August 28, 2014

TBT: Days of HP's elite software outlook

Business Software Brochure 83At the end of August of 1983, Hewlett-Packard mailed out a 92-page brochure that showed HP 3000 owners where to get the software they didn't want to create themselves. The Hewlett-Packard Business Software Guide covered the options for both the HP 3000 and the just-launching HP 250. The latter was a system that would sit on a large desktop, run software written for its BASIC operating system, and receive just six pages of specific notice out of the 90-plus in the HP sales guide.

What's interesting about this document -- apart from the fact that nearly all those photos have people in them -- is that HP's own programming development software and application tools are listed first in these pages. And in that order, too; owners of a system in 1983 seemed more likely to need software to create the bespoke applications so common in a system of 31 years ago. Applications from HP were always pushed before anything without the Hewlett-Packard brand.

But as I paged a bit deeper into this Throwback Thursday treasure, I found the genuine vitality that sold 10,000 of these minicomputers in less than 10 years' time: Third-party software, both in tools and in applications. HP made a distinction in this giveaway document for these programs, which they called HP PLUS software. A product could be Listed, or Referenced. But to get more information on either one of them, HP expected you to purchase a catalog with a lot more detail.

Not only was it an era without a Web, but these were the days when you'd pay for paper just to have a complete list of things you might purchase. The biggest issue was "will this run on my system?" That, and whether it really existed.

Inside Software Brochure 83The HP software in this Guide surely existed, and everything that HP listed as a PLUS product had a great chance of being available for purchase. Bulwarks like HP DeskManager were installed at thousands of terminals inside HP itself, and the minicomputer offerings were still supposed to be better for an office than something running off -- gad -- a Personal Computer.

The Listed products "Must meet certain Hewlett-Packard qualifying standards to be listed in either the Technical or Business version of the HP Software Directory." Meanwhile, the Referenced software products "have been further qualified by being rated very good to excellent by users in at least six different organizations." If you could assemble six customers who'd rate your software for HP, your MPE product had a chance of making it into this free brochure.

August 1983 software from third parties that was referenced included the many flavors of MCBA financial applications, programs that were often customized as soon as they were added to a Value Added Reseller's price list. MCBA was really a suggested serving. Cognos didn't exist yet, but its applications were represented at Quasar Corporation offerings such as DOLLAR-FLOW ($FLOW$). "Budgeting, pro-forma projections, financial analysis, ad hoc spread sheet (two words!) reports, and performance reporting" were the treasures of $FLOW$.

Specialized apps such as Finished Goods Inventory--83 were simply Listed, cataloged with nothing more than the name of the company (DeCarlo, Paternite & Assoc. Inc.) and a telephone number. You'd find a program, ask your HP Customer Engineer if he knew anything about it, then call the software vendor. That's how DP departments rolled three decades ago, when the computer was making its bones growing up in the business markets. You went to a computer user group meeting to ask about these things among your colleagues, too.

A more detailed catalog, the New HP PLUS Software Directory, was also available that fall. Within a year it was two full volumes of software across all HP system platforms, although the vast majority of it was written for MPE. It was updated twice a year. This HP directory also gained a notoriety for being something of a wish book.

Companies would supply detailed descriptions of their software to HP, which would dutifully report it to the 3000 customers who'd bought the directory. Vendors said -- while telling stories at spots like SIG-BAR in the conferences everyone attended to keep up -- they'd write something up just to see if they'd get a call. If there was real interest, then software would go from Proposed to In-development. There was no community-wide reviewing service like an Amazon while shopping for packages which might sell for $10,000 or more. Some people felt lucky they had a resource with guidance. Precious few minicomputer apps were reviewed in the likes of Computerworld, Datamation, or Byte.

Of course, those last two publications are not being manufactured anymore. Unlike the HP 3000, they don't enjoy a virtualized reincarnation, either. Only the 3000 is doing as much current work as Computerworld.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:06 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 22, 2014

30 years ago, 1984 seemed like news

I've been writing about my own experiences of the year 1984, since this has been the week that marks my 30th anniversary of my technical journalism career. It was the era of personal 1200 baud modems manufactured by US Robotics, now owned by PowerHouse's parent company Unicom Global. It was a time when HP's PC, the Touchscreen 150, operated using a variant of CPM -- the alternative to MS-DOS that lost like Betamax lost to VHS. It was a year when HP's worldwide software engineering manager Marc Hoff announced that 1,783 new products would enter HP's price list on April 1, products ranging from less-expensive software to "application-experienced CEs" called CSRs.

