Compaq CEO Don Capellas took the stage on the final day of Merrill Lynch's "Hardware Heaven" financial analyst conference in San Francisco yesterday, eight months after he dispatched the Alpha chip to the afterlife. The two souls didn't meet, and as we'll see, last year's Alphacide hasn't just been forgotten, it's undergone a kind of low-level, sector-by-sector erasure, and now probably belongs to the part of Mike's brain labeled "things I never knew."
But it was Capellas' first opportunity to appear "tanned and relaxed" - as the tabs invariably put it - after Judge Chandler struck down the final obstacle to the Compaq-HP merger, and his first public appearance since HP announced that it would trade under the "SRCAM" ticker on the stock exchange. Now at last, he could articulate "the vision thing". Or at least try.
Capellas doesn't talk complete nonsense, but he's essentially a timid soul. A thoroughly modern, middle-management type. He would be a successful manager outside the tech industry. He could be running something like Threshers right now, and running it very well, only he's a little smarter than that. He's got a tech itch he needs to scratch.
So much of what he said yesterday made sense, from the "don't hit me!" perspective, and some could be even be considered shrewd and pragmatic. And some was just plain "Hello Mike?" dumb. What belongs in which category, you can judge for yourselves from his remarks, which follow.
HP in the past has been seen as a kind of amorphous blob, asked one analyst. What can you do to clarify that perception?
"We're driving the move to standards-based computing across the board," he replied.
In response to a question "What does Compaq stand for?", Capellas answered:
"We've got to be the first go-to-market partner Intel, the first go-to-market partner for Oracle and the first go-to-market partner for Microsoft," he said.
That sounds fantastic, if only we knew what it meant.
(Seriously, can anyone explain this bigamist metaphor? What is 'going to market'? How is it different to 'staying at home, and not selling anything'? We know five little piggies went to market… but we can't quite see the connection. Are they related? Perhaps subconsciously? People write it down and report it. As if it means something new. Something important we've missed. Does it mean a reseller opportunity? Is it a distribution thing? This is an earnest plea for help - to you marketing folks. Help us. Have you seen a HPQ piggie go to market? If you have. let us know).
"There are savings from this we hadn't realized. Not at the macro level - but in the bill of materials, with the individual piece parts - there are surprisingly large numbers there."
Procurement indeed. HPQ and CPQ can now buy paper clips as one company. And that's got to be a plus.
Capellas mentioned "procurement" as often as navvies swear, and the chap obviously believes that this is the killer feature of the SRCAM merger.
"We've got to do this. We can't do microprocessor better than Intel," he added.
Well, we mused, you can't now, now that you've sold Alpha to Intel.
At times he sounded like a more paternalistic Dell, than an IBM competitor. His faith in commodity Windows/Linux computing (and he was careful not to pick a winner between either) was unshakeable.
Windows and Linux would " absolutely eviscerate midrange Unix", he predicted.
Capellas also boasted of "three year roadmaps" that are "probably cleaner" than for either company going in. He was proud that he'd set the business divisions such a demanding task, and prouder that that given him some figures in return. But it sounded like forward-planning was something that the only SRCAM could have produced.
And three years out?
One analyst asked how the handheld division would shape out. How did he see competition shaping up between the PDA model and the new 2.5G and 3G smartphones.
This is what Don said:
"We'll continue to back of Microsoft. They're doing some wonderful stuff;
"Both companies have been using CE in the belief that you want the world to be a convergence of the home and the office. You want it to be portable, and you want to use same applications."
So he ducked the phone question. The convergence question. Oh, silly Mike.
Capellas predicted that middleware would be commoditized rapidly, but explicitly stated that OpenView management software would be the glue that binds the many disparate offerings . He talked about SANs and virtualization. Smart.
But there was nothing about an R&D strategy for software, and no claim to wrestle the middle ground from the web services war going on between Microsoft, IBM and Sun. This is where you might expect an HP to come out as heroic peacemaker, but Capellas doesn't seem to have a vision for software at all. He doesn't have the will to compete. It's all going to be commoditized, so fuggedaboutit. From which we surmise: if you work for Bluestone, get your CVs over to systems management and storage toot-sweet. ®