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Five years after, which environments died?

Five years ago this month, the OpenMPE volunteer group was running another slate of directors for its election. Micro Focus had assimilated Acucorp in its mission to become all things COBOL to all platforms' users. The Greater Houston RUG was releasing details for its 2008 conference, one that would feature Alfredo Rego as keynote speaker. At HP, its 3000 lab savants were starting up their final year of development of patches.

Meanwhile, Windows XP users were lobbying Microsoft to save their OS from extinction. An InfoWorld article reported that a group of users had launched a petition.

With Microsoft saying it will stop both OEM and shrink-wrapped sales of the OS come June 30, the clock is ticking. But we know lots of you want to keep XP alive, to not be forced to upgrade to the less-than-stellar Vista. Millions of us have grown comfortable with XP and don't see a need to change to Vista. It's like having a comfortable apartment, one that you've enjoyed coming home to for years, only to get an eviction notice.

XP Market ShareWindows XP just dropped below a 40 percent market share last month, according to Net Applications. That firm uses signatures from Web browsers to calculate these figures. Windows XP patches are still available for free. So are patches for MPE/iX. XP has not changed any more than the 3000's OS during these five years — so they have that in common, too.

But obtaining your free MPE/iX patches might take quite a bit of waiting on hold with the HP Response Center now, five years after HP stopped creating the patches. In a bit of special handling, MPE/iX users got a free pass, literally, on patching, a savings that users of HP's Unix, VMS and NonStop do not get. It's just that acquiring the patches means explaining you want a patch to an enterprise server, not an HP printer.

Five years is a long time in the computing business. It's such a long time that the competitors in the enterprise sector now consider cloud computing their best bet to grow a customer base. It's a strategy that didn't even exist in early 2008.

The wait time for seeing enterprise server growth feels like the kind of endurance required to extract MPE patches directly from HP.

"Right now I am on hold with the HPRC, trying to find any existing security patches for MPE/iX 7.5," a 3000 manager told us last week via email. He didn't succeed, ultimately, after more than an hour. It's a good bet that an independent 3000 support company would get whatever patches are needed. There's not that many, compared to the number of patches for XP, or even Windows.

But just like those users of XP, the customers still relying on MPE/iX will not be deterred by a vendor's newer products. The complaints of 2008 were about Windows Vista, and from the looks of them they appear to be spot-on, in a historical review. This year the complaints from these "homesteading" XP users are about Windows 8 -- although Windows 7 has finally gained the largest share of desktop server market.

Put another way, it took Windows XP about five years after Microsoft announced it would stop sales of the OS to cede its No. 1 ranking as the world's most-installed OS version. The same five years have seen the departure of OpenMPE elections, the elimination of RUG groups of all sorts, lab experts from HP's MPE group working at indie software companies, and Micro Focus turning toward the homesteading 3000 sites as a source of new customers.

There are enough prospective 3000 sites out there to encourage a company the size of Micro Focus to pursue them in a North American campaign. It takes a long time to exterminate a user base completely. There are ways to try to do it quickly, like Hewlett-Packard did more than a decade ago. But pushing toward commodity solutions when older ones are working is like extreme pest control. You can release poison gas in the house to get rid of rats, but something that severe harms the existing business, too.

Microsoft never tried to eradicate its XP users this way. But HP performed this on MPE, and now the company's feeling the effects of poison gas over its enterprise practices, with the proprietary legacy profits and growth all but dead. MPE/iX never had a majority of HP's OS business like XP did at Microsoft. It just pattered along on quiet feet doing things like recording tests of military vehicles, a software system still in use today in the US, we've learned.

The manager at that site said today that "I like the idea of keeping MPE alive, even if I don't have a 3000 to run it on." He's got a test archive and a 3000, but would prefer to use modern hardware along with an OS that HP last patched in 2008. He has a sound idea: it's the environment and the software that make a customer stand fast, whether it's MPE or XP.

An emulator probably won't make the 3000 market pick up new customers. A modern development suite can aid in growing new applications. However, if growth in your organization isn't as keen a mandate as stability is, it's feasible to take refuge in a technology designed to cradle MPE and keep it alive.