Compaq has taken over where HP left off

Compaq has taken over where HP left off

As you may recall, I wrote a column in March (see ARN, March 18, page 26) in which I came down pretty hard on Hewlett-Packard's global marketing campaign that I said aimed to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt about the future of Digital's Unix business following that company's acquisition by Compaq.

I argued that the IT public would be better served by HP's traditional focus on its own strengths, rather than the supposed weaknesses of its competitors, in marketing itself as a supplier of choice. My own observation, as I noted in that column, was that: "HP feels the need to muck around in the same dirt with many of its competitors, and to deliver the message to the marketplace that Digital's customers cannot rely on their supplier under Compaq's dominance."

I happen to know that column caused quite a stink at some pretty high levels within HP. In fact, I happen to know the column made it all the way to the desk of CEO Lew Platt himself. According to one insider in Hong Kong, there was even talk of HP pulling its advertising out of the publication it was originally published in (Computerworld Hong Kong).

In the end it was all handled very professionally, however, and several HP marketing and PR types have gone out of their way to contact me to reconfirm the company's commitments to its principles and to serving the best interests of its customers.

All that's very nice, but it's not why I'm writing this column. I'm writing it because I'm starting to wonder if there wasn't at least a grain of truth to what HP was saying in that advertising campaign after all.

Don't get me wrong. I still think it's inexcusable for any vendor to convey misleading information, and I think that's exactly what HP did. In the text of the ad that I cited in my original column was this gem: "Compaq has always been married to NT, and Digital recently reaffirmed its support for the same operating system. Now Digital's Unix customers may be wondering what will happen to them."

Support for NT?

The inference is that somehow a reaffirmation of support for NT is a de facto withdrawal of support from Unix. That's ridiculous, especially when you consider that HP itself has cert- ainly reaffirmed its own support for NT - an incredibly stupid mistake for a company of HP's standing to make.

But all that aside, I for one am not so sure Digital's customers will in fact be able to rely on their supplier under Compaq's dominance. And it's not HP that changed my mind. It's Compaq.

Has it occurred to you that all the talk about Digital's continued commitment to Unix is coming almost entirely from Digital itself, and not from Compaq? Get a couple of Compaq execs in a room to talk about it, and they're likely to blow off Unix without flinching.

That's what happened when we spoke recently with Michelle Rizzo, Compaq's US-based fin-ancial marketing manager in its workstation division, and Kelvin Kwok, senior business development manager of enterprise computing at Compaq Computer in Hong Kong.

"I think all of our users are moving from Unix to NT," Kwok said, apparently unaware of the absurdity of the exaggeration. And further: "At this moment we don't have a strategic partnership with Digital Unix, and after the acquisition - I don't know." Hardly reassuring words for any Digital Unix users out there. And now, as reports begin to surface that as many as 15,000 people at Digital may lose their jobs, users have to be wondering how much Unix expertise is going to be shown the door.

Is NT cheaper?

For her part, Rizzo certainly didn't help to allay any fears. "Financial institutions are all either porting or writing their applications on NT," she said, proclaiming that her financial customers are moving from Unix to NT because NT offers a lower total cost of ownership.

Well, maybe, maybe not. A recent US Computerworld report pointed out the pre- sumption that NT is cheaper than Unix may be misguided.

"Although NT systems may have a lower entry price compared with Unix servers, much of that gap has narrowed by the time users have finished configuring enough processors, memory and storage to get Unix-like performance from their NT systems. In fact, when combined with administrative and maintenance costs, NT systems may end up costing more to own than Unix systems, users and analysts said.

In any event, it's hard to figure out why the Compaq folks on the front line are beating Unix up so much and why they aren't doing more to help their new sister company reassure its Unix customers.

It's obvious that for the foreseeable future, NT and Unix will coexist in environments that allow them to do what each does best, and IS managers will need to be able to count on their suppliers to support both platforms wholeheartedly.

So if it really wants to serve the interests of its customer base - old and new - Compaq needs to get its act together. It's one thing when your competitors spread the FUD.

But when you do it to yourself, it's just plain dumb.

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