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March 2005

OpenMPE boosts its slate of candidates for 2005

Election shows more interest in membership on board for the advocacy group serving MPE’s future

Some might not believe a group dedicated to the HP 3000’s future would see more interest this year than last in its board of directors. But then OpenMPE has operated beyond belief for much of its three-year history.

This month, eight candidates are competing for seats on the OpenMPE board, an election that drew only six candidates for a half-dozen open seats in 2004. Four seats are up for grabs this time; the group has never had a 2:1 ratio of candidates to open posts. Some candidates say they especially want to serve this year, the one when HP will finally decide the future of the MPE source code.

Candidates in the election were incumbents Birket Foster, Paul Edwards and Alan Tibbets, as well as Chuck Ciesinski, Martin Gorfinkel, Keven Miller, Mathew Perdue and Jim Phillips. Balloting took place through the OpenMPE Web site; voters had to hold a free membership in OpenMPE. (Results will appear in our Online Extra e-mail.)

Those candidates who won a seat on the OpenMPE board — the election ran through the first half of March — must take on volunteer duties, since the directors comprise all of the group’s available manpower. An outside accountant also assists OpenMPE.

The group’s critics might argue that a handful of men and women are more than enough to deliver what OpenMPE has provided since 2002. OpenMPE has also battled to convince customers to believe in any future beyond HP’s stewardship.

“OpenMPE will not be able to command that feeling of confidence unless you are pretty much self-sufficient at the moment, and you do not want to change anything,” said IT manager John Boyd of paper merchant gm2 Logistics. “We are continually being criticized for not supporting printers or GUIs, despite offering a robust base platform.”

However, extending the 3000’s support to new devices and interfaces is precisely the mission OpenMPE wants to pursue. Some in the group say that only those sites who can freeze their MPE environments can continue using 3000s after 2006 — unless an enhancement lab forms outside of HP.

Such a lab requires revenues for funding. The group’s accountant couldn’t stay busy tracking revenue that has surfaced up to this year. OpenMPE has operated almost entirely since 2002 on donated time and resources such as business planning, advertising, Web programming and server space. An HP cash contribution of $5,000, pledged during 2004, still hasn’t arrived in the group’s coffers.

Historic advocacy

But OpenMPE wasn’t founded to generate revenues. Jon Backus, a consultant who specialized in 3000 training and Ecometry programming, started the group just weeks after the 2001 HP announcement that cancelled the vendor’s 3000 business. He dedicated the organization to making a future for MPE/iX, the 3000’s operating system, after HP stops supporting the software in December 2006.

HP’s computing customers have petitioned the vendor in the past to help users of cancelled systems. HP 1000 customers worked to get HP to put the RTE source code in a repository. But the HP 1000 efforts didn’t have a named organization that has tried to fund projects or field a board of directors like the one at OpenMPE.

The first year of the group’s efforts were aimed at helping a 3000 emulator project emerge. Three companies showed interest as a result of the OpenMPE discussions, but only one has proceeded to develop a PA-RISC emulator. During the last 18 months the group shifted its focus to the future of MPE/iX, rather than emulating the 3000’s hardware to offer a new source of systems.

Over its three years of existence, OpenMPE has wrested one document from HP that details plans for a post-2006 MPE future. After one year of non-disclosure meetings between HP and the OpenMPE board, HP engineer and OpenMPE liaison Mike Paivinen circulated a letter and FAQ that outlines the vendor’s intentions about MPE licenses for HP 3000 emulators. Paivinen said that on his initial review, the 2003 message looks like it doesn’t need to be revised.

“To this point, we have had no follow-up discussions on license terms,” Paivinen said. “I just re-read the original e-mail and don’t see anything obvious that needs to be changed. However, as we go through the process of creating the specific license, the terms, as described in the letter, will be subject to change.”

