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July 30, 2007

HP list starts to list toward history

Even though the HP 3000 mailing list doesn't even boast 600 members, it's a barometer of what the installed base is thinking about. In the last week or so the list has been recounting history, looking back at accomplishments that seem crude and small in today's light.

They were no such thing during the 1970s and 1980s, when the minicomputer was winning share away from mainframes. HP led the way with interactive computing and a bundled IMAGE database. The latter was a result of the US government ruling against IBM, one that forced Big Blue to break up its offerings. At the same time, HP brought out a business server with a database wired into the operating and file systems.

IBM had to break out its software and hardware businesses as a result of the Federal decree. The HP 3000 got its opening to give programmers the power to create their own applications by driving an award-winning database. Datamation, long since passed in the market but a force in the 1970s, crowned IMAGE with the prize in 1977. HP only began to bundle it in 1976.

John Dunlop, who operates the fine 3000links.com Web page, started a thread on the 3000 list not long ago about the days of paper tape computing. Technology that goes back at least to the time of the 3000's inception. Dunlop outlined his challenges with IBM's 360 mainframe and its Job Control Language (JCL) cards. In part, he wrapped up by saying,

Paper tape also had nightmare qualities of its own. It seemed that it was always just as you got close to the end of a complicated program that the tape would break and you would have to start again. However, it was a slight improvement on the cards.

I expect others have similar nostalgic stories. I for one would enjoy hearing them.  Perhaps Ron Seybold could have a nostalgia corner somewhere.

Consider that corner to be right here, in the comments section below.

Vestiges of those accomplishments, and the remains of 360 programming, still run in the 3000 community. Gary Nolan reported that

I still have a COBOL program around that was written in 1974 on the 360, converted to HP 3000 in 1984 and ran in production until 2001 when the company closed down. Since it was an accounting program, it probably would be still running today if the company existed.

Crude tools? How about

In my time at an IBM shop, I remember that one had to keep track of your files manually; that is, there was no directory structure.

The earliest HP 3000s forced programmers to work inside a 64K "stack," making early programs in SPL an assignment only for the most elegant programmers. Why 64K? It was an early highwater mark for computing in general. Dunlop reminisces

Ah, the 64k memory box...  Memory was called “core” not “RAM” back then. Why?  Because every memory bit was a tiny magnetic donut called a “core”, hand strung at the factory with two wires -- one horizontal and one vertical. The refrigerator-sized cabinet not only housed this core memory, but a large oil tank and pump to keep the core memory cool.

Anyone seen the precursor to disks?  Magnetic drum storage.  The control hardware was much simpler because there was exactly the same number of bits, traveling at the same speed, no matter where the data was on the drum.

08:36 AM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers, Web Resources | Permalink

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