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PC Makers In Desperate Need of a Reboot 622

Posted by samzenpus
from the road-less-traveled dept.
nmpost writes in with a story about how hard it is to be a successful PC company in today's world. "Hewlett-Packard Co. used to be known as a place where innovative thinkers flocked to work on great ideas that opened new frontiers in technology. These days, HP is looking behind the times. Coming off a five-year stretch of miscalculations, HP is in such desperate need of a reboot that many investors have written off its chances of a comeback. Consider this: Since Apple Inc. shifted the direction of computing with the release of the iPhone in June 2007, HP's market value has plunged by 60 percent to $35 billion. During that time, HP has spent more than $40 billion on dozens of acquisitions that have largely turned out to be duds so far. HP might have been unchallenged for the ignominious title as technology's most troubled company if not for one its biggest rivals, Dell Inc. Like HP, Dell missed the trends that have turned selling PCs into one of technology's least profitable and slowest growing niches. As a result, Dell's market value has also plummeted by 60 percent, to about $20 billion, since the iPhone's release."
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PC Makers In Desperate Need of a Reboot

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 27, 2012 @02:54PM (#41139747)

    And when HP wanted to purge itself o the 'PC Maker' part of their business to do a reboot the shareholders revolted.

  • Step one (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ryanrule (1657199) on Monday August 27, 2012 @02:54PM (#41139753)

    Feed all the MBAs to the paper shredder.

    • Mod parent up. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:01PM (#41139859)

      Fewer MBAs, more engineers.
      You're supposed to be a tech company. Where are the tech advances? Where's the engineering? Why are your products almost indistinguishable from Dell's?

      • Re:Mod parent up. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:56PM (#41140743)

        Where are the tech advances? Where's the engineering?

        From personal experience being an ex HP engineer, The MBA's came in and laid us off. Seems we were making too much money and they needed their bonus.

        Mind you, they did not do it all at once. First they asked if I would take a 20% pay cut and when I said no, they came back with a request that I take a 10% pay cut. Again I refused and it took them 8 months to find someone to do it for less than me so they could lay me off.

        6 months after laying me off, the project was closed. Seems the idiot they hired and saved a bunch of money on, lied on his resume.

    • Re:Step one (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Reverand Dave (1959652) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:13PM (#41140045)
      It's funny to see how many tech companies are being sunk by the MBA bloat. Dell, HP, Microsoft, Micron, it's really kind of sickening. One of the single dumbest human beings I've ever met had an MBA and I don't think he was an aberration.
      • Re:Step one (Score:5, Interesting)

        by HornWumpus (783565) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:36PM (#41140387)

        I've worked with literally hundreds of MBAs. _One_ of them was smart. He was also/first an EE.

        • Re:Step one (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Martin Blank (154261) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:56PM (#41140761) Journal

          My experience is that those who went back later in life for an MBA actually understand how to use the education. The problem is, they're going back because they have to get the degree to be competitive. It's become a gatekeeper degree: no MBA, no interview. It has value, but not in the way that it's so commonly being used.

        • Re:Step one (Score:5, Informative)

          by MetricT (128876) on Monday August 27, 2012 @07:53PM (#41143881) Homepage

          I have an MBA, but in my defense I also have several years of grad work in theoretical physics and over a decade as senior sysadmin at a large academic compute cluster, so I hope I have enough street cred when I say this.

          Don't confuse the body of knowledge, with the kind of people who are attracted to it. Economics, finance, org behavior, strategy are all legitimate domains of knowledge, and can be just as interesting and thought-provoking as theoretical physics.

          I got the MBA because a) I like the math-ier parts of business and b) ageism exists in technology, so it's best to add another leg to your stool while you can.

          A MBA degree is like a can of car wax. Put wax on a Ferrari, you'll have a shiny race car. Put it on a turd, and at the end you'll still just have a turd. What you take out of a MBA program is largely what you bring into it, and a lot of people don't bring much other than a desire for a promotion with a six-figure salary.

          • Re:Step one (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Grishnakh (216268) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @02:20AM (#41145859)

            That sounds all well and good, and I'll agree that those other domains are certainly legitimate domains of knowledge which can be very interesting in their own right. However, if people who are genuinely stupid are getting MBA degrees, something's wrong. Just like you should be able to earn a degree in theoretical physics if you're a moron, you shouldn't be able to get a Master's degree in anything, at least from an accredited school. University degrees are supposed to show not only that you showed up for class, but that you understand material that is at least somewhat difficult to grasp (or else why would you need to go to a University to learn it, instead of just picking up a pamphlet?). If this many morons are getting these degrees, it shows there's something wrong with the places handing them out, and it makes the degree look worthless for everyone.

