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Calculating the homesteader's future

At the most recent HP Technology Forum, the OpenMPE meeting began with a thanks to HP. For changing its course of business, away from the HP 3000 community? Not at all. Instead, the thanks came from OpenMPE's chair Birket Foster "for creating MPE, the only business operating system HP ever created. It has made all of us, over the years, a lot of money."

Foster's heartfelt thanks is also accurate. The prosperity starts with the earnings HP collected for its own creation; then to the product and service providers like Foster's MB Foster Associates, all who've built their successful businesses on the foundation of HP 3000 revenues; then to the computer professionals who've earned a reputation and built careers from the expertise they demonstrate managing a business server.

There's more money to be made off MPE, the heartbeat operating system of the 3000 success. "Over the next few years, there's going to be a lot of 3000s that will need to be, excuse the expression, baby-sat," he said. These business models, from individual consultants and companies, to do this baby-sitting are just now taking off.

Scratch the surface of any of the experienced consultants and you'll find resources to tend your 3000. Support companies serving the 3000 indefinitely — those who committed to 2007 services even before HP changed its exit date — do such babysitting. The list runs from longtime resources like Pivital Solutions, which transitioned its authorized 3000 reseller status into a support business, to the much-newer shingles being hung out such as John Bawden's Homestead 3000 service.

This kind of baby-sitting will be new to the 3000 community, a byproduct of HP's decision to discontinue sales and its support of the system. Migrations take years, a period that requires caretaking of a computer that's still at the center of much commerce around the world. Foster also made it clear that OpenMPE's directors are working to earn money from HP itself, and eager to turn MPE into a business if HP will ever exit the community — and hand over OS source.

"We're working on additional non-disclosure projects to support HP 3000 customers," Foster said at the meeting. OpenMPE has already completed one such project for HP, assistance on a review of the MPE build process. But that amount of money will pale compared to the revenues from a released MPE.

"Several people have said large amounts of money would be available if access to the source code would be available," Foster said. OpenMPE has been stalled on making money during the last few years, a time when HP's exit date from the community has been as unclear as its details about third-party OS licensing of MPE. Both must be cleared up before an OpenMPE business model can succeed.

In the meantime all of the OpenMPE work with HP, to create a homesteading plan which was never in place from the start of the vendor's migration march — sets precedents and processes HP will use in the future. If there were no homesteading movement, then owners of the Alpha-based servers that HP stopped building this year would have no template of what to expect.

"We've been the precursor for a lot of the process in retiring an operating system," Foster said. The end of HP's MPE days won't the last exit the vendor will make from an OS community. The missteps as well as the careful detail planning from HP offer lessons for the future, a curriculum created by OpenMPE directors and Hewlett-Packard's 3000 loyalists.