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September 30, 2016

Earliest birds to eye Charon stick with 3000s

One week ago the 3000 Simulator Project rolled out a new version of software to simulate an MPE V Classic 3000. That news led to a look at the modern emulation product Charon HPA and what has helped make it a success. Diligent engineering and testing of the Stromasys product across the community started just about five years ago. One of the earliest vendors to green-light their software for emulation was a company who's still selling new customers on MPE software: Minisoft.

BirdseyeHistoryFounder Doug Greenup called last month to report on some new sales into your market, the one which established his company. He mentioned Minisoft's connection to See's Candies' HP 3000s. See's is using Minisoft's middleware, and the connection between emulation and Minisoft popped up when I found Greenup's earliest report on testing against Charon. Minisoft was the first third party company to announce their products were Charon-ready, including ODBC, JDBC, and OLE DB products. These were the days when PA-RISC emulation was as new as Clarence Birdseye's frozen food was in the 1940s. Greenup's report was so early in the Charon HPA lifespan that the Stromasys software was being helped into the market by independent consultants like Craig Lalley.

Craig [Lalley] gave us access to the Stromasys emulator to test some of our legacy MPE products. The HP 3000 terminal emulators under Windows and Macintosh worked fine connecting up via Telnet. We ran some VPLUS screens with no problems. Connections were reliable and fast. We also tested our middleware drivers, connecting and running queries.

The bottom line is our products worked like they were interacting with an HP 3000. So if any of our customers deploy Stromasys, we are confident our MPE products will work.

Charon HPA needed software vendors who were familiar to the 3000 community to step up and certify. It's satisfying to see that one of the earliest adopters of your market's emulator is still selling software to MPE/iX sites. We'd call those sites 3000 customers, but its possible the HP hardware has been replaced by Charon HPA. Which is precisely why it was good business to step up and demonstrate that the emulator worked just like an HP 3000. Works better, now that HPA is not five years older like those boxes with "HP" on the front.

There's your report. MPE/iX still running at high-profile candy manufacturer. New 3000 software still being sold in a few places. Stromasys now moving toward five years of support from the MPE third party vendors, support that started with Minisoft.

04:21 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 28, 2016

Meeting at Building D: the rarest 3000 link-up

DukeSnugNotices were posted this week on the 3000-L mailing list about a rare meeting next Monday, Oct. 3. At opening time 11:30, people who know and remember the 3000 will gather at The Duke of Edinburgh pub. It's a site popular enough with the MPE crowd that it's still called Building D by some seasoned community members. The Duke is on Wolfe Road, just to the west of where the 3000 grew up. As the 3000 group intends to arrive at opening time, it might be able to commandeer the snug (above).

In-person meetings for the 3000 community happen in bars and pubs by now. The last one we heard about this public was SIG-BAR's meeting in London in 2014. Dave Wiseman, a vendor and software maven whose history includes a software project called Millware for 3000s, set up SIG-BAR. The 2014 meeting was announced so far in advance that people were able to plan their summer vacations around a gathering at Dirty Dick's. There's something about English pubs that attracts the 3000 crowd.

AppleCampusThe Duke of Edinburgh is within walking distance of a mecca of the 3000 world, now departed: The HP Cupertino campus. Building 48 has been replaced by the rising concrete and steel of the new Apple world headquarters building. There's no word yet if the 3000 friends who meet Monday at Building D will bring their drones to take their tour of the Apple-ized HP campus.

A walk through the HP parking lot and across a cozy margin of poplars used to bring you to the Duke. "It's right across the street from where MPE lived," said Stan Sieler of Allegro while announcing the meeting. As of Monday, MPE's heart will be among the taps and chips of The Duke. Two years ago, Robelle's Bob Green said this about the last in-person meeting at that London pub:

We exchanged notes on the current state of the machine—especially the new emulator—- and discovered what each of us was doing. An amazing number of people are still doing the same thing: helping customers with their IT concerns. But in reality, most of the time was spent swapping war stories from the past, which was great fun.

