I wouldn't want to be anywhere near ground zero at Microsoft's Redmond campus today, lest I get beaned by a Herman Miller chair being flung from the top of the executive suite.
Newly coronated HP CEO Léo Apotheker dropped a bombshell of sorts when he told Business Week that starting in 2012, HP will ship every new PC with two (count 'em, two) operating systems: the usual Windows version whatever and WebOS -- the jewel from HP's acquisition of Palm last year.
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Though I'm sure Steve Ballmer got wind of this news long before it was made public by Apotheker, I cannot imagine he is doing backflips of joy over the announcement. It's far more likely he'd be pulling his hair out, if he had any.
Apotheker's purpose isn't to snub Microsoft -- though I suspect there are plenty at HP who would be quite happy to do just that after the "Vista Capable" labeling debacle. Rather, he aims to dramatically increase the installed base of WebOS machines and, as a result, spur app development. Currently, WebOS has roughly 6,000 apps, or about 2 percent of the number found at the iTunes Store.
Still, when the No. 1 PC maker decides to give all of its customers a choice of operating systems, that's a shot across the bow Microsoft cannot possibly ignore. Remember, Windows is a franchise that was built entirely upon OEM preinstalls. Back in the day when Microsoft's PC-DOS ruled the desktop, Redmond quashed any attempts by hardware makers to include a choice of interface with their PCs. (Remember GEM or DR DOS? Then you're friggin' old, like me.)
Or take the example that helped launch one of the many antitrust actions against Microsoft: Compaq's bold move to offer not just Internet Explorer but also Netscape's browser preinstalled on its consumer PCs back in the mid-1990s. That prompted threats from Microsoft to cut Compaq out of the Windows PC business entirely. The company quickly backed down.
You think Microsoft is sending threatening letters to HP today? I doubt it -- but only because it's no longer in a position to dictate whose software goes on what machines. We're way past that.
Does this mean HP customers will abandon Windows in droves? I doubt that, too. But it's symbolic of a greater issue: Microsoft no longer matters much. And as it continues to fall further and further behind in mobile OSes, it will matter even less as time goes on. The graffiti is on the wall, and it includes pictures of Steve Ballmer and anatomically impossible acts I cannot name here.
The good news for Microsoft? It's unlikely anyone will ever accuse the company of operating a monopoly over the PC industry ever again.
This article, "HP to Microsoft: Eat our WebOS, losers," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Track the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.