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Pursuing Crowd-funding for an MPE Port

Open source software once provided a turbo-boost to the renaissance of the HP 3000 and MPE/iX. For one manager, the concept still holds some promise to improve his 3000's offering.

"Does anyone have a newer port of Apache and SSL for the HP 3000?" Frank Gribbin asked last month. "If not, I know a reliable vendor who can do the port. Anyone interested in crowd-funding the effort?"

CrowdfundingGribbin has long been on the trailblazing path with the 3000. His company was among the first to put Java/iX to work in its production software. At the law firm Potter Anderson LLP, he's done development as a part of testing the Charon emulator, too. 

"Our 3000s are still useful and humming along," he said. "I haven't done anything in Java for awhile. But I've been having a lot of success using the Apache CGI capability to communicate with BASIC programs that access IMAGE databases."

BASIC. Still working in a 3000 installation.

"My interest in Java was to build a better user interface for 3000 apps," he said. "I thought that was one reason the 3000 was losing market share. Once I figured out CGI scripting and a web interface, I put my effort into that. On our 3000, most of the time, BASIC got the job done. I've written supplemental code in FORTRAN, SPL, Java and Visual Basic, too."

Java does suffer from performance issues on the HP 3000, in part because of HP’s strategy of throttling down the speeds of PA-RISC processors in A-Class and N-Class 3000s. Crowd-funding open source work is only one element in improving such software. While an outside organization might be able to get the language’s latest version ready for MPE/iX, any such group might also have to pay to transfer the Java for MPE license that HP originally got.

The last MPE/iX version of Java was getting the job done, language expert Gavin Scott said during one of the final SIG-Java meetings at HP World.

“Today's Java version for MPE should be good enough for most needs going forward,” Scott said at the 2004 meeting. “It's already Nth generation technology both from the point of view of Java from Sun and from the MPE porting effort. If you're developing your own code, having an older Java version should really be no problem. The only issue that arises is if you want to run some commercial package that's not certified for the older version, or can't be made to run due to it missing some later feature.”

“But once HP stops producing Java for MPE, there will be no future releases,” he added. “I believe you need to be a big company prepared to shell out a lot of money for a Java license and meet many very complex and expensive requirements.”

Scott noted at that time he knows of third-party Java execution systems, compilers, and class-library implementations — some of which are free. “But none are really a replacement for the full Sun Java implementations,” he said.

Gribbin spoke with a Java licensing representative about extending the life of the language on the HP 3000.

“While the source code is free, implementing it on our platform is our challenge, and certification for redistribution of a J2SE implementation is in the $75,000 to $100,000 range,” he said back in 2004. “J2SE provides an option for headless configurations, and we'd be okay in the test harness without GUI features.”

By now, the abilities of the Apache web server software are standing in for the language that HP once ported. Ports were a promising way to win new 3000 sites. Now they're a way to keep the system connected to the servers that HP allowed to rise up in the 3000's place.

"Vendors maximize profits with 'out with the old, in with the new,' " Gribbin said. "Customers minimize expenses with 'keep what is best of the old and enhance with the new.' Just a different priority."