HP, Apple Have Passion, Microsoft’s Got Security, VIA Goes Green

Winter slowly drifted into Silicon Valley last week. In the aftermath of what appeared to many of us to be a largely politically motivated “scandal” surrounding HP, not only was HP’s business largely unaffected but federal laws regarding the practice of pretexting were left in limbo.

Meanwhile, I was left wondering if folks caught the very real difference between HP Chairwoman Patricia Dunn, who may have made mistakes in trying to stop a crime, and the folks she was compared to at Enron and WorldCom, who were motivated merely by greed.

It seems to me that when someone makes a mistake while trying to do the right thing, the response should be different than it is for true crooks. Maybe this goes back to my own law enforcement background and my belief that a police officer who breaks rules in trying to take down a criminal should be treated differently than one taking a bribe from that same criminal.

Rather than dwell on how often the system doesn’t seem to work, let’s focus on some happier topics.

HP, Apple Have Passion

One of the things the tech market just doesn’t seem to have enough of these days is passion. Apple has it — and you see the evidence in much of what it does. I mentioned this briefly last week in my writeup of Intel’s Developer Forum. While Apple’s presence at the event was brief, the love that firm’s executives have for its products and direction was clear — and was in sharp contrast to much of what we see these days from other vendors.

Passion can get out of hand — the early days of open source and some Apple zealots are testament to that — but it is always refreshing to see an executive who is clearly passionate about what he or she does and who is not simply pounding through a PowerPoint presentation.

Speaking of passion, last week HP presented its new enterprise printer line. The head of that group, Vyomesh Joshi (known as “VJ”), kicked off the event. This guy is passionate about what he does — and it is clear that he is personally disappointed when his team doesn’t live up to expectations.

Under Joshi’s leadership, HP has increased its domination of the printer space and shrugged off attacks by a variety of vendors, including Dell, which was thought to be unstoppable when it first moved into the printer arena. Dell moved into Kodak’s turf, for example, and Kodak had to give way; Lexmark (IBM’s old printer division) and Epson simply do not appear to be competitive. In addition, HP now has one of Lexmark’s top employees on its staff — who left Lexmark because he wanted to go someplace that had passion for the product. This left Lexmark to come up with a very lame legal attempt to make sure that this executive can’t be fully functional for a time at HP.

HP is now doing amazing things at the high end of the printing market, with its products replacing the systems that were traditionally used to print color collateral, create color prints and make signs. HP also owns the high end of the video conferencing market with its well regarded Halo system. It has sold an incredible number of these very expensive products, which have helped multi-national corporations reduce air travel expenses and dramatically increase productivity.

That’s the power of passion. As we wait for Apple’s iTV product to cut a broad swath through the home entertainment space, we should remember that in HP there is equal passion — and it appears to be having an even greater worldwide impact.

Microsoft vs. Symantec vs. McAfee

The phrase “Microsoft security” may remind us of oxymorons like “military intelligence” and “jumbo shrimp.” However, after a massive amount of screaming, Microsoft did, eventually, come up with some security improvements and, as a result, Vista should be the most secure Microsoft platform yet.

Among those who have been most outspoken about the lack of security in Microsoft’s offerings are the big security software firms. Historically, those firms have been correct in what they have claimed, and the more outspoken they became the more products they sold.

However, these firms had to realize that if Microsoft actually addressed their concerns, they would have trouble selling their products to Windows customers, much like they have trouble selling them to users of MacOS, Unix and Linux now. While they remain outspoken, their financial motivations would suggest they really don’t want Microsoft to fix much of anything.

But Microsoft is fixing things. The firm is currently on a tear with Vista with its Patch Guard and Security Center technologies.

Patch Guard locks up the 64-bit edition of Vista’s kernel so that no one outside of the Windows Vista team, including Microsoft’s own security people, can change it. This change is not yet in the 32-bit version of the product that 99.9 percent of those moving to Vista will actually use. But, if it works, the security vendors are scared to death that folks will think they don’t need antivirus products — much as many Apple folks already do.

Now, simply said, if Microsoft can know for certain what should be in the kernel, in pre-boot it can scan for changes and automatically reverse any alteration that didn’t come from Microsoft. It doesn’t matter if the kernel is hacked — the company can easily reverse any damage. It can’t do this if anyone else alters the kernel, however. I think the security firms know full well that this could actually work and want to prevent what would be a very visible, successful test on the most secure version of Vista, resulting in a similar move to the broad market product when the next version of Windows rolls out in 2009 or 2010.

Microsoft’s Security Center, meanwhile, allows users to pick and choose security suppliers — and the product will monitor all of them. Strangely enough, the feature does not tie you to any one vendor and should work equally well with all. So you could have Black Ice Defender (my favorite personal firewall), Kaspersky Labs AV (my favorite AV product), and Webroot for anti-spyware, and monitor all of them from one place.

Symantec and McAfee argue that their solutions are better, but that is only true if you use all Symantec or all McAfee products. They basically lock you in to one security solution and while there is a good argument for simplicity and interoperability when that happens, the products from those two vendors, individually, are generally not the best. Collectively, as suites, they are very strong, but when it comes to security, I think users should be allowed to have a choice outside of suites.

In the end, after all our screaming that Microsoft take responsibility for securing its platforms, now that the company is doing just that, I think it should be allowed to do what it wants. I think Apple should own MacOS security and Microsoft should own Windows security — both in terms of execution and accountability — and if the security vendors can’t figure out a way to provide value on top of that, we shouldn’t drill holes in either Apple or Microsoft’s products to help them out.

VIA Goes Green

We often focus on AMD and Intel and forget there is a third PC microprocessor vendor out there — VIA. It tends to exist on the fringes in specialized hardware and isn’t nearly as visible as the other two. While Intel and AMD focus most of their efforts on ever more power, however, VIA has been focusing on other things, like how to provide PCs to folks who don’t have reliable power. That is not to say Intel and AMD don’t have efforts there as well, but for VIA, this seems to have a higher priority.

Last week I had a chance to sit down with some VIA folks and learn about their efforts to run PCs off of solar panels. They have found that this approach would allow them to run three PCs and a server with the same power that would only support 1.5 Intel-based machines. This extreme power savings comes at a time when many of us are increasingly concerned about the over-use of fossil fuels and global warming.

Finally, VIA suggests a new area of competition for vendors with a project called TreeMark. The firm claims that it currently takes four trees to clean the air polluted by a VIA C7-D processor over its lifetime, while it takes 31 trees for an Intel Pentium D and 21 trees for an AMD Athlon 64. Personally, I think a benchmark like this should factor into any corporate or individual PC purchase decision, for the good of the future world.

Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.

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