Thursday, September 25, 2014

great new opportunity for Hurd

I somehow missed the chance last week to observe how lucky the Oracle employees are -- with Ellison stepping down and splitting his company between Safra and Mark Hurd, two co-presidents.

I loved it when the local TV story mentioned Hurd's popularity at HP was 34% approval by his own folk, vs. 64% at Oracle for Larry.  Left out of the story, though, was the fact that Google's founders get 97 and 98%, Gates got 95%, and even Ballmer, not exactly Mr. Charisma, got 85%.  

They could have mentioned Hurd's record at NCR, where he had to hire bodyguards to protect his car, both at home and at work, because employees repeatedly slashed his tires.

But having stepped into this morass once before, I chose to refrain this time.

Good luck, Oracle

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Robert Cringely blasts Memristor 'Vaporware'

Robert Cringely (pseudonym) is well known in the Valley, and in general very well respected for calling it 'like it is'     He historically was a huge HP fan, a fervor dissipated over the parade of CEOs in recent years.  I missed this article in June, but one of our readers pointed it out the other day.  It is angry, dismissive, and perhaps right--time will tell.  But at the least, it is worth reading:

By  | InfoWorldHewlett-Packard has gone and hit it -- the culmination of computing, the pinnacle of processing, the apex of annoyingness. It's solved all our computing problems with the most insightful and provocative move it's made since its VP of Vision passed on the Mac in the mid-'70s. I'm glad I lived to see it.
In fact, HP's news is so groundbreaking, it takes me straight back to the mid-'90s, when I sat through a similar announcement by NetWare executives somewhere in the badlands -- maybe Provo? -- to announce a supposedly soon-to-shake-the-earth, splendiferous project called SuperNOS. Though mostly wondering where they'd hid the open bar, I was mildly interested in what the heck SuperNOS might be. After all, that was my job, and I was nothing if not professional. Finally, a canyon-dwelling lab geek got up to explain, even as he was trembling like a banjo.
[ For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter and follow Cringely on Twitter. ]
Back then NetWare still differentiated between a PC OS and a network OS. But every competitor, including HP, IBM, and especially that annoying Windows NT, was hot to move in on the company's 80-plus percent market share. Even the techno hermits in Utah knew they had to do something.
Remember SuperNOS? No one else does either
SuperNOS was the answer, combining the fabulousness of NetWare with the unshakable Unixness of UnixWare. The list of future benefits was long and distinguished, but apparently harder to build than NetWare thought. It gave up and sold the whole shamble to SCO in 1995, and we all know how that ended. It didn't matter anyway. Soon after, Linus Torvalds glanced up from his CRT long enough to make "open source" a household phrase and kicked SuperNOS, NetWare, and Darl McBride to the margins of computing history.
The lesson hasn't daunted the marketing brains at HP. If no one's paying attention to you, make some wild press announcements you can almost-maybe back up and enjoy the tweet spikes. Thus, HP has unveiled "The Machine," which boils down to a vision currently in little lab pieces glued together with promises reminiscent of that wonderful SuperNOS announcement so many years ago. According to HP, The Machine is a revolution in computing that will solve all our problems while finally satiating Meg Whitman's need for 80 percent margins.
The contraption will supposedly use fiber optics, memristors, and earnest prayer to increase bandwidth and push processing speed forward in big ol' leaps by essentially doing away with slow disks and moving to a memory-driven I/O system at the OS layer -- I think. I'd partaken of too much "milk" by the time they got to that. The best part? The operating layer is -- wait for it -- an open source-based OS that has yet to be developed.
HP: Breaking new ground in meaningless promises
That's all you got? It's a hardware platform stuffed with cool components you haven't actually integrated yet and an open source operating system tagged with a "coming soon" sign? How desperate for PR are you? Apparently quite a bit, because HP's using these lab avowals to make even bigger promises about how The Machine will eventually be capable of analyzing reams of big data in seconds or handling simultaneous chat sessions between multinational sports teams rejecting Steve Ballmer's overtures. Color me skeptical.
Sure, starting all over again from silicon on up would be a great opportunity to do away with all the PC OS Band-Aids we've had to apply since Wozniak first emerged from his garage, but that'll take more customers than HP has seen since this side of the Compaq years. That won't happen anyway if you're going to base the thing on pre-existing open source code snippets -- pretty much the definition of "Band-Aid." Also, Big Blue has been shipping a similar memory-based OS since the '80s, and I don't see that changing our lives.
This is, after all, coming from the same people who invented the revolutionary RISC chip and have remained on the bleeding edge of OS design with HP-UX and VMS. Ten gets you 20 that Linuxians will eat this, too, and have a Machine-capable distro out before HP's fantasy OS even hits beta.
This article, "Hewlett-Packard's 'Machine': Vaporware, meet empty suit," was originally published at Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry withRobert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