As for that emulator, Charon HPA is in full swing by now, a certainty of life going forward with MPE/iX systems. For one additional lunchtime, a pub will be emulating the home of the system, even as it continues to move into a virtual existence.

08:10 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 26, 2016

3000-L connects again after a silence

Tin-can-telephoneAs if on cue after our report about its silence, the 3000-L mailing list and newsgroup sprang back to life over the weekend. One problem solved by the 415 readers was how to identify if a store to disk backup is a LZW compressed backup file. A Tracy Johnson report also confirmed that a LISTF,2 can report the time of each LISTF, by writing a specialized job.

Meanwhile, a 15-year-old HP 3000 with network connection troubles got advice from the newsgroup's readers. A Series 969 running MPE/iX 6.0 would not be the first thing you'd choose for interfacing to an internal website. But when a 3000 has data that a user needs over the Web, the server is the place to go.

Trouble started to surface when clients access a webpage which then opens a telnet session with the 3000, grabs the info, and then returns the data to the webpage.

We’ve been getting more and more errors over the last year, culminating in non-stop Could not initialize data in path with TCP, which then blocked anyone accessing us through our webserver. We’ve tried many changes but cannot seem to get past this.

When it locks up, the HP 3000 keeps running but won’t accept any new sessions. Which means our clients can’t run searches.  Which is very bad for us. Sometimes we can stopnet and startnet and it will work for a while, but then the errors start again. Eventually, we have to coolstart to be able to have clients log in.

Mark Ranft suggested "If they are already running in the CS queue, here is the likely cause.  Is there some new monitoring in place? If so, it may not be behaving well on the network.

What happens is someone uses a telnet or ftp connection to monitor whether the network is up on the 3000.  They send the SYN, the hp3000 answers with the SYN ACK, and then the 3000 receives a reset before the connection is complete.  This handshake sequence causes this exact error.

Also inetd and other HP3000 networking improved greatly in later versions of MPE/iX. If they must stay on 6.0, they should at least be sure to install the latest patches.

A third party support company served this troubled user until the support vendor folded, "and the only options we found weren't affordable." Getting the 3000 back up will trigger a revisit of that situation. Any server with critical customer data on it—and doesn't have a support vendor—relies on the largesse of the 3000 volunteers of 3000-L. That mailing list did go without a new message for more than a month, a troublesome response time for a critical server.

07:44 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 23, 2016

Simulator for Classic 3000 gets third release

A third release of an HP 3000 Series III simulator is now available from the Computer History Simulation Project website. J. David Bryan of the project reports the software which simulates the old MPE V HP 3000 Series III now has a cold dump facility.

Entering the DUMP command  simulates pressing the ENABLE and DUMP front panel buttons.  The contents  of main memory are written to an attached magnetic tape in a format  suitable for analyzing with the DPAN4 program provided with MPE. The new  SET CPU DUMPDEV and SET CPU DUMPCTL options specify the default device number and control byte for the dump.

Known as the SIMH project, the software is aimed at hobbyists who are using MPE V programs and utilities. Even though a power failure is not a desired event, the simulator has a capability of creating one. This is in addition to yanking the plug out of the laptop or PC running the simulator software.

"The user may simulate a system power loss with the POWER FAIL command  and resume powered operation with the POWER RESTORE command," project notes from Bryan state. "The SET CPU ARS/NOARS command determines whether or not MPE automatically restarts when power is restored."

A full set of new features is listed in the release notes that accompany the simulator source files. Aupdated HP User's Guide covers the new commands is provided in Microsoft Word  format with the source download. The guide is also available as a PDF file at an MIT website. A preconfigured MPE-V/R disc image available from Bitsavers was not changed for this release. 

07:16 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 21, 2016

Power outage, or no problems? It's been quiet on the 3000-L. "Yeah, too quiet."

SergeantIn the classic war movies, or a good western with Indian battles, there's the moment when someone notices the silence on the field. "It's quiet out there, Sarge," says the more innocent hero. "Yeah, too quiet," the non-com replies. That kind of quiet might be the sound we're hearing from the 3000-L mailing list today.

