HP has increased its support for the Linux Foundation, the nonprofit organization that promotes the growth and development of the free Linux operating system, by upping its membership level from Gold to Platinum status.
The new membership level, which requires HP to pay $500,000 in annual dues to the Foundation, puts the PC maker in rarified company. Only Fujitsu, IBM, Intel, NEC, Oracle, Qualcomm, and Samsung also participate at the Platinum level.
Meanwhile, AMD, Cisco, Google, Huawei, Motorola, Nokia, and Sony – among others – remain Gold members of the Foundation, a level that requires only a $100,000 annual investment.
Leading Linux vendors Canonical (which markets Ubuntu) and Red Hat, on the other hand, make comparatively smaller investments. Each is a Silver member of the Linux Foundation, a level that pays dues on a sliding scale from $5,000 to $20,000 per year, depending on the number of employees in the organization.
The Linux Foundation spends those dues in a variety of ways; among them by employing Linux creator Linus Torvalds. Its stated mission is to "promote, protect, and standardize the Linux platform" by providing "much needed services that are not easily offered by a single community member, entity or company."
In addition to allowing HP to become more directly involved in the Foundation's Linux advocacy activities, Platinum membership will give it a seat on the Foundation's board of directors.
Just what makes HP so interested in Linux, however, was not immediately clear. In a canned statement announcing the membership upgrade, HP's VP of cloud computing and open source Eileen Evans seems to suggest that it was just business as usual for one of IT's more prominent vendors.
"Linux is a strategic asset for all major technology companies," Evans said. "With our Linux Foundation Platinum membership, we will have a variety of ways to maximize our investment in Linux and collaborative development that advances our own business as well as greater industry innovation."
But HP rival Dell apparently doesn't see its investment in Linux as being so strategic; it's only a Silver member of the Linux Foundation, as are Adobe, EMC, nVidia, Siemens, Twitter, VMware, Yahoo!, ZTE and many other prominent tech companies, most of whom use Linux extensively.
HP does help customers deploy Linux-based infrastructure as part of its IT consulting business – much like IBM, which is also a Platinum Linux Foundation member. It has also staked a big part of its future on the open source OS with its Project Odyssey systems effort, which seeks to build mission-critical servers based on Intel Xeon chips running Linux and Windows.
Perhaps equally significantly, however, rumors persist that HP plans to re-enter the smartphone market in the near future. And then there's Gram, the mysterious stealth division within HP that reportedly aims to wed the company's open source webOS mobile platform with cloud services to "create a technology that will unleash the freedom of the web." Linux will likely be central to any such schemes.
HP's traditional core PC and server businesses have taken a beating in recent quarters, and its revenues have been down across nearly every division. Pulling the company out of its doldrums calls for bold moves, and by aligning its new technology efforts with those of the broader Linux community, HP could gain a strong head start.
Then again, HP's track record for innovative thinking of late has not been great – to say the least. Current CEO Meg Whitman is the company's fourth since 2005, and HP's board has shown little patience for ambitious plans. At this rate, if anything comes of HP's latest Linux investment, the proof will be in the pudding. ®