Hewlett-Packard's 'Machine': Vaporware, meet empty suit

Congrats to HP for announcing a nonexistent computer running on an imaginary OS. Our lives will never be the same

Hewlett-Packard has gone and hit it -- the culmination of computing, the pinnacle of processing, the apex of annoyingness. It's solved all our computing problems with the most insightful and provocative move it's made since its VP of Vision passed on the Mac in the mid-'70s. I'm glad I lived to see it.

In fact, HP's news is so groundbreaking, it takes me straight back to the mid-'90s, when I sat through a similar announcement by NetWare executives somewhere in the badlands -- maybe Provo? -- to announce a supposedly soon-to-shake-the-earth, splendiferous project called SuperNOS. Though mostly wondering where they'd hid the open bar, I was mildly interested in what the heck SuperNOS might be. After all, that was my job, and I was nothing if not professional. Finally, a canyon-dwelling lab geek got up to explain, even as he was trembling like a banjo.

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Back then NetWare still differentiated between a PC OS and a network OS. But every competitor, including HP, IBM, and especially that annoying Windows NT, was hot to move in on the company's 80-plus percent market share. Even the techno hermits in Utah knew they had to do something.

Remember SuperNOS? No one else does either

SuperNOS was the answer, combining the fabulousness of NetWare with the unshakable Unixness of UnixWare. The list of future benefits was long and distinguished, but apparently harder to build than NetWare thought. It gave up and sold the whole shamble to SCO in 1995, and we all know how that ended. It didn't matter anyway. Soon after, Linus Torvalds glanced up from his CRT long enough to make "open source" a household phrase and kicked SuperNOS, NetWare, and Darl McBride to the margins of computing history.

The lesson hasn't daunted the marketing brains at HP. If no one's paying attention to you, make some wild press announcements you can almost-maybe back up and enjoy the tweet spikes. Thus, HP has unveiled "The Machine," which boils down to a vision currently in little lab pieces glued together with promises reminiscent of that wonderful SuperNOS announcement so many years ago. According to HP, The Machine is a revolution in computing that will solve all our problems while finally satiating Meg Whitman's need for 80 percent margins.

The contraption will supposedly use fiber optics, memristors, and earnest prayer to increase bandwidth and push processing speed forward in big ol' leaps by essentially doing away with slow disks and moving to a memory-driven I/O system at the OS layer -- I think. I'd partaken of too much "milk" by the time they got to that. The best part? The operating layer is -- wait for it -- an open source-based OS that has yet to be developed.

HP: Breaking new ground in meaningless promises

That's all you got? It's a hardware platform stuffed with cool components you haven't actually integrated yet and an open source operating system tagged with a "coming soon" sign? How desperate for PR are you? Apparently quite a bit, because HP's using these lab avowals to make even bigger promises about how The Machine will eventually be capable of analyzing reams of big data in seconds or handling simultaneous chat sessions between multinational sports teams rejecting Steve Ballmer's overtures. Color me skeptical.

Sure, starting all over again from silicon on up would be a great opportunity to do away with all the PC OS Band-Aids we've had to apply since Wozniak first emerged from his garage, but that'll take more customers than HP has seen since this side of the Compaq years. That won't happen anyway if you're going to base the thing on pre-existing open source code snippets -- pretty much the definition of "Band-Aid." Also, Big Blue has been shipping a similar memory-based OS since the '80s, and I don't see that changing our lives.

This is, after all, coming from the same people who invented the revolutionary RISC chip and have remained on the bleeding edge of OS design with HP-UX and VMS. Ten gets you 20 that Linuxians will eat this, too, and have a Machine-capable distro out before HP's fantasy OS even hits beta.

This article, "Hewlett-Packard's 'Machine': Vaporware, meet empty suit," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, follow Cringely on Twitter, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.

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