A farewell to HP

I first learned to program on an HP65 calculator. I loved HP and lusted for its products before Apple existed. When I read my Scientific Americans (yeah, I wad a precocious kid) I spent almost as much time lusting over ads for HP’s desktop workstations than reading articles. Heck I nearly bought one of their knockoff commemorative calculators.

When I was in College we all listed for the HP41c and HP15c calculators. Some friends figured out how to break out of the HP41c’s OS and hack its internals, and would compete to optimize its operations. (Unlike cheaper rivals, from Casios to TIs, HPs were actually computers; this meant that they wwr slower than Casios but much more flexible.)

Years later, when I was doing a lot of paper game design, which meant complex desktop publishing, and couldn’t afford $10,000 for a laser printer, it was HP who delivered an affordable ($2000) desktop inkjet printer with similar output quality. Unlike today’s flimsy devices, this one cranked out pages for the next ten years.

Some nave argued that HP had already lost its way in 1975 when they passed on Wozniak’s personal computer (seven years before the IBM PC) but HP’s printer innovations were not insignificant. You can’t pick every winner, right?

And we shouldn’t forget Compaq and DEC, both great companies in their time, absorbed and their legacies dissipated within the bowels of HP.

HP’s failure is not for lack of trying. Consider PA-RISC, HPUX, Alpha (from DEC), and … OK perhaps Compaq wad never such a great company. (Ever use an iPaq? They make the MessagePad 100 look like the iPhone 4.)

So, it’s pretty depressing to see this once great company, built on the bones of several other great companies, being run into the ground. The problem is, even if HP were capable of some incredible new success, I don’t think Meg Whitman is the person to help deliver it.