This was the hush-hush unveiling of
latest addition to its e-services lineup, that supposed vehicle of rejuvenation for the stodgy computer company. A packed house of partners and press stuffed themselves into the trendy W Hotel in San Francisco on Wednesday, shoulder pad to shoulder pad.
We hadn't heard from Carly in a while. H-P was about to knock our socks off with "a $100 billion ecosystem." And we couldn't wait.
It would be start-up-like. It would be shocking in its divergence from the predictable H-P business way. It would be Carly worthy. It would be about --
As the lips of H-P's partners moved, silently rehearsing their five-minute partnership acceptance speeches, a hip black-and-white video rolled. Innocent victims stood in long lines at the post office, lines sprung up at supermarkets and corporate copy centers. The backbeat thumped. The suspense grew.
The words crept across the screen. "H-P and our partners are ready to make your life a little easier. And it all begins with this ..." The secret technology H-P will use to blow away a skeptical world?!
"H-P Printing E-services."
A lone member of the crowd began to clap but quickly abandoned the endeavor. The lights came up and Carly strode on stage. She wasn't messing around. Yeah, it was about printing. You got a problem with that?!
Before the audience could scrape its chins off the floor, H-P's charismatic CEO outlined an existing $40 billion printing and imaging market that would grow over the next three to five years to $100 billion, from demand created by Internet services. Printing-focused Internet services, that is.
printable postage, business shipping-management application and e-tail package return system;
network for printing your favorite newspaper anywhere in the world, even on a cruise ship;
allowing inkjet-printed, postage bar codes.
What you consider "a simple beige box," Carly asked you to behold as an information appliance. Print digital camera pictures. Print directions and maps from your mobile phone. Print from your handheld device -- a capability unveiled with
Pocket PC hand-held technology Wednesday. Think of H-P's printing excellence as a door-opener to the great Internet heavens.
But ... but ... does that mean there's no ground-convulsing announcement?
"It's no small item that Carly is here today. She doesn't do many press conferences," says
, who recently moved from the printing division to take the COO post of the E-services Solutions arm of H-P. Fiorina was there to emphasize her faith. "She often gets asked, 'Why don't you spin off the printing business?' This is her way of affirming the priority of this business."
Indeed, Fiorina was the groundbreaker. She didn't pause. She didn't have a Q&A session. Her honeymoon with H-P is over, but she's still committed to making the company work. Printing and all. It's not the most attractive business to tout, but to her credit, she's recognized document imaging is H-P's surest bet for the future.
So what's a classy CEO like you doing with printing e-services?
Building a business, apparently. H-P is moving toward the Internet -- not always with black armbands and the smoke-filled air of revolution. Sometimes you've gotta put on a suit, roll out a sushi spread and pump up the basics, like your cash-cow printing business.
The attendees were left to leave with bowed heads or learn a little bit about how new applications could drive demand for H-P printing and make cell phones, PCs, PDAs and TVs connect to paper in novel ways.
She'll be earth-shattering next time, right?
Tish Williams' column takes at look at the people who make Silicon Valley tick. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, she doesn't own or short individual stocks, although she does own stock options in TheStreet.com. She also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. She breathlessly awaits your feedback at