HP's new PICS phone support centers in California and Georgia each operated from 8 AM to 6 PM, giving the customers a whole 13 hours a day of call-in "toll-free" support in the US. It was an era when toll-free mattered, too, and to save money in your DP shop (we didn't call it IT) you could read a column on how to make your own RS-232 cables for the HP 3000, based on instructions from the Black Box Catalog. The HP 3000 could output graphics to magnetic tape, files that could be passed to a service bureau to create 35mm slides for your Kodak Carousel projector for those important boardroom meetings. But there are stories that 3000 community members have shared about that year, too. Here's a sample of some.

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Alan Yeo, ScreenJet founder - In 1984 I had just gone freelance for a contract paying “Great Money” and spent the whole year on a Huge Transact Project. Actually it was the rescue of a Huge Transact Project, one that had taken two elapsed and probably 25 man-years and at that point was about 10 percent working. A couple of us were brought in on contract to turn it around. We did, and we used to joke that we were like a couple of Samurai Coders brought in to Slash and Burn all before us. (I think Richard Chamberlin may have just starred in the hit TV epic Samurai at that time.)

 We were working on a Series 70, configured as the biggest 3000 in our region of the UK (apart from the one at HP itself). We used to have lots of HP SEs in and out to visit -- not because it was broken but just to show it to other customers. That was the year we started hearing rumors of PA-RISC and the new “Spectrum” HP 3000s. It unfortunately took a few more years for them to hit the streets.

I have lots of good memories of HP SEs from that time. HP employed some of the best people, and a lot of them were a great mix between Hardware Engineers, Software Engineers and Application Engineers. Great people to work with who sort of espoused the HP Way, and really made you want to be associated with HP. Where did they go wrong?

Brian Edminster, Applied Technologies founder -- As you've said, bespoke software was the meat and potatoes of the early 3000 market. I still believe that a custom software application package can be warranted -- as long as it gives your business a competitive edge. The trick is to make sure the edge is large enough to justify the expense of having something that's not Commercial Off the Shelf.

Doug Greenup, Minisoft founder -- In 1984 Minisoft was just one year old. We had just begun marketing our first product, a word processor for the HP 3000 known as Miniword. At that time a lot of HP 3000s only did 2400 baud, so typeahead was pretty important. Users were losing characters because they typed too fast. Typeahead helped to solve that problem. Because the HP 3000 did not have typeahead we had to manufacture a little box that sat between the HP3000 and the terminal we called a “SoftBox.” One of our best moments was when we were able to get 9600 baud on a serial connection.

Also at that time we were timesharing on an HP 3000 Series III with another company called Western Data. The spinoff of that company became Walker, Richer and Quinn, the makers of Reflection. Marty Quinn came into my office one day complaining that he couldn't develop from home. He had this piece of hardware called an IBM PC. I remember laughing at the thought of making this IBM PC look like an HP2622 block mode terminal. Marty went on to develop PC2622 which became Reflection.

Denys Beauchemin, MIS manager, backup vendor, developer and Interex chairman -- By 1984 I had been working on the HP 3000 for over seven years. I was at Northern Telecom in Montreal with a pair of Series 70. The Spectrum project was announced by HP at the same time as the cancellation of the Vision project, and the Series 70 got an upgrade to keep it viable for a few more years waiting for Spectrum.

Donna (Garverick) Hofmeister, SIGSYSMAN chair, Longs Drug developer/analyst, OpenMPE board director -- By 1984 I was two years out of college and working for the Army, tracking equipment readiness on a 3000. It was replaced by a Series 70, just about as soon as the 70s came out, too.  We were very proud of that system, because at time of delivery we were told it was the biggest 70 ever made.

Over the years we pushed that box pretty hard. It was very much a case of “if you build [the application] they will come.” We gave weapon system managers on-line access to their data -- something they had never had.  And when we started graphing the trend data -- oh boy! You'd think we had built a better mouse trap! I was particularly fond of the DSG/3000 decision support graphics application. By the time the Army and I parted ways, I think we had a grand 6GB of disc attached to the system.

Chris Bartram, 3k Associates founder, NewsWire Webmaster - In 1984 I had just taken a fulltime system programming job on the 3000 after deciding to give up on college for a while. My work there inspired me to start 3k a few years later in 1987. That was the year when I bought my first 3000, a 3000/37 Mighty Mouse which cost me about $10,000.

Gilles Schipper, founder of third party support firm GSA, NewsWire columnist -1984 was one year after I left HP and started out on my own. At that time, MPE/VE was starting to be out in full force after HP had just announced the 42 (as well as the 48 and 68). Shortly thereafter, as regular contributor to The Chronicle, I wrote an article entitled “The HP3000 Series 41?” in which I suggested that lots of HP 3000 users were being shortchanged by HP with the Series 40 to 42 “upgrade kit,” because it did not include the necessary CPU board replacement that actually made the upgrade complete.

