October 01, 2014
Steady pace means un-news isn't no news
By Ron Seybold
What does it say about the HP 3000 when the steadiest story about the 3000 doesn’t involve an HP 3000? You can’t wear one, like an Apple Watch, or buy a brand-new HP 3000. Your server’s operating system is unchanged after more than four years, unless you’re buying a custom-crafted patch. The mission for this general purpose machine hasn’t changed, either.
It might be that the most constant news about the HP 3000 of 2014 is there’s no fresh news. So what’s an editor to do when his blog and publication includes the word Newswire? To conjure content, I reach back, and I look ahead. What is ahead of us doesn’t involve much HP iron, and certainly nothing new wearing a Hewlett-Packard 3000 badge on its chest. I only have to reach back to see a story where wearing something to compute wasn’t a novel concept. Not according to my files here in the office.
I work a lot out of the files these days.
This rambling is a way of describing my frustration and then a calm acceptance about the limited rate of change. I came into the journalism business with the knowledge that new was best. My first newspapering job came in a small Texas town with a competing paper just down the block. You’d wonder why a county seat of 3,500 would ever need two newspapers. It was 1982, a year when plenty of towns had two papers. Journalism has changed. Now there’s an infographic out there with the Then and Now of information. A reporter is now considered a blogger, and press conferences are now Twitter chats.
I came to tech journalism and got scooped within three weeks. Scoop, for any who’ve forgotten, is when a competitor learns and prints something before you can. One year at an Interex conference, we scooped all day at our booth. Ice cream, supplied by the hotel’s catering department. The word was synonymous with elite information.
There are press releases today, but they’re called content. Some still fill my inbox, but they come from non-3000 markets. The investment of an envelope and stamp is gone, just like an investment in HP-branded iron has been replaced by an offsite, up in the cloud server. Not free, but oh so less costly.
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September 30, 2014
Reflection touchstone: a screen benchmark
The most recent transfer of Attachmate's products and people into the Micro Focus organization sparked some study of what matters to 3000 migrators and homesteaders. Both kinds of customers need to pay mind to what their application's screens look like. Whatever's correct tends to be first measured by an Attachmate product.
That would be Reflection, still the terminal emulator in widest use among the homesteading community as well as a benchmark for any others making a 3000 change. ScreenJet's Alan Yeo kept his eye on the Micro Focus reverse-takeover, as the parent company is headquartered in the UK. (That's still a United Kingdom, after the Scotland vote, much to the UK citizen's relief.)
Reflection's fate remains as unchanged at Scotland's. There will be some modification over time. And the software's screen views are often evoked while change is afoot.
Attachmate "had a big push on re-launching its Rhumba terminal emulator about three years ago," he said. A few migration clients using Micro Focus COBOL were being pushed hard to drop Reflection, he explained. A battery of internal tests at ScreenJet determined that Rhumba would work, intrinsically, with ScreenJet's product. But the standard for terminal emulation, in the mind of somebody who knows VPlus screen handling better than most on the planet, remains Reflection.
"If anything doesn't work, and it works with Reflection, the go fix Rhumba," Yeo said he advised the customers being pressed into the Rhumba re-launch. "If you report a problem, re-test with Reflection." The tests at ScreenJet produced some suggested repairs to Rhumba, he added.
ScreenJet never heard from a migrating customer who made a choice to drop Reflection. He's got no prejudices. "I don't care what any customer uses, so long as what they use works, and doesn't break what they're using from us," Yeo said. "Reflection is pretty much a touchstone. It's not to say that I haven't gone back at times and done testing on a terminal to find out what really happens. Sometimes I have to go back to a customer and say 'I'm sorry, but it's an artifact of even Reflection not doing it right.' "
And so your community still may have some need for 3000 terminals, the real sort. The 3000 newsgroup recently carried an ad for some of this extra-focused HP iron -- offered by an independent broker.
September 29, 2014
Classic advice: COBOL Choices, Years Later
Five years ago on this day we ran a report from a conversion company about the lineup of COBOL choices. Just a few weeks ago, the largest provider of COBOL swallowed up Attachmate, owners of the Reflection lineup. It made the impact of the acquisitive Micro Focus on the 3000 migrator even greater.
Conversion and migration supplier Unicon Conversion Technologies had sent us a white paper that outlined decisions to enable 3000 conversions to Windows. Unicon's Mike Howard attended that year's e3000 Community Meet, which included plenty of COBOL discussion. Here's Howard's take on the COBOL choices for those headed to Windows. Much is of it is still on target.
By Mike Howard
When HP announced it was discontinuing the HP 3000, there were four main Windows COBOLs: RM COBOL, ACUCOBOL, Micro Focus COBOL and Fujitsu COBOL.
But in May 2007, Micro Focus acquired ACUCOBOL when they bought Acucorp. Shortly after they also acquired RM COBOL when they bought Liant. ACUCOBOL is very similar to RM COBOL but has more features and functions. Micro Focus immediately incorporated the RM COBOL product into ACUCOBOL and stopped selling RM COBOL. Micro Focus is now incorporating ACUCOBOL into the Micro Focus COBOL product. (Ed. The Project Meld was not completed, and ACUCOBOL is being called Micro Focus extend today.)