3Q results for HP

Steve Johnson at the San Jose Mercury-News posted this article a few hours ago (highlights mine):

PALO ALTO -- Buoyed by a big increase in its personal computer business, tech giant Hewlett-Packard on Wednesday reported third-quarter sales that exceeded what Wall Street had forecast but its profit slumped from the same period last year.
The Palo Alto company said its sales totaled $27.6 billion for the three-month period that ended July 31, up about 1 percent from the same period a year ago. But its profit was just under $1 billion, compared with about $1.4 billion for the third quarter in 2013. That worked out to fully reported earnings of 52 cents per share.

FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2012, file photo, the Hewlett-Packard Co. logo is seen outside the company’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.
FILE - In this Aug. 21, 2012, file photo, the Hewlett-Packard Co. logo is seen outside the company's headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif. (Paul Sakuma/AP Photo)
Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters generally had expected fully reported earnings of 68 cents a share on sales of $27 billion. HP's earnings also were far shy of its own prediction of 59 cents to 63 cents a share. On a measure that excludes certain expenses, however, the company's earnings met analysts' expectations.

"I continue to be very encouraged by the progress we're making," CEO Meg Whitman said during a conference call with analysts. But she noted that some aspects of HP's business -- notably printing and software, which saw a decline in sales -- "still face some challenges."

HP reported its earnings after the market's official close, when its shares fell 36 cents -- or about 1 percent -- to $35.12. Its stock price continued to slip in after-hours trading.

HP offers a wide variety of products, including computer networking switches, routers, servers, data storage devices, cybersecurity services and data-analysis software. But its biggest single source of money comes from sales of its personal computers, which grew 12 percent for the quarter compared with a year ago.

"Surprisingly, consumer PCs improved, which hadn't happened for many, many quarters," noted tech analyst Patrick Moorhead.

Nonetheless, Whitman noted that the overall market for PC's "continues to contract," due to dwindling interest from smartphone-obsessed consumers. That's been a big concern to HP's investors.

In addition, the corporation has been heavily criticized for some corporate acquisitions in recent years, including its $11 billion deal to buy British software company Autonomy in 2011. Shortly after completing that deal, HP wrote off $8.8 billion of Autonomy's value, saying it had been misled about Autonomy's worth. It also recently replaced two board members who'd been blamed for the purchase.
Autonomy's former CEO, Michael Lynch, has denied HP's claims that Autonomy's value had been artificially inflated. But those accusations are under investigation by U.S. and British authorities. In addition, the Autonomy purchase has sparked lawsuits by HP shareholders, alleging that HP didn't protect their interests when it pursued Autonomy.
Since becoming CEO in September 2011, Whitman has shuffled her executive ranks, attempted to focus the company on more profitable products and cut expenses, including laying off a good chunk of her workforce. After having nearly completed jettisoning 34,000 workers it began laying off in 2012, HP -- which has about 317,500 workers worldwide -- announced in May that it planned to cut an additional 11,000 to 16,000 employees.
The company's shares have been steadily rising for nearly a year. Nonetheless, Wall Street experts have a mixed view of its near-term prospects.
One positive is that many companies recently have been replacing their computers, in part because of Microsoft's decision to stop providing updates for its widely used Windows XP operating system. In addition, HP's market share in PCs and some computer-server niches "has also strengthened over the last three quarters," according to a recent report by Bernstein Research analysts. However, they added, "we worry that many of HP's end-markets are unlikely to see material revenue growth going forward."
In a separate note to their clients, Raymond James analysts concluded that "PC growth has peaked, as evidenced by commentary from several large resellers and distributors," and they called HP's ability to grow "questionable."

Sunday, August 10, 2014

bigger than memristors

Bob Burmeister, one of HP's long-term IC leaders, has been skeptical of the HP claims re the level of contribution from the memristor technology.  He has several times sent me notes that I have not included herein, but this one seems truly novel and significant.

This chip, at 46 million 'synapses' per second per watt, is much more like Carver Mead's strong work on neuromorphic computing from three decades ago.  Some of this early work, which resulted in the first significant cochlear implants and retinal simulators, is described in my new book, The Gentle Philosopher: Reminiscing--Carver Mead and me, available at:

Back to the IBM announcement, via the Kurzweil report--I mean, like four orders of magnitude less power per switching event, is BIG

Who said the breakthroughs are over with?

