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Post-HP vision needs blind faith, deep breath

OpenMPE is recruiting for directors on its board, a campaign that includes a secret ballot and a secret budget. The former is a tradition of elections, but the latter is HP's will imposed upon a cadre of volunteers.

This is the season when OpenMPE elects directors for its advocacy group, a rotating assembly of users, vendors and 3000 experts who've been working since 2002. But this election is different than any before now. Within a few weeks of getting members on its board, OpenMPE will learn if it has acquired a license for MPE/iX source code.

It's the cost of the license that's a secret, an element HP insists upon as one of the license terms. The secrecy itself is one of the few license terms that anyone knows about, because Hewlett-Packard is shrouding nearly all of the source arrangement in a Confidential Disclosure Agreement. Tell anybody how much you're ready to pay for the license, and you can save your money. HP won't grant you one.

The CDA is familiar turf for OpenMPE, which negotiated and met with HP's 3000 managers for seven years under a Cone of Silence to work out details of post-HP 3000 ownership. The homesteading community, both interim and indefinite, owes a lot to a group of directors that needs new blood. What the community doesn't need is unreasonable requests to make the source license transparent.

This isn't a school board meeting. Nobody's sending tax money to the OpenMPE treasurer. Any license that OpenMPE may get is a private transaction between HP and independent support organizations. One of those organizations gives you a way to participate outside of a support commitment and sometimes can talk about what it does -- especially when it's trying to raise money to purchase one of those licenses.

OpenMPE didn't ask for these terms. It's endured them, along with the unsavory carping and genuine misunderstanding over how HP set the rules and conditions to help anybody homestead.

The last public report on the OpenMPE fundraising -- which probably didn't please HP -- said the group was about two-thirds of the way to its goal with about two months to go. This is much more real cash and pledges than the group has reported in past efforts. This time, there is something very real to buy.

Well-established support providers are also going to receive source licenses, but nobody expects to hear a word from them about cost of their purchases from HP. Not even the providers' clients. Some of that grace is given because these providers have been in business since the 3000 was in short pants. OpenMPE is new to business, even though it's been working at advocacy for more than 20 percent of the HP 3000's lifespan.

The community is already supporting the drive for the use of source by paying support contract fees to independent companies. In addition to that, some companies who don't need a support contract, or want to ensure there's ample sources for this 3000 resource, are contributing thousands of dollars. We're one of them, because it looks like OpenMPE needs the help. 

I've communicated with most OpenMPE directors since 2002, ever since the very first breakfast meeting I watched founder John Backus take with HP's Dave Wilde. It's been a thankless job, almost literally, to have to quiz HP and listen to its plans that have needed the real-world practices of 3000 owners to amount to anything but PowerPoint slides and phone charges. HP has thanked OpenMPE when the vendor's labs left the field last year. It's time to follow that lead with your thanks and support -- and stop venting high dudgeon while expecting genuine business performance from a group of volunteers.

There was a time for outrage and sarcasm in this marketplace, but it was 2002, not 2010. Everybody has the duty to examine whether they can afford to help this community. Ben Franklin reminded some another resistance movement that if we don't hang together, we'll all hang separately. You will want to resist governmental-level auditing of a project whose budget wouldn't even cover the cost of two Windows business servers. Secrecy of contracts is as common as oxygen in our atmosphere. Let your energy breathe life into a future post-HP. More of you need a whiff of that 2011 vision than you realize.