The lights are off, the bankruptcy filed
Listen Up: 3000 friends want to stay at HP

User Groups in Demise — and on the Rise

The curtain goes up this morning on the solo part for OpenMPE, the only remaining user group stocked with 3000 users. In a few hours the group will gather at HP to talk about the future of the 3000, OpenMPE's first in-person meeting since the disintegration of Interex — a group which had gotten as big as any computer user group ever claimed to be.

I got a clear picture of how wooly Interex had gotten when I reviewed the group's Chapter 7 filing in the US Courthouse in San Jose yesterday. Interex has filed a petition with 410 pages of creditors, making it one of the biggest bankruptcies in the court today. As the clerk said, "Wow, that's a big case — and it's only just started."

Interex closed its doors owing $4.05 million to companies small and large, from individuals owed $8.30 on the remains of a membership to HP World booth sponsors like Aldon, which paid $16,800 for a space that never appeared in San Francisco. At five creditors to a page, the list of people and companies the user group owed runs to more than 2,000. At least they were thorough in admitting their debts.

There was little left at the end, too. The Interex checking account holds $5,198.40, and a money market fund bears $14,271.64 — neither of which is enough to satisfy unpaid compensation for an outside sales rep ($65,604 in unpaid commissions) and executive director Ron Evans (who apparently had to forego his last paycheck of $8,225). There's $30,000 of receivables to collect, but that's probably not a source of cash, since much of that money is billed to people who are already listed as creditors.

Most of the assets of the group lie in its membership software system, listed at $303,000 in value. Interex spent a lot more than that on custom programming over the years, according to its Chapter 7 document. The software represents nearly 75 percent of the total $431,433 in assets Interex holds today. Creditors might get their 10 cents on the dollar, if the software really could be sold. The membership list had an asset value of "unknown" on the Federal form.

So as OpenMPE takes its first solo step this morning in the HP facility's Maple Room, it might be a good time to watch out for a hope that the group gets a lot bigger than its few hundred members of today. Size matters not, to quote my favorite Star Wars character Yoda. "For why am I is the Force, and a powerful ally it is," Yoda says. If OpenMPE can serve to keep 3000 options open beyond 2006 — for the customers who are migrating and need more time, as well as the homesteaders not leaving at all — it doesn't have to get that much bigger. As the Chapter 7 filing showed me yesterday in that Federal clerk's office, bigger is not necessarily better.