It's been five weeks without a new message on the mailing list and newsgroup devoted to MPE and its servers. Advice and solutions has flowed for two decades and more off a mailing list that still has 498 members subscribed. The number of subscribers has remained steady over the last three years. Like the number of migrations in the market, the exit from the list has slowed to a trickle. So has new traffic, of late.

The silence may not be ominous. In 2016 the 3000-L is used almost exclusively to resolve MPE/iX problems. The hardware posts are limited to the rare announcement of used server prices, messages that the members still howl at if they don't include <PLUG> in the subject. The server hasn't been sold by HP in more than a decade, but its owners still don't like to be bugged by sales messages. They solve problems in a grassroots manner. As a notable ballplayer once said, you can look it up. There might be no problems to solve.

1996-L-TrafficHowever, no messages at all over 35 days sets a new record for the 3000-L quiet. This 3000 resource was much more lively a decade ago. And 20 years back? Well, HP was still selling enough 3000s in the fall of 1996 to be sending its new marketing manager Kathy Fitzgerald to speak at an Indiana RUG meeting about the new servers. There was also advice on storage compression, because compression-enabled DDS drives were becoming more common.

3000-L migration messageGood advice: If you can find a DDS tape drive from 1996, you should take it out of service. Your MPE server, no. And evergreen advice from the L is still available online. Jeff Kell, the deceased 3000 guru who started the server on a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga server, built it to last.

In 1996 people wrote on the L that they understood most drive and backup software vendors recommend against using both hardware and software compression. "You should try each separately and use the technique that achieves the best result consistently," we reported. Mark Klein of ORBiT Software gave an interesting explanation of what was going on and the compression possibilities.
"Actually, there are cases where multiple levels of compression are useful. But first let me describe the various types of compression available.

"Hardware compression is typically LZW or some variant thereof. This type of compression uses a dictionary of repeating strings that can be dynamically determined on the fly and, as such, doesn't require the dictionary to be stored with the data as with other types of compression. There are other types of hardware compression available, but LZW is the most common found on compressing tape drives. LZW can also be done in software.

"Since the compressibility of the data really depends on the data itself, there are instances where negative compression will be achieved as well as instances where very large files can compress down to almost nothing. In fact, I've seen an instance where a large, multi-Gb database that was mostly empty got compressed into less than 32K using LZW.

"LZW is not effective in trying to compress something already compressed with LZW. This can result in negative compression (the resulting data actually gets larger). For that reason, I wouldn't recommend using LZW software compression on top of LZW hardware compression.

"Another type of compression is called run length compression. This is in essence a combination of a length tag and a string. The length indicates how many times to repeat the following string. For example, a line of 80 blanks would be represented by (80," ").

"Now, using a combination of RLC and LZW one can achieve better levels of compression than with one or the other method. So, if you want to use software compression with a hardware compressing tape drive, I would recommend using RLC compression in software."

07:21 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (2)

September 19, 2016

Re-SUSAN services: off-label, or standard

Off-LabelAs the 3000 servers age, their components are failing. It may not be a common event yet, but when it happens, getting an HPSUSAN number transferred to new iron has some options. One of the alternatives is a mighty fan to forestall the re-SUSAN processes.

Pivital Solutions' Steve Suraci reports that HP's still servicing 3000 owners who need an older HPSUSAN moved to replacement hardware after a failure. "In our area HP still provides the service to officially update the SUSAN. That's how we'd deal with it, but I'm sure other providers would differ."

When a 3000 manager has no provider anymore, they're likely to look for an off-label solution. In the drug industry, off-label is a use of a drug for which it was not intended. HP never intended to give independent companies the ability to change an HPSUSAN. That's why its tools were protected with a lockword. Then again, HP intended to move MPE/iX to Itanium, and to serve 3000 owners with no end date for support. Everybody knows about intentions can turn out.

