HP responds to pressure from anxious e3000 users

In a turnabout forced by pressure from HP e3000 users, Hewlett-Packard Co. has reopened the possibility of enabling users to convert existing HP 9000 hardware into e3000 systems that run the propriety MPE operating system and its applications.

HP stopped selling new e3000s last fall, so the systems can now be purchased only from dealers of used equipment. The ability to convert a used HP 9000 so that it runs MPE would give users “a surplus of hardware” for keeping the e3000 alive after HP ends its support in 2006, said Ron Horner, legacy systems supervisor at Lady Remington Jewelry in Bensenville, Ill.

HP previously said users wouldn’t be offered that conversion option. But in a recent letter to the OpenMPE user advocacy group, HP said that as a result of input from the group’s board, it has “reopened” the topic for consideration. It promised an update in June but not necessarily a final decision.

Converting the HP 9000, however, would address only one aspect of keeping the e3000 alive. Users also want HP to turn over MPE operating system source code to a third party to maintain and possibly enhance with new features.

Users, who are feeling increasing pressure to plan for migration as the deadline draws closer, have been pushing HP to decide whether it will release the source code. In a recent survey by Interex, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based HP user group, respondents said a decision on third-party source code custody is their top priority this year.

However, HP said in its letter that no decision on the source code issue will be made until the second half of 2005. It cited a list of reasons, including “significant planning and investigation” involving a range of technical, legal and business factors.

That’s an unpopular position and “plants the seed in people’s minds that they are just stringing us along,” said John Burke, an e3000 consultant in Folsom, Calif.

The e3000 user community is very active, and mailing lists receive a lot of traffic. Users trying to extend the usefulness of the e3000, as well as minimize the risk involved with “homesteading” — running the system beyond 2006 — are pushing HP to provide definitive answers.

It’s a good sign that HP is continuing to discuss these issues, said Horner, who along with Burke is a board member of Hagerstown, Md.-based OpenMPE. “It’s better than silence,” he said.

“I don’t think they really understood the backlash they were going to get by announcing the end of MPE,” Horner said. “I don’t think HP really understood what they were going up against.”

Converting an HP 9000 to an e3000 is possible because the two systems share similar architectures and use PA-RISC processors, said David Wilde, HP’s e3000 business manager.

But that conversion applies only to particular models of HP 9000 systems. Differences in firmware and various components may make it impossible in some cases, said Wilde. “It is something we are investigating,” he said. Wilde made it clear that users won’t be able to purchase new HP 9000 systems and boot MPE on them. Porting MPE to the HP 9000 in that sense isn’t even under consideration, he said.

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