@DMcCunney, thanks also to you for your long reply.....I don't do a lot out of the ordinary, and will maintain a Win machine anyway, so just emails, web browsing, some office type work, displaying PDF data sheets, etc.
One thing that worries me is that the machine I would put it on would be a fairly old one, and some of the more mainstream distros appear to have fairly stringent hardware requirements. I have in mind around a 1-GHz machine (which would be hopeless by windows standards) but many Linux distros appear to want more than this? Vandamme gave in his post a link to a site that shows a few flavours that will happily run on older, slower PCs - should I consider one of those?
@zewde yeraswork: For those who see this decision as an example of HP's poor leadership, what do you think HP ought to do rather than pursuing its curent strategy?
It's not clear what HP's current strategy is, beyond "try to stop the bleeding while we figure out what to do next."
If I'm HP management, I'm asking "What is HP, anyway? What do we do? Who is our customer? What do we do better than anyone else?"
HP's problem is that there isn't a simple answer to those questions. It's a diversified conglomerate, engaed in a variety of different businesses with different underlying business models and cycles, and problems in one can drag down the others.
What most people probably think when they think HP is printers and computers. The problem HP has there is the same problem every other US outfit in those lines has: how to do it profitably. Leo Apotheker got the boot in part because of his intent to get rid of HP's PC business, but he had a point. The PC business is a commodity business where the purchase decision devolves to price, and lowest cost producer wins. HP can't be the lowest cost producer, and has problems. HP competitor Dell has worse ones, and most recently went private in a LBO to avoid the pressures imposed by the public markets for returns it couldn't generate. The printer business is likely similar.
Meg Whitman reversed the decision to get rid of the PC business, and even announced return of PC manufacture to the US. That's lovely, but the challenge will be how to do it profitably. HP was losing money in the PC business because they couldn't be a lowest-cost producer. Producing in the US has inherently higher costs. HP must either figure out ways to dramatically reduce cost of manufacture in the US, or come up with computer models it can successfully charge a lot more for, or both, to have any hope.
Spinning off the test and measurement business as Agilent was probably sensible. It's a very different business than PCs and printers, with the mentioned different business model and cycles. The test and measurement business, by itself, can't save HP. It's simply not a big enough market. When you are the size of HP, it puts constraints on what you can do. You have to do big things, because you are too big to do small ones profitably. There is simply too much overhead from being a big company.
Others have decried the lack of engineers at the top and talked about technology. Technology by itself is meaningless. You can have the best technology in the world, but if you can't see needs your technology can fill, and create products or services people will buy using it, the technology will simply be an asset someone else might buy when you go into bankruptcy.
I wouldn't be surprised if HP's best move wasn't fission - split back into the parts it was built from, and let those parts sink or swim, rather than trying to remain a huge conglomerate.
@aarunaku: Would like to see one bold CEO who comes out saying that he/she will take 30-50% pay cut to avoid layoffs.
It wouldn't avoid layoffs if one did. Remember, most of the CEO's compensation isn't in money - it's in stock, and options to buy more stock. If the CEO elected to get no salary, the amount of money to redirect to things like keeping otherwise laid off employees would save relatively few jobs.
If you assume an average salary of $50,000 for those laid off, dropping 5,000 employees is a savings of $250 million a year. (Much more, actually - that $50,000 is base salary. Add various fringe benefits and the total savings is much greater.)
@David Ashton: I share your dissatisfaction with MS but I'm not a Linux guru...is this something for the faint-hearted to attempt?
It depends on what you have, what you want, and where you start.
At the moment, I run Ubuntu on two machines, in a multi-boot configuration that has Windows as well.
I chose Ubuntu because it did the best job I've seen in a Linux distro of figuring out what your hardware is, setting itself up, and Just Working. I'm a tech, and I know how to answer the questions other distros ask when installing. I didn't want to be bothered. I wanted to spend my time using the system, and not playing Sysadmin to get it up and running.