HP has communicated once more about OpenMPE’s issues, addressing issues raised during 2003 by OpenMPE directors. Despite results that are difficult to link to OpenMPE, the group’s supporters say those HP talks have driven many of HP’s efforts for customers who will use their 3000s after 2006. One year ago HP responded to OpenMPE’s advocacy with another message: A timetable of when it will decide about licensing MPE/iX source code for third-party use beyond 2006. That decision will represent a lot of the post-2006 future Backus and the roster of OpenMPE directors has pursued.

HP officials say that OpenMPE’s advocacy gives the vendor input on how HP can assist the customers who are called homesteaders. OpenMPE’s directors presented a list of six requests to HP during 2002, ranging from a release of MPE source to third parties to eliminating the slow-down code in the last generation of 3000s, the A-Class and N-Class servers.

HP representatives like Paivinen, HP e3000 business manager Dave Wilde and engineer Jeff Vance consider OpenMPE a community within the 3000’s customer base.

When OpenMPE made its pitch for funding from the customers this fall, HP remained neutral on the group’s business plans for a post-2006 MPE lab. Wilde said at the time that the vendor wants to see partners such as OpenMPE survive on their own initiative.

Although post-2006 enhancements might help some customers remain on the 3000, HP didn’t bless or curse OpenMPE’s lab plans. “I’ve found it is best for all involved when partners work to ensure their viability on their own,” Wilde said. “If they’re not self-motivated to survive in a given space, and they don’t have the resources to sustain their investments, you’re just propagating a bad situation.”

Some say three years of talks between HP and OpenMPE have improved the future for customers who aren’t migrating.

“The future looks brighter than the present for many of our customers who don’t have HP support and don’t purchase from HP,” Vance said, “since I believe at least some of the requests made by the OpenMPE community will be satisfied.”

Some of the requests have been impassioned. Board member Ken Sletten sparked some controversy last year by unveiling details of the HP-OpenMPE talks, insisting HP was dragging its feet on requests to license MPE. OpenMPE members have swung between insisting HP needs to respond immediately to requests and waiting for deadlines to pass.

Board chairman Birket Foster, the only director who’s served OpenMPE since its inception, pushed a campaign last year to fund the group for development projects. In a letter to the board he said last fall “the time has come to raise the dollars necessary to get HP to see OpenMPE has enough funds to provide good stewardship of the MPE source.” Such an OpenMPE virtual lab would “provide sustainable development and therefore value to the installed base.”

A limited campaign last fall failed to sign up 100 HP 3000 owners for support fees to fund OpenMPE’s lab. Foster said the campaign’s target was the customer who needs changes to MPE to remain on the platform.

“This is the one chance that customers planning to homestead have to have changes applied on a regular basis at a reasonable cost,” he said. “Without OpenMPE, all changes will be ad-hoc.” Such source code access was the biggest OpenMPE issue for 2004, although some in the 3000 community believe HP might give another entity access to the code during 2006.

HP’s slow timetable for deciding on the key OpenMPE issues has reflected back on the volunteer group. While customers wonder what OpenMPE has been able to accomplish, many recognize that no other user organization could have gotten faster results.

“I don’t know that HP is going to decide until it’s gotten every last bit of revenue out of the operating system,” said Alan Maitland, president of the Commerce Company, an Internet portal service using HP 3000s.

HP contends that deciding on a third-party license for MPE source is a complex issue — one that’s best decided closer to the end of HP’s support for MPE. HP set a timetable of the second half of this year to announce its plans.

While HP follows a longer timetable than OpenMPE’s advocates desire, customers, consultants and vendors remain dedicated to the potential of what they admit has become a volunteer advocacy group. HP’s 2005 deadline for making its source code decision has some volunteers looking for a ringside seat in OpenMPE’s show.

“I’d like to be on the board, if only to see what happens this year,” said Paul Edwards, who became a director in last year’s vote. The improbable contest for 2005 seats on an MPE advocacy group suggests the HP 3000 saga can still muster impact.


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