Did Dunn Overdo it? Ask Oracle's Ellison

So Patricia Dunn has fallen on her sword, a victim of her obsession with plugging leaks and the rather ridiculous soap-opera that HP's board has become over the years. But if precedent means anything, it seems that perhaps the HP board over-reacted in letting Dunn step down (and settle for being a mere director of the company, instead of the head zookeeper position she is relinquishing.

So Patricia Dunn has fallen on her sword, a victim of her obsession with plugging leaks and the rather ridiculous soap-opera that HP's board has become over the years. But if precedent means anything, it seems that perhaps the HP board over-reacted in letting Dunn step down (and settle for being a mere director of the company, instead of the head zookeeper position she is relinquishing.)

The precedent -- sort of -- hearkens back to the turn of the century's monumental battle royale between the Justice Department (and it seems, everyone else) and Microsoft. In the midst of the disclosures, posturing, bad lawyering, and general nonsense that went on in that case, it was suddenly revealed that Oracle, or its private investigators, had secretly spied on a couple of public-interest lobbying groups that turned out to be on Microsoft's payroll, at least according to Oracle. While it's not clear if any real felonies were committed -- likewise in the HP case, so far -- it was clear that some sort of ethical boundary had been breached.

Or had it? Larry Ellison, in one of those classic Ellison moves that makes him the iconic iconoclast that he is today, not only took full credit for the snooping, but defended it as necessary in light of Microsoft's alleged misconduct in fronting its views through two so-called objective organizations.

And the fallout for Larry and Oracle? None to speak of. No investigations, no mea culpa, certainly no scenes of Larry doing anything other than bragging that what he did was for the good of the industry.

So take heart, Ms. Dunn. If things get a little to hot in your new director's chair, maybe you can drop by Redwood Shores for a little tea and sympathy. After all, you were merely honoring past tradition in snooping for the greater good of your shareholders. And if spying on the competition is good enough for Larry, it should be good enough for you. Even if it really isn't the HP way.