          • Re:Step one (Score:5, Informative)

            by saihung (19097) on Tuesday August 28, 2012 @05:55AM (#41146693)

            MBAs are so bad, as a lot, that we attorneys make fun of them. That can't be a good sign. And considering what they're supposedly trained to do, I've seen an MBA member of a negotiating team single-handedly destroy the entire negotiation through dogged use of the meaningless jargon that was apparently his main curriculum.

            From what I can tell, the worst thing about MBA training is that it teaches you to bravely march into any situation, including technical fields and cultural contexts about which you know nothing, and try to take charge. To administrate, if you will. That's a disaster.

      • Re:Step one (Score:5, Funny)

        by Quiet_Desperation (858215) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:43PM (#41140537)

        Dumb is where you find it. The dumbest person ideologically I have ever met was a chief scientist where I work. Always going on about what he'd do if he were in charge. Batshit stuff. I finally told him that should that ever come about, I'd *personally* command the rebel army against him. The baffled look on his face was priceless, and it stopped him prattling on about mothereffing, fartsucking politics in my presence at least.

    • by wbr1 (2538558)

      Feed all the MBAs to the paper shredder.

      The slashdot way:

      1. 1. Feed MBA's, Lawyers, Patent Trolls, and their apparatchiks to the paper shredder
      2. 2.Get engineers to run things
      3. 3. Party like it's 1999
      4. 4. ?????????
      5. 5. PROFIT!
  • Attrition... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by msauve (701917) on Monday August 27, 2012 @02:54PM (#41139757)

    Hewlett-Packard Co. used to be known as a place where innovative thinkers flocked to work on great ideas that opened new frontiers in technology.

    That was before they sold off much of the good stuff, and spun the last of it off as Agilent. Today's HP is HP only in name.

  • by darpo (5213) on Monday August 27, 2012 @02:55PM (#41139761) Homepage
    You can't rest on your laurels and think you can keep making the same profits you used to in the "beige box" era of PCs. The only PC maker I can think of that's actually interesting is the one I bought my last system from: iBUYPOWER. But they're specialized, making gaming systems for a specific type of user.
    • by rudy_wayne (414635) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:02PM (#41139881)

      Commodity PCs might be boring, but they are still needed and there is still a big market for them. The real problem is here:

      HP has spent more than $40 billion on dozens of acquisitions

      HP, like too many other companies, has reduced its R&D to almost nothing and tried to get new products and ideas by just going out and buying other companies.

    • by CAIMLAS (41445) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:26PM (#41140285) Homepage

      iBUYPOWER and other similar, smaller companies have something in common that Dell, HP, et al do not have: they're small and nimble, and they specialize. They do one thing, and they do it well. Even if HP/Dell/etc. have departments or divisions which specialize, they can't compete because of the corporate overhead. See: Alienware's ultimate mediocre standing.

      I'm sure a big part of the reason why they're not doing well is because people don't buy as many PCs anymore, but people do still have PCs (and laptops). They're more resilient and last longer now than they did a decade ago, and that's another part of it. I don't think the 'iPhone craze' has much to do with it, that's a misnomer.

      The fact is that any successful product company (or industry) will become a commodity unless they are seen by the public at large as adding value to whatever they integrate. Don't kid yourself - everyone's an integrator to one degree or another, even Intel, Nvidia, and AMD. They're just integrating at a different level - and adding value.

      With Intel, nvidia, and AMD all providing largely/fully integrated systems out the door (via integrated chipsets and GPUs), and most people 'just' wanting things like email, web browsing, and maybe some video playback and light gaming, there's nothing to distinguish the companies which put those devices in a box and label it with their brand when none of them bother to be anything but acceptable (or universally horrible - I don't know, I've not bought any of their stuff for home use for years), and few aesthetically distinguishing factors between them, why care?

      Apple's products may not be that different than HPs and Dells, but they at least market their shit^Wproducts well. They have a frenzy of marketing every 3 or so years (or whatever it is now) when a new product is due, and they provide their customers with a very narrow set of products to pick from (something like two configuration options per line?). Then they provide good support (so I've heard is the perception), which is entirely unheard of pretty much anywhere, anymore, in an industry where "good support" hasn't been seen for a decade.

    • by gstoddart (321705) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:31PM (#41140335) Homepage

      You can't rest on your laurels and think you can keep making the same profits you used to in the "beige box" era of PCs.