Enter Immediate Recovery Solutions. The Bay Area company's history is using software that gives one key HP support capability to owners of 3000s. The Immediate in the company's name refers to intent: To get a 3000 back online, if HPSUSAN is standing in your way, as soon as they can get access to your console,

If that seems rather intimate for a first encounter—saying here's my console on the Internet, and now do your best — then the value of a relationship with an ongoing support provider becomes plain to you. So on the first day a 3000 needs to be replaced, but keep its original HPSUSAN to preserve booting up old vendor software, the choices are three. Call your support company for standard service. Call Immediate Recovery and go all the way on your first date. Or look around for a hefty fan, if you're lucky.

The fan story comes courtesy of The Support Group, where MANMAN customers go for their custom treatment. One server in the MANMAN world had its A-Class box begin to go out when it got warm in the computer room. That's the moment when a server replacement is on the decision tree.

With luck, calling a support company or taking that big plunge on a first date might be delayed by a fan. As with other older 3000 hardware, sometimes putting a big fan in front of the back of the server reduces the heat and eliminates the failures. Older hardware can develop problems when it overheats. We've been told that doing a vacuum of the server's case can cut down the overheating, too.

Ss_updateImmediate Recovery, for the record, is doing what it's done out in the open since 2006. Its SSPWD takes an HP lockword — designed to limit use of ss_update to HP’s support personnel — and delivers the corresponding password to let a support provider start and use ss_update. It's helpful to recall that ss_update, which lives on every HP 3000 still in use, does what HP used to do with SS_CONFIG. The HP of 1999 got very litigious about unauthorized use of SS_CONFIG.

“We’ve seen copies of SS_CONFIG which had a disclaimer, but it just so happens that ss_update doesn’t, or HP didn’t really care,” said Steve Pirie of Advant, a company that identified Immediate Recovery as a "software partner." That HP ss_update program reconfigures HP 3000 SPU boards.

We got a message from "Captain GREB," as the Immediate Recovery owner calls himself. "In reference to having HP come out and change the HPSUSAN on a replacement box to match the original box, we can do that for clients — and we can do it remotely if the client will temporarily connect the remote LAN console port to the Internet. We did one in Germany last month."

The GREB stands for Generic Replacement Box, although anything with an HPSUSAN isn't generic, since the U there stands for Unique.

As Suraci said, there are other companies who use non-HP means to reconfigure 3000s. "Give us a shout if you don't like HP's price for this service," said the Captain. We'd add that while it seems unfair to give HP the business to re-license 3000 hardware, nobody will ever ask for an explanation of that service in case of any audit. We're pretty sure that HP Enterprise knows its way around a license.

 

06:33 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 14, 2016

Dancing the Samba services tune, MPE/iX-style

Samba DancersTen years ago this week we were promoting instructions on how to use Samba better on HP 3000s. Samba is "a group of programs that allows a Unix host to act as a fileserver for Windows platforms," according the MPE/iX documentation rolled out in 1999. The file-sharing and printer sharing software which has been a part of MPE/iX since the 6.0 release "allows Unix-like machines to be integrated into a Windows network without installing any additional software on the Windows machines. Many different platforms run Samba successfully; and there are nearly 40 different operating systems which support Samba." And many more now, a decade later.

HP brought features of Samba to the 3000 in a port called Samba/iX. "It is a solution for those wishing to access HP 3000 disk storage and printers (both networked and spooled from MPE/iX) from common PC client operating systems like Windows." Samba/iX allows access to disk and printer resources of MPE/iX by providing standard SMB file and printer services that are accessible from PC clients and their applications. An administration tool called SWAT makes Samba so much easier to use.

Samba 3.0.22 is distributed by the following MPE/iX base patches. Your independent support provider should be able to help you round one of these up. They've got the latest functionality.

  • SMBMXY6D (BT) for MPE/iX 6.5
  • SMBMXY6E (BT) for MPE/iX 7.0
  • SMBMXY6F (BT) for MPE/iX 7.5

The (BT) stands for Beta Test. HP never cut the 3.0.22 version loose as a general release (GR) version. For reference, the following are GR versions with less functionality.

