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HP World The unwashed masses had a go at HP this week as customers were allowed to pepper HP executives with numerous questions during an open roundtable session. One of HP's most troubling areas - the shift to Intel's Itanium processor - popped up time and again as cause for concern during the discussion, but worries over product shipments and offshore workers appeared as well.

First off, Interex, the large HP user organization, released data about HP customers' planned moves to the Itanium processor. As most know, HP is phasing out its own PA-RISC processor and the old Compaq/DEC Alpha chip and asking customers to port all of their software over to Intel's 64-bit processor. Thus far, this shift has progressed slowly, with Itanium sales falling well below expectations and with most customers picking up small workstations and low-end servers, as opposed to big iron.

Is the future much brighter? Not necessarily.

After surveying 7,000 HP customers around the globe, Interex found that just 20 per cent of HP's HP-UX customer base plans to move onto Itanium this year. In the next two years, 22 per cent of the customers plan to shift, but after that the picture becomes much more murky. Only nine per cent plan to shift off HP-UX within five years, and a whopping 50 percent of customers have no plans to move to Itanic at all.

This leaves half of HP's high-end customer base looking for a new home either on Linux systems, which HP does sell, or - more likely - on IBM and Sun Microsystems' Unix kit. Sun has already picked up 150 ex-HP users to the tune of $200m, and IBM has steadily gained high-end Unix market share over the past two years.

Tools of the trade

HP's customers are also unhappy about what is going on with the Tru64 and OpenVMS operating systems. HP's decision to kill off Tru64 all together has 53 per cent of its customers saying they are dissatisfied with HP's roadmap for the OS, according to Interex. And, while OpenVMS will survive on Itanium, half of HP's customers have no plans to migrate over to Intel's new chip, leaving room for IBM and Sun to attack again.

In addition, one customer from Northrop Grumman charged that HP is making it tough to move over to Itanium by not working well with software makers, particularly tools vendors.

"The tools vendors are telling me they don't have a strong alliance with HP," she said, during the customer session. "We are not getting good information. We made a commitment to buy Itanium-based workstations because that is where we were being pointed, and now these tools will not be supported on workstation class machines."

One notable tools vendor - Parametric Technology Corp. - pulled back its support for Itanium this year, and the Northrop Grumman customer said at least three other tools vendors, including Synopsys, have reneged on their support as well.

This experience is in stark contrast to what HP's enterprise chief Ann Livermore told ComputerWorld in a recent interview.

"But the thing that we're seeing that we like from an Itanium perspective is that the ISV [independent software vendor] applications and ports are going really well," she said. "Our ISV partners have all believed that the migration has been easier than what we planned."

Livermore denied that there is any need to bring HP-UX onto x86 processors from Intel and AMD even though both companies now support 64-bit extensions on their chips. Rival Sun has been trying to attract HP's Unix customers to shift over to Solaris x86 running on AMD's Opteron chip.

HP has also fallen behind on its plans to upgrade HP-UX, meaning many of the features customers expected now won't arrive for a year or more. This makes the Itanium transition more difficult as 2005 is the main cut-off point for the PA-RISC and Alpha chips.

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