The initial reactions to Hewlett-Packard's appointment of Leo Apotheker as its new CEO have been double-takes.
And after former CEO Mark Hurd's departure last month, the thought among industry analysts was that HP would name one of its well-regarded division chiefs as its next CEO.
Instead, HP has again turned to an outsider. Apotheker, whose appointment was announced after the close of markets on Thursday, brings to HP a strong background in enterprise software, a worldview that is less U.S.-centric, and an ability to navigate the global economy in five languages -- English, Dutch, French, German and Hebrew.
In picking Apotheker, analysts believe HP is telling the world that its future, in both its consumer and enterprise products divisions, is in software.
The appointment of Apotheker also includes a message to its emerging nemesis, Oracle.
With its acquisition of Sun Microsystems earlier this year, Oracle moved into hardware. And to help shape this direction, Oracle quickly hired Hurd as a co-president after he exited HP in the wake of an odd scandal involving expense reports and a B-movie actress.
SAP, a company that accounted for more than 20 years of Apotheker's professional life, is Oracle's toughest ERP competitor.
To further drive home the point that Oracle is in HP's sights, HP also said that Ray Lane, a former COO and president at Oracle and now managing partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is a new member of the HP board, designated as non-executive chairman.
HP, as the world's largest IT company by revenue, has more than Oracle to worry about. But Apotheker's appointment will give rise to much speculation about HP's future acquisition strategy and whether it may aim more for enterprise software companies to not only challenge Oracle but IBM as well.
Analysts believe that software will be the focus of HP's strategy.
"One of the fastest-growing and [most] profitable parts of HP has been its software business," said Frank Gillett, an analyst at Forrester Research. "Software is where the magic and differentiation get created."
Apotheker "is really versed at running a very large software company, a global software company, at scale," said Crawford Del Prete, an analyst at IDC. HP's future lies in using software to help customers solve business problems, "and that's really what SAP did for 20 years when he was there," he said.
In its CEO announcement, HP pointed out Apotheker's record in driving software growth at SAP, as well as his efforts on R&D, an area that some analysts believe was de-emphasized during Hurd's tenure.
If HP's chief executive selection was a horse race, the odds would have heavily favored internal candidates such as Ann Livermore, who runs the enterprise business, and Todd Bradley, who heads the company's PC division.
Carly Fiorina, who preceded Hurd, was also an outsider. Hurd wasn't on the short list of candidates for the job, having come from NCR Corp., which had revenues that were only a fraction of HP's.
The one sure thing about HP and its CEO appointments is that the company hasn't lost its ability to surprise.
Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.