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August 23, 2017

Wayback Wed: Lights Out for 3000 Classics

Series 70 with Disk FarmDuring this month 20 years ago, HP sent its death notice out about the original systems it built to run MPE. All computers running CISC technology, systems the community learned to call Classic 3000s, got their end of support notice in August of 1997. Hewlett-Packard officially labeled them and the software built for MPE V as "vintage software and systems."

As continues to be the case for HP's end of life plans, the finale for the 3000's original chip design arrived more than a few years beyond the EOL of September 1998. Series 70s were still in use when the original notice went out, at least a decade beyond their final shipping date. HP created the Series 70 when the RISC Spectrum project looked certain not to rescue the highest-end HP 3000 users in time. Series 68 users were running out of horsepower, and HP's final CISC server filled the gap for awhile.

HP was consolidating its support resources with the announcement. Even though 20,000 HP 3000s shipped between system introduction and the arrival of the RISC-based systems, the newer, lower-priced MPE/iX servers became popular replacements for Classic 3000s. By 1997 the software vendors had made a complete embrace of the new OS. But 3000 customers, ever a thrifty bunch, retained what continued to serve them well enough. Customers noted that the approaching Y2K deadline was not going to hamper the vintage software or its hardware.

Although the announcement sparked a 3000 hardware sales bump and hastened the journey of the two-digit systems like the Series 42 to the scrap heap, the old compilers remained under support. A community advocate then asked HP to free up Basic/V to the community, along with the original Systems Programming Language (SPL). The request pre-dated the idea of open source by more than a few years. HP's response was no different than the one it held to when it stopped supporting MPE/iX. Once an HP product, always an HP product.

Wirt Atmar of AICS noted that "If HP has abandoned Basic, it would be an extraordinary gift to the MPE user community to make it and SPL legal freeware. Basic still remains the easiest language to build complex, easy string-manipulating software that must interact with IMAGE databases."

Another community leader, Chris Bartram, made direct reference to freeware in seconding the move to give Basic/V to the customers. Bartram's 3k Associates already hosted a website of shareware for the HP 3000. He said donating the MPE V versions of Basic and SPL fit with HP's new policy of relying on shareware for its HP 3000 customers.

"It certainly doesn't hurt anything at this point to make it freeware," he said, "and fits in well with the wealth of other freeware programs that are becoming available on the platform -- almost all without "official" support or significant investments from HP." Old hardware, on the other hand, suffered from the same issues as HP's aging iron of our current day. Parts became a showstopper at some sites.

Ken Kirby of Vanderbilt University said, "A good reason not to stay with the Series 70 is the difficulty of getting parts. The last time our 70 was down, it lay lifeless for three days waiting for HP to locate a part and have it sent here. Fortunately, there are no critical applications on our 70, as we have migrated most to a 987. The Series 70 was a fine piece of equipment in its day. So was the Titanic. For those of us still aboard, it looks like the iceberg is just around the bend."

Kirby added that the maintenance aspects—parts and HP support fees—were much cheaper for the newer systems. Cutting the costs for power, cooling, and service from generation to generation was in step with other enterprise vendors' strategies. Ten years after the Classic death notice, the head of HP's 3000 division operations was calling the 3000 a two-generation system: pre-2001 and its shutdown news, then post-2001. The genealogy of HP's hardware actually has three generations: Classic, PA-RISC, then the PCI-based A and N. The final generation was sold for less than a year before HP lost its desire for the 3000.

The Classic 3000's MPE/V, sent toward the sidelines with the 1997 announcement, was the last of HP 3000 operating systems whose source code was for sale. Tymlabs, a software vendor in Austin with products for backup and terminal emulation, said it bought a copy for $500 with full use. By the end of 2010, HP was selling a limited use, read-only license of MPE/iX code for $10,000—to a set of companies who had to apply to purchase it.

06:32 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink

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