      The problem is, I wish they would stick more to boring commodity PCs. Instead they pre-load it with utterly useless software.

      The amount of sheer crap they install on PCs now is maddening. On both my wife's HP laptop, and her mom's Toshiba, I had to go in and disable/uninstall of those stupid *$^%!@ extra "assistant" pieces of crap. They don't do anything except hog up the CPU and memory, and mostly amount to something which says "I see you are using a computer, would you like us to optimize that for you".

      I wouldn't buy a PC from any of the manufacturers which install any of this shit. Give me a vanilla install of Windows, and leave me the hell alone. I don't want your wizard, agent, helper, toolbar, or any other of this crap. It doesn't help, and it effectively downgrades my machines as it's using all of the memory and much of the CPU.

      The problem with these companies is they think they can make something better to brand the OS, and they end up selling a shitty machine with a crappy user experience. Stay out of there, you're clearly not qualified for this.

      And, from what I've seen of my wife's personal and work laptops ... well, HP sells low end hardware at a high-end price. I would personally not buy from them again. Give me a boring old beige box PC from a local system builder any day that has quality parts in it -- I can always put some "Type R" stickers on the case later if I feel it needs a little something extra. ;-)

  • "PC Makers" (Score:4, Insightful)

    by oakgrove (845019) on Monday August 27, 2012 @02:57PM (#41139795)
    "PC Makers"? Ha. They're middle men. Integetrators of other people's products. They "make" nothing. It was inevitable that they would get squeezed out until the last man that can survive on the smallest margin is left standing. All the ultrabooks and "surface"s in the world won't change the fact that Windows computers are a commodity and always will be until MS tells the OEMs to take a hike and put them all out of business.
    • by cpu6502 (1960974)

      >>>All the ultrabooks and "surface"s in the world won't change the fact that Windows computers are a commodity

      Let's have a car analogy:
      A car used to be unique with all kinds of looks and interfaces (imagine driving with a throttle stick instead of wheel+pedal). Now they all look pretty identical (wedge-shaped for max aerodynamics). The only thing that differentiates them is headlight style and size. Perhaps PCs should try different shapes (looks like a car... or a ball... or a book).

    • Re:"PC Makers" (Score:4, Insightful)

      by david.emery (127135) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:19PM (#41140171)

      In part, this is what the Apple/Samsung lawsuit is about. If you follow the "Innovator's Dilemma" arguments, the PC makers, and now a lot of the Android makers (tablets and phones) are competing solely on price, because the innovation to get any other advantage has already occurred.

      Certainly Apple has invested a lot in product development for iPhone, iPad, iOS, etc. Whether these things should be patentable in the first place, should be separated from whether enforcing the patents, "trade dress", etc results in more or less innovation.

      The question for HP in particular, is whether they can innovate on top of (a) Microsoft licensed technologies, (b) Android licensed technologies, or (c) invest time and energies in doing something original. (c) is definitely a gamble, but it's not clear that HP can ever grow out of the bottom by following either (a) or (b).

  • I interviewed with them in 1999. Back then they seemed like an excellent company, with a campus that reminded me of college (lots of small buildings interconnected by pathways).

    • I interviewed with them in 1999. Back then they seemed like an excellent company, with a campus that reminded me of college (lots of small buildings interconnected by pathways).

      Now that campus IS a college. A couple of years ago HP sold off most of the Compaq buildings to Lone Star College.

      This [youtube.com] is what happened to the (probably still perfectly usable) Compaq buildings that the college didn't want.

  • Depressing times (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Compaqt (1758360) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:01PM (#41139853) Homepage

    Face it, folks, the gig's up:

    Coming: 1. Then end of general purpose computing. 2. "Secure" computing (Palladium-style) 3. Only approved programs via "app stores"

    Apple has been too successful. They've got $100bil in the bank, and growing. All the other computer makers are in the doldrums, and are could come to the verge of bankruptcy just by making some more bad decisions.

    It just won a billion dollar settlement which is the beginning of their campaign to obliterate choice in tech.

    "Normal" people have been completely brainwashed, and it's doubtful we could explain anything in a way that would make them desire tech freedom. When there was just a chance that Saint Apple's holy iDevices might have to pay for the use of some Google patents, US Senators actually held hearings for poor old Apple.

    Buy a couple extra laptops. You'll look on them like you do your C64 now.

    • by jader3rd (2222716) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:55PM (#41140733)

      "Normal" people have been completely brainwashed

      I don't think that normal people have been brainwashed, I think that they never needed a general purpose computer in the first place. They kept on having problems with their general purpose computers, and Apple has been able to make most of those problems go away for most people. The market rewards that kind of behavior.

