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September 02, 2015

The Heritage of Enterprise Consumerism

ColaThe heritage of your computer marketplace is driven by many more failures than successes. HP attempted to build a multiple operating system technology (MOST) system in 1993, mostly by re-engineering MPE and Unix software for customers who needed both environments.

MOST failed in alpha tests and taught Hewlett-Packard a lesson: do not promise so much flexibility that you kill performance. MOST was too slow to do the work of a single-OS system of the early '90s. The technology for multiple-OS computing was still five more years away, in Superdome. By the time HP polished Superdome, it lost its taste for expanding its MPE business.

John_SculleyThat story has been echoed in the market many times. Virtualization and cloud solves such challenges today. But in 1993, NeXT Computer was killing itself by shipping a version of its OS that actually ran slower than the prior release. NeXT was the brainchild of Steve Jobs, who'd been kicked off Apple's throne by a board that was steered by John Sculley. Recent news has Sculley unveiling a new Android smartphone that won't be sold in the US. Aimed at China and emerging markets, this new Obi is, and so it avoids some competition with Apple.

Sculley, the former CEO of Pepsi, had been brought in to Apple by Jobs. The insanely great wunderkind knew he needed help to reach consumers. The move cost Apple momentum that elevated Microsoft and Windows to the top tier of business computing. Jobs tried to rebound with NeXT. Like MOST, the NeXT was way ahead of its time. Consumer-grade Unix was still 12 years away, lurking in the dreams for Mac OS X.

HP 3000 owners care about this because of their computer's heritage. Another consumer whiz, Dick Hackborn, climbed onto another board, HP's, and turned the LaserJet consumer reseller model onto the rest of HP's business. Direct contact with small to midsize customers became a task HP delegated. A 3000 shop that once knew its OS supplier through an SE or a CE had to learn to use resellers. The 3000 division lost track of the majority of its customers, and when the large sites yearned for a Superdome, nobody was able to keep in touch with customers who didn't need such a beast.

Sculley might do well with the Obi, even after a pratfall at Apple. On the other hand, the results might be Obi-Wan. It takes a failure to learn something, most times. MOST taught HP about speed, benefits, and the need for enough brainpower to enable something better (MPE) to drive something popular (Unix). The 3000's heritage flowed even and steady for awhile after Hackborn bent HP to a consumer beat. The loss of focus sealed the 3000's fate at HP, though.

Enterprise and consumer computing were distinct entities when Scully and his pratfall pushed Jobs past another failure, NeXT, and into Apple. Now Scully will be competing with the ghost of Jobs, trying to sell a smartphone against the iPhone. But heritage does not mean that fate is cemented. The 3000 was never going to prosper in what HP was on the vanguard of building: enterprise consumerism. As it turns out, HP was not going to succeed at that either. Hackborn's board because erratic and dysfunctional.

While 3000 users plan their futures, they should look at the heritage of replacement candidates. A Scully smartphone will be as popular as Pepsi in emerging companies. It might be just as empty of enterprise sustenance, unless Sculley has learned the lesson HP has embraced: enterprise and consumer computer businesses should be run differently. In 60 days, Hewlett-Packard and HP will mean different things when the company recognizes the differences and splits.

05:14 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink

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