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April 26, 2017

Wayback Wed: Doing the Beta patch Samba

Samba dancerIn April of HP's 2006, the company was exhorting its customers to use the 3000 improvements built by the vendor. Near the top of that list was the latest Samba, the printer and file sharing open source software that made it easy for 3000s to connect to Windows servers and resources. The latest version was 3.0.22, delivered to the world in the same year as the Samba community began to use it. The snag for a 3000 user: the official patch was only available to customers that year with an HP support contract.

The issue remained a troubling one that HP settled by the end of its 3000 business. Beta patches with improvements like SCSI Pass Thru and Samba eventually got unfettered distribution, even through they never passed the tests needed for General Release status. Today, the best way to get any HP 3000 patch is to use the guidance of an independent support company. We never tire of reminding readers that Pivital Solutions is an all-3000 provider, an official reseller of 3000s until HP closed that business, and one of seven holders of an MPE/iX source code license. It's a unique combination.

HP improved the 3000 and repaired bugs with a patch process that included alpha and beta testing before going into general release to customers. General Release status was important, because until HP's code was GR'd no one could get it but HP support customers. That was a wide gap in coverage. By 2006 the majority of the 3000 world was getting support from the independent companies which serve the community today. Alpha testing happened inside HP, and beta happened in the customer shops where a test machine was available. As the 3000's futures dwindled inside HP, though, the beta testers became harder to recruit. Customers usually took on patches in a PowerPatch collection. One was being prepared for the ultimate MPE/iX 7.5 release during April, 2006.

The announcement of a PowerPatch deadline was a routine message from HP's 3000 lab. The messages asked customers to pick up what they'd ordered though the Systems Improvement Ballot. "There are more than 30 beta-test patches still not qualified to be included in the PowerPatch. Tests of PowerPatches must be completed by customers on HP support. The 7.5 patches can only be tested on a subset of the 3000 installed base: any server released before the 9x8 systems won't be able to test anything created for 7.5."

HP lab liaison Jeff Vance told the user community, "If you voted for one of the many SIB items which are stuck in beta-test, waiting to become GR patches, and have not requested any of these patches, please do so ASAP. It really doesn’t do the user community much good to have a bunch of MPE enhancements stuck in beta-test, maybe never to see the light of day."

Customers' devotion to stability kept the beta test improvements in the dark. Changes to a 3000 became harder to justify on a stable, version-frozen server. Samba 3.0.22 was ported by HP for all three supported OS versions of that year, from 6.5 through 7.5. It was the final Samba version developed through HP's labs, a significant one since Samba gained the ability to join Active Directory as a member, though not as a domain controller. Samba was one of the first advances for 3000s resulting from Posix standards for MPE -- developments that earned the OS its /iX name.

As HP closed down the MPE/iX labs, concerns rose about beta-test enhancements like a current Samba disappearing for customer use. A beta patch that never made it to General Release might be unavailable once HP's support contracts ended. The vendor came through with a plan to make the beta patches available to the world: ask HP support for what you'd like by name. Samba 3.0.22 was dubbed SMBMXY6F, for example.

The patched MPE/iX code itself remains inside HP Enterprise, but HP 3000 customers enjoy a unique place in HP's support world. A current HP support contract isn't required to get the code. It's a dance, to be sure, that a customer must do with HP support—but at least now that HP's been divided into Enterprise and Printer companies, the 3000 questions don't get confused with HP printers using the same number.

Samba is still being enhanced and secured today, 20 years after it was first launched by Australian developers who linked servers to Windows machines. Samba is included with most Linux distros and enjoys one of the widest deployments among open source solutions. Getting the 3000 onto a secure, up to date Samba in 2006 was a sign that HP's lab was still at work in a year the 3000 was supposed to be hitting its end of life.

Samba 3.0.22 fell off of open source community support in 2009 when the whole 3.x.x family of Samba was retired. A significant security bug showed up by 3.6.3 that allowed anonymous users to gain root access to a system from an anonymous connection, through the exploitation of an error in Samba's remote procedure call. The HP 3000 often was immune to such exploits since it didn't have an OS structure like that of Unix.

07:09 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink

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