While it continues to wrestle with an alleged accounting scandal at its Autonomy business unit, HP has revealed it may use some of the company's technology to offer a free online analytics service.
The service would be based on Autonomy's IDOL (Intelligent Data Operating Layer) technology, used to process and analyse large amounts of structured and unstructured data, such as images, audio and video clips, to uncover patterns and trends.
HP has shown how the technology can be used to analyse content from news broadcasts and social networking streams to see, more or less in real time, what people are talking about and how they feel about those topics, although it also has many other uses.
HP mentioned the idea of a free service during a webcast it held for customers yesterday to assure them it plans to keep investing in the Autonomy product line. A day earlier, HP said it would take a massive accounting charge due to alleged fraud that inflated Autonomy's value before it bought the company.
One customer asked if HP could make IDOL available to researchers, on a philanthropic basis, for use in areas such as the life sciences and weather forecasting.
"One area we're thinking about is delivering IDOL as a free service in specific areas, similar to the way you go to Google today and do a search. You'll be able to go to a website with an IDOL feature where people can go and do some basic searches, with some basic unstructured data management around it," said George Kadifa, the executive vice president in charge of HP software.
"Some of our deep technologists want to do that because it broadens the concept of IDOL, not just across life sciences and social issues, but it provides an element of social responsibility and value that we want to provide in the marketplace," he said.
HP is still "very early in the process" of thinking about this, he emphasised.
Indeed, HP probably has other priorities on its mind at the moment. It has asked the US Securities and Exchange Commission and the UK's Serious Fraud office to investigate "serious accounting improprieties" that it says inflated the value of Autonomy before it bought the company.
It also has work to do in deciding on a road map for Autonomy's more than 50 products, and in integrating some of the technology with HP's own software.
Still, Whitman suggested she is open to the customer's idea. "I share your vision of what IDOL should do," she said.