Hewlett-Packard is starting to look more like Microsoft every day -- apart from its financial results.
Carly Fiorina, HP's president, chairman and chief executive officer, outlined a strategy at Comdex Monday to provide a broad range of software technologies for enabling new types of Internet-based services. These services will allow users to access information such as news and sports results, as well as corporate data and e-mail, from a multitude of devices including smart phones and PCs, she said.
At the same time, Fiorina downplayed HP's disastrous financial results reported earlier Monday, in which the company said it had widely missed earnings expectations for its fourth fiscal quarter. Earnings per share for the period amounted to 41 cents before unusual items, compared with the 52 cents expected by financial analysts.
"Don't we get a recount, too?" Fiorina quipped, referring to the ongoing dispute over who earned the most votes in the U.S. presidential election.
In a wide-ranging speech that also touched on the digital divide and the growth of mobile computing, Fiorina said the Internet is entering a new phase in which Internet-based services will become more important to users than the products and technologies that deliver them.
In one example, she highlighted a deal announced Monday with Nokia Corp., in which the Finnish phone giant will bundle HP software with some of its products, allowing users to communicate with hardware devices such as printers from their mobile phones. HP is one of the world's biggest suppliers of printers.
"We're enabling Nokia phones to connect to printers and print anything that lives on the Web -- everything from basketball game scores to e-mail messages," Fiorina said.
She highlighted HP technologies such as eSpeak, a software platform developed by HP and designed to enable devices to "talk" to each other intelligently. Using eSpeak, printers in the future will be able to know intelligently when they are running out of ink, and order replacement ink cartridges automatically over the Web, she said.
Her hour-long speech barely made reference to HP's giant PC and server businesses, concentrating instead on the company's software technologies. Fiorina also highlighted HP's recent purchase of Bluestone Software Inc., which brought the company an applications server rich in Java- and XML technologies.
"By adding Bluestone's XML-based Web application server and tools, we're creating the richest development environment for the services-based model that I'm talking about," she said.
The eSpeak strategy, which has been outlined in previous speeches, appears to put HP in direct competition with Microsoft Corp., which through its .Net vision also aims to provide a software platform for building these Web-based services. In a veiled jab at Microsoft, Fiorina said the future of the Net must be driven by open standards, allowing software and hardware from multiple vendors to interoperate.
"We see an Internet that is no longer bound by proprietary technologies, closed computing architectures, the classic PC or even by electricity," she said. "We are seeing an Internet defined more by the companies and people that use it than the technologies that make it work."
Success in the future means learning to capitalize on the convergence of three emerging trends, she said: the growth of Internet appliances; electronic services delivered over the Web; and the fact that high-speed, always-on Internet connections will become a ubiquitous part of daily life.
Fiorina's message resonated with at least one attendee here, a representative from an organization for union workers in California.
"A lot of this stuff I had been aware of, and I have been trying to move my company in that direction," said Bob Martin, a business representative for IBEW Local 1245 in Walnut Creek, California, which represents 20,000 union electrical workers. Making computers available to the union's membership is crucial, he said, and providing applications that can be accessed easier over the Web makes sense, Martin said.
Fiorina also highlighted the company's efforts to enfranchise "the four billion people in this world who do not have access to technology." HP has established a technology center in Costa Rica, for example, where local workers have access to PCs powered by solar technology, where they can use the Web to access healthcare and other valuable information, she said.
The philanthropic effort isn't purely a way of providing "digital handouts," but aims in part to open new business opportunities for HP moving forward, she said.
"It's not enough for scientists to be focussed on the future of computing 5 to 10 years out. We also need to be focused on opening new markets, new business opportunities five to 10 years out," she said.
"I thought it was a real nice change from what we normally hear at Comdex," said Michael Gibson, a program manager at the Information Systems Laboratory at the University of Texas at Austin. "She reminded us about solving problems. It's not as glitzy, but it's good content," added Gibson, who was among the thousands of showgoers who crammed into an auditorium at the Hilton hotel and casino to hear her speak.
He had mixed thoughts about Hewlett-Packard's efforts to assist in bridging the digital divide, however, saying he was unsure if the efforts would help HP expand its market share in those countries. Right now, much of the services technology is in 'the demonstration stage," he noted.
HP, in Palo Alto, California, can be reached at http://www.hp.com/.