October 23, 2012
Never Happy, Even With the Advances
The HP 3000 had detractors and opponents from the day of its birth. It was not an HP-style product, this computer, said Bill and Dave. It started out too slow, or crashed, or relied on software so expensive people had to write their own. Later on it got slammed because it used proprietary operating software. It didn't speak in Unix, collaborate with Windows, communicate with computers on standardized LANs. It didn't FTP files like other computers. It didn't have a modern user license. It didn't use low-cost peripherals. It wasn't the Digital VAX, the IBM AS/400, the Compaq ProLiant or even an IBM mainframe.
But for all of its failings, the HP 3000 did as much as Hewlett-Packard's best to keep up. It did even more when the customers' love was allowed into its designs. Its flaws run back to the business managers, MBAs, engineering leaders and finance officers curating the 3000's future. What this business system finally was not results from choices that its customers made, choices led by the computer's creating vendor.
I am thinking about this today as Apple announces a new generation of computers, revamped with things like a Fusion Drive, ranging from its hottest mobile products in iPads to its least sexy systems in desktop iMacs, skinny laptops, and stacking-small Mac Minis. For every one of these improved machines, snarky commentators brayed out the missing benefits during Apple's worldwide introduction of five distinct computers -- six, if you count the stack-and-rack Mini version that companies use as business servers. I don't believe it's fair to call Apple a company selling to consumers alone. Businesses are filled with pocket-sized iPhone computers and tablets -- the kind of devices that the business-focused HP tried and failed to sell.
At the end of 90 minutes of Apple's parade of advances, its detractors spewed their opinions. Something everyone has, like a certain body part. No matter what a vendor does to try ries to improve a product, these kinds of gimcrack mavens have their juvenile sport. Not a one of them ever shepherded a product like an A-Class server through battles with finance VPs or focus group disciples or engineering leaders who wanted designs that were only successors. In spite of all of that blathering drool, people will love their new iPads and Mac laptops and the same way your community still reveres the concept -- if not the execution -- of the Series I shown above.
Or how loved its 9x9 3000s -- and then finally lusted after that first A-Class unit that Dave Snow carried under his arm to the front of a hotel meeting room at a conference. (Watch at the 20-second mark; somebody in the room wanted to buy that demo unit right out from under Snow's arm.)
That 3000 didn't run Unix, cost twice as much as a Dell server, and it undercut the value of computers HP had sold just six months earlier. People wanted it, no matter what the know-nothings said about value.
The final class of HP's 3000 design was unfair to anyone who bought a 9x9 in 2000. But it advanced the art of MPE business servers. Customers suffer when they purchase too close to the future. But whether they buy a server on the eve of its futures, or an iPad this spring, they suffer on our behalf. The cost of not advancing the art can be seen in a collapse of a vendor's futures.Being too close to the future might seem like living too close to the sun. It's bright and warm there because you purchase what's become a hot value. The price has dropped by the time you get there, the momentum of the user base is with you. Apple said today that it's sold 100 million iPads already. You have to go back to the rank of Windows PCs to find a number that big. And nobody has ever done it in just 30 months.
But now those kinds of breakthoughs -- like the HP employees who lined up to form the number 10,000 when that many servers had rolled off 3000 factory lines -- are ended for HP's iron. Stories appear regularly now which wonder if Dell or HP could ever regain their strength. A customer who got burned buying an N-Class just weeks before HP ended its 3000 futures might find some solace in seeing HP stripped of its market cap. It's been three weeks since the stock was above $17. When the 3000 was on the product line and HP was still selling unique environments, the stock was at $70 before it split.
A vendor which leaves its product on the market too long without advances pays a price. And one which updates too fast makes nitwits niggle about timing, too. Perhaps getting it right to please both those who live close to the sun and those who orbit the asteroids is genuinely tough. When the response to advances is measured in millions of sales, however, the niggles seem foolish.
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