Does orphaned source code belong to you?
Gift wishes heading into the future

Seeking forgiveness as a support plan

So sorry chalkboard
ERP software becomes wired in deeply at corporations. Now that MANMAN has seen the end date coming for its manufacturer support, customers who rely on the ERP suite are looking for a 2020 plan to keep using it.

One aspect is a ruling about whether a product or a vendor is dead, but the intentions for its product lives on. It's an aspect of law called droit moral in France. Droit moral is not recognized in the US. Intentions are preserved in droit moral.

Some HP 3000 owners considered HP a dead entity after 2008, when no more patches were being built. HP's intellectual rights to MPE and the HP 3000 remain in effect. But there are those moral rights, too. This computer would not have become the keystone at places like aircraft makers and airline ticket agencies without customers' contributions, work that started many years ago. In fact, HP once recognized this kind of help in the market with the e3000 Contributor of the Year Award.

Contributors earn rights when measured in terms of ethics. Droit moral preserves ethics.

Source code rights might belong to customers once a product goes into permanent hibernation at the manufacturer. In 2008, I wrote that I believed that in order to honor droit moral for the 3000 community, HP's increasingly restrictive statements of licensing needed to stop. The vendor's support group needed to move on to other profitable HP markets. The vendor needed to leave owners and customers to continue using their computer, without any extra licensing payments to HP.

Droit moral lived in the hearts of some of the 3000 advocates within HP. While I visited HP's 3000 group one afternoon, the former business manager Dave Wilde and I walked across the wooded HP campus to lunch. That entire campus site is now the location of Apple Park, Apple's worldwide HQ, so things have changed a lot. At the time, through, Wilde said the 3000 group wanted to give the system "the ending that it deserves." It sounded warm and genuine.

Infor, the owners of MANMAN, are not as warm and genuine, even though they have enough sense about branding to sponsor the NBA Brooklyn Nets with an Infor logo on Nets uniforms. At the moment there's no coordinated effort from the remaining MANMAN customers to establish whether MANMAN truly belongs to customers after the exit of its creator. The customers are unsure who might even respond to such ownership questions.

Terry Floyd, who worked for the creators of MANMAN before starting his independent support company early in the 1990s, believes the intention of the customers should be the guiding signpost into a post-vendor future.

One customer on a user group conference call said they need source code they didn't have, because something is broken in MANMAN. "We found we don't have the source for some of the system commands," the manager said,  "because we wanted to fix some commands, and don't have the code."

Floyd said the restrictions on source should come off for MANMAN users next summer. If a site is missing some source, it might be at another customer site. An exchange could be made.

"I think a lot of people have lost some source code over the years," Floyd said, "and I think it will be legal for people to move it around between them individually after May or June." Like another caller, he added, "I'm not a lawyer either."

The ending the 3000 deserved didn't become a reality. The software that powers PA-RISC servers remains legally bound to a company no longer supporting or selling that operating system. This is the same circumstance facing the MANMAN users of 2019. A vendor's exit is just one important milepost on an application's highway. The goes on beyond vendor plans.

Some large customers are going on beyond Infor's end of support business. Modifying software, fixing bugs: these are things that matter more to customers than to manufacturers. Swapping source code is a strategy that will be governed by seeking forgiveness if there's any lawsuit to prevent it — rather than asking for permission. That's a strategy that will meet the droit moral.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay