OpenMPE might have fired a flare this week with its open letter to HP, but that action may not light the way to new opportunity for keeping MPE/iX patches available in 2009. Nothing good comes without the pursuit being difficult in places, unless you're Kosmo Kramer in Seinfeld.
There are people in your community who have allowed the 3000 to get inside of them, so they love it, cannot let it go out of their lives. But to some others, the effort to keep MPE/iX maintained for another 10 or 20 years seems like it's getting hard. But the hard is not necessarily a reason to stop trying.
It's baseball playoffs season right now. I'm reminded of a few lines from the movie A League of Their Own. Dottie Henson, the best player on the all-female baseball team, wants to quit, and she argues with Jimmy Dugan, the manager who believes in her, and in the game.
Jimmy: Baseball is what gets inside you. It's what lights you up, you can't deny that.
Dottie: It just got too hard.
Jimmy: It's supposed to be hard. If it wasn't hard, everyone would do it. The hard... is what makes it great.
Just to start, here are some hard things that OpenMPE and HP will need to work out to get your HP 3000 operating system code onto the volunteer group's test benches — indeed, into any lab other than HP's.
1. Indemnification. Might as well start with the legal hurdles here, because this is a license that OpenMPE is seeking. Once HP puts the code for MPE/iX into anyone's hands, the license must protect HP from any problems caused by engineering created by the licensee. It's like, using patches built outside of HP's lab should have nothing to do with HP's responsibility. While that seems obvious, threats of legal remedies to bugs and downtime need to stop outside HP's doors.
2. Caliber of the licensee. HP gets to measure this to grant its license, because MPE/iX belongs to Hewlett-Packard. And unless the company surprises everyone and sells the source code, the OS will always belong to HP, so the vendor gets to set terms. Up to now the company has said that HP intends to license the source code — but the specifics have not been announced about terms for the license. Private or public company, non-profit or for-profit, track record or none in the 3000 community: these are all up for HP's examination.
3. Portability of process. MPE/iX has been built inside of Hewlett-Packard for more than two decades. (And MPE goes back another 15 or more years.) This work has been shared in no place except HP's labs and at a few outside contractor labs — but the latter has only seen pieces of the OS. Nobody has proved to the world outside of HP that MPE/iX patches can be built and integrated anyplace but HP. Outside contractors have created features and functionality, but that work has been done with HP's help. This help is not likely to be available after 2008. After all, HP itself says it will stop doing MPE/iX engineering in about 14 months or so.
4. Pricing for value. Whoever HP licenses MPE/iX to will need to make money off the process. Revenues at the least, enough money to pay the developers and keep servers and software utilities up to date. A test bed of customer sites will have to be administered, too. Two years ago, OpenMPE gave a "wild ass guess" that a virtual lab would need an annual budget of more than $1 million a year. How much of the budget will go to HP to pay licensing fees, and what HP needs to charge, still haven't been discussed.
There's more, so much more, that has not been hammered out or even etched between OpenMPE and HP. The vendor has gotten a lot of free benefit from the advocacy and advice OpenMPE creates with its questions and concerns. That benefit has kept many HP customers better off while they make a transition, or try to decide what's next. OpenMPE can argue that this hard work has kept some HP customers on the reservation. It must be worth something, and HP seems to understand and accept that fact.
Even if HP can't announce a license plan in two weeks' time, or even set a date for the source licensing, perhaps the vendor can release a list of conditions any licensee must meet to be considered. The only candidate for this license now, the only organization who wants this business, is OpenMPE and the engineers which it can contract.