A spat has broken out between Hewlett Packard (HP) and enterprise software rival and partner BEA Systems over the future of HP's Netaction enterprise application server.
BEA chief executive Alfred Chuang has reportedly told Wall Street analysts that, while Netaction would remain for vertical markets such as telecoms, HP has selected BEA's WebLogic for the mainstream market.
But HP has strongly denied any such decision. "We've seen BEA's comments and want to reiterate that our commitment to Netaction remains unchanged. We have no idea why BEA would think otherwise," said Bob Bickel, general manager at HP's Middleware Division.
Analysts were less surprised by BEA's statements. "BEA has to convince Wall Street that it has a healthy sales pipeline to grow its major accounts," said Forrester analyst Chris Dial.
Having HP pitching BEA over its own products would certainly do that, according to Dial, who doubts that HP is set to give up on its Netaction products.
"HP may lag behind the market with its product and its strategy but it needs Netaction to build application services into its HP-UX operating system. That's key and it can't do that with BEA," he said.
Handing over its web services aspirations to BEA would also mean HP surrendering its position in the emerging web services market to key hardware rivals IBM and Sun Microsystems.
"HP has been a leading thinker in web services and the enterprise application server is the platform for web services. So HP would lose some of that leadership role," explained Rob Hailstone, software infrastructure research director at IDC.
Nevertheless, BEA's belief that HP will push its product more is understandable.
"I am not surprised that BEA might see it that way," said Daryl Plummer, group vice president for software infrastructure at Gartner. "It is an issue sparked nine months ago by HP opting to give away Netaction."
The situation has not been helped by the uncertainty over HP's pending merger with Compaq. While the deal remains unfinished, HP executives have been limited in the strategies they can plan for or announce.
"That creates an opening for anyone to make a lot of statements that can be taken in many ways," said Plummer.
Some analysts believe that there are advantages in HP dropping Netaction. The company could save as much as £14m if it ditched the product, according to market analysts Giga Information Group.
In addition, BEA is integrating its recently purchased JRockit Java virtual machine which is optimised for Intel-based systems, a market where BEA is seeking greater penetration.
HP's merger with Intel-supporter Compaq makes extending its BEA partnership to include WebLogic look like a sensible move.
HP used to resell Weblogic but dropped it after it acquired enterprise application server software company Bluestone in 2000 and launched its software under the Netaction name.
But doubts remain as to whether HP will pull back from Netaction. "This is just the outcome of HP's dilemma in trying to reassure users that it has its own products while supporting the leader in the market," concluded Plummer.
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