Guy Smith, Chronicle columnist and founder of Silicon Support Strategies - Wow, where the hell was I in 1984? I was running a couple of boxes at Canaveral Air Force Station at that time. 16-bits and many megabytes of RAM were considered serious hardware (which my laptop that I'm writing with mocks, smugly superior with its two 64-bit CPUs and 8GB of fast RAM).

Important at that point in time was the growing number and sophistication of HP Users Groups. The Florida Users Group was particularly vibrant and was a great feeding ground for young and hungry bitheads like me.  They were small, intimate and high powered, allowing me to meet and discuss HP 3000 innards with the likes of David Greer, Vladimir Volokh and other gurus. Interex later became the locus, but regional groups were the launching pads for most of us in 1984. NASA at Kennedy Space Center and neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station had many HP 3000s. I know the concentration of machines and talent there influenced FLORUG.

Jeff Vance, HP developer for MPE, community liaison -- In 1984 I was working in the MPE XL (really named HPE at the time) lab. It was the year that Spectrum (which became PA-RISC) won the battle over the Vision architecture, and we re-wrote much of the low-level OS to Spectrum, while simply porting the higher level code.

The “HPE Cookbook,” written by the late Chris Mayo, was “published” May 15, 1984. The table of contents shows: Development Environment Map, CookMOM - How to Build “Hi Mom,” CookHPE, Useful Directories, User Information, Spooling, Customizing Makefiles for HPE, and RDB - The Remote Debugger.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:58 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 21, 2014

TBT 1984: The Days of Beauty and Wonder

Adager Globe 84When I arrived in the HP 3000 world, three decades ago this week, spreading the word about DP was supposed to be an attractive effort. We brought the workmanlike, newsprint-with-staples Chronicle into a marketplace where the leader was a slick-papered, four-color magazine bound like a book and produced as if it were a high-end design assignment.

In a Throwback Thursday covering the week my career started, the covers of Interact look like concept art. Much of what was inside was black and white with line drawings at best. But the outsides and even the big ads on the inside told the story of presentation in '84 style: focus on the beauty of the concept, and tout the details of the wonders of features. And some advertisers reached for the same level of art in their messages. Adager's ads often ran with little except a picture of the tape that carried the software, set in a mountain landscape or like the above, converted to a globe.

2392A 1984How else but with high concept could you make a full page of copy about a terminal that only worked with HP 3000s? There was a story in the HP ad, well-written, but like almost every other page of the user group's magazine, it was bereft of images of people.

Report Writing BluesThe DP workers in these ads look flummoxed and beaten much of the time, because they don't have the invention of the year that will making using their 3000 the value it was promised to be. Some of the magic of the day included HP's Dictionary/3000, designed to eliminate the tedious writing of COBOL Identification Divisions. A cartoon depicts those who still perform this task as cave dwellers.  Dictionary 3000Meanwhile, the wonders of fourth generation languages were touted as if these would soon become as universal as anything such as COBOL. Technically that would have made things like these 4GLs third generation languages. One of the things that made COBOL universal was that everybody knew it and you could find it running anywhere.

Powerhouse Universal 1984

 

The abiding element in all of the messages from 1984's advertising was this: because you know how tech works, we know the decision lies with you. Years ago, the HP enterprise user group of our modern day began to separate the tech-steeped customer from the ones who knew business and partnerships and budgets. The geek customers were dubbed technologists. It would have been a compliment 30 years ago, because the days of magic were always amid our steps into the future. Magic about things we take for granted, like understanding that germs cause disease or that mother's milk builds smarter humans.

Interact May 84It was a year when knowing would get you promoted, and I grappled with all there was to learn. Some of the mystery would always elude me; the power of IBM's System Network Architecture had to be explained to me years after TCP/IP made SNA an afterthought. I never learned what the readers already knew and practiced. But like the wafer artwork that graced the front cover below, grabbing their technical wisdom and replicating it, one month at a time on tabloid newsprint, was enough to complete the circuits between what one DP manager knew and another desired. Especially when, like the best of the chipmaking, those circuits that we built ran faster than the competition. In the good months, with luck, you could see the advantages of speed.

