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Personal emulator may help indie vendors

For some small but stellar vendors, holding the fort on aging MPE software, a little help with HP hardware costs wouldn't hurt. If the creators of the Charon HPA/3000 emulator didn't have this in mind when they built a 2-user freeware license for the software, maybe a report from the field could spark some discussion.

A vendor of more than 15 years' experience in the marketplace was getting files on a PC into a format that the 3000 could understand. Why? Months before it rolled out, this vendor was preparing for the A-202 version to be released. The personal-sized freeware emulator turns out to be just fast enough for an MPE developer to keep their code alive, even while the code is not running live at the developer's site.

At least not live on a Hewlett-Packard box, sporting the 3000 badge.

These days I don't run my 3000 unless I have to look at my code. For simple questions that need a quick look at the code, it would be faster to have the source on the PC and not have to spin up the 3000 for the few times I need to actually read the code to answer questions.

I still have a significant number of 3000 sites. They run into problems that, with the passage of time, I can't recall the answer for, so I have to go to the code for a refresher. One question last week took about 10 minutes to find the answer, after starting the 3000. And each time I start that 3000 I cringe. It's old, you know? With the code on the PC, I could find the answer while reading the customer's email.

Nowhere in the Stromasys user license for the A-202 is there a provision for software companies to use the personal emulator for this kind of support purpose. But if you think about it for a minute, these companies and Stromasys are in the same business. Both of them are working to keep MPE software alive and useful. And on many of those revived systems, small vendors' software is essential, as is the need to have it supported by its creators.

To be sure, this expansion of the 2-user license concept, to registered HP 3000 ISVs who still have customers, is going to cost Stromasys some licensing fees. At the worst, a minimal fee -- maybe a way to build an alliance of 3000 partners for the emulator -- could be the cost. Low-cost single-user emulator licenses could give Stromasys one of the most savvy test beds and advocacy platforms any new product, entering an old market, could wish for. Imagine having this testimonial from a vendor with years of savvy demonstrated in the community.

The personal emulator is what I have been waiting for. To be able to run an HP 3000 in a VMware VM, to be able to see the code and compile or whatever I might need, with no reliance on actual HP 3000 hardware, is a dream come true. This is looking good for my needs as a developer -- and to keep being able to support my customers indefinitely.

It's that indefinitely word that sticks with me. Maybe it's a crazy idea. But a "Powered by the HPA/3000" badge on a website might carry more clout in 2013 than the original HP label on the HP-built iron of 2003 or earlier. Instead of "Intel Inside," the hardware that carries HPA/3000 might say, "MPE and IMAGE Inside." Maybe Stromasys dubs it the A-201, and makes it single-user.

After all, without the success of the vendors who brought our community to its golden years, there would be far less need for any emulator. Build something new, and people rush to figure out a way to get it for less. Letting some of these founders have the equivalent of a National Parks Senior Pass (age 62, to go to any park you want for the rest of your life for one $20 fee) would demonstrate goodwill, and perhaps be good business. Testimonials, after all, are harder to come by in 2013 than when the community was much younger.