HP responds to pressure from e3000 Users

In a turnabout forced by pressure from HP e3000 users, Hewlett-Packard Co. has reopened the possibility of enabling users to migrate the propriety MPE operating system and applications to a newer hardware platform: its midrange Unix server line, the HP 9000. HP stopped selling new e3000s last year, so the systems can now be purchased only from dealers of used equipment.

The ability to move the MPE operating system to the HP 9000 would give e3000 users "a surplus of hardware" for keeping the e3000 alive after HP ends its support in 2006, said Ron Honer, legacy systems supervisor at Lady Remington Jewelry in Bensenville, Ill.

HP had previously rejected the option of offering users the means to run MPE on the HP 9000. But in a recent letter to the OpenMPE user advocacy group, HP said that as a result of input from the user group's board, it has "reopened" the topic for consideration. It promised an update in June, but not necessarily a final decision.

Moving MPE to the HP 9000, however, helps only one aspect of an e3000 migration. Users also want HP to turn over the MPE operating system source code to a third party to maintain, update and possibly enhance with new features.

Users, who are feeling increasing pressure to make migration decisions as the deadline draws closer, have been pushing HP to decide this year whether it will release the source code. In a recent survey by Interex, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based HP user group, respondents said a decision on third-party source-code custody is their top priority this year.

However, HP in its letter said no decision on the source-code issue will be made until the second half of 2005. The company cited a list of reasons, including "significant planning and investigation" involving a range of technical, legal and business factors.

That's an unpopular position and one that "plants the seed in people's minds that they are just stringing us along," said John Burke, an e3000 consultant in Folsom, Calif.

The e3000 user community is very active, and mailing lists receive a lot of traffic. Users pushing for ways to extend the usefulness of the e3000, as well as minimize the risk involved with "homesteading" -- running the system beyond 2006 -- are pushing HP to provide definitive answers.

It's a good sign that HP is continuing to discuss these issues, said Honer, who along with Burke is a board member of Hagerstown, Md.-based OpenMPE. "It's better than silence," he said.

"I don't think they really understood the backlash they were going to get by announcing the end of MPE," Honer said. "I don't think HP really understood what they were going up against."

Running e3000-based software on the HP 9000 is possible because the two systems share a similar architecture and use PA-RISC processors, said David Wilde, HP's e3000 business manager.

But that conversion ability doesn't necessarily apply to every generation of the HP 9000 system. Differences in firmware and various components may make it impossible in some cases, said Wilde. "It is something we are investigating," he said.

"They ultimately want to do what's best for the customer," said Honer. "They are in this to make money just like everybody else is."

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