So today, for new Windows COBOL customers there are two COBOLs -- Micro Focus and Fujitsu. In summary, Micro Focus is an all-embracing, all-platform COBOL with excellent support, but it is expensive. Fujitsu is a Windows product with limited support but an extremely attractive price. We have found that both products are very stable and very fast in production. Both charge the same for support, 20 percent per year. The differences lie in cost of ownership vs. response time of support.
September 26, 2014
Making History By Staying Together
What price and what value can we put on borders? While we put the latest 3000 Newswire print issue to bed last week, the United Kingdom’s region of Scotland was voting for its independence from Great Britain. One of our favorite 3000 resources and supporters, Alan Yeo, didn't know if he’d wake up at the end of last week using UK or GB as the acronym to define his country. If Scotland were to go, the Kingdom would no longer be United.
Cooler heads prevailed, and the No vote to block the push to secede squashed the Yes by a large margin. The country made history with the largest voter turnout every recorded. There's some good come of the competition, anyway.
The independence balloting called to mind what the Web has done with borders: erased them all, virtually. Some of the more draconian countries have fences up to keep their citizens’ thoughts and beliefs in, but even China with its Alibaba marketplace — where you can but a 747 or drone motors over the Web equivalent of eBay or Amazon — is erasing its borders. Scotland, inexplicably, wants to erect new ones.
Here in Austin, and through most of Texas, bumper stickers ride on trucks with the state’s outline the command, “Secede!” We are the United States of America, though. Pockets of rebellion boil up in places like the Texas border with Mexico, or up in Idaho. But there’s too much in common among government sentiment to break us up into pieces.
I know about the desire for borders. Our nitwit governor here was on TV last fall, here in Austin, describing our progressive town as “the blueberry in a sea of red.” Yes, we’re juicy, sweet, and different. But we’re Texans, too, much to the governor’s dismay. That TV show didn’t hit Jimmy Kimmel’s show from Dallas or Houston.
So it has gone for the Web and 3000 users. On pages over the years, both paper on on the Web, we cater to constituencies as diverse as possible. One set of readers is done with MPE, making plans to archive systems or scrap them. Another is devoted to their status quo, the devils they know rather than the devils they don’t know how much upset and cost they’ll trigger.
September 25, 2014
TBT: Early winter's taste visits Interex '94
It stunned nearly everybody, but the final day of the annual Interex user conference, 20 years ago this week, did not herald the start of Fall. That season might have filled pages on everybody's calendar, but the skies over Denver were filled with snowflakes on Sept. 21. Thousands of HP 3000 customers had to scurry through soggy streets in a month where leaves were supposed to be falling.
Everything happened at an Interex, eventually. Robelle's Neil Armstrong wrote about it in the What's Up Doc newsletter the vendor produced that year.
Welcome to Winterex 1994.
Once again the weather attempted to upstage various announcements and goings on at the Interex Conference. This year it snowed on the Wednesday afternoon of the Denver conference. The "snow" storm, however, was nothing compared to hurricane Andrew which hit New Orleans during Interex '92.
This year's conference was certainly a hit with a lot of the people I talked to. The last Interex I attended was in Boston in 1990, which became known as the Great Unbundling of TurboImage Debate. Interex '94 was a pleasant contrast with HP's new product announcements, the bundling of ARPA services and a general positive tone regarding the future of the HP 3000. The HP booth was a beehive of activity with Client-Server demonstrations and huge printers on display.
Armstrong went on to say that his favorite view at the show was seeing a camera connected to an HP 9000 workstation, one that delivered a live pictures of people passing by the box. "The fun part was moving from side to side quickly and watching the CPU graph go up," he added.
This was the year when the pushback started to ruffle the Unix juggernaut that had promised open systems for so long. Windows was still a year away from being desktop-useful. But that didn't keep the technical leadership from creating a Unix Hater's Handbook.
September 24, 2014
Did Charon get to where HP could've gone?
The past can't be changed, but that doesn't mean it's not useful in planning. There are still a surprising number of companies that want to stand pat without regard to the future of their hardware running MPE/iX. Some of it is old already, while other servers -- even those newest -- are now moving into their 10th year of service.
Hewlett-Packard's planning for the future of MPE/iX hosts once included a bold move. The operating system was going to run natively on Itanium-based servers, the IA-64 Integrity line (above) that hosts VMS and NonStop today. It was a project that did not make HP's budget cuts of more than a decade ago, and so the whole lineup got canceled. There might have been another way, something that HP could arrive at -- years after Stromasys started selling the solution.
Native hosting is always the preferred solution for an OS and its iron, sure. But there's so much virtualization these days; VMware is a significant market force. What if HP had taken MPE/iX and just put it onto another operating system's back? What if the OS that drives 3000 apps might have taken a ride in a carriage of Unix, or Linux?
