IBM traditionally has a booth at HP World to display software that runs on HP systems. But at the August show in Atlanta, Big Blue urged attendees to depart HP World for a seminar about IBM's own systems, sweetening the offer with a drawing for a free convertible.
Meanwhile, IBM marketers drove around the Georgia World Congress Center handing out Lego building blocks to brag about the toy company's decision that week to replace HP computing systems with IBM products.
In a rivalry with big implications for these two U.S. technology stalwarts — and for the companies, schools and governments that spend billions on their products — IBM is doing its utmost to keep HP a wannabe.
HP picked this fight last year when it bought Compaq Computer Corp. for $19 billion, the biggest high-tech acquisition ever, and said it would challenge IBM's lead in lucrative corporate computing markets.
And while there is little sign that HP is even close to beating IBM at its own game, IBM isn't taking chances.
It has doubled the commissions it pays resellers who oust HP products. It beats its chest whenever it beats HP to a big contract, like one coming this week with Alpine Electronics Inc. And its people portray HP as a bit player in services and software — which generate two-thirds of IBM's revenue.
"I don't ever see HP," said Scott Hebner, an IBM software vice president. "They don't bring any real software assets to the table."
The head of IBM's systems group, William Zeitler, contends HP is so worried about losses in the server market that it is aggressively cutting prices and possibly "stuffing" its sales channel — artificially boosting revenue by giving resellers more products than they need. HP denies the charge.
Zeitler also predicts that most customers who spurn IBM servers will choose low-cost specialist Dell Inc., not HP.
IBM now pays a 10 percent commission, up from 5 percent, to certain resellers who get businesses to replace their HP equipment with IBM gear. IBM gives the same cut if it's Sun Microsystems Inc. that's on the losing end.
HP says it considered all the IBM broadsides a compliment. And it, too, offers a commission to sales partners who displace IBM or Sun — 15 percent.
"It's not surprising IBM is trying to point their guns in our direction," said Jim Milton, an HP senior vice president in enterprise systems. "It's a testimony to how we're doing in the marketplace."
Zeitler called the commission increase a mere sign of IBM aggressiveness.
"We intend to move as many users as we can to our side, and use every weapon in our arsenal to do it," he said.
HP and IBM had better get used to each other. There's only so much business to go around.
In April, Procter & Gamble Co. hired HP to take over its internal tech operations, a 10-year deal worth $3 billion. Five months later, P&G announced a 10-year, $400 million pact to turn over management of its human-resources department to IBM.
Each contract required HP and IBM to take hundreds of P&G employees on as their own, which means "both IBM and HP will be working collaboratively in several areas," P&G spokesman Damon Jones said.
"We don't see any reason," he added, "why these companies won't be able to work together, successfully."
By Brian Bergstein