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August 20, 2015

TBT: 3000-TV debuts along with Newswire

Twenty years ago this week, the annual Interex conference included two fresh elements for HP 3000 customers. The ones who stayed in conference hotels could watch closed-circuit TV programs devoted to the HP 3000. The 3000 News/Wire made its entrance at Interex 95 in the Metro Toronto Conference Center's exhibit hall, too. We'd driven 500 copies of our pilot issue from Texas to Canada in a minivan to circulate on the show floow. HP drove its pro-3000 message onto the televisions in four Interex hotels.

Those TV shows have essentially vanished without a trace, and Interex 1995 marked the only show where the computer got its own airtime on TVs in public. Hewlett-Packard's 3000 PR crew extended me an invitation to appear on one of the broadcasts to introduce the News/Wire, a piece of great fortune for a publication that had only four pages of print to its credit by that August.

Coats and Ties 1995Some fellow named Lew Platt was on another TV segment, talking about his job as CEO. The management roundtable featured a gag where HP executives got asked why IBM usually came to customer meetings dressed casually. HP's execs stood up on cue and shed their coats and ties. VP Ann Livermore, the only woman on the panel, did not have to alter her dress.

At the conference, an HP of about $24 billion in annual sales was introducing the HP 3000 Coexistence Solution Strategy, "a selection of products and guidelines that ensure complete integration among HP 3000 Business Servers and other open systems, including Unix-based computers."

We interviewed general manager Olivier Helleboid for a Q&A to appear in the first full issue, and he already had a sound bite ready about the new strategy. "Wearing one size fits all computing garments doesn't suit our customers facing today's changing technology," he said, adding that the scheme would "make the HP 3000 fit neatly into environments where companies use more than one platform."

It was a time when the vendor referred to the "Internet HTTP protocol" as freeware, "and this enables the HP 3000 to be used as a World Wide Web server without any additional hardware." The World part of those W's was still in transit. MPE was missing domain name services, and Netscape's web server would never arrive as a solution for the 3000. The one customer using their 3000 for web services was running an company-wide intranet. But an enterprising engineer from outside of HP got the bedrock of porting up and running that summer. C++ was a new tool.

August 95 NewswireMark Klein, then working in the ORBiT Software lab, used his own time and resources to bootstrap the Gnu C++ suite for MPE/iX 5.0. This would make possible the porting of inetd and bootp capabilities, "software that is common to Unix-based environments," HP reminded us. Such 3000 advances seemed to be reflections of what HP's Unix already had on offer.

The "HP-UX multiuser systems" came in for special mention in the company's quarterly results press release, "with particular strength in the telecommunications market." Striving to paint the 3000 in as many industry-standard hues as possible, HP touted Oracle's Transparent Gateway for IMAGE/SQL, and connections to the Sybase database were promised for the first half of 1996.

The management roundtable, an event that featured customers asking unscreened questions of HP VPs, appeared as it often did, "a process that serves as a sounding board for some customers, as black comedy for others, and can sometimes provide information about unmet needs in the customer base."

The flashiest bit of dark humor came from a Japanese customer who reported he'd bought 200 HP-UX servers to date. "The problem is, their quality sucks," said his interpreter. HP's Sales and Marketing chief Manuel Diaz jumped in quickly as the ballroom rocked with laughs. "Somehow, it sounded better in Japanese," he said. 

That Interex show rose its curtain in the classic, sticky Lake Ontario summer air, while Microsoft unfurled the Windows 95 banner, 300 feet worth literally draped off a tower in Toronto. Win95 was about to ground NewWave, marking the end of HP's unique R&D into GUI.

I watched an aerial daredevil rappel down the CN tower that week, one of a half-dozen stunts Microsoft staged in contrast to the laid-back HP marketing. Printer sales continued to be a hit with HP's consumers while the company hoped to capture IT dollars with its Vectra PC line.

But not even agent-based object-oriented software like NewWave could spark sales like a Windows campaign that used the Rolling Stones' Start Me Up, trumpeting Win95's new Start button. Paying $3 million for the rights to use the song, Microsoft tattooed it into our brains -- enough that I played it in a loop while I batted out the first edition of our FlashPaper late-news insert as we rolled the presses on the full NewsWire — taking the slash out of our name because being wired was clearly essential to delivering news.

HP was encouraging its customers to watch another sort of TV in the month to come. An HP Technology Close-up Broadcast, MPE and Unix Interoperability and Management, was going to air in HP's offices in September. HP told its customers at the show that if they couldn't be in an HP office that day, they could get a recording on VHS afterward, ordering over an 800-number — in the days when toll-free was only available using the 800 area code.

08:00 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink

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