HP charges for ProLiant firmware updates and gets hell for it

Hardware firmware upgrades had always been a freebie, so HP's decision to charge for them blew up in the company's face.

This past week, HP gave a master class in how to bungle a policy change. The decision alone was sure to be badly received, but in the process the company mishandled it at every turn.

The company announced a change in firmware policy for its ProLiant servers in a blog post by Mary McCoy, the vice president in charge of supporting the company's server products. The blog post came just days before the policy went into effect, so if you didn't have a contract with HP and wanted a firmware update, too bad.

McCoy said the company "will provide firmware updates through the HP Support Center only to customers with a valid warranty, Care Pack Service or support agreement." Effectively, it was charging for the firmware updates, since most of those customers would fall under the category of a service/support agreement.

She went on to say the decision was "to provide access to the latest HP firmware, which is valuable intellectual property, for our customers who have chosen to maximize and protect their IT investments." Which makes no sense. HP was already offering free firmware updates. There was no change in the delivery or frequency of firmware updates, just that you had to pay for it. It all reminded me of the time my bank reduced its hours of operation and then said it was to provide better service.

Needless to say, the decision, timing, and bad wording of the blog went over badly. HP customers unloaded on the company in the reader response section of McCoy's blog, questioning whether any other companies do this, or why a firmware fix should be considered "valuable intellectual property," as McCoy put it.

Firmware updates are, in fact, often bug fixes and bug fixes have always been freebies. Just in writing this I was motivated to check, and sure enough there is a BIOS update for my PC motherboard. Free to download from Gigabyte, of course.

Now, I have not administered servers, but my PC experience has taught me that firmware updates tend to come in the first six to nine months of when the product hits the market. After that, they tend to stop. I seriously doubt a two-year-old server will see firmware updates because that's two generations down the road from Intel and the BIOS makers and everybody has moved on. So how much money can there be in this for HP?

What struck me, and other bloggers and writers with other tech publications, is the sheer callousness on McCoy's part. Even with the rewrites to the HP blog, she is dismissive and just plain does not seem to care how upset people are, people who are in many cases identifying themselves as HP server administrators.

The last time I saw an attitude this dismissive was the old Microsoft Xbox division head Don Mattrick, who blew off fierce user complaints to proposed DRM in the Xbox One. Within weeks, Microsoft caved on the DRM and Mattrick went to work at Zynga. I think the only bigger step down would have been going to work for BlackBerry.

I can just hear the phone call from the administrative assistant now… "Mary, Meg is here to see you."

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