HP touts Q4 figures in report
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HP creates first MPE/iX source license

Tomorrow: More, on the closing of HP's Jazz lab server

Hewlett-Packard has reached into its recent past to develop a future tool for the 3000, a document to work after the company's end-game in 2010. The vendor still calls this period "end-of-life," but it is devising a means to assist 3000 survival after the vendor leaves the market. Many details of HP’s first third party license of MPE/iX remain under the wraps of what HP calls simple business ethics and commonplace confidentiality.

HP has turned to a resource which left the company, the retired HP engineer Mike Paivinen who heard OpenMPE requests from 2002 to 2007, to help shape this long-sought MPE code license. The license will cover "most of the core operating system, most of networking, and TurboIMAGE," according to Paivinen.

HP hired Paivinen at the end of this summer to work on the licensing project, bringing him back to the company as a contractor. What the vendor is creating will not give anyone enough license to build new versions of MPE/iX. Instead, a license for a read-only reference copy of the source will be available to some companies supporting 3000 users, as well as software suppliers. HP has not capped the number of licenses.

"There is no predefined number of licenses," said Jennie Hou, the e3000 business manager at HP. "We're trying to balance the need for HP e3000 customers to get technical support with the potential downside of having a large number of patch developers." HP didn't say why a large number of developers would be a downside. The company is licensing the use of the source as-is, with no support.

The source code is aimed at companies offering support or products related to the 3000. "The source code is going to be available as reference material for third parties whose business is providing technical support to HP customers," Paivinen said in a briefing. "The way we define technical support is investigating problems, developing workarounds and creating instruction-level binary patches that modify the object code."

A 3000 customer's status as an HP support customer has no bearing on anyone's suitability for a license, HP said.

The source code license is targeted at three types of third parties: 1. Those whose business model is to provide technical support on HP e3000 products; 2. Software providers whose products have an intimate knowledge  of MPE/iX internals, and 3. Software providers whose products emulate one or more aspects of MPE/iX and the HP 3000 on other HP products.

The license will not be sold as a typical HP product. "We're creating a limited number of fee-based licenses," Paivinen said. "This isn't something that's going onto the HP Corporate Price List, something anybody can get. It's a limited licensing arrangement between us and third parties. Therefore, it's not something that's going to be broadly available."

The license goes beyond the "intentions" that HP offered in statements of prior years. "This project is well underway," Hou said, "and we're working on making this possible. The details still need to be worked out, but we are moving forward. This licensing agreement will be made available."

But potential licensees are urged to move quickly. "The longer someone waits to express their interest, the less likely that they would become a licensee," Hou said.

HP will be looking for people who are likely to be capable and responsible licensees of the 3000, and have a track record with the 3000 community. "I don't think you could say that everybody who is supporting 3000 customers is necessarily going to be granted a license to the source code," Paivinen said.

Starting Jan. 1, 2011 - after HP ends the last of its 3000 support - outside vendors can start using source as reference to create patches which modify MPE/iX object code. As such, this license does not enable changes to the operating system source. "It's for use as reference material, that the key," Paivinen said.

HP would not identify, in a discussion with the NewsWire, which parts of the MPE/iX core and networking code will be omitted from the license. Paivinen confirmed that third party intellectual property rights are an issue in releasing some parts of MPE/iX. During user group discussions, members at all levels of the 3000 community identified MPE/iX's streaming module (written by Mentat) and the Posix interface (created for HP by MKS) as third-party portions of the OS.

While not naming these segments as specifically missing from the source license, Paivinen said "We have to honor the agreements with people who have licensed us source code."

HP would not identify what parts of the company will be involved in establishing licenses with third parties. Getting a license established with HP starts with a query. The e-mail requests, aimed at a new [email protected] address, will arrive in Hou's mailbox to start screening and negotiations. But HP would only say that the rest of the process "will begin on the back end."

HP said it expects OpenMPE to request to become a licensee, but the vendor will not comment on the suitability of any potential licensee. OpenMPE falls outside of both HP targets for a licensee as defined on the November Web page. OpenMPE does not supply either support or a software product for 3000 customers -- although the organization has an extensive, and some might say impressive, record with the community.

HP will not make information public on when the source licensing process will be finished, although it is considering how it might allow licensees to tell the community about their status with HP. "Internal workings like that are typically not something we talk to the press about," Paivinen said.

HP has started the process of accepting e-mail queries from interested third parties. HP said that the license terms are nearly complete. "The development of the license agreement is nearly complete and we are ready to begin reviewing requests from potential licensees as they come in," said Hou. The vendor says that the project is funded and staffed and moving.

The timing of the release of source - the start of 2011 - is later than some have requested. OpenMPE has been pushing for an immediate pass-off of MPE source, but HP's timeline will be farther into the future. The advocacy group has tried to ensure that when HP's lab services end next month, an alternative from OpenMPE would be available.

HP is more focused on doing what it can to prevent a gap in support, rather than MPE/iX development. "We're trying to make it work so that [the support] transition is as smooth as possible," Paivinen said. "Our intention is not that there be a gap between HP providing support, and third parties taking over that responsibility."

The license may help support companies and software suppliers to service clients "on what we call a binary patch level," Paivinen said. "They'll be using some sort of mechanism that directly edits binary object code, at an instruction-by-instruction level."

HP has not factored in any coordination requirement among licensees. For now, making patches consistent among the community's sites is up to the licensees.

"We won't be imposing any kind of organizational structure on the community in terms of how they choose to operate," Paivinen said. "We're going to be creating agreements between us and individual companies."

HP intends for the licenses to be uniform, however, at the onset of this process. Negotiations will be under Confidential Disclosure Agreements, a common HP condition for contact matters. HP would not promise that every agreement will be the same once negotiations conclude.

The vendor is now looking at the community-wide aspects of multiple licenses. "There's some questions that have come up recently about how people might choose to cooperate in the community once these licenses become effective," Paivinen said. "Some questions have been brought up that we hadn't originally thought of, that we need to go back and think about and try and understand."

HP is still "strongly recommending for people to transition off the 3000." HP's e3000 Web page will continue to provide information on transition services and materials.