HP buys instant-on Linux to boost handheld efforts

HP has purchased Phoenix Technologies' slim Linux OS HyperSpace along with HyperCore and PhoenixFlip technologies, which could help the company in the tablet and mobile device market.

IT pros said Hewlett-Packard's latest buy -- of Linux-based virtualisation expertise from Phoenix Technologies -- could help the IT giant meet demand for small, non-traditional computer devices.

HP's $12 million acquisition of Phoenix's HyperSpace, HyperCore and PhoenixFlip instant-on OS and client virtualisation technology assets was disclosed Thursday by Phoenix Technologies, a long-time leader in BIOS technology.

HyperSpace is a slim version of Linux that allows Web surfing, image viewing and other tasks. It is tailored for use on netbooks, laptops and other small devices. It is a faster-booting option compared to Windows which has been slammed for its sluggish boot up. HyperCore, an embedded hypervisor, enables HyperSpace to run basic services along with Windows itself.

It's clear that HP wants to make a name for itself in trendy touch-based devices where the Apple iPad is cleaning up. The iPad has sold several million units since its US debut in May.

For HP partisans, time is of the essence. "Customer interest in the HP tablet is huge. I wish it was out already , I could sell a ton," said Rick Chernick, CEO of Camera Corner/Connecting Point, a long-time HP VAR and integrator in Green Bay, Wisc.

Some saw the Phoenix buy as a hedge against Microsoft, which hardware players resent because of the Windows tax it imposes on them when they bundle the OS. It doesn't help that Microsoft's previous tablet-based efforts went over like lead balloons. But others said HP, like many other tech players, is more worried about Apple.

"HP has to grapple for more control. They have something more tailored for their [and] a small Linux OS gives them that. If you look at what people want to do with their small devices--they want to surf the net, get email. If it's a tablet they [also] probably want to read books," said Frank Basanta, CEO of Systems Solutions, a New York based integrator with a strong Linux practice.

As evidence of HP's device push, witness its purchase of Palm Inc. and its PalmOS in April. Soon after that, reports surfaced that HP had scrubbed plans for a Windows-based tablet.

That was news since Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer demonstrated a Windows 7-based HP tablet prototype at the Consumer Electronics show in January. That much-hyped demo was viewed as a preemptive strike against Apple's expected iPad launch later that month.

Since the Palm acquisition, there have been reports that key Palm execs left HP, some to Apple. HP might be buying technologies to fill in gaps, HP partners and customers surmised.

But Apple's iPad hit the shelves in May and by all accounts has taken the tech world by storm, not only finding a home on people's coffee tables but in their work areas.

Read more on Virtualisation management strategy