HP leads war against Microsoft; will other PC makers follow?

HP, built in part on a long-time partnership with Microsoft, has declared war on its partner, and it's not just a war of words. HP is building multiple devices to compete with Windows machines. Where HP goes, will other PC makers follow?

Earlier this week, HP CEO Meg Whitman said in a presentation to Wall Street:

"HP's traditional highly-profitable markets face significant disruption. We are seeing profound changes in the competitive landscape. Current long-time partners, like Intel and Microsoft, are increasingly becoming outright competitors."

When it comes to Microsoft what she's talking about, of course, is Microsoft's line of Surface tablets. And what's really got her really riled is that Microsoft isn't content to sell just to consumers. It's also using the same strategy that HP and other business-oriented OEMs pursue, of authorizing distributors and resellers to sell to businesses as well. That's HP's bread and butter, and in Whitman's view, Microsoft is trying to take it away, especially because the Surface Pro and Surface Pro 2 are being marketed not just as tablets, but as ultralight notebooks.

She's no doubt worried that the Surface line could be just the beginning of Microsoft's hardware manufacturing strategy. Microsoft has been reorganized as a devices-and-services company, and to that end, won't only be making Surface tablets, but with its acquisition of Nokia, will be making smartphones as well. It's logical to assume that Microsoft could eventually branch out into making more laptops and even desktops as well.

Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, says that HP is particularly worried about Microsoft pushing into selling to corporations. He told Computerworld:

"HP could have stomached Microsoft's consumer piece [of its devices strategy]. But the commercial piece took them to the point where they had to say something."

HP is doing much more than saying something. It's producing machines to compete against Windows. Just this week it launched the $279 Chromebook 11, created in concert with Google. And it's also experimenting with Android, notably the company's HP SlateBook x2 a two-in-one combo of a tablet and notebook. What's particularly interesting about the device is that HP calls it part of the "x2 Family," which also includes two Windows two-in-one combos. But the Slatebook x2 is considerably less expensive than the HP models -- $480 compared to $650 for the Windows-based Envy x2, and $750 for the Windows-based Split x2.

There will be other HP non-Windows devices to come. Dion Weisler, head of HP's personal computer division, says that HP is following a four-OS strategy, selling Windows, Chrome, Android and Ubuntu machines.

Other PC makers have been unhappy with Microsoft selling Windows devices, and have committed to Chrome as well as Windows. Last November, Acer released a Chromebook, and by January of this year, Chrome was accounting for between 5 percent and 10 percent of Acer sales. Acer recently released a $249 Chromebook.

Chromebooks have caught on a serious way, and will eventually do Microsoft serious damage. As I write this, the two best-selling laptops on Amazon are Chromebooks --- a Samsung Chromebook, and the HP Chromebook 11. In fact, four of the top ten best sellers are Chromebooks.

Given that success, I expect other current PC makers to build Chromebooks as well. I wouldn't be surprised to see others follow HP into selling Android tablet/laptop combos, either. So HP isn't going to be alone in its fight against Microsoft. It's just leading the charge.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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