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:02PM (#41139867) Homepage Journal

    Most consumers want little portable devices and media consumption displays, not general purpose computers.

    Sure there are some , but this isn't the 90's where *everyone* wanted a desktop ( or 2 ). And those that do still want them, mostly now realize that last years model is good enough to not to fork out for a new one just because its shiny and the marketing people say they want to..

    Sorry folks, its 2012, time to adapt, or stick to the business markets.

    • by transporter_ii (986545) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:12PM (#41140035) Homepage

      I think there is still quite a market for the general purpose PC...you know, getting real work done. The deal is, PC makers have had a one-two punch for long time that made people upgrade. Either a new version of Windows came out, or a really faster processor came out, and everyone upgraded. It's just to the point that even cheap PCs do what *most* people need, and on top of that Windows upgrades have sucked and made people not want to upgrade.

      I think people have confused this funk with the release of the iPad. I guess there is only so much money to go around, but I highly doubt it is just the iPad that has done the industry in.

      • by jedidiah (1196) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:24PM (#41140243) Homepage

        PCs are no longer shiny and new. PCs aren't so immature that they need a major OS upgrade or a major hardware upgrade every year or every 3 years. They're a mature product.

        You can use a 5 year old Compaq as an HTPC. You can use a $300 low profile bargain PC for everything but heavy gaming.

        The market is saturated.

        Fully amortized and discarded office PCs are more than adequate for the needs of most home users.

      • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Monday August 27, 2012 @04:26PM (#41141229) Journal

        I think there is still quite a market for the general purpose PC...you know, getting real work done.

        The problem is that comparatively few people do "real work."

        In the mid-90s, everyone wanted to check out this thing called "The Internet." But the only way to do it was to buy a PC. So they did. Then the spouse bought one. Then we bought them for the kids. Because that was the only way to get on "The Internet."

        Today? Not so much.

        I can watch YouTube from my TV. I can look at maps on my phone. I can Skype from my tablet. So there's no real need for that big clumsy PC in the corner. Unless I want to do "real work."

        So I can go back to having one PC in the house--y'know, for the times somebody needs to do real work in the house. Other than that, I can get by quite easily with a tablet--maybe with a Bluetooth keyboard for long and rambling posts about technology.

        The point being is that, in the typical home, there won't be a PC for each person. That means less PCs sold.

  • HP's computers (Score:4, Informative)

    by majortom1981 (949402) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:02PM (#41139891)
    Hp just has to make the rest of its PC's like its z series workstation.s we use the z series workstations at work and they rock. All hp has to do is make their home pc's like ther do their business pc's Also they need to advertise their switches more.
  • The market has been saturated already, and people can't see the need to upgrade every 2 years.
  • Of course! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by onyxruby (118189) <onyxruby@@@comcast...net> on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:07PM (#41139959)

    Of course they did this, they outsourced their soul when they thought their companies were nothing but machines with parts that could be replaced with parts from the cheapest provider. Once they did that they lost their soul and they lost their innovation. Nobody had a desire to take pride in their company anymore knowing that they could well be the next to replaced with someone in India next.

    It was the rank and file of the old HP, Dell, Compaq etc that were so damn innovative that built the industry. Upper management came along and thought they could outsource them and still get the same results, failing to see how people would no longer /care/. People who are focused on surviving simply don't give a damn and the next thing you know companies like Acer and Samsung rise from being providers to the giants to the next giants themselves.

    Here's the thing, if they do the same thing the American companies did, they too will fall and someone else will take their place. Seriously, can anyone ever give me a single example of where outsourcing actually worked out in the long term for someone other than the vendor?

  • by the_humeister (922869) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:07PM (#41139965)

    Both Dell [yahoo.com] and HP [yahoo.com] are making billions. They mostly cater to the business sector. I mean sure Apple [yahoo.com] has a 25% profit margin, which is insanely high for a hardware company. Most of that is from iPhone and iPad, and those items come and go based on the whims of consumer taste. 10 years, 20 years is a long time in the computer industry; companies rise and fall during those times. Anything can happen. 15 years ago, Apple was nearly bankrupt, and now they're the most valuable company by market cap. IBM was taking massive losses nearly 20 years ago, now they're the 3rd largest tech company. In the meantime, Compaq is gone, DEC is gone, Wang is gone, etc. HP and Dell have been reinventing themselves, and they're closer to what IBM looks like rather than Apple.

