The combined Hewlett-Packard-Compaq Computer must weed a tangled garden of operating systems and focus on fewer platforms to realize the $2.5 billion per year in savings it projects, experts said. That spells bright prospects for Linux, which will share the limelight in the new company with Windows.
Compaq and HP "immediately jump into the top league of vendors that provide corporate-level Linux," said Rob Enderle, a Giga Information Group research fellow. "HP will have better positioning against Sun [Microsystems] to say its the company of the future. It has Linux."
HP is only slightly behind Sun in Unix revenue, said operating system analyst Dan Kusnetzky of market researcher IDC. That leaves HP with an opportunity to take a giant step toward simplifying its Unix strategy behind its current HP-UX system and Linux.
"Linux is going to leapfrog Unix and become the high-end server system by the end of the decade," predicted Linux analyst Bill Claybrook of Aberdeen Group. HP has a rare opportunity to position itself as the Linux company of the future, and in the process, become more like IBM in supporting Linux on a wide range of hardware, he added.
In Compaq, HP is acquiring the company that ships more Intel servers than any other, including more Linux servers. Compaq and HP together represent 29 percent of Intel servers going out the door loaded with Linux. IBM is a distant second at 19 percent. Dell Computer is third at 16 percent.
Compaq and HP are also the only big computer suppliers whose primary focus is on Intels new 64-bit Itanium chip. An Itanium server purchased from the new HP will be one hardware architecture capable of running Windows, HP-UX or Linux, pointed out Mark Melenovsky, IDCs server analyst.
"We will converge around Itanium and three operating systems: Windows, Unix and Linux," said HP Vice President Jim McDonnell.
Windows will remain important to the new company: About 60 percent of the Windows NT and Windows 2000 market runs on Compaq machines.
To capitalize on its new position, HP-Compaq must phase out its older operating systems. The combined company "needs to aggressively eat their own children before somebody else does," Melenovsky said.
"My suspicion is theyll take a machete to the software tree and prune it," Kusnetzky said.
That spells trouble for the 300,000 to 400,000 users of OpenVMS, the legacy system that came with Compaqs acquisition of Digital Equipment, and probably also for users of Compaqs Tru64 Unix, another Digital inheritance.
HP still supports its legacy proprietary operating system, MPE. With Compaq, HP will get the former Tandem Computers NonStop for fault-tolerant operations as well.
Much hinges on the success of Itanium and its follow-ons, but HP codesigned Itanium "and will have insights on how to use it better than some people" for Linux and Windows systems, Aberdeen Groups Claybrook said.
If Itanium falters, or HP-Compaq appears unable to resolve its OS morass, "then [HP-Compaq] could be hamstrung for two years," Claybrook added. If it succeeds, "they could be dominating things within seven [years] to eight years," he said.