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January 2004

Keep calendars independent, but not passionate

NewsWire Editorial

We are now well into the New Year, but our calendars might need to be customized to see some progress. My son Nick turned 21 on Dec. 31, the same day that saw a three-year calendar on the life of HP’s 3000 business start to flip. Turning 21 is the most important birthday anybody celebrates, since it marks maturity and responsibility. You should mark your own responsibility this year for your HP 3000 futures. Every day shows me more evidence that your vendor matters less, unless you’re buying its 3000 alternatives. Only MPE’s ownership remains to be settled by HP.

It’s easy to dwell on dates that fall on yearly anniversaries. Nick’s 21 was fun for all of us, beginning with my wife Abby waking up and asking me to retell the tale of the day Nick was born. I’ve told that story so often — about driving to the delivery room just before dawn, of Nick’s first bath in my arms just minutes after he was born — but it sounded different this year. That’s when I realized I was using the tone I’ve heard all year from 3000 veterans, as they tell their tales of creating the minicomputer masterpiece of MPE’s business computing.

The only thing different about this Dec. 31 for Nick was his ability to buy a drink. Even so, 21 carries the same hint of passion for all of us as that end of HP sales, or the two-years-after discontinuance date holds for OpenMPE advocates. Two years, somehow, is long enough to wait for HP’s advice about keeping its cancelled products in play. Too long for some advocates, like Ken Sletten.

We understand why these anniversaries motivate passion. People are wired to measure things in 12-month cycles. So just after the two-year anniversary of HP’s 3000 cancellation announcement, OpenMPE’s board of directors asked HP for a promise about MPE’s future.

What’s so special about getting an agreement in principle right now, an agreement to set MPE free in three years’ time, when the vendor will book no more business in the 3000 market? I guess it’s a response to the end-of-sales sadness, the sense we’ve finally experienced a genuine milestone in the system’s life. Since HP no longer sells the system, it feels like it’s time to get the vendor to promise it will let homesteading customers carry on with MPE, beyond HP’s business plans.

It’s easy to see why the symbolism of an anniversary could prompt the kind of passion we see in the letter from OpenMPE board member Sletten. But the letter also feels like the first drink that Nick bought at 12:01 down on Sixth Street. That cherry vodka sour represented not the first drink of Nick’s life, but an awareness that time was moving on for him. Sletten’s letter means something similar to him: Time to take action for MPE’s future.

HP has a different timetable, less passionate. People like Sletten grew a career on the 3000’s passion, and so it drives their pleas. Conserving the economic resource of the 3000 — well, that’s as significant to them as any birthday that assigns responsibility to a young man.

Life doesn’t behave by calendars, though. Nick was already a young man when he strode to that barstool with his friends. He’s holds down a full-time job handling tens of thousands of dollars each day in bookkeeping for a big grocery chain. He’s making his way through college at the same time, a task I never had to juggle with full time work. He’s got credit in his own name, friends who count on him. He’s already registered to vote, the most important thing Americans must do in 2004.

Nick’s day on the calendar was important, though, because it sharpens his focus. 2004 should have the same effect for you. However, it’s up to each of you to decide whether anything new we might hear from HP will be too late to help.

HP’s shows no limit to its caution about homestead announcements. The caution makes it easy to draw a conclusion that HP is running out a clock. After all, the latest statement from the vendor assures us that HP has “no plans to encourage the use of the HP 3000 after HP end-of-support.” So we get lots of deliberation from HP, and little action, about an independent future for MPE/iX.

The irony in this deliberation is profound. HP took no outside counsel in deciding to drop your platform. But now that HP’s support is waning into its last 35 months — now HP needs to assess, poll and study the homestead market’s needs. Advocates like Sletten don’t see contemplation. They see delay.

We see something more. We see a vendor with no blueprint yet to accommodate the decades of passion about a cancelled product beloved by customers. HP’s never had a business operating environment like MPE that it’s tried to pull out of customer hands. It must cross a wide legal moat before the vendor can license its property to passionate customers.

We see no guarantees from HP about MPE’s freedom. A guarantee is a hard thing to wring from a company that has grown to HP’s size. And since any promise of that freedom would quell the support business which HP continues to write, we know that HP Services will have much to say about the timetable of that freedom. The 3000 business group is working a lot closer with HP Services than in the past. Services, a profitable part of HP, has veto power over any MPE liberation.

Every customer should decide for themselves when HP support’s liberation of MPE might be too late to matter anymore. Those migrating, rewriting or replacing could find themselves glad for any extra pages OpenMPE can add to MPE’s calendar with such a liberation. Homesteaders are turning to their own calendars, with future dates unmarked by HP’s actions. It’s too early to act on the rhetoric of a boycott. But 2004 is the community’s first year without HP sales. That marks a coming of age as plain as any 21st birthday, a period when independence can emerge on a new timetable.

— Ron Seybold

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