HP did this sort of miracle once for the 3000, calling it Compatibility Mode. There was a massive revison of hardware and software to arrive at the PA-RISC generation, but the changes were transparent to customers. You ran your apps in CM, until you could move them forward. In the '90s, companies used compatibility mode for years, installing newer hardware and moving up to better performance by revising their applications.
"If all HP had done was to create a Compatibility Mode for MPE on IA-64," said ScreenJet's Alan Yeo, "nobody would have batted an eyelid about swapping to an HP-UX box to run their company's software."
At its heart, this is what Stromasys has done with its software. The only difference to the customers is that it's a solution not sold and supported by their hardware vendor.
September 23, 2014
Pre-Migration Cleanup Techniques
Migrations are inevitable. The Yolo County Office of Education is on its way to a Windows-based system, after many years of HP 3000 reliance. Ernie Newton of the Information and Technology Services arm of the organization is moving his 3000 data. He's doing a clean-up, a great practice even if you're not heading off of MPE.
I am cleaning up our IMAGE databases for the inevitable move to Microsoft’s SQL Server. One thing I've encountered is that Suprtool does not like null characters where there should be numbers.
I know that I have invalid characters, (non-numeric), in a field called ITEM-NUMBER. But when I try to find those records, Suprtool chokes and abruptly stops the search. Here's what I get...
IF ITEM-NUMBER < 0 OR ITEM-NUMBER > 9999
Error: Illegal ascii digit encountered. Please check all data sources
Input record number: 1
Is there a way to run Suprtool to help it find these records? Query finds them just fine, but Query doesn't have to ability to do what I want to do.
After being reminded that "Nulls are not numbers," by Olav Kappert, and "try to use a byte string to compare (like < "a" or > "z") or something like that," Robelle's Neil Armstrong weighed in.
You can find any character you want by using the Clean, $findclean and $clean feature. The first issue to deal with is to re-define the item-number as a byte type in order to use the function.
September 22, 2014
Ways to Create PDFs from 3000 Output
Years ago -- okay, seven -- we reported the abilities of the Sanface Software solution to create PDF files out of HP 3000 output. But there are other ways and tools to do this, a task that's essential to sharing data reports between HP 3000s and the rest of the world's computers.
On the HP 3000 newsgroup, a veteran 3000 developer has asked,
Has anyone got any experience involving taking a file in an output queue and creating a PDF version of it?
"We use text2pdf v1.1 and have not had any problems since we installed it in October 2001," said Robert Mills of Pinnacle Entertainment. "I have e-mailed a copy of this utility and our command file to 27 people. Never knew that so many sites wanted to generate PDFs from their 3000s."
The program is a good example of 3000 source code solutions. This one was created as far back as the days of MPE/iX 6.0, a system release which HP has not supported since 2005.
September 19, 2014
Passing FTP Capabilities to MPE
HP 3000s do lots of duty with data from outside the server. The 3000's FTP services sit ready to handle transfers from the world of Windows, as well as other systems, and PCs far outnumber the non-Windows computers networked to 3000s. Several good, low-cost FTP clients on Windows communicate with the 3000, even though MPE/iX still has some unique "features" in its FTP server.
Our former columnist John Burke once reported that his HP 3000 emitted a second line of text during an FTP session that could confuse the open source FTP client FileZilla:
FileZilla issues the PWD command to get the working directory information. On every other system I've tried, the result is something like 257 "home/openmpe" is the current working directory However, MPE responds with something like 257-"/SYSADMIN/PUB" is the current directory. 257 "MGR.SYSADMIN,PUB" is the current session. The second line appears to be confusing FileZilla because it reports the current directory as /MGR.SYSADMIN,PUB/, which of course does not work.
Back when it was a freeware, Craig Lalley took note of a worthy solution, WS-FTP from IP Switch. The product is now for sale but its client is not costly. And an MPE setting can remove the problems that can choke up FileZilla.
September 18, 2014
Beefy servers link VMware and MPE futures
VMware is installed at the majority of HP 3000 sites. The virtualization software delivers flexibility in using a wider array of operating environments to virtualize Intel-based hardware, and so it's a useful tool for putting Windows, Linux and Apple's OS X on a variety of hosting hardware. Everything looks like Intel x86 -- to be exact, Xeon -- once VMware is on board.
This is one of the reasons VMware is a common companion with the Stromasys CHARON virtualized HP 3000. A partition of a server can be designated as an x86 box. And then on top of this emulation, according to Doug Smith of Stromasys
Some people already have VMware installed for the rest of their applications, and if they choose to use it with CHARON it's fine. There are others that see more of a perfomance issue -- there's more performance if they actually run it on a standalone server.
On VMware you have the host hardware, and a lot of the customers haven't specified the host hardware beefy enough to run the application. You run into a problem with that every once in awhile, so they end up going to a standalone server. That's because they don't want to go through the expense of updating all of their VMware hosts.
Initial testing performed under VMware in these under-spec'ed hosts "won't give you the performance you're looking for," Smith explained. "Under the right hardware, the numbers jump up big-time." A forthcoming case study will lay out the differences for CHARON HPA/3000, he added.