Interact wafer cover 1984

 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:38 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 20, 2014

Small office — but a modest, social market

The building in Austin, Texas wasn't even devoted to the newspaper entirely. Off in the northern side, the single-story offices housed a insurance company and an optician. The beginnings of the HP Chronicle matched the position of the HP 3000 in 1984. It was not the most significant tenant in the Hewlett-Packard building of products. It was never the biggest earner on the HP ledger. It was just the most social office of the HP structure. People built events and associations around it.

HP closed out its fiscal 1984 a couple months after I arrived in the offices of the Chronicle. We were so cautious that we didn't even include "HP" in the publication name at first, because we were not welcomed at that year's Interex user group conference. I heard about the argument on the show floor, where it was plain we'd started a publication to compete with the user group. They'd cashed the check, said the publisher John Wilson. They had to let us in. But seeing that resistance, nobody was going to make us change our name in that kind of environment. Leave the HP off the front page.

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 5.36.27 PMIt never occured to us to make a big story out of the annual HP numbers which were reported in mid-November. HP wasn't a sexy stock (trading in the mid $40s, with good profits) and its board of directors was full of technical expertise and HP management experience. John Young, the company's CEO on the August day I began, was not the chairman. That job was in the hands of one of the company founders, David Packard. His partner Bill Hewlett was vice-chairman. HP management moves didn't involve mergers or acquisitions as the splashy plays of today. The photo of the HP Touchscreen connected to a 3000 at left was one of just four in the annual report with a person in it. This was still a company that knew how to connect with customers, but struggled to sell its story about people.

There was a full range of things which the 1984 Hewlett-Packard was not. One of them was an adept player at being in a partnership. The Not Invented Here syndrome was in full throat on the day I arrived and looked at the PC 2622 box atop that PC monitor. Walker, Richer & Quinn was selling an alternative to HP's hardware. Within a few years HP would be launching a product to compete with WRQ, Advancelink. Because HP believed that every dollar, from supplies to support, had its best chance to help the company if it were on the HP ledger.

Computer-related sales made up the biggest share of the $6.1 billion that HP posted 30 years ago, but test and measurement systems were not far behind. $3.2 billion for computers, $2.2 billion for test gear. The latter was the best-known product for the company, as the Silicon Valley's hardware engineers were likely to have HP measurement products in their development labs. Test and Measurement was also more profitable than computers. Used in hospitals, medical labs, research facilities -- this was the business that started the company, and it was still the major driver in profitability, with strong sales.

Test and measurement was also completely outside my beat, thank goodness. But that didn't mean I only had the HP 3000 to learn. The Chronicle covered HP 1000 real-time systems and HP 9000 engineering computers, but mostly because our California competitors at Interex did so. The serious ad revenue came from the most social side of HP's $3.2 billion: business computers, charting the lives of companies and their employees. But even a chart off an HP business computer had a radical distinction from today. It used six pens to make its appearance.

I didn't have to write much about HP plotters, but they were a marvel to watch whenever we'd get one into our offices for a test run. The HP ThinkJet printers were less than a year old at HP at the time, and the LaserJet was announced in the same summer as the 3000's Office Computer. I didn't know it at the time -- maybe nobody outside of HP was aware -- but the year 1984 was the moment of watershed for HP's computing product futures. Printers which had graphics capability of a plotter and were faster than dot-matrix devices were the hottest product in offices other than PCs. In the years that followed, HP would hew ever harder to the course of ink-jet and LaserJet model: using commodity resellers and little in-person contact with customers.

We didn't run a column devoted to printers. We ran one on managing company staff, written by Dr. E.R. Simmons, who'd founded a fourth generation language firm called Protos. E.R. was also a psychologist. HP 3000 customers were often called analysts, meaning they had to understand the way people worked as well as how to code up a program. E.R. column was the easiest for everyone to understand. Including me.

Writing about HP's LaserJets that year would have had nothing to do with its big office computers, or even its engineering line. HP EasyChart ran off a 3000, yes, and it output to no devices but plotters that year. Same thing for the more advanced HP graphics apps, HP EasyDraw and DSG/3000. They all used data from IMAGE, but the LaserJet was too new to work with anything except Personal Computers at first. HP sold 10 million of these printers, which retailed for about $3,000 each, in 10 years time. The company had never created anything that sold so much, so quickly. But it never had a popular consumer product before, either.

The LaserJet, of course, had no conferences. No user group formed around it, and it only gained a Special Interest Group late in the '80s -- and even then, people wondered why. The HP 3000 had dozens of Regional User Group meetings, often with some kind of meal or multi-day agenda. I went to my first at the Florida RUG's December conference, feeling fully unprepared to talk in person about business computing without the aid of taped notes to decipher afterward. This was my first field work with the people who knew and loved MPE. They turned out to be some of the most generous and patient pros I'd interviewed in journalism. They knew they needed to explain a lot to me. They seemed to be eager to tell their stories.

