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HP-Autonomy fraud allegations fallout: The winners and losers

The repercussions could be widespread and varied

By Chris Kanaracus, IDG News Service
November 20, 2012 03:21 PM ET

IDG News Service - Hewlett-Packard's bombshell revelation that it would take a $8.8 billion non-cash writedown after allegedly discovering major accounting fraud related to its Autonomy business unit has rocked the tech world.

But the news, while shocking, could have both positive and negative results, according to who or what's involved. Here's a look at the winners and losers emerging from the rubble of HP's explosive announcement.

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The Winners:

Meg Whitman: While HP's announcement bore little good news for the company's bottom line, there's a chance it could end up helping CEO Meg Whitman's image.

"The silver lining here could be her willingness to take a very realistic but also gutsy stand, and call a spade a spade here," said analyst Charles King, president of Pund-IT. "I think that will improve her image or at least provide some cover for the additional time and effort she needs to put into the company."

"Most of the issues confronting HP happened way before her watch," King added. "She has the unenviable job of cleaning out the stables."

Larry Ellison: Somewhere inside one of his many luxurious residences, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison may be rubbing his hands together and cackling with glee at HP's announcement.

There's famously little love lost between the two companies, especially after the ugly legal battle over Oracle's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to stop porting its software to the Itanium-based chips used in HP's high-end servers.

But there's also history between Oracle and Ellison regarding Autonomy and its founder, Mike Lynch. Last year, Oracle claimed that Lynch had shopped his company to Oracle before the HP deal, but Oracle rejected it on grounds Autonomy was overvalued. Lynch denied approaching Oracle, prompting Oracle to issue a statement calling Lynch a liar.

Autonomy's competitors: The bad publicity around Autonomy may lead potential customers to seek less turbulent waters. "There have already been quite a few sharks feasting around the Autonomy whale," said analyst Tony Byrne, president of the Real Story Group. These competitors include OpenText, Microsoft, IBM, and in the area of search technology, the open source ecosystem supporting the Lucene search engine, Byrne said.

The Losers:

HP Shareholders: HP's stock fell more than 10 percent on Tuesday after the announcement, dropping to less than US$12. It had traded close to $30 as recently as February.

Leo Apotheker: If ex-HP CEO Leo Apotheker decides to seek shelter in an undisclosed location, you could hardly blame him. A former CEO of SAP, Apotheker was seen as a surprise pick to lead HP from the start, and after a series of miscalculations his reign ended quickly.

Although reports later surfaced of extreme dysfunction among HP's board during Apotheker's time at the helm, he has seemed to garner an ample share of blame and criticism.

The Autonomy acquisition was supposed to be a signature accomplishment for Apotheker, helping HP become a significant player in the lucrative enterprise software market. Instead, more than a year after his departure from HP, Apotheker finds himself amid a slew of controversy over the deal.

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