  • Personal experience (Score:5, Interesting)

    by CAIMLAS (41445) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:11PM (#41140031) Homepage

    My personal experience is that HP and Dell are the preferred suppliers for this sort of thing. Who else are you going to buy? IBM/Lenovo, Acer, or Asus? None of them have the value that Dell or HP have these days for general purpose desktop computing.

    Hell, Dell/HP are my preferred server vendors, as well. When it comes to servers, they tend to have less gongshow anachronism than IBM. UEFI actually boots quickly on their platform(s). While they use less Intel Ethernet, it's something I can work with, versus the craptastic RAID controllers shipping on IBMs (at least on Windows; with Linux, we have other options on IBMs, eg. LSI firmware and mdraid).

    Do these vendors really have that much historically locked up financially in home user sales that the home PC market flatlining (or, at least, becoming commodity) is enough to sink their business? Servers and storage may not be 'interesting' but they're fairly high profit margin and low support (vs. home user desktops). Intuitively, their profits should be up. So why aren't they?

  • Agilent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by QuietLagoon (813062) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:17PM (#41140139)

    Hewlett-Packard Co. used to be known as a place where innovative thinkers flocked to work on great ideas that opened new frontiers in technology...

    That innovative part of HP was spun off into Agilent years ago. The part of HP that was left behind from the spin-off was just an ordinary PC and printer company.

  • by drwho (4190) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:30PM (#41140317) Homepage Journal

    . In fact, there are plenty of people who detest Apple and everything they represent. HP used to make quality equipment, then went on a serious crash. HP doesn't need this so-called 'innovation', it needs to make quality equipment with good support. Since this is in such short supply, they should eventually reap the rewards. They need to become the type of company that Warren Buffet would invest in.

  • by sdinfoserv (1793266) on Monday August 27, 2012 @03:47PM (#41140591) Homepage
    In the 90's & early 2000's HP (Carli specifically) was busy throwing 10's of thousands of professional jobs overseas, killing off American jobs in the process. The Corporate bean counters thought, ya, cheaper over there, we save dollars and make more profit... WIN! What the bean-o's miss is that every single job sent is one less customer, and more importantly, one less person who understands the process and can bring innovation into the company. We are now reaping the benefit of that short sighted greed. Ultimately, unless the US realizes the value of on premise intellectualism, this country will continue to devolve to 3rd world status - full of monkeys just smart enough to run the machines, but to dumb to complain or revolt.
  • by TheSkepticalOptimist (898384) on Monday August 27, 2012 @05:09PM (#41141901)

    Luddites obviously don't want a PC anymore, and I don't disagree with them. When a tablet or smartphone gives them all the functionality they required, such as the ability to tweet, change their Facebook status, and play Angry Birds, then there is no reason for the average consumer to require a PC today. So all those claiming the PC is dead, long live the phone/tablet, your voices have been heard a million-fold.

    PC (or Mac) is still a very much required product for content CREATORS, you know, those people that make Facebook, Twitter and Angry Birds. You can't make apps on the iPad or iPhone, you can't make apps on an Android phone or tablet, and can't create app on a Windows Phone.

    I think the PC market IS being rebooted, in the form factor of a hybrid tablet. While Luddites will need nothing more then a Windows RT tablet, the rest of us that develop and create content could easily see the old PC shoebox form factor being replaced by a Windows Pro tablet. Honestly the spec's of the Surface Pro exceed what I use for work to develop on and I am sure that there will emerge a new generation of Pro tablets with i7's and all kinds of fast multi-core CPU's and gobs or RAM that will essentially replace shoebox and laptop computers. As much as Apple has laughed at a tablet/PC hybrid, I think Apple is very scared of a market of competitive devices where content can both be consumed AND generated. A device that allows "enterprise" to easily gravitate towards a new tablet form factor running Windows is Apple's biggest nightmare, and its about to come true in a few months.

    So, I won't rule Dell and HP out of the game yet, but if those companies are not ready to release a Windows 8 Tablet (both Luddite loving and Geek loving variants). then you should rule them out for being willfully stupid to recognize and adapt to market trends.

    For me, a PC is anything that can be used to develop content on. While the average consumer needs nothing more then a device that beeps when it receives a tweet and some sadistic joke of an on-screen keyboard, there is still a large and strong market of people needing a product that can MAKE content.

  • by ArhcAngel (247594) on Monday August 27, 2012 @05:30PM (#41142191)
    Imagine the world today had hp claimed ownership of Wozniac's first PC?

    You may say I'm a dreamer...

    But I'm not the only one...

    Take my hand and join us...

    And the world will live, will live as one

I've got a bad feeling about this.

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