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Today: last day to download free HP patches

The HP 3000 pulls even with all of the other Hewlett-Packard enterprise servers this week. All of these business systems are losing their free patch download service tomorrow -- which makes today the last day to download yours without charge.

Patches have been an included part of the HP computer experience since the 1970s. But like so many other aspects of Hewlett-Packard -- its R&D spending, boardroom ethics and morals, or the focus on products versus service-based business -- things have changed. Starting tomorrow, a paid support account will be needed to download fixes for bugs, enhancements to operating environments such as HP-UX, MPE, OpenVMS and NonStop. The charges apply to customers both migrating and homesteading. For the record, nobody else has the right to create an HP-branded patch, although there's been plenty of independent 3000 patches built over the last decade and more.

HP calls this move an "alignment with accepted industry standards for software practice delivery," but that's a canard that follows the wrong standards bearers. Oracle-Sun (Snorkle) has grubbed deeper into customer pockets for paid-only patching, to be sure, after rescuing the Sun servers from a steep dive. But IBM, which has outspent HP 2-1 over the last 10 years in R&D, does not charge for any patch repairs to its products, including those caused by manufacturer defects in coding. Calling these practices accepted is like telling an electric utility customer they're accepted higher rates. There's always going off the grid, isn't there?

Visit the HP IT Response Center website today, or download a full set using the Patchman utility, if you think you'll ever need a patch for an enterprise server. Patchman, created by former HP engineer Mark Bixby, is a script that uses the soon-to-be-defunct FTP patch portal to grab needed and recommended patches from HP's servers. Patchman is still available at Bixby's personal site, bixby.org, at www.bixby.org/ftp/pub/mpe/patchman-2.2.sh

Tomorrow starts the era of paying for downloads, even if your HP system will no longer receive official HP support starting Dec. 31. HP's allegedly not writing 2011 support contracts for MPE/iX -- more on that in a bit -- but its very special Time & Materials purchase prices will go into effect tomorrow. HP has also said that it is considering an extension of its faulty standards alignment to its enterprise products outside of the Business Critical Server unit -- looking at the Industry Standard ProLiant line. However, how HP would manage to charge for Microsoft's Windows patches, or those for Linux, is as baffling as how long-term business success can be a result of a 2.5 percent R&D budget. There are customers with unlimited support budgets who will pay extra to have a single point of support supply, of course.

Paid support for HP 3000 products is a keystone of the ownership experience. Companies pay about 15 percent of a software product's price yearly to third parties to be able to call for support and have problems repaired. Sometimes their issues are placed in a development queue, but there's always a direct link between vendor and customer. What's more, those support fees flow directly to development at the third party vendor. That's never been the case at HP, boneheaded business that helped kill the vendor's future with the server. The new HP policy applies a fresh fee on top of Hewlett-Packard's traditional terms of ownership, however.

From the perspective of any vendor whose policies remain as they always have -- linking R&D with support -- paid patching makes sense. "They're used to getting patches when they bought the machine," said MB Foster CEO Birket Foster. "Now they're being told [their purchase] is a License to Use. That's not unreasonable, because people have to pay for R&D while HP is making those kinds of patches."

However, Pivital Solutions' Steve Suraci says the paid-patch era for MPE/iX tips HP's hand at its future with the server. "For a company who says they want to get out of the HP 3000 business supposedly, it sure seems like they don't want to get out of the business, doesn't it?"

Suraci adds that the paid-patch move lets HP "keep their finger on the pulse of people who are still using the platform." What good would this information do HP? Well, the company would still enjoy selling a replacement to a 3000 customer who's making a migration -- but has disappeared from HP's records. Thousands of HP 3000s have vanished from HP's view, even while they operate in corporations large and small. Tomorrow HP will start to stumble upon the community that's been so independent of the vendor that Hewlett-Packard doesn't even know their names.