30 July 2008 - Licensing Prevents Old Code From Being Freed

As previously reported, it was possible that Compaq's long dead suite of compilers and libraries optimized for the Alpha processor may be released to the Linux community. With hand written and highly optimized code in hand, Alpha developers could improve integral software such as gcc and glibc. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the release of this code will be possible due to licensing issues.

Linda Knippers of HP replied to my follow-up email today and told me that due to a couple things, it would be very difficult to release the Alpha tools so that they would be of any use to Linux developers. Firstly, some of the code in the compiler suite is encumbered by a MIPS license. I can only speculate that this goes back to the days of the MIPS-powered DECstation. With licensing comes lawyers, and we know how expensive they can be. It's just not worth HP's time and money to figure out how to free this code, especially for little or no gain on their part.

Secondly, the compilers are written in BLISS. Yes. BLISS. Even if the code were freely available, it would be in a language virtually no one is familiar with. As an side note, BLISS was developed at Carnegie Mellon University, the same place that developed the Mach kernel upon which Digital's/Compaq's/HP's Tru64 is based.

On top of all this, it appears to the current HP developers that all the Alpha tools for Linux were built on OpenVMS, making it ever more difficult for Linux developers to build the code assuming they could (1) find a way around the licensing issues, and (2) find a BLISS compiler.

Long story short, it doesn't appear that Compaq's Alpha tools will ever be released. Rest in peace, proprietary code.

I'm unsure if Alpha optimized libraries such as libots or libcpml contain license encumbered code. I will certainly make an attempt to find out. If they do not, there may still be a chance that HP will release their source codes.

Tags: alpha linux