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HP's Jon Rubinstein slams Android, takes on Apple's iPad

Palm enters maelstrom of executive drama at HP

Rubinstein dismissed the controversy surrounding Mark Hurd's removal as HP's chief executive in August as "lots of turmoil for a day or two," suggesting that the acquired Palm had more connection to Todd Bradley, the executive vice president of HP's Personal Systems Group, and was therefore isolated from the turmoil occurring at the top of HP.

In reality, HP's loss of its chief executive clearly created major upheaval within the company and for Palm. HP announced its intent to buy Palm in April, and finalized the deal at the beginning of July before losing its chief executive a month later, resulting in rumors of both Rubinstein and Bradley being candidates for the chief executive position.

Bradley had earlier served as Palm's chief executive, arriving in 2003 during Palm's acquisition of Handspring, and leaving for HP in 2005 as Palm imploded under a series of bad decisions ranging from an inability to modernize the Palm OS to the decision to license Windows Mobile, which instantly doubled Microsoft's market share while rapidly accelerating Palm's demise.

HP decided instead to bring in an outsider, Léo Apotheker of SAP, as its new chief executive in September, invoking further drama as tech titan Larry Ellison of Oracle derided HP's firing of Hurd as the worst decision since Apple dismissed Steve Jobs, hired Hurd himself in an executive position at Oracle, and brought his company's ongoing lawsuit against SAP to HP's doorstep in a subpoena of Apotheker.

At the same time, HP had sued Oracle for hiring Hurd, fearing in its legal complaint that the former executive would "put HP’s most valuable trade secrets and confidential information in peril" in acting as co-president of Oracle.

And a technical crisis

Even before dealing with the loss of its chief executive, HP's newly acquired Palm unit began losing high level talent. That exodus included Rich Dellinger, Palm's User Interface Design Architect behind the webOS' notification system, who left for Apple, and Matias Duarte, a key webOS designer who left to join Google's Android. Palm's senior vice president of software and services Mike Abbot left to work for Twitter.

Before his departure, Hurd also created a mess for HP and Palm by announcing in June that his company didn't buy Palm to enter the smartphone business, but rather planned to use its technology to power "small form factor web-connected devices."

Hurt said HP didn't "spend billions of dollars trying to go into the smartphone business. That doesn’t in any way make any sense. We didn’t buy Palm to be in the smartphone business," comments that cast serious doubts over HP's future plans and likely helped to quench sales of the existing Palm Pre.

Afterward, as HP's executive turmoil boiled over, Bradley was assuring shareholders in an August conference call that HP would soon deliver the Slate PC tablet running Microsoft Windows that the company had demonstrated at the beginning of the year before announcing any interest in Palm, and then bring a new tablet to market early next year running its newly acquired software from Palm. HP's Slate PC was brought to market in a limited effort aimed at businesses, with such low expectations that the company originally only planned to build 5,000. It later made a second product run to deliver a reported 9,000 units.

According to a recent report, HP appears to planning to resell the basic design of the Slate PC as its PalmPad, which would appear to be possible given that the webOS uses processor agnostic web standards to create apps. This should allow the company to port its webOS to the Atom-based x86 design of the Slate PC, despite the webOS originally being targeted to work as a smartphone OS running on ARM processors.

PalmPad Slate PC

Microsoft is finding more difficulty in doing the opposite, porting its desktop Windows 7 to ARM processors, because Windows apps are more closely tied to the x86 processor architecture, requiring significant work from both third party developers and Microsoft itself. Reportedly, the company will spend two years making Windows capable of running on the more efficient ARM chips powering the majority of mobile devices.

HP has not yet clarified whether it will be delivering its webOS PalmPad on x86 hardware or moving the hardware design of its Slate PC to ARM. This should be revealed at CES, alongside Microsoft's own announcements regarding the ARM port of, presumably, Windows 8, which is also expected to arrive two years out.

On page 3 of 3: Palm within HP, Rubinstein on mobile OS competition, Rubinstein at NeXT, Apple and Palm.