Getting OS licenses for emulator: once easy at HP

For hobbyists who operate emulators, licenses for OpenVMS have a new supplier. VMS Software Inc. is supplying OS licenses for the VAX users who employ the Stromasys Charon emulators. Up until this year, such licenses were only available from HP.

The HP-only license, issued as a production asset, remains the only type that 3000 hobbyists can use. It might seem like a small point, since a hobbyist won’t often be concerned with OS licenses. But the 3000 was once on its way to such a license, attached to the need for an emulator.

OpenVMS free-to-tinker agreements from VSI have an attractive price, one that MPE/iX never achieved: free.

Hobby traditions

Hobbyist licensing for VAX and other DEC systems was already a tradition by the time HP merged with Compaq in 2002. Compaq had acquired DEC and its business servers in 1998. The plan for a large footprint for OpenVMS might have played a role in getting the first Stromasys emulator into the world.

That was back in the day when Charon was offered by Software Resources International. The company renamed itself Stromasys in 2012, remaining in close connection with HP. Hewlett-Packard said Charon “prolongs the usability of HP OpenVMS VAX and MicroVAX applications by enabling their transfer to new hardware platforms without any conversion effort.”

It was just the sort of thing the 3000 community desired: vendor blessing of an independent emulation tool. More important, such a blessing was going to arrive before HP stopped selling new OS licenses.

“Charon-VAX emulates a complete MicroVAX system on an OpenVMS Alpha, Linux, Windows NT or Windows 2000 platform,” HP told customers in a 2005 web page, “allowing OpenVMS applications to run unmodified.”

In contrast, a $500 license for a production-level system was HP’s best offer at the time. OpenVMS users had to be running an Alpha system to get that emulator deal. Windows and Linux systems would cost a $1,000. HP called these extension licenses. The hobbyist-grade OpenVMS was free.

HP bought in fully on integrating Charon with HP’s support. The existing HP software service contracts were valid on supported OpenVMS VAX applications running on the emulator. HP would fix software problems if they also appeared in a comparable VAX environment. The offer extended to a layered version of the OS, which included compilers, clustering, and more.

Emulator licenses for MPE/iX

HP 3000 users still dream of a deal around the release of Charon or any other emulator. In a crucial move, a customer could be eligible to purchase a license that was not connected in any way to an existing 3000 system.

Late in 2003, HP said it “intends to establish a new distribution plan for MPE/iX 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.”

HP wanted its emulator-based 3000 users to host the systems on HP-branded PCs. There was little technology available to verify such a condition, though. MPE would be provided “AS-IS” with no warranty.

HP didn’t endorse the use of a 3000 emulator in 2004. The HP of that era stuck fast to the strategy that the best move was a transition from MPE/iX to another HP platform. “At the same time, HP realizes that some customers are interested in running MPE/iX applications in an emulated environment.”

The expected price for an MPE/iX license was $500, with a right to use that was non-transferable. HP was going to include subsystems software such as compilers, but it didn’t get specific about which products.

The DEC VAX license was generous in its scope, including products from ACMS to X.500.

HP closeout

For MPE/iX, the emulator license that would create new 3000s, based only on PC-Intel hardware, never showed up in time. HP inserted a clause that said such a license could only be purchased while an emulator was being sold. Then the vendor closed out the offer, by saying it would sell no MPE/iX licenses of any kind after 2010.

The deal stands in sharp contrast with the OpenVMS lifespan that’s been engineered by HP Enterprise. An independent company, VSI, now holds the rights to the OS. Now it’s going to be able to distribute an OpenVMS for hobbyists.

Leave a Reply