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January 2005

Purchase order promises elude OpenMPE in 2004

Campaign for 2005 revenues nets few sites; group focuses on source turnover next

OpenMPE came courting the HP 3000 homesteader in 2004’s final quarter. But a customer base that moves slowly as a habit wasn’t ready yet to commit thousands of dollars per system for what the advocacy group offered: a development future for MPE/iX during 2006 and 2007.

The group’s chairman and its treasurer confirmed that less than a handful of sites could deliver a purchase order or letter of intent to fund OpenMPE’s MPE/iX development plans. The response appeared to hang up on a lack of HP’s post-2006 license promises. 2004 was simply too early to ask for funding, according to customers and some OpenMPE board members.

“There wasn’t enough interest to support this kind of venture,” said board chair Birket Foster. He pushed for financial commitments this fall from the homesteading customers, as well as any 3000 owners who need more time to migrate, to fund services he described as “a subset of the maintenance that HP’s been doing all these years for MPE/iX.”

Most of the customers who plan to stay with their HP 3000s don’t see a need yet to fund an outside maintenance lab. “This operating system is so reliable, and that’s what people have been focused on,” he said.

The group of seven volunteers who make up OpenMPE’s board had a goal of 100 systems they wanted to sign up for post-2006 development services.

Despite the lack of response, customers who intend to stay on the platform see a need for OpenMPE to get access to the 3000’s operating source code. Like the emulator proposal that dominated OpenMPE’s 2003 agenda, the future of MPE source looks vital to some sites.

“Hopefully, an MPE emulator vendor will find it commercially feasible to develop an emulator that runs on the Wintel platform,” said Hong Huynh, a systems administrator at the Santa Monica, Calif. Rent Control Board. “And most importantly, MPE will live on if HP is willing to license the source code to OpenMPE.”

Board members said this summer that customer investment in OpenMPE was important to the group’s image with HP. Not all were in agreement about the timing of the first offer, but Foster said that working capital to contract for engineering might have to be available as early as July, 2005. Most HP 3000 shops budget during the last quarter of the year.

Few could even say they were asking their management for an OpenMPE expense item. A 3000 NewsWire poll of customers showed that many seemed to misunderstand what OpenMPE was asking them to fund. Managers replied that they were planning to move to third-party support, but not yet from OpenMPE.

“I love the 3000, but I don’t think we’ll be able to justify much money for post-2006 support,” said Nick Saner of e-commerce and catalog retailer Gaiam. Inc. “We have not budgeted for OpenMPE’s post-2006 support services.”

Nearly all customers had heard of OpenMPE, an organization that’s been lobbying HP for three years on issues to operate the 3000 past 2006. But many sites say they can run their systems with no enhancements to MPE/iX, the kind of service OpenMPE was trying to sell.

“I do not expect a need for enhancements of MPE, just technical support on existing versions,” said Charles Benil of the Maryland Higher Education Commission. His site plans to use their HP 3000 at least through 2009, while it continues to migrate applications off the platform.

Next steps

Although OpenMPE’s campaign in 2004 fell well short of its goal, the group isn’t done working yet. Its next milestone, according to Foster, is to work in cooperation with HP to plan the handover of the MPE/iX source code. Even though HP hasn’t committed to such a handover, Foster sees such a move as a way to protect HP.

“HP should still go through the process anyway,” he said. “They should see how they can reduce liability for HP, to know that people couldn’t come back and sue HP under any circumstances for anything, including past sins in MPE.”

A formal plan to stay on the HP 3000 “might include thinking about OpenMPE as your insurance policy,” Foster said. “This would put things in place to assist them if they needed to get a change done for MPE.”

OpenMPE’s message was being carried by some third party support providers this fall to their customers, but the effort during the latter part of 2004 did not find a ready market.

“The customers must have a need to go help support MPE, and it’s not there,” said board member and treasurer Paul Edwards. “I’m not convinced people have the urgency right now to perceive that need. We’re in a Y2K kind of situation at the end of 2006 — but there’s not the same kind of urgency.”


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