Should Google Buy HP's PC Business?

by Doc Searls
HP getting out of PC hardware

So the biggest PC maker is getting ready to dump its PC business. That's the gist of HP kills tablets, confirms PC spin-off plans, in Computerworld.

HP's first move is discontinuing operations for its (Linux-based) WebOS devices, including phones and tablets. The next is unloading its Personal Systems Group (PSG). In a press release titled HP to Evaluate Strategic Alternatives for Personal Systems Group, the company explains,

HP today announced that its board of directors has authorized the evaluation of strategic alternatives for its Personal Systems Group (PSG), including the exploration of the separation of its PC business into a separate company through a spin-off or other transaction.

PSG has a proud history of innovation and technological leadership as well as a strong operating track record and industry-leading profitability. PSG is the leading manufacturer of personal computers in the world and had annual revenues of approximately $41 billion in fiscal year 2010. PSG enjoys leading global market positions in consumer and commercial PCs.

HP is implementing a plan to fundamentally transform the company. An important component of the plan is focusing its investments, resources and management attention to drive higher value solutions to enterprise, small and midsize business and public sector customers.

So they want to be big and dull. Fine. Go do that.

From the Linux angle, there is much more potential excitement in what they're giving up.

According to the Computerworld piece, HP shipped 14,888,086 PCs in Q2/2011, for a 17.5% share of a worldwide total of 85,219,865 units. (Source: Gartner, July 2011.) But PCs are commodities now. Microsoft's Windows OS, for which new PCs have been designed for a generation, has gone blah. Used to be Microsoft led the clone-makers around by the nose. Now Microsoft is walking Nokia around the barnyard while the clone-makers are losing interest in the whole show.

It would be way cool if Somebody Big stepped up for Linux, and took over the PC bus that's coasting along in the slow lane while Apple rockets by in an aluminum-anodized blur. Who might that be? There's only one possibility: Google.

Hey, they just went vertical in the phone hardware business with Motorola, which everybody's calling Googlerola now. Why not with PCs? Will we call that move gHooPle?

Does anybody want Microsoft to buy HP's PC business instead? That's a possibility this piece in the Seattle PI suggests. Microsoft would do to the Windows-based PC business what Google did to the Android-based smartphone business.

The buzzphrase du jour here is "vertical integration." Apple's success has given a new caché to it. Never mind that Apple is a industrial mutant and an example only of itself.

In fact vertical integration has been around since Industry won the Industrial Revolution. Getting past it is one of the great achievements of both the PC and the Internet (and of Linux with both). The horizontality of both has created a vast foundation for innovation and wealth-building out the wazoo.

Google saw that, aligned with it, and went horizontal big-time with Android. But horizontal (the commodity play) has drawbacks. This afternoon I met with a smartphone developer that makes an identical app for iPhone and Android. He said actual usage of the app on iPhone is 10x that of the same app on Android. (Note that we're talking usage here, not installs. His first point: iPhones still make apps easier to use. His second one: Google buying Motorola is ideal for him, because Googlerola is sure to raise the bar on usability, and create a single development target across all the different Android smartphones.

Another way of looking at the gHooPle prospect: Google can lead PC growth and evolution the way Microsoft did the generation before, and the way Google is doing with smartphones and hand-helds, right now. gHooPle might even leap ahead of Apple, because Apple still has a two-OS problem (iOS and OS X). Can Android be a one-OS for all personal devices? Why not?

At this point we're moving into the realm of pure speculation. (Which is fun. We like that.) But what's not in doubt is that the PC business is dull and languishing, and the biggest player in the business is folding its cards and walking away from the game.

Something is about to go down here. What is it? And what should it be?

Tell us quick, before it happens.

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