  • SMBMXG3A (GR) for MPE/iX 6.5
  • SMBMXG3B (GR) for MPE/iX 7.0
  • SMBMXG3C (GR) for MPE/iX 7.5

Even a total 3000 network newbie can get Samba up and running. Samba must be running before you can run SWAT. Here's some useful info when getting SWAT going.

In SERVICES.NET you'll want a line that reads:
swat   901/tcp   # Samba/iX Web Admin Tool

In INETDCNF.NET you'll want:
swat stream tcp nowait MANAGER.SYS /usr/local/samba/SWAT swat
(adjust the path to your SWAT NMPRG)

 If you’re running an older version of Samba, you’ll need to modify ‘/usr/local....’ to point to where SWAT actually lives (and case is important).  The user needs to match the user in your samba daemon jobs. (For many, it’s MANAGER.SYS, for you it may be MGR.SAMBA) When you're connected to your MPE/Samba server through a browser to access SWAT, you'll be asked for a logon and password. This is a good thing.

After changing your services and inetdcnf files, all that you should have to do is give inetd a swift kick (e,g,  :inetd.net -c  ) Check inetd’s $stdlist after doing that and you should see that it brought in the new configuration.

In your browser point to http://xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx:901/ (where xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx is the IP of your 3000). Or you can use the name of your 3000 too.

When updating Samba and Apache config files, some are picky about how their records are terminated. Robelle's Qedit can make the needed adjustments. Be sure to know what version of MPE/iX you have installed, including patches.

08:55 PM in Hidden Value, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 12, 2016

HP sells software business to boring buyer

Grace_HopperMicro Focus, which has already bought Attachmate (nee WRQ) and Acucorp (maker of a COBOL that was once fine-tuned for the 3000) is now sitting on what HP was selling that Hewlett-Packard Enterprise calls software. Like Autonomy, for example. The latter is probably valued at one-tenth what the-CEO Leo Apotheker's HP board paid for it five years ago. Admiral Grace Hopper's invention has ultimately provided a harbor for HP's exit from the software sector. The buyer builds COBOL.

The entire transaction only costs Micro Focus -- makers of boring software that drives thousands of businesses -- $8.8 billion on paper. HP's is cashing out of software for application delivery management, big data, enterprise security, information management and governance, and IT operations management. With Autonomy in the deal, the company HP purchased for $11 billion in 2011, HPE gets an albatross off its back.

Here's one shakeout: Minisoft is now the only vendor selling 3000-ready terminal emulation that remains under the same vendor brand. WRQ has been absorbed, and HP's out of the terminal business they started with AdvanceLink in the 1980s. (Minisoft's still selling connectivity software to MPE/iX users, too — as in active sales, this year.) HP sells almost zero 3000 software today.

A Reuters report says the HPE move tilts its business mix hard towards hardware, with two-thirds of what's left at HP Enterprise now devoted to a sector with slim margins. HP has stopped much of its operating system development over the last 15 years, casting off OpenVMS and MPE/iX, then stalling HP-UX short of a transformation to Intel-ready software. Instead, MPE/iX got its Intel introduction post-HP, when Stromasys made its Charon HPA the gateway to x86.

NonStop remains a part of to HP's enterprise group and enjoys development, but it's tied to Itanium chips. Nothing left in the Business Critical Systems group -- HP-UX, VMS, NonStop -- gets any love anymore during HP's analyst briefings.

HP software, aside from operating systems, could provide a frustrating experience for 3000 customers. Transact and Allbase were strategic, until they were not. IMAGE got removed from the 3000-bundled status it enjoyed. HP had to farm out its ODBC lab work to keep up during the 1990s.

The deal between HP and Micro Focus gets more unusual when you see that HPE has to pay Micro Focus $2.5 billion in cash. In exchange, HPE shareholders will own 50.1 percent of Micro Focus. HPE wanted to get its software out of its enterprise business and into the hands of a company with business success in software. Micro Focus built its rep on embracing backbone technology like mainframe connectivity and COBOL.

HPE's CEO Meg Whitman said that Micro Focus knows how to invest in software. The company, which owns the Reflection product line, is supposed to keep HP's software stable.