But I came in at an odd moment for the 3000 community. Interex produced the biggest conference of the year, one named after the user group. In August of 1984 we were six months past HP's admission that its Vision architecture was going to be scrapped. Something named Spectrum was taking its place, but the next conference -- the best place to find and interview dozens of people in one place -- would not be held for another full year. I was used to in-person reporting and writing. Everything would need to happen over the phone. Fax wouldn't become popular for another year. Compuserve had nothing on it about HP products.

FLORUG, and then the Southern California SCRUG, would have to serve, to put me in front of experts and learn the personalities starting in December. We all read papers -- published in thick volumes after a conference -- or publications, or HP's technical bulletins, to learn about new tech and case studies and field reports. Computerworld was useful, but the HP 3000 drew scant notice in there.

HP's entire product line fought for space in any general computing interest newspaper. There were still several dozen makers of minicomputers and personal computers to write about. This specialization was the whole reason the Chronicle existed -- all HP news, on every page. Specialization was also the reason I got to enter the technical field. This was a community, and I'd shown success at community journalism in the three years before I went to work in that single-story set of rooms on Research Boulevard.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:54 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (2)

August 19, 2014

What Changed Over 30 Years: Bespoke

Warmup suitsI arrived here in the community of my career when gas was $1.15 a gallon in the US, the Dow was at 1,200, a new truck sold for $8,995, the Cold War Olympics featured no Soviet atheletes in LA, and Stevie Wonder had a top hit on the record charts. Because there were still records being sold for pop hits, along with cassettes. Nary a CD could be bought. The Mac was brand new and still didn't sport a hard drive. Those fellows to the right were right in style with warm-up suits that you're likely to see in a senior's happy hour cafeteria line today.

There were thousands of applications in the Hewlett-Packard software catalog of 1984. It wasn't a new idea to collate and curate them, either. MB Foster had one of the first compendiums of HP 3000 software, several years before it occured to HP to offer products the vendor did not make (or buy up, then sell back). But in the month when I entered this market, during that August you were at least as likely to find custom, bespoke software running a corporation as any Commercial Off The Shelf package.

People built what they needed. The bespoken software was often created with the help of fourth generation langauges, so Speedware and Cognos' Powerhouse were big players during 1984. Not the biggest of the 3000 vendors, in terms of customer size. Unless you counted several thousand MANMAN sites, all running the Quiz reporting tools that ASK Computer included with the MRP package. Back in those says, Enterprise Resource Planning hadn't been conceived. 

Because so much of the community's software was customized, being well-versed in IMAGE/3000 -- not yet TurboIMAGE, let alone IMAGE/SQL -- was a key skill. Mastery of the database was more attainable if you had a database management utility. Adager was most widely installed, with Bradmark just getting off the ground in 1984. I nearly crashed my reputation with Adager and co-founder Alfredo Rego, less than a month after I began my career in the community.

MondaletoHartThe problem was a lack of MPE and IMAGE experience. Since I didn't understand the technology first-hand, I felt compelled to contribute to the effort of the HP Chronicle. Not by writing an article, but instead closely red-pen editing the writing of Rego. I didn't know yet that anything he shared with a publication -- his technical treatise was a big win for us at the HP Chronicle -- had already been polished and optimized. A writer well-steeped in mastery of his subject can insist an article be published with no changes. In the publishing business, stet means to ignore a change. I'd have been helped if someone had grabbed my inked-up printout of Rego's paper and marked "stet all changes" on the front. He had a legitimate beef.

Instead, we ran it and then I got to enjoy a rare thrill -- having my corrections corrected by the author, live in front of a local user group audience. Writers forming the troika of big independent vendors -- Bob Green at Robelle, Eugene Volokh at VEsoft, and Rego -- certainly had earned stet-all-changes. Their software became crucial in managing a 3000 that was gasping for new horsepower. Creating and maintaining customized software was a popular way to get the most out of the six-figure HP 3000s, already at the end of the line at the top but still more than two years away from getting a refresh.

One accounting software package was in place that was basically a template for its resellers to customize for customers. Meanwhile there was talk in our offices about the new Account Management Support, a Systems Engineer (SE) and Customer Support Representative (SCR) tandem for supporting HP 3000s. An SE would visit your site once a month; nothing new about that in 1984. But HP would be sending a CSR for each of your applications. The 3000 community always knew that HP wanted to be onsite to talk about optimization and resolve management operations issues. The CSRs were all about making sure that the HP applications were satisfactory -- and edging out the third-party alternatives.

