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Looking to kick a competitor while it's down, HP has started a new campaign in which it will provide various software porting services to Sun Microsystems customers at no charge if they agree to abandon Sparc/Solaris systems.

HP's "switch and save" program is a bit thin on actual product, but there are a couple of deals to be had. It will port one Sparc/Solaris application onto an HP server running Linux for free. HP will also offer certain hardware/software bundles at a 50 percent discount to users willing to trade in their Sun gear.

In a press release, HP claims to be offering $25,000 worth of services to customers who make the switch from Sparc/Solaris to Linux on HP kit. This number, however, is somewhat misleading. It appears to include a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) assessment valued by HP at $7,500 along with the needed porting services. As it's the customer that has to go through the pains of a migration, any "services" value-adds put on the shift seem a tad silly. The obvious point is that HP will tell you how much a move away from Sun will cost and then help you do it.

The most compelling part of the "switch and save" deal is the hardware discount, but fine print has yet to be provided.

HP is seizing on a flood of bad news for Sun this week. The company announced a $1 billion charge and then saw a flurry of analysts rush to say things are looking grim for the McNealy bunch.

The most searing note from the analyst crowd came from Merrill Lynch's chief hardware groupie Steven Milunovich - known better as The Loon. In an open letter to Sun's CEO Scott McNealy, Miloonovich suggested that Sun drop its Sparc, Java and Linux desktop businesses as the quickest means to becoming a relevant vendor again. It's not often that a financial analyst recommends a vendor chuck out a product - Sparc - that has leading market share in a multibillion dollar business as a good short-term move, but that's why he gets the big bucks. The Loon did make some salient points, but we think the Britney Spears album was turned up a bit too loud when he wrote the Sparc analysis. Maybe he was just upset that the new batch of Watermelon lip gloss didn't make his lips look as pouty as hoped.

HP's follow up to the analysts' rumblings is a nice, not so subtle move. The company has seen IBM take market share from Sun, and wants in on the action.

The deal only applies to customers in the Americas and will run through Dec. 31. Interested parties can call 1-800-HP-ASK-ME or visit this Web site. HP will loan out a Xeon server and a StorageWorks array for testing, as part of the deal.

We make the bold suggestion that HP offer the same service to its own customers. Those willing to shift off of PA-RISC and Alpha onto Itanium should surely receive the same benefits as Sun customers.

While HP does not mention Itanic in the Sun giveaway press release, the promotional Web site does bring the chip up. Funny enough, Intel's 64bit chip is described as an "industry standard," which everyone knows is not accurate. To get those Itanic sales going, we suspect it will take a lot more than a free port and a TCO analysis. Why not offer $100,000 a pop to anyone prepared for an EPIC conversion. ®

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