"Micro Focus' approach to managing both growing and mature software assets will ensure higher levels of investment in growth areas," Whitman said, "like big data analytics and security, while maintaining a stable platform for software products that customers rely on."

Reliability and boring are sometimes conflated, but a stable platform is often built upon software with both attributes. UBS analyst Steve Milunovich, who tracks HPE, said HP's sell off of assets is "strategy that works well for current shareholders, who gain significant ownership in better-run businesses." A company whose backbone is COBOL now owns HP's software assets — a line that lost its COBOL compiler when the 3000 was dismissed.

06:18 PM in Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 07, 2016

HP remains in HPSUSAN update business

Update buttonClose to 15 years has elapsed since HP chose to step away from the 3000 business. However, the vendor is still serving the needs of any customers who require an HPSUSAN ID to be refreshed onto replacement 3000 hardware.

We looked at this situation several weeks ago. For a customer who's looking over a move away from HP's 3000 hardware — but wants to remain on MPE/iX — Charon HPA from Stromasys is the logical choice. Going with a virtualized PA-RISC box can help sidestep a complication while staying with MPE. Replacement hardware will need either a refresh from a software vendor to accommodate the change in HPSUSAN. Or, in an extreme case, the HPSUSAN of record from the retired hardware would need to be flashed onto the permanent storage of the 3000.

Steve Suraci of Pivital Solutions, a comprehensive 3000 support practice focusing on MPE/iX,  gave us an update on the ways to move an HPSUSAN. "In our area, HP will still provide the service to "officially" update the HPSUSAN," he said.  "That's how we would deal with it, but I'm sure some other providers would differ."

Support providers who continue to work in the community can do magic. If a software vendor has gone out of business — and there's no way to get a copy of software to integrate with the new HPSUSAN — you'll be looking outside of your datacenter for help anyway. One source would be to check on HP3000-L if there's no indie support company for you to call. It's a thought, although it's worth noting that the August traffic on the 3000-L mailing list weighed in at 24 messages for the month.

A better choice is to find your indie support company and let them guide you through a complex process. Many 3000 customers have no worries about third party software vendors going out of business. These sites operate with their own in-house applications and use tools and utilities from bedrock vendors like Adager, Vesoft, or Robelle. Powerhouse found a new home with Unicom.

Hewlett-Packard still keeps the lights on for licensing issues around MPE/iX, even in 2016. It's a good bet the vendor never imagined they'd be needed to keep production business servers online that far into the future.

05:50 PM in Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 05, 2016

Labor of homesteading lifted by advice

Mother JonesToday in the US we celebrate Labor Day, a tribute to the respect that workers earned during the labor movement of the 20th Century. Many offices are closed including most states' offices. Here in Texas organized labor works in the shadows cast by a business-sotted political engine. Nobody needed a labor movement and its human rights back when the 20th Century started, according to the politicians controlling those times. Mother Jones and other heroes who were radicals got the 11-year-olds out of the coal mines of West Virginia, as a start. Machine guns were employed by the powers in charge to oppose that movement. You can look it up.

Homesteading customers face labors too, and they have long struggled for respect. Their work is no less important than the heavy lifting of migration was. Migrations have tapered way back. It's easy to say there are now more companies working to keep 3000s in production than companies working to get off the platform.

If you are lucky enough to have a holiday today, thank your precursors in the labor unions. For a good look at what labors a homesteader should work on, here's Paul Edwards' homesteading primer from 2004. Homesteading tasks are little-changed by this year, with one exception. All customers have moved the labor of their 3000 support to third parties. The Web resources listed in Edwards' primer are much-changed, however, with a few exceptions.

HP’s Web site at www.hp.com knows nothing of 3000s, except for the printers using that number. HP has become HPE.com.

HP manuals are no longer at docs.hp.com. The best independent collection is at HP MM Support. HP did not keep a promise to archive all of the manuals that homesteaders still use.

The HP Jazz site for utility MPE/iX programs and job streams closed in 2008. It's been cloned in large part at Speedware's HP legacy page

Interex passed away in 2005. There's been no user group replacement.