The challenges will come after you have a running system. Computers are tools people use to do work. They don't buy OSes, they buy platforms. The work is done with applications. What applications do you use under Windows? What applications are available for Linux that will do what you do under Windows?
Depending upon what you do in Windows, you can probably do the same thing in Linux, but you'll face the biggest challenge for Linux in the desktop marketplace: it's different. You'll need to relearn how to do things because they won't be done the same way.
The first challenge will be the desktop environment. Windows has a standard "look and feel", and ways to do things. Linux doesn't. What it looks like and how you interact with it will be determined by the window manager you run, and they are all over the map in look, feel, and functionality. Ubuntu uses one called Unity, that they are trying to make a standard interface for Ubuntu on any platform, from desktop to tablet, but there are a number of others available in the Ubuntu repositories.
The key is that the GUI is not an intrinsic part of the OS as it is in Windows. It's an application running on top of the OS, loaded as part of the OS startup process. You can boot Ubuntu (or other Linux distro) to a command line interface and not run a GUI at all. (You can technically do that with Windows, but you don't want to.)
After that, there's the challenge of what applications you'll run. Open Office or Libre Office will substitute for MS Office. Firefox, Chrome, and Opera are available as browsers, as well as some things specific to Linux. Beyond that, it gets fuzzy.
A good starting might night be trying Ubuntu via WUBI. WUBI lets you install Ubuntu on Windows. When you use WUBI, Ubuntu installs to the Windows file system. What Windows sees is one huge multi-gigabyte data file. What Ubuntu sees there, when loaded, is a Linux file system with OS and applications. WUBI installs a boot choice in the Windows boot menu that lets you select at boot time which OS you want.
Later, you may choose to repartition your disk and install Ubuntu on its own slice with a native file system (or perhaps replace Windows entirely and devote the machine to linux.) On a reasonably current machine, performance is good enough with WUBI you may not need to go fully native.)
Tell us what you normally do on your system, and we can give better advice.
I agree that cloud and 3D printing are promising new directions. However there are established players in cloud (e.g. Amazon, IBM, etc.) and it is not clear to me whether HP has, or can create, any competitive advantage there. As for 3D printing one has to wonder how big that market can be in the forseeable (say 5 year) future. One thing that bothers me about HP lately is that they seem to have given up one of their significant competitive advantages: quality/reliability (presumably to increase their profit margins short term). Up to a year ago, during the past ~25 years, I have only used HP printers both at work and at home. The last 2 generations of HP inkjet printers that I had were terrible quality, both mechanically and over-all. Hence, I switched to Brother and I doubt that I would ever go back to buy an HP printer again.
Hi Junko, regretfullty you are right. They have been wandering in the wilderness without any startegy to speak of (well, Apotheker at least had a startegy, one can argue whether it was the right startagy or not, but he was the exception) and without competent leadership for many years. This is why I have some doubts whether there is still enough vitality left in HP to reinvent itself, even if they were (unexpectedly) provided now with proper new leadership and direction. Organizations can reach a point of decline when there is no return. Just think about Sun or Silicon Graphics, etc.
Hi Zewde, I have no idea, but for sure it is NOT Meg Whitman. They need someone who speaks the language and has the respect of the lead engineers who are still with HP and who can make the difference HP needs. They need someone who has the vision and iron will to remake HP, as Jeff Immelt has been remaking GE for example. Just as Immelt (after some arduous years) is succeeding in taking back GE to its roots (pre-finacial services) so HP needs ro go back its pre-PC, pre-printer roots, at least in my opinion. It will not be easy and will at least initally lead to much decreased revenues. This is why it could probably be best done by taking HP private for a couple of years during the transition.
"...is there anything they are actually doing right?"
They (maybe) have managed to stop shooting themselves in the foot on a regular basis. They do seem to have stemmed some of the decline in some of their businesses. They are looking to get much more into growth areas like the cloud and 3D printing.