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October 10, 2018

Wayback: Charon kicks off with freeware

Free-beer-case-computer
Six years ago this week the HP 3000 emulator Charon had its debut among the masses who wanted to kick the software's tires. 2012 was the first year when a downloadable version of the PA-RISC emulator, the first of its kind, could be pulled off an FTP server in Switzerland. Stromasys called the freeware a Demo Package.

This was an offering that illustrated the famous gratis versus libre comparison. Something that can be free, like demoware, was also restricted in its use. You paid nothing but had to abide by the rules of use.

One of the more magic portions of that demoware was HP's own software. Since Stromasys had a long HP relationship, tracking back to the days when HP bought Digital, the vendor was able to include mpe75a.dsk.gz, an MPE/iX 7.5 Ldev 1 disk image that contained the FOS and most HP subsystems.

But wait, said the offer, there's even more. The file mpe-tape.img.gz was also available via FTP, a virtual HP 3000 SLT, generated on Stromasys' A Class 400 test system. "You can configure Charon to boot from this virtual tape file," the demo's read me advised, "and perform an INSTALL from SLT."

Whoa, that was all a leap of Web-based advances. For the price of some disc space, a 3000 owner could have PA-RISC hardware (slapped onto freeware Linux, running on an Intel server) plus the 3000's OS (on a limited license) and a file which could become an SLT. HP had never made MPE/iX a downloadable up to that point. The 3000 was beginning to look like a modern server again, empowered by files from an FTP server.

The freeware propogated through the 3000's universe, with each download promising a purchase of the full Charon. It was supposed to be a demonstration of an emulator. A few bad actors in the market tried to make the A-202 model a production version.

That first version of the A-202 freeware emulator was limited to two users. Stromasys has already managed a similar program for the VAX and Alpha hardware emulators in the Digital community. The Personal Alpha demoware was downloaded 10,000 times, Stromasys said, and ran at about 15 percent of the speed of the full AXP Stromasys emulator.

After two years the A-202 started showing up in support calls. These were calls from companies who were not on any Stromasys list, either prospects or customers. The freeware was downloaded and installed and running a production installation in some places. If the A-202 was supposed to be freeware, libre as well as gratis, it might've been alright. 

The A-202, just powerful enough to permit two simultaneous users to get A-Class 400 performance, was always tempting to very small sites. Stromasys was generous enough to permit downloading of the software, as well as the bundled release of MPE/iX FOS software, with few restrictions. But the instructions were explicit: no use in production environments.

The appearance of an emulator in 3000 production shops who hadn't purchased it proved two things. The obvious one was that some people will ignore licenses and rules and take whatever they want. The second thing the A-202 proved was that small 3000 shops would do just fine with an emulated 3000. The only thing left to work out was pricing in a market where HP had declared the OS a relic. As it turned out, the word relic meant holy object infused with powers. The power to drive MPE/iX came in a bundle along with Charon. For a few years it was available for the cost of a download.

Enthusiasts had unlimited personal non-commercial use. Commercial use was limited to evaluating the product.

The Freeware Edition only loaded up after a user configured it with a legal HPSUSAN number. "You must agree to respect these license restrictions before you will be able to download the Freeware edition installation files from our website," the terms of the 1.5 version stated. Stromasys freeware continued to be distributed to prospects who contacted the sales force. By now, a 3000 Charon installation arrives by way of Doug Smith, the 3000 product manager at Stromasys.

06:14 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink

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