More Previews Than Open Source at HP IdeaLab

At the re-launch of its Labs unit last week, HP spent the least amount of time on HP IdeaLab, although it will be the new face of HP Labs to developers and the general public.

HP intends the group to offer a peek at the company’s early-stage developments. Software projects under development will be posted in an early but workable state, allowing the public to see them long before the products are released — enabling them to provide feedback.

IdeaLab made its debut with a number of projects, such as: mscapes, which delivers digital content like games, stories and tours based on a mobile user’s location; Interactive Relighting, a way of capturing and viewing 3-D images; CloudPrint Internet printing; BookPrep, which enables users to read and purchase out-of-print books on demand; Snapfish Lab, a series of imaging tools; and Color, an online color thesaurus offering names, synonyms and antonyms.

Russ Daniels, vice president and CTO of cloud services strategy at HP, said the effort originated because the company needed to get all its projects in one place.

“If you wanted to get a good picture of the innovative things HP was doing, there wasn’t any single place to go,” he told “So they motivation was to create a place where people could go and see what’s up with HP from an innovation perspective.”

The goals here at HP IdeaLab are two-fold: increase awareness of HP projects and gather feedback.

In particular, the move aims to improve HP’s public perception when it comes to the enterprise software space. IDC ranks the company as the sixth-largest software company in the world, but the company’s name hardly leaps to mine when thinking about enterprise software as readily as companies like IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and Adobe.

“We are increasing the role software plays in our businesses and the part we play to our shareholders,” Daniels said. “We have a $3.6 billion R$D budget. That’s a lot of money and our focus on that R&D spending is significantly around innovation that adds value to our customers.”

Despite the effort to solicit and incorporate feedback from the outside community, Daniels added that IdeaLabs is not an open source effort.

The decision might seem strange considering that HP is a member of a large number of high-profile open source projects, like Eclipse, SOAP and WSDL .

“IdeaLabs isn’t about open source,” Daniels said. “We’re involved in a lot of open source projects, but when we want to host an open source project, we’ll host it on Sourceforge or similar kinds of sites. Creating an alternative mechanism to host open source projects seems to us not to add a huge amount of value.”

Will HP generate the kind of feedback and positive buzz it seeks? Rob Enderle, principal analyst for The Enderle Group attended the labs’ launch and thinks so — with a caveat.

“The key part of this is if the folks submitting see some benefit, if they are able to create a relationship with HP or perhaps get job offers, then you would have to think there would be some activity and interest,” he said. “If it’s just HP trying to milk folks who could be doing something else, then it won’t work.”

Aside from the potential reaction from the open source and general Internet communities, it’s also not clear at this early stage whether HP will overcome internal resistance typical in R&D environments.

“What makes it unique is typically a lab is only interested in what the lab creates,” Enderle said. “‘Not Invented Here’ is pretty ingrown in the DNA of a lab.”

“I think they should be praised for trying to do this, but it’s going to come down to execution.”

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