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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Calm down, Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina told an audience at the LinuxWorld conference in New York yesterday. Despite her high-profile presence delivering the conference's opening keynote, Fiorina made it clear that HP sees Linux only as another revenue-earner, and is certainly not going to follow IBM into making any billion-dollar commitments to the open source operating system. She even risked telling the audience that Linux is no threat to Microsoft,

writes Tim Stammers.

Fiorina dutifully waxed enthusiastically about the growing mainstream nature of Linux, and claimed that it is expanding out of its stronghold of internet applications into the financial and retail sectors. But although HP announced that it will now offer Linux customers the same support and consulting services as Windows and HP-UX customers, and launched new carrier-grade Linux servers, she poured cold water on the wilder shores of Linux speculation no doubt inhabited by some of the bearded and pony-tailed members of the audience.

"Right now we're taking a pragmatic approach. The question for us is not 'Will Linux dominate the world?' but 'What part of the world will Linux dominate?'" HP is still committed to Windows, and to its own HP-UX Unix variant. "We see opportunity in offering our customers a choice of building blocks for their heterogeneous environments," the CEO said. And no matter how much Linux is growing into a mainstream platform OS beyond its traditional single-purpose use as a platform for web servers, firewalls, or web caches, Fiorina told the audience that Linux is not going to replace Windows in corporations, let alone take the desktop.

"The reality is that Microsoft solutions on industry standard hardware are a mainstay of many corporations, especially on the desktop, and will continue to be so," she said. A few Linux conferences back, few would have dared to make a point of that during the opening keynote. Yesterday when Fiorina poured that glass of iced water into the audience's pistachios, there were few visible winces. Certainly none to be heard.

It wasn't all wet blanket, of course. "The number of markets where Linux is the preferred solution is going up," Fiorina said. The customary keynote video clip featured HP customers who are using Linux. These included retailer Amazon, content network operator Speedera, airplane maker Boeing - for an engineering number crunching cluster - and animated film maker Dreamworks SKG. Fiorina also highlighted a demonstration of HP's Chai Java and Linux technology for embedded applications on the company's show stand, and quoted Gartner and IDC predictions of $10bn Linux revenues in three to five years' time.

She repeated HP's stance that commercial patents shouldn't hinder Linux development. "In HP's view, even the so-called "Reasonable and Non-discriminatory" patenting would distort the standards selection process to an unacceptable level for Web infrastructure software software standards," she said. HP is continuing to press the W3C to embrace only royalty-free standards.

That's an honorable but perhaps ironic stance for a company which is big on its own inventiveness. Winding up with a couple of minutes of talk about the "dogfight" over the proposed merger with Compaq, Fiorina trotted out once again the story of HP's first product, its 200a oscillator. An example of the laboratory box was on stage on a plinth, and Fiorina even managed to link it to the lifeworks of Stravinksy and Tchaikovsky. The device was used apparently to help set up the sound for the first screenings of Disney's Fantasia. Pushing the boat well out of sight of terra firma, she also quoted Picasso about the challenge of keeping alive the artistic spirit. That's something that HP is preoccupied with, apparently. Unsurprisingly, none of these comments were accompanied by anything material or previously unheard about the merger.

At the conference HP launched Linux-based carrier-grade NEBS-compliant servers, and extended its pay-per-use or capacity-on-demand features - already offered for its Windows and HP-UX servers - to Linux machines. Linux pay-per-use will be available in the Spring. It also extended its services to cover Linux, handling porting and migration, security, outsourced management and telecommunications application services. Finally, it launched support for Linux for its SS7 development platform - an Intel-based platform that connects to the telecom network for signalling, service development and voice-interactive platforms.

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