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March 21, 2018

Tracking the Prints of 3000 Print Software

Tymlabs logoA reader of ours with a long memory has a 3000 connected to a printer. The printer is capable of printing a 8.5 x 12 sheet, so it's enterprise-grade. The 3000 is running software built by OPT, '90s-era middleware for formatting print jobs from MPE/iX.

To nobody's surprise, the PSP Plus product had problems operating in 2018. "I actually tried to use it in recent times to print to a strange brand of printers, Microplex," our reader said. "The software still ran, but formatting did not work right."

Bruce-Toback

"I was able to print to it with some success, but I could never get the software to do what I wanted it to do, which was to fill up a 12 x 8.5" page and make logical and physical page breaks coincide." The software was a stellar choice for its day, having been developed by the funny, wry and brilliant Bruce Toback (above). Bruce passed away during the month we started this blog, though, more than 12 years ago. His tribute was the subject of our very first blog entry.

Great software that once could manage many printers, but can't do everything, might be revived with a little support. It's a good bet that OPT support contract hasn't been renewed, but asking for help can't hurt if your expectations are reasonably low. The challenge is finding the wizard who still knows the OPT bits.

"We bought and it went from OPT to Tymlabs to Unison to Tivoli to...” These kinds of bit-hunts are the management task that is sometimes crucial to homesteading in 2018. Printing can be a keystone of an IT operation, so if the software that drives the paper won't talk to a printer, even a strange one, that failure can trigger a migration. It's like the stray thread at the bottom of the sweater that unravels the whole garment.

Maybe this product that started at OPT never made its way to Tivoli. My notes say ROC Software took on all of the Unison products. Right here in Austin—where we're breathing with relief after that bomber's been taken down—ROC still supports and sells software for companies using lots of servers. Even HP 3000s.

Tracking these footprints of this print middleware led through some history. Searches turned up a NewsWire article about Toback—many, in fact, where in Hidden Value he was teaching 3000 users on the 3000-L about one kind of software or another. Back in 1997 the discussion was about something rather new called Linux. Linux could be useful, he said, to hook up a PC to the relatively-new World Wide Web.

Searching for OPT—which was the name of Toback's company—turned up plenty of hits about another OPT/3000, the one HP sold to track 3000 performance under MPE. Before we knew it, there was an HP Configuration Guide for the Series III and Series 30 on our monitor. Circa 1979, the HP3000 Family had promise.
 
HP 3000 Series III"The expandable hardware configurations and upward software compatibility of all the models," said the guide, "allow you to choose the system that best fits your current needs, while protecting your investment for the future." HP and everyone else didn't imagine that almost 40 years later that 3000 family would still have living members.
 
HP's OPT was a dead end, since HP stopped supporting that product by 1997. As for the Series III, with its beefy 120MB disk drive (the size of a single daily newspaper edition's PDF file), it was a museum piece before Y2K arrived. One support company featured a Series III at an HP World trade show, setting it up in a booth for people to photograph themselves with. No selfies in that year—you needed somebody else to capture your moment with history.
 
ROC was in the NewsWire archives, though. A 1999 article showed us that the OPT software had become Formation after the product was sold to Tymlabs, another Austin company. ROC bought Formation along with the rest of the stable of products which Tymlabs had sold to Unison—and Unison sold that lineup including Maestro to Tivoli. There's some begat's of vendors we might have left out there. Nevertheless, things like PSP Plus were well-built and useful for more than two decades.
 
That's the lure of homesteading—its low-cost ownership—as well as the curse of staying on too long. Product expertise disappears. We've reached out to ROC to see if the offices on Northland Boulevard still contain some tribal knowledge of the artist formerly known as PSP Plus.
 
Our reader, devoted to the 3000 in more than just spirit, is hopeful about its future even while he relies on software and hardware from the past. "I was so encouraged a couple of days ago that I actually searched the Internet for HP3000 MPE system manager jobs," said Tim O'Neill.

"If I did not have to move too far, I would sure like to go back to MPE. To me, it is still an exciting world—and with Stromasys Charon hardware and massively parallel disk arrays and high-speed networking, it is an exciting NEW world!"

07:12 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink

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