OpenMPE legacy: Knowledge door now ajar
March 2, 2010
Although the OpenMPE advocacy group isn't going away -- far from it, during its eighth annual election this week -- these volunteers already have a legacy. The HP source code license for MPE/iX and TurboIMAGE will improve the customer experience of those lucky sites that have a relationship with a license holder.
Last week I used the word lucky in describing the license holders as well, a miscue that Adager's Alfredo Rego noted almost as soon as I told the community about our source code license stories. Rego said in part, "Even though I am under strict non-disclosure on this, I can assure you that 'luck' had nothing to do with HP's decisions. Hint: 'Decades of hard (and meaningful) work' is more like it."
I should have used the word fortunate rather than lucky, but Rego talked more about that required hard work the day after the license holders were announced. Any such holder will need advanced technical skills to make something out of the millions of lines of source HP ships this month.
"The source code by itself is a dead entity," he said. "You have to know how to bring it alive." Adager's know-how goes so deep that one of its former lab engineers, IMAGE co-creator Fred White, has a database flag named after him inside IMAGE called "FW." With that kind of insider skill inside the third party community, Rego wondered why HP needed to limit the use of MPE/iX knowledge at all during 2011.
OpenMPE always believed that HP would need to grant permission to know more about MPE/iX. HP probably consulted with vendors outside of the OpenMPE orbit, but that group put the vendor on record during source negotiations. Knowledge of the OS now has a crack to slip into the customer base after HP exits on Dec. 31. Some license holders already know more about the 3000's operating system internals.
"HP has all these requirements [for source licensing], but I really don't quite understand how they can limit knowledge," Rego said. "Because if you know something, of course you can use that knowledge. But especially in that [license] document, they have all of that legalese at the end." As he said, he's under strict non-disclosure about the contents of that document — but HP's announced intentions have been to limit the utility of source code to maintenance and support needs among the 3000 sites still running a system in 2011.
So these license holders -- who may not have been able to apply for any license without OpenMPE negotiations -- must work inside two challenges: HP's scope of use, as well as technical skills. "Source code is a living thing if you know how to read it, how to interpret it -- and mainly, how to find bugs," Rego said.
One of Robelle's technical experts, Neil Armstrong, concurred that read-only source, limited as it is, can be helpful. "Seeing the source and reading it is certainly a large part of being able to develop patches and potentially avoid any issues," he said. "It may not be perfect, but it helps."
Those bugs Rego mentioned are the system-aborting and data-corrupting mistakes made by HP over 30 years of enhancing the OS and database. The 3000 community will have a living document for such experts to consult while resolving the aborts and corruptions, even while HP has turned over the marketplace to independent entities like Adager and the seven others granted licenses.
These companies now hold the rights to a powerful tool for the 3000's future -- and any organization that worked as hard as they have ought to feel good about the years to come. HP had a chance to review everyone's application for source code. Not a single company would even have gotten to HP's decision point without showing years of proven work and a raft of satisfied customers.
However, there is always the potential for such merit to go unrewarded. That's one of the sad lessons of HP's treatment of the 3000's prowess. This computer never deserved its business fate, dished out by an HP that was shedding innovation in 2001 while it groped for acquisitions. HP has taken too many years to come to this licensing point, and I have seen its top managers turn away from business decisions that would have helped the 3000 community even more than this read-only license. You need only go back one step, to the lobbying for source code that a top-notch licensee could use to make an enhanced MPE or IMAGE. HP turned away from that goodwill gesture, an un-lucky moment for the system's advocates.
Then there was the effort to rescue the entire 3000 business from HP's slippery grasp, something that Rego worked at tirelessly during 2001 and 2002. HP chose not to even consider his business offer's merits -- at least not how it would merit those customers who needed a division and sustained development momentum, rather than a sketchy HP plan to drop their computing platform. Because MPE has always been in HP's intellectual property chest, this year the vendor could have chosen even fewer licensees, or none at all, in the bleakest outcome.
So the community is lucky in that sense, fortunate to have so many licensees crossing such a wide range of experience and expertise. This time, merit has been rewarded; the fair outcome prevailed, although life is not always fair.
Any benefit from these licenses will demand that even more hard work emerge from these companies. OpenMPE will be holding its next election before we start to see any benefits MPE and IMAGE source will bring to the community from the licensees. The group might be able to produce a few patches of its own, given a lively alliance of 3000 gurus it will call upon.