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New tricks for HP's old dogs, and newer, too

Earlier today HP invited computer customers to a Webcast about NetBeans, technology that will never make it onto MPE/iX servers. The novelty of the Web information, hosted by Encompass, was its target: Users of OpenVMS, the last non-industry-standard operating environment which HP supports.

And an environment HP apparently still extends, given the information in the Webinar.

A plug-in for NetBeans, provided free-of-charge by HP, allows you to use NetBeans on your desktop to develop and debug OpenVMS applications remotely. This includes not only Java applications, but C, C++, Fortran, Cobol, Basic, and Pascal applications.

HP 3000 customers might recall that Java support was a big step forward for their server — back in 1998. Since that time HP has dropped all interest in the "write once, run anywhere" language. That's too bad for homesteaders, who could benefit from this free Integrated Development Environment which has only gotten richer and more proven in the past five years.

But NetBeans, and the power of Java in general, are a good story for a migrating HP 3000 customer, either as impetus to start moving or as a tool to make the migration easier.

There's almost no chance of NetBeans ever emerging on the HP 3000, largely because Java/iX is mired in a 2001 version of Java. Release 1.3 was the final resting place for a breakthrough language that even earned a Just In Time engine for MPE/iX. Mike Yawn demonstrated the Swing interface for Java/iX at one point. Now Yawn has moved beyond HP and into development at eBay. He gives a stark assessment of the challenge of catching up Java on the 3000.

Because [HP] didn't keep porting efforts going, eventually the Java version running on MPE (JDK 1.3) was no longer supported by Sun, which  meant that HP would have been left holding the bag if problems were found in the 'core' Java code (not MPE or PA-RISC specific). So I think they had no choice but to either drop support, or port a still-supported-by-Sun version. You can guess which option was chosen.

Even if an up-to-date Java version was available for MPE, NetBeans would be a tough nut to crack.  NetBeans (and its competitor Eclipse, which is my preferred IDE of the two) both require a lot of GUI support, as well as a robust threads implementation -- two things MPE never did well.  Early on we were trying to support the AWT and Swing GUIs on top of MPE's Motif implementation, but that never worked well enough that I'd count on it being able to handle something as demanding as NetBeans or Eclipse.  So anyone taking that on would be taking on Java + Motif + pthreads, at a minimum.

Developers on Windows, Linux, Unix, Solaris, HP-UX — hey, even Mac OS X — can all take advantage of his new trick. Only HP-UX and Solaris qualify as old dogs among that list, which makes HP's OpenVMS support all the more interesting. Plug-in support to use NetBeans on a PC desktop might be considered something less than complete support. But HP's efforts for its VMS enterprise customers are still more than HP 3000 customers can hope for. You'll have to be on another environment to use this IDE, which you can check out at netbeans.org;

The NetBeans IDE is a free, open-source Integrated Development Environment for software developers. You get all the tools you need to create professional desktop, enterprise, web and mobile applications, in Java, C/C++ and even Ruby. The IDE runs on many platforms including Windows, Linux, Mac OS X and Solaris; it is easy to install and use straight out of the box.

The 6.0 release includes significant enhancements and new features, including a completely rewritten editor infrastructure, support for additional languages, new productivity features, and a simplified installation process that allows you to easily install and configure the IDE to meet your exact needs.

While Yawn said that a Java update for the 3000 is a non-starter, he did hold out some hope that OpenMPE or the 3000 community could do as much as HP has done on the plug-in concept.

I suspect NetBeans offers remote debugging capabilities similar to Eclipse. [Allegro Consultants VP] Gavin Scott and I had some discussions early on about what the sweet spot for MPE might be  — to try to support a nice client-server approach where a developer could use the Eclipse workbench (I don't think we were looking at NetBeans at the time) to debug code running on MPE.   

I don't recall whether we had grander ideas for pushing code back and forth so that you could edit/compile on the PC and then push the class files up to the 3000 for execution, but it seems like that would probably be the next step. A lot of what I'm doing at eBay is Eclipse plug-in development, so I can see now where it would be possible to create an "MPE development plug-in" that could do a lot of this stuff transparently for the developer. So from a client side it could definitely be made to work.

Another problem that OpenMPE would have if they wanted to revive the Java/iX product would be what to do for a just-in-time compiler. That's a huge effort, and not something that I think we could have ever managed if we hadn't leveraged heavily off of the work done by the HP-UX Java lab.  I have no idea whether they are still investing anything in PA-RISC; it seems probably lose-lose, because

a) If HP-UX is still actively supporting PA-RISC, then they probably would be unwilling to share the PA-RISC code for their JIT / HotSpot technology.

b) If HP-UX is Itanium only, they might be willing to share their PA-RISC code, but with no sustaining engineering effort coming from them, OpenMPE would have to figure out how to move that forward with future Java revisions. I have no doubt that [former OpenMPE director] Mark Klein or Gavin could do it, but the list probably ends there.