Will Hurd-less HP take a less proprietary turn

Summary:A me-too proprietary strategy is not viable in the age of open source. You're either the leader or you're the low-cost producer. In an era of WalMart and Costco, Hurd bought Sears and Penney's.

I really thought at first there was no open source angle with the Mark Hurd scandal.

Then Larry Ellison started praising Hurd to the skies and I took another look. (Picture from ZDNet's Behind the Lines.)

Eric Jackson of TheStreet, a Hurd critic, divides Hurd's reign into two parts.

The first part was cutting jobs and cleaning up the mess left by predecessor Carly Fiorina. He was good at that.

The second was setting HP up to grow again. He wasn't good at that, Jackson notes. HP's stock price has fallen 20% during the Great Recession. Not bad, except IBM's rose 20%.

Then there were the deals he made while positioning HP for the era of mobile and the cloud. In buying Palm, for $1.2 billion, he overpaid for me-too proprietary technology. He really had no software strategy in the critical area of health care, waffling between support of open source and proprietary systems, looking mainly to sell hardware.

During Hurd's tenure HP bought EDS and 3Com. That sounds like a services strategy similar to IBM's, but 3Com and its other networking acquisition, Ibrix, were also me-too proprietary offerings.

A me-too proprietary strategy is not viable in the age of open source. You're either the leader or you're the low-cost producer. In an era of WalMart and Costco, Hurd bought Sears and Penney's.

There were indications, over the last six months, that this message was getting through to Wall Street. HP shares fell in price from about $55 to about $45, before the Hurd resignation. That's about $40 billion lost, at a time when other boats were rising and Hurd was fudging his expense reports.

So what happens now?

Marc Andreessen (above), who joined the HP board only last year, has suddenly emerged as the major company spokesman in the wake of Hurd's departure.

This may be because as an investor he backed Facebook, Digg and Twitter. and his venture firm, Andreessen Horowitz, has done both traditional and "super-seed" investments.

Consider some of the things Andreessen has put money into. ReThinkDB, ZeFrank, Burbn. It's leading edge, even bleeding edge. No 3Com. No EDS. No Palm.

More important, Andreessen's investments show a vision, clouds using open source in which size still matters. It's not me-too proprietary, but an amalgam of commodity, open source, and new ideas. And he's been giving a lot of thought to what a CEO should be -- truth-teller ranks high.

Fiorina had a vision of HP as a GM of high tech. Hurd's view was that of a new IBM, even though that had been done. These open source times call for something different, and a bigger dream.

If I were a betting man I'd bet Andreessen takes the CEO job himself. Even if he doesn't, the next HP CEO will be Andreessen's man.

Topics: Open Source, Hewlett-Packard

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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