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4,383 days for an ecosystem to slip, survive

The Safety of a Frozen Environment

Much is being made, from one source and another, about how the MPE/iX operating system is now unsupported. This is only true if you consider Hewlett-Packard the one true source of MPE support. The hardware falls into the same category -- beyond the creator's support. But a virtualization engine like CHARON will, given another year or so, make unsupported iron a worry of the past. If your budget allows for CHARON software licensing.

MPE/iX, on the other hand, is getting no virtualization. The same software that's running 3000s today will run them next year. There's no updated, doubly-secured version of the 3000's OS that's coming from any source. That can be seen as a benefit, considering what just happened to Windows users this week.

Microsoft released a refreshed version of its venerable Windows XP, and the software promptly locked up millions of machines that took on the update. Most Windows customers have their systems set to accept and install Microsoft updates as provided. Given the rollicking nature of working in the viral world of Windows, security updates are essential. From InfoWorld, this report:

It isn't a new bug, but it's a killer, and this month's round of Automatic Updates has brought it back with a vengeance. Freshly installed Windows XP SP3 machines running Windows Update -- typically because Automatic Update is turned on -- will stall twice. First, when Windows Update accesses the Microsoft website to gather a list of available updates, the machine can lock up for five, 10, 15 minutes -- or more -- with the CPU and fan running at 100 percent. Then, if the customer waits long enough for the updates to appear, and clicks to install them, the XP machine goes racing away again for five or 10 or more minutes, with the CPU redlined at 100 percent. 

If you've turned on Windows Automatic Update, your brand-new WinXP SP3 installation may just sit there and churn and churn. Microsoft has known about the problem for months -- probably years -- but it hasn't fixed it.

This isn't the first time that an XP update stopped machines cold. Microsoft can claim that the problem is that people continue to use an OS that was created more than 12 years ago. But that's the same strategy that seasoned IT pros are following when they don't give up on the HP 3000. In so many places in our lives, old XP systems run a business or an organization. It wasn't broken enough to replace. At least not until Microsoft worked to make it better -- or just different.

HP won't be doing this sort of service for the HP 3000 customer. If there are security risks on the horizon, or gaps in the software's capability, these will be for the community to discover or to bridge. But no automated update will make an MPE/iX server freeze into a service problem overnight.

People started to freeze their own HP 3000s into static, stable mode even before Hewlett-Packard announced it would pull out of the community. Companies first put their servers into lockdown in the months leading up to Y2K. Later, as the prospect of robust improvements to MPE/iX dimmed, enterprises decided that changing little to nothing was the best way to move forward with their 3000s.

The exceptions have required workarounds. Today independent companies create these kinds of updates, on demand and under the customer's watchful direction. The safety of an environment that's frozen is only possible on an integrated and secured system. You won't have the latest Java, or IPV6 Internet addressing, or a hundred other things available even before you know you need them on other platforms. But unlike XP users this week, you know what's going to work tomorrow, because it did yesterday and you didn't change anything in your software configuration.

That's the kind of certainty that keeps budget-conscious and efficient companies using a computer whose demise was first scheduled by the vendor 12 years ago tomorrow.