NEW YORK – The appointment of a German software executive as Hewlett-Packard Co.’s next CEO sends an unmistakable signal that the board of the world’s largest technology company is prepared to gamble big on an aggressive push into the software business.

And analysts say it will need to do just that to avoid being left behind in its core personal computer and printer businesses that no longer offer much room for growth or big profits.

In a conference call that served as his formal introduction to Wall Street on Friday, former SAP AG CEO Leo Apotheker called software the “glue” that will hold together the different parts of the company. “Software is how we can make sure that the various parts of our technology actually fit well together,” he said.

Even before his comments, it was telling enough that HP didn’t choose the head of its PC or printer businesses — HP’s traditional strengths — and instead tapped an executive who has spent more than two decades in the business software industry and far from Silicon Valley.

“HP is in the midst of a transformation,” says R. “Ray” Wang, a partner at Altimeter Group LLC. “If they don’t make the move into software in the next three to five years, they’re going to find themselves in a really commoditized PC business with high volume and low profit margins.”

The choice of Apotheker could cut both ways. He has no experience with consumer products, which make up a sizable portion of HP’s business. He also faces the challenge of holding together a group of managers that has turned HP’s computers and printers into industry leaders.

“Job No. 1 has to be solidifying this team,” IDC analyst Crawford del Prete said.

HP’s shares fell $1.30, or 3.1 percent, to close Friday at $40.77. The debacle over former CEO Mark Hurd, who was forced out over allegations of sexual harassment and deceptive expense reports, sent HP’s stock down more than 15 percent in the weeks after his departure on Aug. 6.

Apotheker’s parents escaped the Nazis, then settled in Aachen, Germany, after World War II. The family moved to Antwerp, Belgium, after he was born in 1953. He earned a B.A. in economics and international relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

In 1988, Apotheker began his career at SAP, which provides software that helps carry out a range of business functions, from tracking inventory to logging sales. He was at the company for more than 20 years, founding and serving as head of SAP France and SAP Belgium.

He was promoted to co-CEO in April 2008, just as the recession started crimping business investment. To bolster revenue, the company announced an increase in maintenance fees. But customers protested, and SAP had to postpone the increase. He was also identified with the delay of a new software system. This led to his ouster in February, but in other respects, he gets good marks from German commentators.