January 23, 2006

Two announcements add to HP open source, Linux offerings

Author: Stephen Feller

Hewlett-Packard (HP) announced last week that it would be extending its partnership with open source software company JBoss, and that its Latin American division will soon begin to offer personal computers pre-loaded with the Linux-based Mandriva operating system (OS).

HP, which two years ago introduced its Linux Reference Architecture (LRA) program and cites long-standing support of both Linux and open source software, offers products and support programs for Linux distributions from Red Hat, Novell, and Mandriva.

According to Jeffrey Wade, worldwide open source and Linux marketing manager at HP, the company is reacting to continuing increases in customer demand for a wider variety of options -- demand which he said is increasingly turning toward open source solutions.

"We're really positioning ourselves as an open source service provider to our customers," Wade said. "There's a growing demand in the marketplace for more open source solutions. [And] when you're looking at these new environments, whether they're open source or proprietary, customers want one source of accountability."

Wade said it is these realizations that are driving HP to embrace more open source software, and both distribute those solutions for partners such as JBoss and Mandriva, as well as offer support service subscriptions to customers opting for them. Since HP does not own most of the open source software it would like to offer its customers, the company partners with companies that do.

Growing a partnership

Wade said HP would now offer the full JBoss Enterprise Middleware Suite (JEMS) for the Linux, Windows, and HP-UX platforms. JEMS is an open source software infrastructure stack used to create and deploy business applications and includes the JBoss Application Server, Hibernate, JBoss Portal, JBoss Cache, JBoss Eclipse IDE, and Apache Tomcat. HP previously offered only selected JBoss products.

Over the course of their year-and-a-half-long partnership, HP and JBoss have slowly increased the software and support services offered under the partnership, said Bob Bickel, vice president for strategy and corporate development at JBoss. JEMS, he said, attracted the attention of HP as its deployment has grown beyond the Linux platform.

"It was really customer demand that drove [the increased partnership]," Bickel said. "[HP] saw that the JEMS stack was being operated not just on Linux, but on other OS environments.... We are seeing a very rapid adoption of JEMS. The customers are really buying it, so HP is jumping on that bandwagon."

Although JBoss has partnerships with other companies, such as Unisys, Dell, and Sun Microsystems, Bickel said HP is the company's major corporate partner and accounts for roughly 10% of its overall sales. The companies also work together on development, with some HP engineers assigned to JBoss projects -- including a project to improve performance on the JBoss application server, which Bickel could not discuss in detail.

While less than 20% of the servers HP sells run in a Linux environment, Wade said the growth of the market is why the company continues to add to the open source solutions it offers. He added that the more than 1,000 software vendors the company works with in its Linux services division have seen their businesses grow by about 67% in recent years, further proof to HP that the market is growing.

Home computers pre-loaded with Linux

On the desktop front, HP's Latin America division's agreement with France-based Mandriva will make pre-loaded Linux operating systems available on HP hardware as it is in parts of the world on machines from Dell, NEC, IBM, and others, said Mandriva Chief Executive Officer Francois Bancilhon.

Mandriva is company formed by the merger of Mandrakesoft, Conectiva, Lycoris, and the support services company Edge IT. Mandriva offers several non-free versions of the OS for individual users and enterprises, as well as a free, open source version called Free Mandriva.

According to Bancilhon, Mandrakesoft, the predecessor company to Mandriva, had a global distribution deal with HP that was not renewed in 2003 when the French company was in the middle of bankruptcy reorganization proceedings. After Mandriva reached an agreement with HP for the French market, and in considering Brazil-based Conectiva's history in Latin America, the new company approached HP's division there and agreed on the new partnership.

With the first Mandriva-loaded HP computers due out sometime in the first quarter of 2006, Bancilhon said Mandriva sees Latin America, as well as Russia and China, as breakout markets with huge growth potential for PCs preloaded with Linux.

"We view this as potentially something fairly big -- hopefully we'll be talking about thousands of machines," Bancilhon said. "We see that each time a vendor or retailer puts in place a proper program, it works well.... There is a general interest for the vendors in these parts of the world. That doesn't mean that there is no strong push in America -- it's a different market."

The home front

Rumors of major home computing vendors offering and actually promoting products in the US preloaded with some form of Linux circulate continuously, and although such systems are available by specific request, the ones that come to market often are not well-promoted or -supported by the companies selling them.

Although HP sees Linux desktops as an emerging market around the world, Wade said, it doesn't offer computers preloaded with Linux everywhere because the company sells only between 200,000 and 300,000 of them worldwide, with roughly 15% of those sales in the US.

"There is some demand for it," Wade said. "We look at it as an emerging market opportunity.... But one of the things we want to do is to be positioned as a company to take advantage of the market as it grows. What we've done to date is lay a foundation down."

Wade said he doesn't see a huge Linux home-user presence in the near future because the computer industry simply does not support it publicly enough that consumers go looking for machines with anything but Windows or Macintosh operating systems. Proof of this, he said, is in the software lining store shelves across the country, which is developed mostly for those two OSes.

Although there is a plethora of free and open source operating systems and software available on the Internet, most consumers buy based on what is available easily, which tends to be whatever is sold in stores. For it to be worth companies developing and promoting products with Linux the way they do for Windows, he said the computer market will have to shift somewhat -- a proposition that requires customer demand in order to happen.

"Microsoft makes it very easy with a plug-and-play environment," Wade said. "I'm struggling to see what the compelling reason is for consumers to move to [Linux]. And I think that's what we're seeing in the marketplace. We'll sell customers whatever they want, but we're not driving that marketplace -- we're reacting to customer demand."

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