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May 01, 2017

No obit for your OS, but not so for hardware

ObitThere's a new documentary in theaters about writing obituaries. The film Obit covers the work of obituary writers at the New York Times. No matter how you feel about mainstream media, the Times is one of just a handful of media outlets still telling stories about the lives of people who've just died. Obits were part of my reporting tasks when I broke into journalism, but I never wrote anything about someone famous while I worked at the Williamson County Sun. My very next job was Editor of the HP Chronicle, where people were famous within a modest community. I didn't write an obit at the Chronicle. I was eight years into the work at the Newswire when Danny Compton, a co-founder of ROC Software, died so very young at 40.

Compton and his wife Wendy were fun and important to reviving the Maestro user community. Why care about them now, you might ask, or even a legend like Fred White, whose life story I wrote up when he died in 2014? An obit is written for a death of something material, a person with a body, or an object which can be scrapped or destroyed. Something of value which made a mark on the world. The years continue to pull out HP's 3000's hardware from service. No one's making new gear with PA-RISC chips. Someday nearly everything that's an HP 3000 will go to dust.

The same cannot be said about MPE/iX. An obituary of the OS might be hard to prepare. The demise of HP's hardware could be written in advance. Advance obits, sitting up on the cloud by now, are a practice of those obit journalists. Obit writing tells about a life, not a death. Even as a celebrity continues to celebrate birthdays, their clock is ticking. Maybe that MPE/iX demise is in 2028. It's easier to see an obit arriving earlier for HP's hardware, though. It might read HP 3000, durable business server, dies at 51.

Hewlett-Packard's HP 3000, the first minicomputer which included a database wired into a file system, passed away on November 14, 2023 when the last CPU board failed to boot the server's operating system. The hardware, whose design was revised from the heyday of mainframes through the boom of the Web economy, carried commerce and data among entities as varied as aerospace makers and police departments. It is survived by the software written for the MPE/iX operating system as well as the database IMAGE/SQL.

HP's 3000 gear grew from a system that demanded raised flooring and specialized cooling to systems that could be carried under an arm. The hardware once read data from paper tapes and gained its ultimate IO abilities processing Internet data from standardized networks.

The obit for MPE/iX will be harder to write in advance. The OS is still going places.

The inability to know what day it is won't keep a painter from rendering visions, for example. In the same way a calendar will help that artist, some unforeseen code can give the OS a life that could outlast our own. The reason anyone would want to cut and test such code is virtualization.

Plenty of the surviving HP 3000 shops are in archival mode now. The low-processing needs of archival fit the glove of cloud computing. MPE/iX is a vessel to carry the ideas of application software. Like a ship's hull that can be cared for across generations, your OS has been a vessel that's gained a second generation with virtualization. Putting that virtualized hardware into the cloud lets the light-duty of archiving stay on course.

08:26 PM in Homesteading | Permalink

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