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February 2004

Buy a house where homestead hope can live

NewsWire Editorial

For the first time in my life, I own a home away from home. A classic 1950s bungalow, just down the road in simpler, quieter San Marcos, will serve as a second homestead for us. I need a place to study writing, as well as a retreat with my wife Abby from the complex community Austin has become. I sat in the title company office today, signing paper after paper, pondering the promises that each one bound us onto. I couldn’t help but think of the house that OpenMPE will soon be trying to get you to buy — and how much our market needs such a homestead away from its HP home.

Perhaps half of you don’t need a new computing address. HP has fulfilled your computing dreams with the HP 3000, and you now say you have faith that the vendor’s commodity choices of Unix, Linux and Windows will serve you as well. You’re moving, sure, but not really. HP still holds your deed of trust.

Trust is becoming a big issue in the 3000 market, as customers survey the property lines of MPE ownership and licensing. It’s become easy to find critics of OpenMPE and HP’s halting leadership and lack of commitment. Two years after the idea of such a post-2006 advocacy group was born, only a careful list of HP intentions, a cheery Web site, and thousands of e-mail messages make up what the 3000 homesteader can see in OpenMPE. The customers who are still angry with HP over its market departure are quick to say they don’t trust HP to help homesteaders. They also despair of OpenMPE’s ability to advocate, since it lacks leverage.

Despite those appearances, the concept that OpenMPE has pursued for two years could still reveal an apt new address for the community, given time. Such a homestead search can take awhile. I started my quest out in West Texas in 1998. I pushed further west to New Mexico’s White Mountains, then out to the Oregon coastline. While I chased the water, the tide of change in my life swept my search closer to Austin. San Marcos is home to Texas State University, where I’ll study writing. But if you’d asked me five years ago where I’d be likely to start a new homestead, I never would have described the sedate little Texas town or the cozy, oak-floored house that charmed us, nestled just two blocks up the street from a river splashing with ducks and kayakers.

In much the same way, a lot of the market’s homesteaders have imagined a new plot for the 3000 community where they can move in very soon, take full control of their future, and pay as little as they have during the last decade. On each count, those visions are as far off as that New Mexico mountaintop or the Oregon seacoast stands from the banks of the San Marcos River.

To start with, 3000 homesteaders won’t be able to move in very soon. While it’s true that the time is growing short for OpenMPE’s virtual MPE lab to succeed by 2006, HP is not making that success its primary transition mission. The vendor has decades of MPE ownership and support profits from its 3000 customers to consider. The new management of HP — and make no mistake, the company is managed by a team so different that this year’s annual shareholder meeting will not be in California, but Texas — well, that management is taking close inventory of its intellectual property. Sure, HP thinks the 3000 may not be worth selling anymore, but that marvel of integration that is MPE-IMAGE is far from worthless to the vendor.

HP has scant history of letting its intellectual property go free, so the vendor will first have to build out a legal and fiscal house that can hold a freed-up 3000. This will take more time than the homesteaders would like. But so long as HP sets up a way to transfer the software while any customers at all still care about MPE, the vendor will accomplish its goal. That goal, in case you’re wondering, is simply not to inconvenience homesteading customers too much while they ignore HP’s advice to get away from the HP 3000. Moving you to another HP platform is far more vital to HP.

Next, there’s the control of MPE’s future to consider. Homesteading advocates want no residue of HP’s stewardship in their future, and you can hardly blame them. The vendor’s top leaders, many outside of the 3000 division, made a decade of disastrous choices on behalf of its proprietary computing customers. These bungles led to the bunkum that a resource-efficient, stable computing environment is no place for small- or medium-sized businesses to do business. HP tells everyone commodity computing is a better way to go. But the only computer company bigger, richer and growing faster than HP begs to differ. IBM won’t have to beg for 3000 sites to become iSeries installations once the wraps come off the budgets, either.

But even if HP was wrong about the 3000, the vendor is in total control of the MPE-IMAGE future, and it cannot be forced to step away. In these legal-crazed times, it’s unlikely that HP will ever see a complete end to its 3000 liability, not even after it’s stopped selling and supporting the system. Expect HP to control the SS-CONFIG program that makes 9000s into 3000s, maybe forever. HP wouldn’t sell this 3000 business outright to anyone, and it may be many years before it can even see its way to releasing diagnostics and internal support documents that could help make its competitors richer.

Finally, there’s the expenses that 3000 users expect. Independent vendors who supported this system for 25 years say the typical 3000 site has an ideal budget for their server that, while far away from the Unix and Windows spending, is still much too close to zero to keep the ecosystem healthy. For a homestead market to have a prayer of succeeding, those who stay on had better get ready to pay for their new address: fees to OpenMPE to establish that virtual MPE enhancement lab, as well as support money to the stalwart 3000 companies who have always known better than HP about this system.

To me, it looks like folly to think HP will simply give up MPE to customers who want it. There’s legal and business precedent, competitive customs, and intellectual property value standing in the way of that dream. Sure, last weekend a couple of friends and I just toted a sofa into the garage of our new little home, before I closed. I had no illusion I could take on the house officially with the same ease. I had to employ an agent, engineer, inspector, surveyor, lawyer and escrow officer, comply with the customs to satisfy them. Today I inked a thick stack of paperwork with my full name. I hadn’t penned Ronald Edward Seybold as my signature since the US Army in 1979, but today I signed it for more than an hour. Abby and I both did what it took to earn that home away from home.

Homesteaders are going to have to do what HP asks to earn their homesteads away from HP’s home, too. Get your budgets ready for expenditures: support contracts with the third-party companies that are the lifeblood of the 3000 software and support market, and payments to the only organization HP is willing to negotiate with about MPE’s future. That’s OpenMPE, for better (in the future) or worse (what’s been negotiated only in secret until now). I smile when I picture our San Marcos home; homesteading can deliver a house with classic lines at an affordable address. You’ll need to build it up with your budgets if you want to move into it.

— Ron Seybold 

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