But so much of what was running neither HP or third-party. It was custom-crafted. And that year could get a new level of support, via phone in the US out of Santa Clara, Calif. and from Atlanta. 

In my offices, the 3000 was limited to an amber terminal emulator screen, representing time on a system down at Futura Press, where the newspaper was printed monthly. We never saw any SEs unless we were at a conference -- where they gave talks. We never installed an HP 3000.

It was an era where PCs were on the rise, but not being much trusted in the Data Processing departments. The financial forces started to carry the day with PCs and MS-DOS, but the established MIS sector analysts figured that PCs would saturate the market quickly enough. One $400,000 study reported "Early PC peak forecasted," where SRI International predicted PC growth tapering off after 1986. "Average annual growth will be only 5.4 percent in the 1986-1990 period."

Customization -- the bespoke nature of database designs -- was supposed to be holding back more PC growth. "Some companies find that the file structures within their corporate databse do not lend themselves to easy access by PCs." Personal computers were supposed to work unconnected to the databases like IMAGE, the experts figured. Then software like Data Express arrived to change all of that connectivity between PC spreadsheets and minicomputer databases. IMAGE could use what Lotus 1-2-3 wrought/

IMAGE adjustments, management and optimization were so popular that we had a pristine copy of the IMAGE/3000 Handbook in our office -- though it was more for my education than any operational use. The book was 330 generous sized pages, plus index, written by Bob Green, David Greer, Alfredo Rego, Fred White, and Dennis and Amy Heidner. "The book sold itself," said Green, "and since the price was $50 each and we paid for the printing, our editor Marguirete Russell had a nice extra income for the next few years."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:57 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 18, 2014

This Is Where I Came In

It's the third week of August, but it's 30 years ago. I wear my wide tie and my oxfords to an office in Austin's northwest tech territory and start to write and learn about the HP 3000. I'm 27, father of a boy not yet two, a community news reporter with a new community to creep into -- because that's how it's done when you don't know anyone or much of anything. You ask a lot of questions and try to understand the answers.

Ronin1980sThe office is ribbed with wood paneling and mini-blinds and sports an IBM-PC knockoff, a Columbia. It's got an amber display and no hard drive. A box with the manual for Walker, Richer & Quinn's PC2622 software is on top of that monitor. It's connected for something called time-sharing, and it also connects to something called Compuserve. I watch my boss dial up on a phone with a modem -- I knew about those from using an Apple II at home -- and read the news. None of it's about HP, though. That's our story to tell.

Inside my editor's office there's a telephone transcription machine for recorded interviews, plus a Kaypro II portable. It weighs 28 pounds and has a screen that's nine inches across.  Kaypro_II_portable_computer_with_dBase_II_and_CPM_2013-04-04_00-57Imagine two Samsung Galaxy phones side by side, and that's about it. There are two books on the shelf, both printed by Hewlett-Packard. One is a catalog of third-party software and specialized hardware, all written in something called MPE V for a computer people are wild about, the HP 3000. The other book is a listing of the phone number of everyone in HP's Bay Area campuses. HP is not yet selling $7 billion of gear, support or software in 1984 -- and that includes medical and measurement systems that are so much better known than its computer products.

In my first week of a career writing about HP, one of the first things that I learn is that we've been scooped. The latest HP 3000, a real ground-breaker, is already in the pages of Interact magazine. The user group Interex has won again, because being physically near those HP Bay Area offices makes a difference. There's nobody on our staff or theirs who wrote news for newspapers, though, not until this week. It's the only chance we've got to learn something first: Get on that phone, son.

Thirty years ago the market that became the community I called home had a minicomputer product being sold in a mainframe mindset. HP sold office computers for interactive computing, just like DEC, Wang, Control Data, Honeywell, Burroughs, Univac, Datapoint, and yeah, some company called IBM. I'd heard of IBM. I knew nothing about the rest of the BUNCH, and I thought they were kidding about a company called Wang. (In the years to come, our publishing company created an unfortunately-named tabloid called Wang in the News.)

Mighty MouseWe got scooped on the release of the Series 37, which HP called the Office Computer because it was the first minicomputer it sold that didn't need special cooling or a raised floor. It operated on carpet, and that was a big deal for something people called the Mighty Mouse. It had the the first 3000 on a chip; a CMOS gate array; could have as much as 8 MB of memory and the same performance as a Series III, according to Stan Sieler's genealogy of that era. The Series III cost four times as much. That 8 MB is smaller than some of the individual podcast files I created 25 years later.