Friday, July 25, 2014

Valley historians -- Mike Malone at it again

Mike Malone, well known Silicon Valley author, has just released his book about Andy Grove, Bob Noyce, and Gordon Moore, the trio who created the modern Intel.  He calls it The Intel Trinity, likening them to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in  a semi-religious way.  He was interviewed yesterday at the Computer History Museum by Scott Budman, also a legendary Silicon Valley guy.

It was a brown bag luncheon, and the room was chock full of old Intel and other semiconductor folk. Mike polled the group--how many have been in semi's for twenty thirty, forty, even fifty years.  Most of them had hands in the air for quite a while.

Mike is a keen observer of the scene--has been for forty+ years in the Valley, with twenty books to his credit as well as tremendous journalistic skills.  He is a fascinating speaker, wry and witty and very timely with trenchant observations.

He also is an unabashed enthusiast for his topics, almost always, which sometimes clouds the reality but hardly ever in a way that causes much discomfort except for those purists who prefer accuracy in their history.  He did a credible job for this crowd, winning applause for his characterizations of Noyce especially as the successor "mayor of Silicon Valley' after Dave Packard.  Apt.

In fact, he did a great job yesterday about including Dave and HP as a major driver of Silicon Valley--he just cannot help himself, he bleeds Valley Blue, whether from HP or Intel or cisco or Apple (clearly he left Oracle out, by choice).

You may all recall that Mike wrote "Biil 'n Dave" in 2007.  He knew that our book was underway, in fact HP (a Compaq PR whiner) invited him to 'compete' with us after the Carly dust-up.   He generated the idea for the HP Origins CD, a wonderful little thing that is now available on YouTube for the interested viewer.  I was worried at the time because Mike too had been at HP for years, and is a gifted writer--we feared his book would render our efforts futile.  He met me though and said, "I'm writing about Dave and Bill, not the strategic history of HP. Our books will be complementary to each other--don't worry!"

He of course was right.  The pair of books augment Packard's own laconic version, and I think it was great that we all did the work.

I had somewhat the same feeling yesterday.  The book is a great paean to the three Intel folk--all of whom I got to know, fortuitously.  Noyce was long dead when I joined Intel, but I'd known him early. And, seriously, we've thought about doing an Intel book--for all the work that has been done, it is astonishing to me how some very important details, especially re the intersection of HP and Intel for years, have been ignored or glossed.

At one level, I'd hoped he'd have those elements in this book.  But, on reflection, how could he?  He's a journalist, not an engineer and not a historian, and not a C-level executive.  So his view is from his perspective rather than those I might take.  Much like Walt Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs (almost universally lauded unless you knew the Apple story up close), Mike's leaves much room for others--maybe we'll add our version at some future date.

Meanwhile, this is terrific reading.  Buy it for a cross-country plane ride.  And send Mike a note, telling him THANKS for keeping all the Valley legends alive.

Sad passing of Marc Mislanghe

Marc Mislanghe died last week.

His contribution to HP history memories will not be forgotten.  Many of you have visited his website where he proudly assembled more than 600 old HP instruments and products, keeping most of them in working order.  He and John Minck have spent the past several years soliciting and posting various HP memoir stories, probably one of the best such sources for any company history.

Marc was a relatively young man, early 60s, who worked for HP France in the 80s and 90s, and felt so fortunate to be involved with a company that built such effective measurement equipment that he devoted the rest of his life to preserving that history.

The story of how he met Kenneth Kuhn, another avid HP fan and collector, is herein told as a reminisce by Kuhn:
That is very sad news.  Marc had so much spirit and so believed in HP concepts.  Marc was a true inspiration. I am glad I had the pleasure of knowing him.

Marc and I met through email many years ago -- I think maybe around 2003.  I had put in a very high bid on ebay for an old rare HP610 UHF generator​.  I thought there would be no one in the world other than me who would want that thing.  At the last second Marc put in a higher bid and beat me.  In those days ebay disclosed the bidders (now they are hidden for security reasons).  Marcs ebay ID was mmhewpack (hewpack was the teletype ID for Hewlett Packard in the old days) and he had outbid me a number of times in the past so I knew that ID well -- although I did not yet know Marc or what he was up to.  I had won another item from the seller of the HP610 and in various emails the seller learned of my collection of old HP instruments.  The seller informed me that he had had similar emails with Marc and knew of his growing collection and thought we should get together.  So he sent me Marc's email.  I emailed Marc and told him of my web site and Marc responded with great enthusiasm.  Marc was planning a website too.  Marc felt bad about beating me for the HP610 but I told him that was all right -- there would be another one show up and I would get that -- and I did.  Marc sent me an early version of the presentation he did back in 2007 when all of us gave talks at HP HQ.  I helped Marc with the English translations so that it would present well.  This was around 2003 and I had visions that someday there would be a presentation at HP -- four years later that happened.  Marc and I worked together a lot over the next years and I helped him with the English on his website.  Later Marc would become very fluent in English.

