March 21, 2016
Free software worth the time to track it down
It's entertaining and heartening to discover someone who's new to the HP 3000 and MPE. Fresh users tend to run in the hobbyist lanes of the IT race these days. Sometimes, however, they can ask questions that uncover values for the existing managers of the MPE server.
That's been the case with Michael Kerpan. He's just discovered the new freeware simh emulator engine for creating MPE V Classic HP 3000s. Kerpan is just pursuing this as a hobby project. "I'm not retired, but I'm also not in the IT business at the moment," said, "though I do maintain my SF club's library catalog server, which is a Linux box."
On the HP 3000 front, his box is a Windows server running simh, but Kerpan wants more than just the stock MPE V Fundamental Operating System to use. Kerpan specifically asked about the old Interex Contributed Software Library. The CSL started out as a swap-tape built from reel tapes that attendees at conferences brought along. Drop off the programs you wrote on your reel -- or eventually, DAT tape -- and pick up a compilation of such contributed software when the conference adjourned.
The CSL dropped off the radar of the 3000 community once Interex went bankrupt. The collection of programs wasn't even listed in the organization's bankruptcy assets. In some places out in the community CSL tapes still exist, but trading them hasn't been a compelling pasttime. However, MPE contributed software, now called open source and freeware, still exists. Knowing where to track it down is often worth the effort, if managing a 3000 is still your job.The biggest sources of contributed freeware live on three servers with public access: 3k Associates, Client Systems, and Fresche Legacy (formerly Speedware). The first company is an Internet-savvy company from as far back as the early 1990s; its founder Chris Bartram wrote the first non-HP email application, NetMail/3000. The 3k website has dozens of programs.
In terms of number of programs, the Client Systems-Speedware servers are right in the running. They're the licensed sites for HP's former Jazz public server content. About two dozen or so programs, plus some UDCs and scripts, are available for downloading. Without a doubt the Speedware server is better organized and uses a cleaner interface. HP forced these companies to install a vast EULA on the front end of these collections. You must click through it each time you access. Annoying, but just about toothless by now.
Other locations for freeware include Allegro Consultants and Beechglen. Those companies include products they've built to sell and use in their own labs work. Some of the for-sale titles have gone free now there's less market for 3000 software. There's also freeware available through AICS Research, the QCTerm free terminal emulator. A 3000 Classic emulator in software, attached to an emulator of the HP 2392 terminal, represents the ultimate in live-forever status for the legacy of MPE. It's something like the mighty state that Gandalf occupied once his body -- that hardware -- was gone forever.
Live-forever is also a promise of the Stromasys Charon emulator for the final generation of up-to-date 3000 boxes. As for the CSL, it's bound to live forever, but in locations as mythic as anything in Lord of the Rings. Perhaps we'll see a return of the king of contributed software.
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