HP has become the latest IT vendor to dip its toes in the wild world of blogging.

Over the last few weeks, a handful of developers in the company's software development group have quietly begun publishing their regular musings on such technical issues as service-oriented architectures and XML. But the company is now showing signs of following competitors like Microsoft and Sun and opening up its blogging efforts to a wider range of company employees.

HP's blog experiment was launched earlier this month, as a way to better communicate with the technical community, said David Gee, vice president of marketing for HP's management software organization. "We wanted to foster communication with particular audiences," he said. "In this case, it's with the developers and the managers in the technical space."

The company rolled out the blogs in a very low-profile fashion, Gee said: "We buried it in the developer section by design because we want to get our feet wet."

Within the next few months, however, Gee expects employees working on a number of different areas to get involved in blogging. "I think the compiler guys, the OS guys, and the Linux guys within HP will use this medium much more aggressively," he said.

HP comes late to the corporate blogging game. Microsoft began publishing employee blogs on its MSDN website in January, and Sun followed suit a few months later with the launch of a website where any Sun employee can create a public Web log. In April, IBM opened up part of its DeveloperWorks website to a small number of technical bloggers.

Blogging has become a way of reaching audiences that may be unreachable with conventional marketing techniques, said Amy Wohl, president of analysts Wohl Associates. "This is all about getting to an audience who ordinarily wouldn't read anything that you put out there," she said. "They don’t read marketing material."

Sometimes that audience is reached by making statements that would not normally appear on corporate websites. IBM engineer Bill Higgins, for example, recently dissected some widely publicised comments by Microsoft's Steve Ballmer. In it, he accused Ballmer of making "specious" arguments against open source "to bolster Microsoft and spread FUD about Open Source."

HP and Sun are both experimenting with blogs that target less technical audiences. Andy Lark, Sun's marketing VP, regularly posts his observations on media issues. And the blog of Sun president Jonathan Schwartz has become a must-read for members of the press and analyst community looking for Schwartz's views on industry events. Even if some of them are less-than-presidential.

HP is also toying with the idea of executive blogs. Last week, HP Linux VP Martin Fink launched a blog of his own on the Linuxcio.com domain. The first post on Fink's blog was a critique of Sun's Solaris strategy, something much more controversial than the highly technical musings on the HP.com blogs.

Still, HP's Gee said the company may move Fink's blog over to the HP.com website. HP executives Nora Denzel, senior vice president of the company's software unit, and Gilles Bouchard, the company's chief information officer, may also begin blogs, he said.