Today's the day that Microsoft gives up its Windows XP business, but just like the HP 3000 exit at Hewlett-Packard, the vendor is conflicted. No more patches for security holes, say the Redmond wizards. But you can still get support, now for a fee, if you're a certain kind of Windows XP user.
It all recalls the situation of January 2009, when the support caliber for MPE/iX was supposed to become marginal. That might have been true for the typical kind of customer who, like the average business XP user, won't be paying anything to Microsoft for Service Packs that used to be free. But in 2009 the other, bigger sort of user was still paying HP to take 3000 support calls, fix problems, and even engineer patches if needed.
A lot of those bigger companies would've done better buying support from smaller sources. Yesterday we took note of a problem with MPE/iX and its PAUSE function in jobstreams, uncovered by Tracy Johnson at Measurement Specialties. In less than a day, a patch that seemed to be as missing as that free XP support of April 8 became available -- from an independent support vendor. What's likely to happen for XP users is the same kind of after-market service the 3000 homesteader has enjoyed.
Johnson even pointed us to a view of the XP situation and how closely it seems to mirror the MPE "end of life," as Hewlett-Packard liked to call the end of 2010. "Just substitute HP for Microsoft," Johnson said about a comparison with makers of copiers and makers of operating systems.
If Windows XP were a photocopier, Microsoft would have a duty to deal with competitors who sought to provide aftermarket support. A new article in the Michigan Law Review argues that Microsoft should be held to the same duty, and should be legally obligated to help competitors who wish to continue to provide security updates for the aging operating system, even if that means allowing them to access and use Windows XP's sourcecode.
HP did, given enough time, help in a modest way to preserve the maintainability of MPE/iX. The vendor sold source code licenses for $10,000 each to support companies. In at least one case, the offer of help was proactive. Steve Suraci of Pivital Solutions said he was called by Alvina Nishimoto of HP and asked, "You want to purchase one of these, don't you?" The answer was yes. Nobody knew what good a source code license might do in the after-market. But HP was not likely to make the offer twice, and the companies who got one took on the expense as an investment in support in the future.
But there was a time in the 3000's run-up to that end-of-HP Support when the community wanted to take MPE/iX into open source status. That's why the advocacy group was named OpenMPE. Another XP commenter on Slashdot echoed the situation the 3000 faced during the first years of its afterlife countdown.
(Once again, just substitute HP and MPE for Microsoft and XP. In plenty of places, they'll be used together for years to come.)
XP isn't all that old, as evidenced by the number of users who don't want to get off of it. It makes sense that Microsoft wants to get rid of it -- there's no price for a support contract that would make it mutually beneficial to keep tech support trained on it and developers dedicated to working on it. But at the same time, Microsoft is not the kind of company that is likely to release it to the public domain either. The last thing they would want is an open source community picking it up, keeping it current with security patches and making it work on new hardware. That's the antithesis of the forced upgrade model.
Note: MPE/iX has been made to work with new hardware via the CHARON emulator. Patches are being written, too, even if they are of the binary variety. XP will hope to be so lucky, and it's likely to be. If not, there's the migration to Windows 7 to endure. But to avoid that expense for now, patches are likely to be required. The 3000 community can build many of them. That's what happens when a technology establishes reliability and matures.