May 22, 2015
The 3000's Growth: Built Upon Basics
IT managers with MPE applications still hold hope of better futures for the HP 3000. The future of the system is the same as it ever was in many places, companies and organizations that protect the value of the custom apps they've built. HP miscalculated the value of these in-house, hand-tooled apps. The vendor's warnings of a shrinking ecosystem placed little value in these home-grown systems.
Tim O'Neill rarely misses a chance to illustrate what HP missed in 2001. When our report on the fate of Carly Fiorina's presidential run emerged, O'Neill wrote about the vitriol aimed at all things HP including Carly.
Despite all the errors and vitriol and despair that HP inspired — continuing to this day and even in this space (where space refers to my space) — the world still could use an operating system dedicated to managing data for business and industry, and doing so effectively and affordably, and without the risks contained in other systems not designed for such real purposes.
With proper system engineering planning, oversight, and new development, and modern hardware (e.g. using the product from Stromasys,) MPE/iX could fill the requirement not being met by a few popular proprietary operating systems and dozens of competing alternatives. In the mode of the HP 260 business system, a New Age HP 3000 from Stromasys could be a dedicated multi-user business system with storage on a SAN of choice.
But what is this HP 260 in O'Neill's memory, and why was it successful in its era of the late '80s and into the '90s? Business Basic drove that system. Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies reminded us of what made an HP-designed integrated solution a good enterprise choice.Stan Sieler of Allegro, owner of a 250, recalled that "The Classic 3000s had BASIC/3000 and BusinessBASIC. The PA-RISC systems certainly could run programs written in those languages, but also had BusinessBASIC/iX." Edminster cast a light onto the attributes of the business of BASIC.
I first worked on 250/Basic at HP's Rockville office, back before the 250s were even shipping to the public. I worked for a 3000 OEM at the time, and couldn't help but think that the language on that machine beat the pants off BASIC/3000 (from a sophistication standpoint, at least).
Later, I did some support work on the eastern shore of Maryland, where a canning company was using a HP 250 that had a accounting/distribution system written in 250/Basic. A little more recently than that, I did some support work on a custom system written in 3000/BusinessBasic on a Series 917 that was used for property management. It was really very interesting how they integrated credit-card processing via a shared Telamon Engine. Of course, with PCI requirements being what they are, that application would need to have a number of upgrades in order to remain compliant.
I should check and see if they're still using their 3000. It's unlikely, after all these years - but I've been surprised like that before.
Edminster noted that the GrowthPower MRP II system from CSI was another application on the 3000 that was written in BusinessBasic. "It's been ages since I've seen that application either, but I did have a GrowthPower customer nearby that I was helping to keep a 3000 running in archival mode," he said. "It actually had been a GrowthPower site, but had converted to a PC-based MRP system. It took nearly a whole rack of PC equipment to replace what one lowly 917 had previously handled."
The funniest thing was that many of the users still preferred to use the 3000's app, and would, if they were allowed to. It actually took a hard drive failure that made it apparent that some were still using the old system for things that they apparently shouldn't have been. The management had me alter the application to allow read-only access to put a stop to that. (We altered the IMAGE database passwords to only allow read access.) That made the management happy, but didn't earn me any friends with the previous clandestine users of the system.
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