A fleet of trucks couldn’t fell MPE

3000 manager Tracy Johnson talks about the state of MPE’s durability. Johnson, a volunteer from OpenMPE who manages 3000s for TE Connectivity, cites the Truck Factor for the 3000 and its OS. “In what year did MPE reach the Truck Factor?” he asks. The factor refers to the number of developers who must get hit by a truck before development dies.

The Truck Factor measures the durability of open source projects. Results of an industry study show that most open source systems have a small truck factor. Close to half of these have a Truck Factor of 1, and 28 percent have a Truck Factor of 2. You get the factor by looking at software author signatures for code on GitHub in six languages. Those are JavaScript, Python (22 systems), Ruby, C/C++, Java, and PHP.

MPE long ago stopped counting the names of such authors. Development ended for the OS when HP retired or reassigned its lab staff during 2009. The truck factor of MPE is high when you account for the tribal operating and administrative knowledge of the OS. Dozens of MPE experts in the community must fall under the wheels of trucks for MPE’s operational knowledge to expire.

“I honestly don’t think it applies any longer to MPE,” Art Bahrs commented on the 3000 mailing list, “as MPE has now stabilized and has a support base in people like Stan Sieler, Birket Foster, Donna Hofmeister, Neil Armstrong, Alfredo Rego and such. I know I’m forgetting lots more.”

“If there aren’t people out there who are willing to learn new “old” things, then MPE will fade out as this community fades away.”

When an OS moves out of active development, it becomes stable. It won’t acquire new capabilities, and newer technologies will struggle to be relevant in an environment like MPE. But newer wonders like netty, a “client server framework which enables quick and easy development of network applications such as protocol servers and clients,” have a TF of 1. If just one developer dies by truck, more than half the GitHub code for netty becomes an orphan.

Birket Foster of MB Foster talks of a rogue bus, or a lottery victory, to illustrate the delicate state of MPE knowledge at many customer sites. Winning or meeting your end under the wheels of a bus  could start a company’s demise of MPE practices. Finding seasoned help to take over in such a tough circumstance would not be impossible. But recovering the knowledge of custom apps will be a challenge for any company that doesn’t document crucial applications and practices.

The senior status of MPE among technologies evoked another use of the truck metaphor for Scott Gates. Commenting on the newsgroup, he evoked the history of the 3000 at his school district.

“For me, MPE and the HP 3000’s “Truck Factor” has been it’s like an old pickup truck. You put the key in, turn it over, and it’s running. In my four years at Bellefonte, we had one unscheduled downtime when an original system drive failed after almost 10 years of constant use.”

Image by David Mark from Pixabay

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