Fifteen years ago this month, Hewlett-Packard gave the recently-orphaned HP 3000 customer base hope. The vendor was speaking at the first HP World conference since HP's plan to curtail 3000 futures. Customers were reluctant in 2002 to step away from MPE/iX, at least at the pace their vendor was urging. In a roundtable at the conference in LA, HP said PA-RISC emulators capable of running MPE/iX software could be licensed for HP's OS.
It would take most of the next 10 years to make an emulator a reality, a period when HP declined to share tech details that would've sped development from third parties like Stromasys (which was called Software Resources International at the time.) Charon came onto the market during the years when HP had run out the clock on issuing new 3000 licenses.
HP's Dave Wilde said at that conference that 19 of the top 20 application suppliers for the 3000 were already on the move to HP’s other platforms. 3000 owners were moving at a pace far slower than the app suppliers, though. Customer interests in 2002 were higher about ways to ensure a supply of newer hardware once HP quit making it 12 months from the conference.
HP was far off in figuring how to placate its customers devoted to MPE/iX. The vendor would extend a 50 percent credit for N-Class systems to be used toward any HP-UX system. The discount was to drop to 40 percent during 2005 and 30 percent during 2006.
The discounts were going to be too short-lived. Customers were so engaged with their 3000s that HP had to extend its end of support date beyond 2006, and then beyond 2008. Post-2008 was the period when the 3000 emulator's development started to take off.
HP’s announcements at the September, 2002 show represented its first tangible offer to customers with continued 3000 ownership as their most cost-effective strategy. HP did not release pricing for the MPE licenses to accompany such an emulator. At the time, there was the possibility that such emulator software could make Intel x86 as well as Itanium processors look like PA-RISC 3000 hardware. The pricing of the MPE/iX licenses was going to be an issue, the customers believed.
“The issues surrounding price and the distribution for the MPE license are pretty much the remaining variables in whether or not it’s possible to do this as a commercial venture,” said Gavin Scott at the meeting. Scott figured that an emulator solution would cost $15,000 when factoring in HP’s MPE license fee. He thought it might be a tough compare against a used Series 900 system purchased on eBay.
The cost analysis that was true in 2002 would become more so with each year that HP's hardware aged. Fifteen years later, HP 3000 A-Class hardware is being sold for under $2,000 a system. The components inside these boxes are now 15 years older, though, and not even HP-engineered systems were guaranteed to run that long.
“You’re getting very close to the point where I think an emulator will happen," Scott said in 2002. "It will, however, be an open source, freeware thing that gets built in our garages in our spare time over the next five or six years. Whether that will be something you’d want to run your businesses on is less likely than if there’s an active, commercial effort to do it.” The active commercial enterprise came through with the release of Charon.
Some 3000 advocates on that day 15 years ago felt certain — making new 3000 licenses would be crucial to keeping the system a viable, mission-critical platform with commercial prospects..
“HP has agreed in principle to put a mechanism into place to allow the creation of new MPE licenses after they exit the business,” said Mark Klein, winner of the Interex-HP HP 3000 contributor award. “Without that, MPE is dead. With that, there is the possibility that MPE can live on for those that want it.”
In 2002, though, HP wanted to spark sales of the 3000 and protect that business through 2003. It said it would not let a version of MPE be used with any hardware emulator before the end of sales date in 2003. No one figured an emulator would be ready by that year, and some estimated six years and more. But SRI considered creating such an emulator to be a swifter project. Once HP opened up its tech resources to aid in Processor Dependent Code emulator aspects, Charon proceeded smartly.
HP cut down its fresh MPE/iX 3000 license process in 2010, the year it closed its MPE/iX labs. However, the lack of new 3000 licenses didn't prevent an emulator from making a footprint on the homesteader base. The size of the footprint could have been greater with more immediate tech cooperation from HP.
In 2002, the vendor was shutting down its 3000 operations, just not at the pace it expected to do so. The vendor fell short of helping with the next step for a slow-migrating customer: an emulator to outlast HP's iron. The MPE license for emulators was a start to homesteading hopes. It was a start that a third party had to finish, extending faith to the market. The timing would always be questioned, though. HP tech help came through about a year before its MPE/iX lab closed.