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The year was 1982. British computer pioneer Dr. Adam Osborne, a man who has been universally credited with creating the portable computer industry announces the “Executive” OCC-2, the the successor to his current shipping product, the CP/M-based Osborne 1. In fact, over the next year, he also publicly discusses a second, smaller model, the “Vixen”, one which would follow on after that.Not many people will remember Adam Osborne and the significant contributions he made to help establish the personal computer industry. Many people reading this article weren’t even born when the Osborne 1, let alone the Vixen was shipped.However, there is one particular event in computer history in which Mr. Osborne’s name will forever be associated with:The Osborne Effect.What happened to the Osborne Computer Company after the announcements of the “Executive” and the “Vixen” is now classic business school material. Due to the pre-announcement of the newer, better products while the current inventory in the reseller channel was still full, buyers were no longer interested in current products.Despite the fact that the company had a number of advantages, one of those being that it bundled application and OS software with its computers, Osborne was also facing heavy competition from companies like Kaypro, Apple and IBM, so the timing couldn’t possibly have been worse.By November of 1983, the company went bankrupt, and Osborne Computer Corporation was no more.
In the late 1980's, HP determined that their PA-RISC systems architecture for enterprise-class servers was going to hit a performance scaling threshold and began to investigate a new systems architecture, VLIW (Very Long Instruction Word).In 1994, under the direction of CEO Lewis E. Platt, believing that it was no longer cost-effective for HP to have its own microprocessor foundry, the company ceased production and development of PA-RISC, shut down its own foundries and instead partnered with Intel to produce this new VLIW 64-bit enterprise chip, which came to be known as the IA-64.Released by Intel and HP as the "Itanium" in 2001 after seven years of development and billions of dollars of R&D invested, the chip earned the early nickname of "Itanic" due to its low performance compared to less expensive, commodity x86 chips in most regular business applications. IA-64 also proved to be horribly slow when executing x86 instructions, which it had to do using software emulation.Eventually, both AMD and Intel would produce 64-bit x86 systems, which when clustered in HPC configurations would easily outperform equivalent IA-64 systems for significantly less money.IBM and Sun would continue to develop their POWER and SPARC architectures for their high-end servers, which eroded most of HP's high-end market share.While other vendors such as Dell and IBM briefly introduced and sold Itanium-based systems, they shortly discontinued them. An executive at Dell publicly referred to the product as an "Albatross".As if this wasn't awful enough, in 2002 HP merged with Compaq, which had only just acquired Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) four years before, along with its powerful 64-bit Alpha RISC chip and Windows NT/Digital UNIX servers that had seen some moderate success in High-Performance Computing environments.Seen by both executives at HP and Compaq as a redundant overlapping product under the new merged company and with Intel's IA-64 efforts underway, the Alpha -- arguably a much more mature, better supported and more desirable platform was phased out.Third-party OS development for Itanium other than HP's HP/UX UNIX derivative is now practically non-existent, as Microsoft no longer produces an IA-64 version of Windows Server. Itanium is considered to be a deprecated and legacy architecture by the Linux Kernel Project and is no longer actively supported by mainstream Linux distributions such as Red Hat, SuSE, Debian and Ubuntu.HP is now the only company to sell Itanium-based servers under their Integrity brand, and Oracle recently announced that it would no longer be developing software for the chip.
While the Itanium partnership with Intel surely started HP down the road to hell, it was accelerated in 2001 when HP, under the guidance of CEO Carly Fiorina decided to merge with Compaq in a $25 billion dollar deal.Many large shareholders opposed the merger, including Walter Hewlett, the company's outspoken director and son of the company's co-founder, who engaged in a proxy battle in an attempt to prevent it. The prime objection was that Compaq had many overlapping product lines and would get the company involved in the low-margin PC business that its main competitor, IBM, was already in the process of exiting.Under Carly Fiorina's reign, the merged "New" HP lost half of its market value and the company incurred heavy job losses. Fiorina stepped down in 2005.Since the Compaq merger, HP has endured numerous problems with failed initiatives, dubious acquisitions (3COM, EDS) and has been plagued with ineffective management, including two major ethics scandals that have forced Chairwoman Patricia Dunn and CEO Mark Hurd to resign.The PC business that HP gained from the Compaq merger is now in the process of being spun off, after losing money in the face of tremendous low-margin industry competition.