Arik Hesseldahl

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"Peripatetic Polyglot" Léo Apotheker Wants to Save HP's Soul by Buying Software Companies

Hewlett-Packard has lost its soul, and saving it apparently has something to do with buying software companies. Those are the two big takeaways from a Bloomberg Businessweek interview with HP’s new CEO Léo Apotheker.

The story comes only days before Apotheker, whom Bloomberg’s Aaron Ricadela describes in one passage as a “peripatetic polyglot,” is to have his formal public debut next Monday before an assembled mass of reporters and analysts at HP headquarters in Palo Alto. (I’ll be there.) The story drops a lot of the same hints that have been making the rounds for some time. HP is going to be shopping for software companies. We heard that hint last year from key HP execs like Marius Haas.

So whom might HP buy? An analyst trots out the usual list of targets: Informatica, BMC Software, SAS, Symantec are among them. Apotheker himself rules out two: SAP and Salesforce.com. HP has “no interest” in SAP’s business and financial software–and being a former SAP CEO, he would know whether its a worthy target or not–or in Salesforce’s cloud-based CRM product. His eschewing of Salesforce probably has more to do with its lofty $17 billion valuation than with its actual line of business. HP has about $11 billion in cash plus another $14 billion or so in borrowing resources, according to its 10K.

A fund manager that holds HP stock argues in the story, as so many others have, that the company is missing out on the cloud computing trends. Apotheker doesn’t seem to express any interest in it whatsoever. He goes on to talk about how HP will put webOS, the smart phone/tablet operating system it acquired when it bought Palm last year, on all its PCs. The idea is to get software developers interested in writing applications for webOS. Well, that’s kinda cloudy, maybe.

Apotheker also says the Mark Hurd era of zealous cost-cutting is over. Product quality is in. Those quality-assurance experts that Hurd fired? Those jobs are coming back. Machines that work right when they’re first turned on, incur lower service costs over time, he says: “We have cut enough costs.”


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus