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January 2005

net.digest tracks each month’s message traffic on the 3000-L mailing list and comp.sys.hp.mpe Internet newsgroup. Advice offered from the messages here comes without warranty, so be sure to test before you implement.

Edited by John Burke

Happy New Year 2005

So much for the good cheer. The 24-month countdown to the end of HP’s support for MPE/iX is underway. Maybe it is just the holidays (I write this on New Year’s Day), but I find myself in a particularly cantankerous mood. Perhaps it is not the holidays, but the fact that almost 38 months after the November 2001 HP 3000 discontinuance announcement, HP still has not given any indication if it will allow MPE to survive as an operating system that can be supported or enhanced by third parties into the future. All we have is HP’s vague promise to make a decision on the feasibility of licensing MPE in some form, a decision expected in the second half of 2005.

HP has also fallen well short of fulfilling — or even presenting updates to — recent Systems Improvement Ballot (SIB) promises it has made. For example, over my strenuous objections (contact me personally if you want the details), an enhancement to MPE network printing was added to the 2004 SIB. As I predicted, it finished first in the tactical section. On May 27, 2004, HP presented its response to the SIB, indicating this enhancement was “in plan.” Other items were also supposed to be in plan. Seven months later, there was no update on the status of these “in plan” items. [Editor's Note: After this column was published, HP provided an update on the SIB items.] Granted, some of the delay is due to Jeff Vance’s unfortunate accident, but he was not going to be personally coding every enhancement. In particular, the MPE network printing enhancement was not Jeff’s responsibility. As of mid-December, little if anything has been done on this enhancement, as far as I have been able to determine.

Perhaps it was just my general holiday bad mood, but as I reviewed the December 3000-L postings, I was struck by how many of them dealt with areas where HP fell short in making investments in MPE — years before the “eroding ecosystem” “forced” HP to discontinue the HP 3000 (while at the same time IBM was pouring many millions of dollars into improving the iSeries and OS400). If HP ever does license MPE/iX to third parties, many of the items in this month’s column are low-hanging fruit, just there for the picking.

I always like to hear from readers of net.digest and Hidden Value. Even negative comments are welcome. If you read something on 3000-L and would like me to elaborate on it, let me know. You can reach me at john@burke-consulting.com.

From the Obscure Commands/Options Department

This section could be subtitled “Commands/Options That Never Made It Into A Manual.” Suppose you are using EDITOR (officially named EDIT/3000) on a 250-character line length file with a termulator that can be set to display all 250 characters. However, you discover that EDITOR will only display each line 80 characters at a time. Is there anything you can do? Thanks go to John Korb for providing the solution to the poster’s dilemma: The obscure EDITOR directive SET NOLNBRK (the default behavior can be set back with SET LNBRK).

In his posting on 3000-L, Korb commented that he could not remember where he found out about this option but that it was “five or more years ago.” A Google search turned up SET NOLNBRK, along with a number of other Editor enhancements, in an HP MPE/iX 5.0 Communicator article entitled “Enhancements for Editor A.09.00.” This Communicator has a publication date of January 1995!

Just out of curiosity, I checked the “latest” version of the EDIT/3000 manual at docs.hp.com. It has a publication date of — are you ready? — August 1980! I guess that is why SET NOLNBRK never made it into the manual. Unfortunately, this is just one of hundreds of commands/options that never made it into the appropriate HP 3000 manuals and which are only documented, if at all, in the Communicators. It is also another example of how HP skimped on its investment in MPE in the 1990s and how that lack of investment created challenges that will task homesteaders and any organizations attempting to support/enhance MPE beyond 2006.

Want another example? With the G3 release of ALLBASE/SQL and IMAGE/SQL, the supported SQL syntax was enhanced to include the following string manipulation functions: UPPER, LOWER, POSITION, INSTR, TRIM, LTRIM and RTRIM. Where do you have to go to find this? The MPE/iX 6.0 Communicator, of course.

gnu, Apache, Samba, Java, Perl, Sendmail, etc.

Every month 3000-L contains postings about one or more of the above; usually along the lines of “How do I install…?” or “How do I do [substitute some relatively ‘simple’ task]?” or “Why isn’t this working?” Why the confusion? In part, this is because HP brought none of these systems to the HP 3000, and so the software has always suffered from the not-invented-here syndrome; i.e., available, but not really a part of MPE. Documentation on this software is meager; the systems are usually one or two releases behind the current general release; they are not performance-tuned for MPE; and the best support vehicle is 3000-L.

In spite of this lack of attention, these systems are the most important to come to MPE since IMAGE/SQL in the early 1990s. They also had a lot to do with keeping MPE relevant. [A case can be made that ODBC support was equally important; but note that HP did not develop it either — third parties did.]

These systems became available only because non-HP employees, or HP employees working on their own time, did all the work. For example, gnu was ported by Mark Klein and is the mother of all others on the list. Mark Bixby ported Apache, Perl and Sendmail before he became an HP employee. HP employee Lars Appel ported Samba on his own time, and Mike Yawn did Java for the HP 3000, mostly on his own time in the beginning. Contrast this with IBM’s iSeries, where Apache and Java are key, indispensable components.

Gee, I Wonder When This STORE Tape Was Created?

It is probably more and more likely that, as the years pass by, you will discover a STORE tape and wonder when it was created. Therefore it is a good idea to review how to do this. I started out writing “how to easily do this,” but realized there is nothing easy about it — since it is not well-documented and if you just want the creation date, you have to do a bit of a kludge to get it. Why not something better?

It turns out the ;LISTDIR option of RESTORE is the best you can do. But if you do not want a list of all the files on the tape, you need to feed the command the name of some dummy, non-existent file. ;LISTDIR will also display the command used to create the tape. By the way, this only works with NMSTORE tapes. For example, when ;LISTDIR is used on a SYSDUMP tape that also stored files, you get something like this (note that even though you are using the RESTORE command, if it contains the ;LISTDIR option, nothing is actually restored):

:restore *t;dummy;listdir


FRI, DEC 31, 2004, 3:22 PM


WED, MAY 7, 2003, 7:06 AM



“Doctor, it hurts when I do this.”
“Then don’t do that.”

Let me offer another example of how lack of investment continues to create problems. A user is connected to an MPE/iX 7.5 system (with current patches) via telnet and is running grep from a CI script. BREAK is hit, but the colon prompt is not returned and the session is hung. Nothing short of a reboot will cure the problem. It turns out it is not a Posix issue or grep issue per se, but a problem between BREAK handling and CI variable accesses. This dates back to the time when CI variables where introduced. From the Service Report, circa 1998:

“Problem Text: A session hang can occur if the Break key is hit in a very small timing window, when processes are running under the CI.

“Cause Text: A deadlock can occur in this timing window involving the CI process and one of its child processes. The deadlock is between the CI Var Table lock and the Terminal PACB lock.

“Temporary Solution: Disabling BREAK for sessions can be used as a workaround.

“Fix Text: Since the problem occurs very rarely and a fix would mean a larger number of complex code changes, there are currently no plans to fix this.”

In other words, hard cheese. HP said they can fix it, but do not want to make the investment. Disabling BREAK is not a particularly appealing option for most people, yet the possibility of a hung session can be even worse when the only recourse is a reboot.

During the 1990s, hung VT sessions were ongoing nightmares for IT Managers. If you were an IT Manager during this period, as I was, then you probably remember this well; yet HP never invested in a foolproof way to terminate a hung session without a reboot. If it wanted to tout (and sell) the robustness of MPE/iX, should this not have been a high priority?

Short Cuts

• At HP World 2004, SIGMPE formally requested that HP back-port all appropriate enhancements/fixes to all the “supported” OS releases (6.5, 7.0 and 7.5). There is still no word whether this will happen. Consider, for example, user-written CI functions. This is an enhancement that has been in the works for years; however, it is not available for MPE/iX 6.5 or MPE/iX 7.0.

• Since the introduction of User Defined Commands (UDCs), people having been “replacing” MPE commands with UDCs of the same name. Perhaps it is to prevent use of a particular command or subsystem (PASSWORD, Query, etc.) or perhaps it is to provide additional functionality (such as logging of command usage). Be careful though, as Stan Sieler noted, because “:EDITOR (and anything calling the COMMAND, not HPCICOMMAND, intrinsic) won’t see a UDC.” It would have been nice if HP had updated all subsystems to use HPCICOMMAND.

• “If I have two successive PowerPatches for an OS version, can they both be loaded into @.INSTALL.SYS and AUTOPAT run for both of them, or do they have to be run separately in succession?” You do not need to do either. PowerPatches are cumulative. You only need to install the most recent. One of the really great enhancements to MPE/iX was the combination of Patch/iX and Stage/iX. The only downtime required to apply a patch, or patches, is the downtime necessary for a shutdown/reboot. Even better, if you need to back out a patch, it can be done with another shutdown/reboot sequence. Of course, you still cannot stage a PowerPatch (hours instead of minutes), even though HP was supposedly working on making this possible.

• Suppose you want to know all permanent files opened by a particular job or session. This is not possible with standard MPE/iX. You either must purchase a third party tool such as MPEX or purchase Glance/iX from HP to do something that any developer/administrator wants/needs to frequently do.

• STORE/RESTORE is a reasonably good product. Once the NM spooler was implemented, we were able to use it to store and restore spoolfiles. However, even though all the characteristics of the spoolfile are stored, there is no way to determine what is on a tape without actually restoring the spoolfiles.

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