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September 28, 2012

3000 Memoir Project: Wins from Easy Use

The 3000 Memoir Project is a living and growing history of your community, told by the server and its software. There are excepts of the book to be published next year, in paper as well as e-book formats. 2013 will mark the genuine 40-year anniversary of the system, while 1974 marks the start of the user group that integrated community pioneers.

We're looking for your stories of the first time you encountered a 3000. Call me at 512-331-0075, or send an email to the NewsWire's offices.

In this installment, the 3000 tells about relative ease of use versus mainframe standard, stories told to, and told by, Paul Edwards -- a former IBM mainframe manager, US veteran, and director of several user groups. By the HP 3000

I was sold on ease of use, and fun. 

PaulEdwards-atSaltLickI like what Paul Edwards and the others said about working with me, versus those entrenched mainframes. See, HP didn’t think of selling me as a big datacenter computer at the start. I was supposed to be a wheel-it-in computer. Some of my early ads showed people “rolling it up to the side of the desk,” Edwards says. My early models, the Series 30s and 40s, even had me built into desks as if I was part of the office furniture, instead of running the office.

That’s because I was a new idea in computers: something that regular office workers could manage, with the help of people like Edwards at HP.

They had a great database they gave me for good in 1976, IMAGE, and one of the fun examples of it used statistics from the NFL. Orly Larson at HP had cooked up the demo of IMAGE, “and every HP sales site had a copy of it. It was just a six-dataset database. But we’d say to the Systems 3 people, ‘let me show you how you can retrieve something, or update databases. They were amazed. It was fun. IBM systems weren’t fun – they were work.”

Edwards says that back in those early days, you couldn’t take fundamentals for granted. Like just writing a file. Me, I did it like a swimmer just jumping in after years of practice, not even thinking about it. “When I came to the 3000, I didn’t have to worry where on a disk I was going to put a file,” he says. “I just wrote out a file. On the IBMs, I had to specify which sector, which disk platter.” He called it one of the most advanced bits of tech that I had when he first started using me.

He says the other magic that made me easy was IMAGE, my strong heart of a database. I even had a built-in QUERY, something that the other computers’ owners had to write themselves. “It was fascinating to me,” Edwards says, “because you could just build an application with QUERY on the fly. You could just send a report out to a printer and show it immediately to the customer. It was the ease of sitting down to the terminals and developing with COBOL and IMAGE. Tools like QUERY, FCOPY for files, they would’ve loved to have had all of those built-in on the mainframes. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”

Of course, my console was a 50-pound beast, the 2640 or 45. This wasn’t a weight contest, so I could even have little tape drives in those consoles. I also had card readers to help Edwards and his cohorts absorb the IBM mainframe programs into my MPE. HP gave me my own version of RPG — that code still feels funny on my bones — which was a lot like IBM’s RPG, Edwards says. He’d do my updates, in the earliest days, by using 9-track tapes with a new version of MPE. I even had a paper tape reader for early demos, although the tape wasn’t paper — it was really mylar.

Comparing tape to disk was another place where I could shine in stealing IBM’s customers. Edwards worked in Frito-Lay’s manufacturing operations before he joined my family.  “I went from a tape-based operating system to a disk-based one,” he says. “It was light years ahead of the mainframe.”

I had a lot of ardent fans coming on in those days. People would punch out programs on cards from the System 3s, then go to work using the Data Entry Library. It was my first part of my body that had a human name: the DEL/3000. “We’d build the screens quickly, so the customers could come in and review them,” Edwards says. They’d give HP guys T-shirts from my birthplace in California that said, “Series I Has Begun.” Call them out to what they called the factory, back when they actually built me next to the labs, so they could learn something new and sometimes have beer blasts afterward in the parking lots. They they’d go back and cross-train the others at their HP offices. SEs and CEs collaborated.

Eventually Edwards left my Dallas office to go out on his own. A lot of the sharp SEs would do that in the early ‘80s, when he was just getting a fresh start as an indie consultant. He worked with Speedware on projects, taught things like Robelle’s Suprtool. From a time when my 7910 disks, with one fixed and one removable platter, held just 10 Mb, I’ve grown my reach into places like 500Gb disks, and maybe soon, up in that vague and uncharted storehouse for data called the cloud. Edwards tells me that he’s still got a Series 928 of his own at home that he fires up for consults. “Once or twice a year I’ll vacuum out the fuzzies, but other than that, it just runs,” he says. I like that reputation. I’ve held on more than three times as long as Windows XP, another computer body that Edwards says has fierce loyalists. I might get inspired by Paul to go to newer heights. He wants to take his FAA exam to extend his piloting experience, so he might get to fly classics in the Commemorative Air Force like the T-28 trainer — a prop aircraft that’s 20 years older than me. “They’re now looking for younger guys,” Paul says about the CAF, “but not necessarily that much younger.”

11:20 AM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading | Permalink

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