July 31, 2014
TBT: Java's promise spun 3000s into style
Just about 15 years ago from this ThrowBack Thursday, the HP 3000 was having its high moment of renaissance at Hewlett-Packard. The computer was going to make its stretch into the world of a Java-based interface for applications, in an era when Java was considered stylish. A new Java library was going to be patched into the operating environment, and the 3000 division was about to enjoy its fourth straight summertime with the same general manager, something we'd not seen in many years.
Harry Sterling pushed at the heartstrings of the customers during his tenure leading the division, and in 1999 he threw out the stops to make the HP World conference update on the 3000 memorable. The 3000 was always in style, Sterling maintained, just like the classics of yo-yos (a popular late '90s show giveaway) and tuxedos. Sterling managed to pull off a combination of the two at what amounted to a State of the Product address.
His hour-long talk was built around the theme of "The HP 3000: Always in Style," and featured a video of customer interviews comparing the system to classic dances such as the tango and the waltz. The general manager finished his talk spinning a yo-yo from his hand.
“Just like this yo-yo and just like my tux are always in style, so is the 3000,” Sterling said. The white-hot dot com boom was on, and Sterling felt the yearning from customers to feel the heat.
"You are seeing a new mindset at HP, doing the things that will make it possible for us all to be a pivotal player in Chapter Two of the Internet. Many of you are saying it’s about time — and I agree.”It was the last such speech he'd give. He retired from HP and his position later that year, handing over leadership of the group to Winston Prather. Y2K came and went, and the tuxedo-flashing era came and went, too. At the time of Sterling's talk, HP shared details of a GUI plan it called Visage, figuring that legacy-looking apps were not helping the 3000 hold and win customers. Mike Yawn, the CSY engineer who lead the Java project for the 3000, outlined elements of using Java to build GUIs for existing 3000 applications, as well as creating interfaces from scratch for new apps.
Technology refreshes like integrated Java were not moving as fast as HP's top management changes; commodity computing was cemented in the CEO's office by the march of Windows into business readiness. Visage never made it out of HP's labs, while faster 3000s using a new IO bus remained on the runway of the labs too long, in hindsight. But for a week in San Francisco, while Hewlett-Packard celebrated its 60th company anniversary, the view of the 3000's future was stylish to the max.
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