation."

UDDI, advocated by Microsoft, Intel and others, defines a standard way to build a sort of directory that describes services available over the Internet.

"At HP, we were advocating openness long before it was popular," Fiorina boasted.