But I'm getting ahead of myself, like I usually do. I came into that office with 24 credit hours of computer science and a passion for the field. I was an enthusiast, as they used to call people who like computers for the concept of what they'd do, not just what they could help you learn. I only had a journalism degree to hang up on my paneled office wall. Plus that telephone and a notepad and a recorder. I needed the recorder, because I was drinking out of a fire hose of information for the first six months of these 30 years.

People were at the heart of the work, though. Not just the machines, but creative people with personality and a penchant for gathering and being social. These were business computing analysts, and the best way for them to share what they knew and learn was to read and meet in person. They held meetings at least once a month around the world. They were generous with what they knew. It seemed lots of them wanted to teach.

These days there are Throwback Thursdays online in social media like Facebook. Us baby boomers share pictures of our younger days. But I'm going to take more than just this coming Thursday to throw you back into 1984 and the place where I came in, looking for a way to tell stories that 3000 people would hear for the first time. Being first was important. But I'd soon learn that being accurate was even more important, more essential to my readers and my new community than being accurate when someone was on trial, or critically injured, or breaking a record or hearts on a sporting field. It certainly felt that way to the people who shared their stories with me. It also felt that way to me, the first time I messed up in public as I came in, then got schooled in person about how inaccurate my editing was in 1984.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:44 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 12, 2014

Where a Roadmap Can Lead You

In preparation for its upcoming VMS Boot Camp, Hewlett-Packard has removed some elements of its roadmap for the operating environment. What's disappeared are no small thing: dates.

HP 3000 customers saw their roadmap get less certain about its destination. At the end of the vendor's interest in selling and creating more systems, an elaborate PowerPoint slide showing multiple levels of servers. The roadmap actually got a cloud creeping in from the right hand margin.

Okay, that was 13 years ago this very month in Chicago. But it was not the last HP World conference -- that would be one decade ago, this month -- not any more than next month's Boot Camp for VMS enthusiasts and customers will be the last. But there have been times when VMS had promises from HP's management of another decade of service. Here's the before, and the after. 

OpenVMS MapOnly seven months elapsed before the OS releases started being named things like "V8.next."

OpenVMS Rolling Map

 Very few products last for lifetimes. Knowing when they're going, and how soon to make plans for replacement, is serious business for an IT manager.

During an August in 2001 when the future looked certain and solid for some customers, a PowerPoint slide told more than could be easily read in Chicago for HP 3000 customers. For the record, the slide below delivered everything promised up until 2003. The PA-8800 never made an entry into the N-Class.

HP 3000 Roadmap 2001 Chicago

That would be known, in the roadmap parlance, as a PA-8xxx. The PA-8yyy (8900) never made it into a 3000, either.

Roadmaps might be an old tradition, but they're moments to establish and renew trust in a partner. Specific, and follow-through, make that possible. Some VMS customers are already underway with their migration assessments.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:58 PM in History, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 11, 2014

Classic lines push homestead tech designs

Sometime this week I expect to be updated on the latest restructure at Stromasys. That's the company that has created a 3000 hardware-virtualization product installed in more sites than we first thought. They hold their cards close to the vest at Stromasys, especially about new installs. But we keep running into MPE support vendors who mention they have emulator-using clients. These companies are reticent about reporting on emulation.

Lakshorelimitedposter3000 people have dreamed about emulators ever since 2002. And for the next eight years, people figured emulation wouldn’t matter by the time HP approved MPE emulator licensing. Better not tell that to the customers who have plans to go deep into the second decade of the 21st century with their 3000. Emulation was rolling by 2012 for the 3000. Within a couple of years between now and 2023, that technology could be well polished for MPE. Enough to stop using HP's 3000 hardware, boxes that will be at least 20 years old by that time. Most of them are at least 15 years old right now.

A great deal of time has passed since the 9x9 3000s had their coming-out, but much has changed that we couldn't predict back then. Come with me to the magical year of 1997. We had little idea what we'd see in just 10 years' time.

It’s 1997. (Humor me a minute, and turn back the year.) You're here? Okay, think about what we don’t have yet. Google. BluRay. DVDs, for that matter. Hybrid cars. Portable MP3 players of any kind. PayPal. Amazon turning a profit. YouTube. eBay was so new it was called AuctionWeb. Thumb drives. Digital TV. Viagra. Caller ID. Smartphones, warmed baby wipes, online banking, Facebook and Twitter. Blade servers, cloud computing, Linux, virtualization — the list of technologies and designs we didn’t have 17 years ago is vast.

