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December 13, 2017

Forbes news not fake, but it's surely slanted

Fortran-coding-formIt was an odd encounter to see the HP 3000 show up on the Forbes website recently. An article about technology and school systems mentioned the server in a sideswipe of a wisecrack. Justin Vincent, a CTO at a school software vendor, wondered aloud how 1970s computing would've handled a 20-student computer lab.

Since the HP 3000 has been a K-12 solution for more than 30 years, Vincent's article took aim at the computer. It was just a glancing blow.

When people first started talking about education technology in the '70s, technology itself was the main blocker. We simply didn’t have the capacity to scale networks. Our devices were huge, input methods were clunky, the cost of each device was prohibitive and there was simply no understanding of how to design easy-to-use K-12 software with individualized and blended features.

Can you imagine if a school district did decide to set up a 20-student computer lab in the '70s? With Hewlett Packard's first “small business” computer (the HP 3000), it would have cost the equivalent of $10 million, and the computers alone would fill up a standard-size classroom!

I was a student in a K-12 classroom in the 1970s. Instead of putting us high school seniors though advanced algebra, we could take a Computer Science course. I was eager to do this and learned that the only lab work we'd do in our parochial high school was filling out an IBM coding form (above) with FORTRAN commands. The actual IBM 029 keystrokes had to happen at the University of Toledo labs. We brought the green-bar output back to the classroom to debug our efforts.

It felt unfair to see those quotes around "small business" computer, though. The 3000 was a genuine small business solution compared to the mainframes. I also wonder how a 20-user 2000 of the late 1970s could have occupied a full classroom. Even in that day, terminals could fit on an average lab desk. The dimensions of tape drive, disk, and CPU still would leave room for students and instructors. Even the small Catholic school classrooms could accommodate a Series III with room to spare.

The writing arrived in the blogosphere by way of Forbes' Community Voice. In the 1970s this was called advertorial, the kind of copy I had to write as a young journalist to meet an advertiser's needs. By 2017 this writing is now being farmed out straight to the advertiser's staff. At least we had to label our advertorials as un-news. What might come as news is the HP 3000 is still running school administration in a few places.

Quintessential School Systems was sold into the portfolio of Harris School Solutions early this year. QSS broke a lot of ground for K-12 software systems, and at the time of its transfer in February there were still some customers waiting for their migration to the Linux version of OASIS.

The QSS saga included a long-term migration campaign of HP 3000 users. When HP cut its 3000 plans short in 2001, finding a replacement platform with no such single-vendor trap door was paramount to QSS. Well before the environment was established as a commercial choice, QSS went down a path toward Linux. The company calls this Version L, with the migrations coming away from Version H. This past year, the majority of QSS sites crossed over from the 3000 to Linux use.

Harris and QSS are in the administrative space for school software, while Vincent's firm Modern Teacher is pushing its spear of digital convergence to modernize the classroom pedagogy. That the HP 3000 would appear on the radar of a cloud-based software vendor — even as a "back in the day" reference — speaks to the legacy of MPE/iX. OASIS's days might be numbered on 3000 hardware. Other applications are going forward on the OS, though, carried by the virtualization strategy that puts "small business" computing on servers that fit onto a closet shelf.

 

07:38 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink

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