HP will give its other proprietary creation another life

Legacy products don’t die quickly, even in the wake of a vendor’s announcement to end support. As proof, look around for users of Tru64 Unix, MPE/iX, and OpenVMS. Back in 2013, HP said it knew of 2,500 unique customers using OpenVMS. Those are the customers HP knew of at the time. Countless additional companies had gone to supporting themselves.

Users of Tru64 had a different set of choices once HP closed up shop on that legacy environment. Tru64 was rooted in Berkley BSD Unix. Making a migration was not easy, but not as hard as moving away from MPE/iX or OpenVMS. There was at least an industry Unix standard to use as a guide. Linux stepped in, even carried along by vendors as big as SAP.

OpenVMS and MPE/iX are genuinely proprietary legacy environments. That’s original design inside those operating systems. Leaving that kind of legacy is a more daunting challenge.

The MPE/iX community was not given the same advantages as OpenVMS got. Starting in 2014, Hewlett Packard promised to pass on its proprietary designs to VMS Software. Proprietary software can die more quickly when its designs stay locked in the vaults of a vendor who’s quitting the market.

The numbers for remaining customers were similar for MPE/iX when HP canceled its business futures. More than 2,000 customers were still using the OS and known to HP. The larger independent software vendors tried to mount an offer to assume the proprietary source code, and then the customers, from HP.

Unlike the OpenVMS fate, the HP 3000’s new keepers got shut out. Even if canceling the OS wasn’t a mistake at HP, pushing away a rescue by the community was an obvious error. HP assumed that its proprietary customers would embrace Unix. Fewer than one in four even attempted that switch. The cost in goodwill was high.

The legacy of that mistake is the extension of the future of OpenVMS to VSI. It remains to be seen if VSI is better qualified and organized than those MPE/iX rescuers were. At the time of the OpenVMS announcement, HP’s VP of mission critical systems Randy Meyer said, “I think [licensing OpenVMS] will get the customers what they want.”

Another life for a proprietary creation is all any legacy OS customer can expect. Every product leaves a vendor’s lineup sooner or later. Getting the adoption papers signed is the new lease on life that OpenVMS sites earned — maybe by surviving during the era when MPE/iX was being sidelined by HP.

Photo by Sven Vahaja on Unsplash

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