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December 11, 2012

Robelle adds to history with its horse tale

Robelle Solutions, mostly known as Robelle in our community, has started to unbridle its Suprtool prowess this fall. The company is offering a Suprtool scripting service for the first time. It's a creation and maintenance service which, for $999 for 10 hours of work, helps "extend the life of your current system and keep it in tune with your company's current needs."

Although a lot of Suprtool is running on MPE/iX servers, this is a data extraction and manipulation tool also performs under Linux and HP-UX. These are favored environments for the IMAGE workalike database Eloquence. The most recent HP-UX version of Suprtool, 5.5, now supports 268 fields in an Eloquence database. The company was the first to integrate Eloquence into its product, "opening up new migration options for TurboIMAGE users. The same Suprtool commands that clients are familiar with on MPE now work on HP-UX, so porting of Suprtool tasks are very little work."

RobelleLogosBut there's a good deal of ardor left at Robelle for the use of HP 3000s in a production environment. It's a company which took off at the start of the 1980s, when many of today's biggest MPE vendors were establishing a customer base. The company's founder Bob Green recently talked about the humble beginnings of Robelle. In case you're in possession of one of the older conference giveaways, like the Las Vegas splash towels or a simple desktop document clip, Green's latest story explains a little about why that cartoon horse carries the Qedit logo.

Robelle grew up on a horse farm, Green says, a place where it raised software alongside rural creatures great and small.

Once Robelle started adding employees, it needed a real office, but its first one big enough for a staff opened up in an uncommon place, Green says.

FortLangleyRobelle’s first real office, when we started having employees, was in a rural town of British Columbia called Fort Langley (named for an outpost of the Hudson Bay Company which is now a tourist destination). It wasn’t your traditional business office, as it was located on a horse farm. The farm was on a ridge overlooking the Fraser River and the Golden Ears Provincial Park in the distance.

Robelle Farm 1The office consisted of a tiny chalet with loft and a porch that had the best view on the property. The main house was attached, and built later. As our business grew, we added an HP 3000 server and desks in every possible location, including one in the kitchenette! Because it was on a horse farm, there was always a dog on the porch and a cat warming itself on the top of one of the monitors.

We worked closely together with a lot of energy. Business was growing rapidly, which included lots of travel to users group meetings all over the world.

In the earliest days of the 3000 community's social era, the user group meeting and conference was the greatest place to learn about system management and examine new software and hardware products. As a vendor like Robelle, you'd arrive at these meetings and conferences with giveaways. The Qedit horse and the Suprtool cat carried a lot of the helpful tone of the company in that era.

In spite of that deep MPE-era heritage, Robelle continues to stand with a foot in each field of computer environments. Its website suggests that if migrating your applications doesn't make sense you, the homesteading strategy is a good one. However, Green's also got a paper he delivered at the start of the migration era which advises about transforming TurboIMAGE data for Eloquence, Oracle and other database.

It's a long trail from the Silicon Valley heartlands of the 3000 to a horse farm in rural British Columbia. Green and his company continue to make tracks away from the early 1970s.

"From the age of 19, I had worked at Hewlett-Packard in California in the computer division," Green wrote this year, as the company celebrated 35 years in the community. "HP's computer division was very new and small. The software lab had less than 10 people. I did many interesting jobs as the division grew, including programmer, tech writer, training instructor, and software tech support."

But after more than a decade of programming, Green was a 30-year old programmer working for an HP 3000 site.

It was time to make my move. I had an idea for a very fast text editor designed for HP 3000 programmers, which I called Qedit (for Quick Edit). A year later I got the idea for Suprtool, a very fast extract and sort tool for databases and files. 

That first office was in my apartment. In those days, there was no easily available Internet (and even if there had been, you could not easily connect to an HP 3000 via Internet). But the 3000 did have serial modem ports, so I bought a portable computer terminal (actually just a small box with a keyboard and an acoustic coupler to hold the phone handset, and a connection for a TV monitor.) Connection speed was a blazing 28 characters per second.

07:04 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink

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