It was a great pleasure to meet Marc in 2007 at HP.  That was Marc's first trip to the United States.  I will never forget the lunch we had at a seafood restaurant just down the street on El Camino after our presentations at HP that morning.  Marc was highly impressed with the service at the restaurant.  He was amazed that the waitress kept bread on the table and made frequent stops to refill drinks and ask if there was anything else we needed.  Marc asked if this was common in American restaurants and I told him yes.  He then told me that in France one would never get service this good.  He said that the waiters were all on salary and did not care to do anything even if you waved at them to get their attention -- they would just look away.

I hope someone can take over Marc's website and maintain it.  That is the best website there is for HP instrument history.  Marc put his whole life into that.  That is very rare dedication.  I don't know what will happen to his huge collection of HP instruments.  I would like to think that HP, Agilent, and now Keysight Technologies could acknowledge Marc in some way.  Marc went to great efforts to preserve their great history -- much of which is in danger of being lost.

When Bill and Dave ran things it was all about people.  Now in many corporations it is all about making numbers for vulture stockholders and people are inconvenient commodities. Marc had the Bill and Dave spirit.  I know that spirit well because I have it too.  But in this modern world when I try to share that spirit and show what it can accomplish most people think I am nuts.  But I have the luxury of knowing the history.  It is most of the world that is nuts, not people like Marc, or me, or others who also believe in great things.

I think I could fill a book with fond memories of Marc.  I will be revisiting those in the next days.


Monday, July 21, 2014

Madam Chairman

From the news services, sorry I missed this on Friday
HP's Unearned Move to Make Meg Whitman Its Chairman
By Diane Brady July 18, 2014

In any other company, the decision to give your chief executive the title of chairman might simply be a matter of debate. But Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) isn’t an average company.
The once-revered tech giant holds a special place in the annals of boardroom antics. In recent years its directors have approved some truly terrible deals, including the $11.1 billion acquisition of Autonomy that turned out to be worth 80 percent less. The board fired popular CEO Mark Hurd, giving him tens of millions in severance, and then hired a replacement, Léo Apotheker, that most of them hadn’t met, only to fire him 11 months later. Add in the bickering, the public accusations, the embarrassing leaks, and the even more embarrassing spying scandal, and it’s easy to see why several governance experts once dubbed HP’s board the worst in U.S. history.
Luckily, under Chairman Ralph Whitworth, HP’s board seemed to have some measure of credibility with shareholders waiting to see if CEO Meg Whitman could fix the mess she inherited. Between the writedowns and 34,000 job cuts, it’s been a tough slog. But Whitman has made some progress, and the stock was starting to recover.
All the more reason to question why the board suddenly gave her the job of chairman this week. For one thing, it looks like a reward for a job well done–a verdict even Whitman herself might feel is a tad premature at this point. And HP is going against the growing trend among corporate boards to split the chairman and CEO roles in an effort to boost a board’s independence.
Whether an independent chairman actually improves a board’s performance is open to debate. Noel Tichy, a management consultant and professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, isn’t a fan of splitting the roles. He thinks it undermines a leader’s effectiveness and can promote a dysfunctional dynamic where directors play the chairman off the CEO in the same way kids try to pit mom against dad. Still, Tichy agrees it’s too early to heap accolades on Whitman, who was plucked from the board to take over as CEO. At this point, he says, “they’re at base camp at the bottom of Mount Everest.”
All the more reason for HP’s board to aim for best-in-class governance instead of bucking the trend. Nell Minow of GMI Ratings describes HP as “a serial offender” with shareholders. “To unthinkingly give the same person the CEO and chairman role shows that they still don’t get it,” Minow says. “Given the many failures that this board has had, you have to wonder why they didn’t even explain this move.”
Will they give lead director Pat Russo more authority? Has Whitman been hampered by not running the board? Do directors realize they’re going against the advice of most governance experts in giving Whitman both jobs? For most other boards, such questions might suggest a lack of trust. For HP’s board, it’s more like standard operating procedure.
This board hasn’t yet earned the full trust of shareholders. To give Whitman the chairman role and say little beyond a bland corporate statement illustrates why. The issue isn’t whether Whitman has earned the right to be chairman. Shareholders should ask whether HP’s board has earned the right to make that deci