HP/COMPAQ merger: whither Linux?

Until now, competitors Compaq Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. have had separate strategies for the continued use of the Linux operating system in their products and services. So what happens if the proposed merger of the two companies is completed?

Dan Kusnetzky, an operating systems analyst at Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp., said the deal probably won't have a major impact because both companies already are committed to using Linux. What could change, he said, is that the three hardware platforms they currently offer between them will be cut back.

Compaq sells Linux servers based on the Alpha processor, while HP has its PA-RISC processor. Meanwhile, both companies build machines based on x86 chips from Intel Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. processors.

"My sense is they can't afford all three, and besides, Alpha has been declared dead," Kusnetzky said. "HP seems to have expressed more support for Linux, and since they're acquiring Compaq, it seems that ongoing support is assured."

Stacey Quandt, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Giga Information Group Inc., said she thinks the deal will have a great impact because Compaq ships more Linux-based servers than any other company. "Based on volume, it's big for the Linux market," she said.

Another question, though, is whether the merger can help move Linux more quickly and deeply into the enterprise, she said.

"To a large degree, this is really a merger that will benefit IBM Corp. and Sun [Microsystems Inc.] because of the complexity of what HP and Compaq are trying to accomplish," Quandt said. While the merger is continuing, customers may not stick around to find out what the results will be, she said.

Bill Claybrook, an analyst at Aberdeen Group Inc. in Boston, gives the merger proposal good marks from the Linux perspective. If the combined company can focus on developing Compaq's Linux-on-Intel server line while tying it into the established and formidable service and support of HP's Linux and HP-UX Unix systems, he gives it a "dynamite chance of going head-on with IBM or anyone else who steps up."

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