Hack and slash ports make up early open source work

Some of the most ardent and seasoned developers in the OpenVMS world are struggling. Not to find work. They’re trying to make time to create and test open source software for users of VAX and Integrity systems.

John Malmberg was a porting expert at HP in the years when OpenVMS just arrived from Compaq. His work during that time helped move programs from OpenVMS to Unix. Malberg is one of the leaders of the open source movement for OpenVMS.

“The problem is we just do not have enough volunteers or sponsored work to get everything done that needs to be done,” he reported to the OpenVMS community last month. “One of the problems we have been having is some of our past participants no longer have time to contribute. Others have volunteered, but have not shown up to follow-up meetings.”

The work is important to make OpenVMS a full player in any datacenter where Linux is also used. HP 3000 community members attacked this challenge in the late 1990s. That MPE/iX work made the 3000 a more viable option in an open systems environment.

OpenVMS is retaining a customer base, and only recently lost its slot in the HP Enterprise lineup. These facts have become a reason why key open source tools remain unfinished. Traditional tools written for OpenVMS continue to serve needs in datacenters.

Some parts of the classic open source toolbox are run under OpenVMS. The bootstrapping GNU suite runs under OpenVMS and is known as GNV. “The only parts of GNV that have been QA-tested that I can think of are Bash, Tar (its testing missed two critical bugs), diffutils, and GAWK,” Malmberg reported.

Volunteers for the testing can show up at the next conference call for the open source group on March 19. But a SourceForge community is wrapped around OpenVMS and can help new volunteers. It does not need a specific meeting date, being online at SourceForge.

The caliber of the current work needs more testing, Malmberg said. “I would also like to get away from HACK/SLASH/publish ports. This is where just enough HACKs are done to make it compile and appear to function. Then a section of functionality is slashed out of the final package, and the result is published with out any real testing going on.”

The quick coding results deliver “quite a bit of VMS conditional compiles in the code” Malmberg said. He added there are “usually some bugs and missing functionality, though usually in cases not noticed by the end-users.” Most of these issues are not noticed by commercial VMS customers, so the porting appears to work. Getting away from the HACK/SLASH/publish ports takes more time and skill.

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