Still operating, from Edwards' list: OpenMPE at www.openmpe.com; the HP3000-L mailing list; and the NewsWire. Thank you for your support of our labor of love.

07:21 AM in Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 02, 2016

Open launch has become a workaround tool

Jon Backus 2016Fifteen years ago this week I put the finishing touches on a Q&A with Jon Backus. He might be best known to one group of 3000 managers who flagged down his taxi-like service of MPE education — his Tech University had independent experts whocarried people from one point in their MPE careers to the next, better trained. An MPECert program was part of the venture that went into business just before HP changed its mind about continuing with 3000s. Tech University offered an alternative to Hewlett-Packard training classes, vendor-led education that was on the decline in 2001.

However, there's another milestone in his career just as well known. He launched OpenMPE as 2002 began, starting with a conversation with then-lab manager Dave Wilde. On the strength of that talk, the advocacy movement ultimately delivered MPE source code to third parties. It did take another eight years, but hopes were high at the start. HP named a key lab engineer to a board of directors. Minisoft donated middleware and MPE software from some of its licensed 3000s.

Backus began it all when he launched a discussion group on the Internet to explore the ways MPE might be preserved by its customers after HP steps away from it in a few years: a homesteading option. The group moved quickly to a consensus that open source methods didn’t fit MPE very well.

Jon Backus 2001“The feeling and desire is very much not open source,” Backus said at the time. “The vast majority feeling is a migration of support and control of the entire MPE environment, including IMAGE, to a new entity. The source would continue to be closely controlled, similar to the way it is today.”

Starting a education group for HP server customers was a bold move. We interviewed him as one of the last 3000 experts to sit for a Q&A before HP's November 2001 exit announcement. August 2001's HP World was the last show to offer any HP hope for the server. Without OpenMPE and its work to capture that source code, however, to independent support companies such as Pivital Solutions, the trade secrets of MPE/iX would be lost. Instead that source acts as workaround and custom patch bedrock to help homesteaders.

Source for MPE/iX was not the initial goal Backus proposed for OpenMPE, though. The whole of the 3000 business would pass to a third party in his opening gambit. HP took months to even respond to that, saying the computer's infrastructure was decaying. Tech University was already addressing the brain drain before OpenMPE was born.

"You gradually have a mind-drain of how to use the operating system to the fullest, how to use the third-party utilities to their fullest," he said at HP World 2001. "You end up stuck in a legacy mind-set. Just because the 3000 was created 30 years ago, doesn’t mean it’s frozen in time. It’s evolved. The paradigm shift is that your knowledge of the platform needs to evolve right along with the platform.

"People bash HP for not offering more training. But until you push the boundaries of what your 3000 can do, you don’t have any right to pick on HP for not doing more."

One of the 3000's best HP friends at the time was Jeff Vance, who subsequently spoke for the vendor's intentions from a division-level viewpoint. OpenMPE's ideal of getting the 3000 to a new home outside HP would test the strength of a community that had just been cut off from the vendor.

“We could see if the ecosystem is still deteriorating at the rate we’ve determined, or if customers are willing to accept, say, IMAGE support from a third party,” he said. “That would be my guess at how we’ll get out — and that may lead later on to true open source.”

Vance said that HP didn't have plans to keep its MPE enhancements engineering team together beyond October 2003. As it turned out the team put a few enhancements into the community beyond that date, including an SCSI pass-thru module and a means to connect larger disk storage devices to MPE. Vance said HP resources would be vital to making any new entity successful in extending MPE’s life.

“It has to come soon,” Vance said of HP’s decision on how to help OpenMPE. “We have to make a pretty important decision, and we have to do it quickly. The longer we delay, the more the infrastructure decays.”

This isn't a story with the happy ending Backus and the advocates dreamed about in 2002. But seven companies got limited source code licenses just as HP closed down all of its MPE operations — more than eight years later. If you do business with one of the support companies with a license, that source is there to help solve a problem if needed.

 

12:01 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)