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Wayback: When MPE would need no 3000s

3000 license plateIt's been a decade and a half since HP began to examine the needs of the homesteading base of 3000 owners. Fifteen years ago this month, the first HP proposal for licensing MPE/iX outside of the server's ownership was floated into the community. The document in March of 2003 said that a license could be created "Independent of the HP e3000 platform."

HP had renamed the 3000 as the e3000 to tout the server's Internet compatibility. The era around 2003 was full of possibility. Mike Paivinen was a project manager in R&D who spearheaded a lot of planning for 3000 homesteading. Emulators were on the horizon. Somebody would need licensed MPE if they were to use them. Paivinen authored the un-3000 MPE/iX proposal.

The major concern is that without some more details, companies interested in creating a PA-RISC platform emulator would be unable to fully evaluate their business case for moving forward with an emulator project. Below is HP’s current proposal for distributing the MPE/iX operating system independent of the HP e3000 hardware platform.

Onward the plan went, setting out terms that included running any emulator on HP-branded hardware, as well as operating MPE/iX on the emulator with no warranty. At the time the 3000 division was calling itself Virtual CSY, or vCSY.

vCSY intends to establish a new distribution plan for the MPE/iX operating system which will likely be effective by early 2004. The MPE/iX OS would be licensed independent of the HP e3000 hardware platform. The license terms would grant the licensee the right to use a single copy of MPE/iX on a single HP hardware platform subject to certain terms and conditions. Such terms and conditions would require MPE/iX to be run in an emulated environment, hosted on an HP platform, and would include a statement that MPE is provided “AS-IS” with no warranty.

For about $500 a license, HP would offer MPE/iX and some subsystem software like TurboStore "via an HP website. The customer should be able to purchase MPE/iX online, download it, or have it shipped on CD." There was a big catch that would end up kicking in. Item 16 of an HP FAQ was a question that set out a dare.

16. What happens if no one creates a PA-RISC emulator?

A. This new license would not be offered.

In the same time period as this 2003 license plan emerged, HP didn't want to share PA-RISC internal booting procedures with emulation developers. Stromasys, known as SRI at the time, had a better shot than anyone at getting HP's cooperation. The company was founded by ex-HP/Digital executives and already had Digital VMS cooperation in its history.

The license needed an emulator to be available. But if it had been offered before emulator development was complete, it might have had an impact on HP's development cooperation. The chicken and egg dilemma was therefore hatched.

HP was ready to sell an OS for $500 without warranty that used to cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. By October of 2003 it would not be selling the hardware anymore which forced that price point. MPE hadn't been sold standalone, separate of a 3000, before then.

The offer of standalone MPE/iX remained on the table for years after the 2004 release target. By the time HP wrapped up all of its 3000 operations including support, new licenses for emulators were still possible. HP set an end of 2010 deadline for those deals. An emulator still wasn't finished, although Stromasys was in active development. Ultimately HP's arrangement created no new MPE/iX licenses. Today booting MPE/iX away from HP's iron demands the transfer of an existing 3000 hardware-based license to today's Charon emulator.