HP’s OpenVMS choices rattle in HP’s takeover

The attempted takeover of HP by Xerox refuses to fade from the tech headlines. In the latest developments, Xerox launched an official tender offer to buy all of HP’s outstanding shares of stock. Xerox is also running its own full slate of directors for the upcoming HP board election. HP Inc., which sells laptops and printers, advised its shareholders to ignore the latest offer to buy. HP has said it’s buying back its own shares to return value to its shareholders.

The OpenVMS community, as well as the legacy community of the HP 3000, played roles in getting HP to this serious turning point in company history. HP Inc. is under pressure to become a part of Xerox. This could only have happened if Compaq became a part of Hewlett Packard 18 years ago.

Consolidating the business of personal computer sales was the object of that 2002 acquisition. HP, then a single entity, was going to grow large enough to dominate the x86 laptop-desktop business. Combining No. 1 (Compaq) with the No. 2 HP was the road to a richer future. The growth of PC sales was a steady stream, so much so that then-CEO Carly Fiorina had a motto for which businesses would survive the consolidation. “If it isn’t growing, it’s going.”

OpenVMS, with its VAX and Alpha lines and Tru64 attached to the latter, was not going. The market was still growing, although by how much remains a mystery to this day. OpenVMS helped to seal the deal to purchase Compaq. No matter how well the PC consolidation was going to turn out, HP had acquired a jewel in the crown of corporate IT in OpenVMS. That version of Hewlett Packard was selling the merger all the way to shareholder voting day.

It took another eight years, but signs of the PC market dominance faded in the face of mobile computing. Smartphones’ rise made documents portable without being printed. Few things are more costly by the deciliter than printer ink. The substance made up 55 percent of Hewlett Packard profits until it did not. There was no Plan B that HP could manage to sell to the markets. Enterprise computing was separated from HP Ink. At one broad-minded HP 3000 user group meeting during the decline of printer prowess, an IBM veteran speaker told a room of customers that a good name for HP would be “Inky.”

Now the Inky end of HP is being pursued by another purveyor of ink. OpenVMS is cut away from HP’s futures. But the years it spent in the safe waters of Hewlett Packard gave it a value that’s evident to independent lab VSI. It is hard to place a value on computing that looks like a slower grower. The market will measure the value of HP Ink later this month at HP’s shareholder meeting.

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