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December 12, 2018

Source code for MPE/iX: Security, by now

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Ten years ago this week the 3000 community was in a state of anticipation about MPE/iX. HP had an offer it was preparing that would give select vendors the right to use the operating system code. The vendors would have a reference-use-only license agreement for MPE/iX. No one knew whether the source would have any value, said Adager CEO Rene Woc.

Adager, the company whose 3000 products are so omnipresent they held a spot on the Hewlett-Packard corporate price list, believed there was potential for independent support and development vendors. What was far less certain was how far HP would let source go to solve problems for the 3000 community.

"Source code is important whenever these kinds of [vendors] have support from HP, which most of them do," he said in that month of 2008. But HP engineers can look at source, just as third parties will do, "and the answers won't come instantaneously. In the meantime, you have to get your business back on track, and I think that's what the customer is eventually interested in. It will be nice to have that additional [source code] resource — especially in the sense that it will not be lost to the community."

There was a chance that HP's source licensing terms would be too restrictive, "to the point where you say that you are better off not knowing, because then we're free to use all the methods we've worked with while we didn't have source." After getting a license to source, Woc added, "you might have to prove that you got your knowledge through a difference source than HP's source code. We will see."

That sort of proof has never been required. Not in a public display, at least. Source code, held by vendors such as Pivital Solutions and others, has been a useful component in workarounds and fixes. HP never gave the community the right to modify MPE/iX. This turned out to be a good thing, as it kept the 3000s stable and made support a manageable business for application vendors.

There was also the wisdom that the resource of HP's code would have to prove itself. At least it held a chance for rescue and repair.

The source code "is probably a security blanket," Woc said in 2008. "In that respect, it's good that it will be available, that they're starting to offer some things. We'll have to see what kind of conditions HP will offer in their license agreements." 

Having source access though a license did not automatically make license holders better providers of products and services, he added. "You cannot assume, even with good source code readers, that the solutions will pop up," he said. "A lot of the problems we see these days are due to interactions between products. So the benefit for the customer would be based more on the troubleshooting skills that an organization can provide."

"The basic resources [of source] won't make things better by themselves," Woc said. "It's a matter of troubleshooting." 

02:18 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink

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