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April 23, 2010

Grow or Decline: What OpenMPE Counts On

Second of two parts

Yesterday I talked about the challenges to OpenMPE and what it needs immediately. Complete communication is the keystone, from my viewpoint. But I communicate and persuade (and even sell) for a living. I suggested five committees: Communication, Development, Membership and Events, Guild and Training, and Community Resource. (In a company, you'd call these departments.)

There are several unique assets that OpenMPE holds or can leverage if it hopes to develop as an enterprise. The alternative is a decline -- but committee work and simple oversight from directors could stem that slide.

The assets seem to be, in no particular order

1. The Invent3k server
2. The Contributed Software Library
3. A role as a neutral repository for MPE/iX source -- and perhaps patch coordination. (Neither of these missions were part of HP's licensing terms for the source.)
4. An Exchange for training, technique and perhaps certification.

No. 3 gives the Community Resource committee a mission. No. 4 gives the group a way to justify a Training and Guild committee. The top challenge to 3000 homesteading is brain drain from the community. Fewer experts mean they'll need a centralized place to offer work on very small projects, even one-answer engagements. There's a good support network out there to do this right now, and many have relationships with developers and consultants. If there's any hope of doing critical work on a 3000 in five years, or even three, someone has to stem the brain drain.

With Communication, Training and Guild, and Community Resource set in motion, that leaves Development, and Membership and Events. The former is a means to develop what the group has called a Virtual Lab. This is probably a Committee chaired by a contracted developer of deep MPE experience. Patch-level operations are resolved and organized here. That leaves the community needing a way to gather, online and in person. Nobody is serving the latter need, and the former is an uneven effort among blogs, a newsgroup, and Linked In groups. OpenMPE needs to meet such unserved needs.

Membership and Events is the recruitment and community building part of this group. Companies can join to enjoy access to some MPE/iX online resources, connect through online social networking, and attend events focused on 3000 issues and skills. (I have reason to believe there would be good support for an organized and well-marketed meeting of 3000 pros, both in transit and homesteading. There are lots of DIY sites out there, and some will realize that outsourced services are a better choice once they face the DIY tasks.) Events might be served by the Connect user group, but it focuses on HP's supported environments: HP-UX, OpenVMS and NonStop as exclusive missions, Windows, Linux and HP Storage and Software as adjuncts to other group efforts.

There's a vast array of HP-specific sessions at June's Tech Forum run by Connect. Just very little for any 3000 user but the one who's already moved to one of those environments.

Committees are not new, and Connect is proof of what they might do. The group has a board of more than a dozen directors, and each is tasked with chairing a committee. In a healthy organization, the full board meets to vote upon and discuss the work done outside of a meeting like today's. In a challenged group, a board meets to sink into the weeds of details that a committee -- charged with the trust of the board -- could resolve quickly and fine-tune on successive efforts.

This is work just like a job at times. Connect's president Chris Koppe told us that he logs 20 hours a week on average presiding over the user group. A committee chair could devote 6 hours a week to the work as a start, just to see if it would move the needle on real accomplishments. A chair could serve for a year, with a plan to recruit a successor after six months and train a second volunteer. Relationship skills are just as important as technical and operational experience.

People like to say that OpenMPE has never done anything but meet. But the software licenses were pushed into existence once OpenMPE started to meet with HP. The serious dialogue began in February of 2002, when founder Jonathan Backus sat down to breakfast with HP's Dave Wilde. I saw the meeting begin in a California dining room, but I was just watching from behind my placemat, out of earshot. All three of us had hope, however.

Hope needs a renaissance at OpenMPE. I believe the software licenses for MPE/iX source never would have happened for so many companies without OpenMPE's six-plus years of pushing and persuading HP to improve its offer to homesteading customers. I also believe that source code licenses would have been arranged by some companies in the support and development fields, independent of OpenMPE. HP contacted some licensees to encourage them to apply. The blanket application process was a result of the hours and hours that have winnowed down to today's minutes posted on the OpenMPE Web site. Now the group has nobody to talk with but itself and prospective customers.

If OpenMPE's board wants to send its do-nothing rep to the memory bin, it needs to trust committees and vote on their work, not try to manage the details itself. That, and open up the Contributed Software Library -- which has been invisible or in private exchange for nearly five years. The CSL will show HP, which still holds the source license, something that OpenMPE will do for everyone. The CSL is also an invitation to join for a token sum just to log in and download. (Use PayPal; we all do. Discount a full membership for these charter members until July.) Put some programs out for free, others behind a paywall. Content is regaining value as currency today. It's time for skin in the game from the community, mirrored by a genuine sales and recruitment effort to take any business plan into reality.

Only a release of control, and an invitation to volunteer and contract, will help this group mature. These are the same things that made the 3000 an extraordinary value and investment: when users collaborated with HP through the early 1990s. It's time to work together.

And if this all sounds like a lot of work, well, the community will be building an enterprise, not a club or an advocacy group. HP said it extended the licenses for 3000 internals to three kinds of groups:

Those whose business model is to provide technical support on HP e3000 products; software providers whose products have an intimate knowledge of MPE/iX internals; and software providers whose products emulate one or more aspects of MPE/iX and the HP e3000 on other HP products.

OpenMPE won't build an emulator and has no tech support customers. There's no need for that; third parties are offering those. In the CSL it has "products which have an intimate knowlege of MPE internals." The CSL is only thing that's open today about OpenMPE, and it hasn't opened the CSL doors yet. It's time to it to open up and see what the community can do to collaborate toward a meaningful future, one cooperating with the rest of the 3000 ecosystem.

08:30 AM in Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink

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