HP World demise, end of Interex surprise users

¿What a waste,' says one HP World supporter

The surprise announcement today by HP user group Interex that it has ceased operations after three decades and canceled next month's HP World conference caught HP users unaware and left them shocked.

Paul Gerke, systems administrator for Clark County in Vancouver, Wash., had two staff members planning to attend, and one was scrambling just this morning to make reservations for HP World, which was set to run Aug. 14-18 in San Francisco.

"Wow, what a waste," Gerke said when he learned from a reporter about the demise of Interex. A previous conference attendee, Gerke believed HP World was a good source of unfiltered information about HP products and services. And it's for that reason he decided not to attend Hewlett-Packard Co.'s first technical conference in September.

Gerke said he attended HP's storage conference in May, but the presentations at the HP conference "were all very 'HP, rah-rah' – you didn't necessarily get the stuff that you would here at HP World."

On mailing lists frequented by HP users, the concerns being raised today included questions about what happens to conference registration fees already paid for the now-canceled event. Interex, for its part, wasn't returning telephone calls. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based user organization – which claimed more than 100,000 members – announced its demise in a short, one-paragraph statement posted on its Web site this afternoon.

The reasons why Interex canceled the conference may still be unknown, but Steve Davidek, systems administrator for the city of Sparks, Nev., believes it's probably related to HP's decision to hold a competitive conference the following month in New Orleans.

HP announced a technical conference last year, raising concerns then that it would compete directly with HP World.

"I think the implication was that HP didn't want two user shows in North America, and they want all the user groups to combine," said Davidek, who has attended more than 10 HP World conferences and was an active Interex volunteer. "It was kind of a shock for me," he said of the announcement.

Two other HP user groups had already announced plans to work with HP on its September conference. Encompass, an organization that has its roots in the former Digital Equipment Corp. user group, co-sponsored HP World 2004 with Interex. But last July, when HP announced that it would hold its own conference starting this year, Encompass said it would support that event instead.

In an FAQ posting about the HP Technology Forum on the Encompass Web site, the user group said it had "enthusiastically embraced" the HP event as a means of providing "quality technical training" to its members.

"Encompass decided that the HP Technology Forum was the best opportunity for members and attendees to obtain the vast amount of in-depth training and user-focused eductation that the Encompass community requires," the group said.

The OpenView Forum International (OVFI), which represents users of HP's management software, also will take part in the HP Technology Forum by helping to develop content for some of the sessions. The OVFI and HP jointly held a separate software-related user conference last month in Denver, as they had done in previous years. At that event, the OVFI's board announced that it had voted to hold next year's conference as part of the HP Technology Forum.

However, later in June, the OVFI reconsidered that decision and voted to once again hold its own conference, according to Joe Gersch, who is the user group's treasurer. That event, called the HP Software Forum, is set for next June, although the location and dates have yet to be determined. Gersch said HP had agreed to support the conference.

"We plan on continuing on with our own forum next June, and we're very solid financially," Gersch said.

Like Interex, the ITUG user group representing customers of the former Tandem Computers Inc. has refrained from embracing HP's conference. ITUG in October plans to hold its annual ITUG Summit conference in San Jose, with Ann Livermore, executive vice president of HP's Technology Solutions Group, scheduled to deliver a keynote speech.

In a statement e-mailed to Computerworld, Douglas Mecham, the founder of Interex, said the user group "was second to none in the industry, it grew its members/vendors in the HP Way and had over 100,000 involved people around the world. It was first the facilitator of the new HP3000 computer system, then encompassed all of HP computer products. Thirty-one years was not a bad run for a high-tech company, and it was fully independent of the vendor, HP – by design.

"For me, it is sad to see the group disband," Mecham said. "But times, people and situations change."

"Interex was a very valuable tool," said Mike Church, chief technology officer at the Ohio Masonic Home in Springfield, Ohio. "It was almost like a shareware type of environment" that would distribute software written by users for various systems.

The OVFI's Gersch said the news about Interex and HP World "takes me completely by surprise." He added that he would be making phone calls to find out why it happened.

Dave Reiners, an official at Encompass, said he has gotten a lot of calls about the conference cancellation. His organization's leadership planned to meet today with HP officials to discuss what can be done to "accommodate the needs of those users" who had registered to attend HP World.

Reiners said most of Encompass' members tend to shy away from HP World in light of its business-centric focus, and attend more technology focused events.

"They're technologists," Reiners said. "They don't necessarily know that much about Mark Hurd to begin with." Hurd is HP's CEO.

Reiners said most of his group's membership will attend the HP Technology Forum, scheduled to run from Sept. 12-15 in New Orleans.

"Indeed, all eyes are on that show now because of the fact that the other one is canceled," he said. "That was the mainstay show for a number of years."

Craig Stedman, Lucas Mearian and Matt Hamblen contributed to this report.

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