It's not fair to Hewlett-Packard to portray its Discover meeting this week as just another exercise in putting dreams of industry-rocking memristor computing to rest. The company also shared the source code for one of its products with the world, a tool the vendor has used itself in a profitable software product.
HP’s Chief Technology Officer Martin Fink, who also heads up HP Labs, announced the release of Grommet, HP’s own internal-use advanced open source app. The platform will be completely open source, licensed for open use in creating apps' user experience, or UX as it's known in developer circles. Fink said Grommet was HP’s contribution to the IT industry and the open source community.
HP says "Grommet easily and efficiently scales your project with one code base, from phones to desktops, and everything in between." The vendor has been using it to develop its system management software HP OneView for more than three years. The code on GitHub and a style guide help create apps with consumer interfaces, so there's a uniform user experience for internal apps. Application icons like the one on the left are available from an interface template at an HP website.
The gift of HP's software R&D to a community of users is a wide improvement over the strategy in the year that followed an exit announcement from MPE/iX futures. A campaign to win an MPE/iX open source license, like the Creative Commons 4.0 license for Grommet, came to naught within three years of that HP notification. There were some differences, such as the fact that HP still was selling MPE/iX through October of 2003, and it was collecting support money for the environment as well.
The 3000 community wanted to take MPE/iX into open source status, and that's why its advocacy group was named OpenMPE. It took eight more years, but HP did 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. These were limited licenses, and they remain a vestige of what HP might have done -- a move not only echoed by Grommet, but reflected in HP's plan to move OpenVMS to a third party.
"I guess there is a difference between licensing the MPE code and then distributing it," our prolific commenter Tim O'Neill said last week.
I have heard that HP hangs onto the distribution rights because they are afraid of liability. Surely they do not, at this point, still seek to make money off it, do they? Is there some secret desire within HP to once again market it?
It feels safe to say not a bit of desire exists in HP today, even though Grommet shows the vendor can be generous with more mainstream tech. In at least one case, HP's offer of help with MPE's future was proactive, if not that generous.
Pining over Grommet or the sweeter disposition of OpenVMS won't change much in the strategy of owning or migrating from MPE/iX. Open source has become a mainstream enterprise IT scheme by 2015, pumped up by the Linux success story. O'Neill said he still believes an open source MPE/iX would be a Linux alternative. He reported he recently discovered the Posix interface in MPE/iX. Posix was supposed to be a way to give MPE the ability to run Unix applications, using 1990 thinking.
The aim for Posix was widely misunderstood. It was essential to an MPE/iX user experience that didn't materialize as HP hoped. But John Burke, our net.digest and Hidden Value editor for many years, noted in the weeks after that exit announcement that HP's training on Posix expressed that desire of bringing the Unix apps to the 3000.
The following is an example from HP training:
"Before we proceed, let's stop to ask a question, just to ensure you've got the fundamental idea. Which of the following statements best summarizes the reason why HP has brought POSIX compliant interfaces to the MPE/iX operating system and the HP3000?
- POSIX is the first step in HP's plan to move all HP3000 users to UNIX
- POSIX is a tool that HP is using to bring new applications to MPE from the UNIX environment.
- POSIX is a piece of software that HP is using to eventually combine the HP3000 and the HP9000 into a single system.
Choose the best answer, and press the corresponding key: ‘1’, ‘2’ or ‘3’."