We don’t even have to talk about clouds, tablet computers or 3D TVs. Now, roll ahead to 2023. In that year, there will still an HP 3000 running a factory in Oklahoma. That’s the plan for Ametek’s Chandler Engineering unit. By that year MPE will be 50 years old, COBOL more than 75. And what will keep those two technologies viable? Well, probably technology that we don’t even have out of design now, nine years ahead of that shutdown date. People have been throwing rocks at old stuff for years, but it hangs on if it’s built well.

Northbynorthwest2Four years ago I took a train ride from New York toward Chicago on the Lakeshore Limited. Just like Cary Grant rode that same line with Eva Marie Saint in the year I was born, in North by Northwest. The train remains the best value to get a night’s worth of sleep and end up 800 miles west of where you started. C'mon, railroads? Passenger service with berths went on lines, as it were, in the 19th century. How could it remain viable 150 years later? Like the HP 3000, the values that propel such elder technologies are efficiency and entropy. Railroads still call their carriages rolling stock, because you can roll freight three times farther on a train than a truck for the same expense.

The HP 3000 hardware, virtualized or not, still preserves business rules because Hewlett-Packard built the boxes like armored cars. The investment was so great back in those '90s that people expected it to last more than a decade between upgrades. The downside to switching to newer technology? The stuff we haven’t invented yet might not stick around. Perhaps the Oracle database will still be in widespread use in 2023. That’s the software where Ametek is taking its migration, using a plan developed by people who probably won’t be at the company is 2023.

That Ametek date was so far out that I wondered if it was a typo in an email. (Oh, we had email in 1997. But it wasn’t considered grandpa’s technology back then, the way the young turks think of email today. but now even grandpa's tech reputation has changed. So much noise on Twitter and Facebook. A personal email, from a known colleague -- you open that one first.) So when you plan your transition to tomorrow — whether it’s your personal retirement, or parking that armored car of a computer — don’t sell the future short. Go ahead and be independent to get the work finished on your timetable. But if you're going, now would be a good time to start. It will take until 2016, at best, if you began assessments today.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:14 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 07, 2014

Who's got our history, and our future?

Migration takes on many problems and tries to solve them. A vendor stops supporting the server. Investing in a vendor's current product by migrating makes that go away. Applications slide into disrepair, and nobody knows how to re-develop them. Ah, that's a different sort of problem, one that demands a change in people, rather than products.

Yesterday we heard a story of a company in Ohio, running a 3000, whose IT manager planned to retire rather than migrate. Telling top management about your retirement plans is not mandatory. Frankly, having an option to retire is a special situation in our modern era. Figuring that you could be replaced, along with all of your in-company experience and know-how about things like COBOL, is far from certain. Legacy systems still run much of the world, but the people who built and tend to them are growing older, out of the workforce.

NutsfordsPair2004It's a glorious thing, knowing that your server's environment was first crafted four decades ago. Some of the brightest players from that era are still around, though not much active. Fred White built IMAGE, alongside Jon Bale at HP. Neither are at work today. Fred's now 90, as of April. 
NutfordsIn another example of a seasoned 3000 expert, Ken Nutsford's LinkedIn account reports that he celebrates 45 years at Computometric Systems, the development company he founded with his wife Jeanette. In a Throwback Thursday entry, here they are, 10 years ago and now, still together. Not all of us wear so well, but they've retired enough to have travelled the world over, several times, on cruise ships. That's what more than 40 years will earn you.

HPWorld2004SIGCOBOLIt's been a decade since there's been a HP World conference like the one pictured at left, hosted by the Nutsfords, complete with a hospitality buffet as well as a board of trivia (below, click for detail) technical details that just a tiny set of experts might know. The number of people who know the operating system and the hardware at hand at that level has been on the decline. Not just in the MPE world, but throughout the computer industry. SIGCOBOLTrivia

BusinessWeek recently ran an article titled, "Who'll keep your 50 year old software running?" Even though the Nutsfords retired from leading SIGCOBOL in 2004, there's plenty of COBOL around. But not anywhere near enough people to maintain it, although companies continue to try.

The baby boomers that brought us the computer revolution, developing the products and programs we now rely on, are retiring. But many companies are still using programs written in such software languages as COBOL and Fortran that were considered “cutting edge” 50 years ago. Indeed, the trade publication Computerworld has reported that more than half of the companies they surveyed are still developing new COBOL programs

"Staffing is the first thing to go these days," said Birket Foster in a Webinar briefing this week. His MB Foster company is still doing migrations, including moving a Unix customer off the Progress database and onto SQL Server. Progress is a youngster compared to COBOL and IMAGE. Some people decide to migrate because of the migration of their most expert people.

50-yo-sw.frontThe BusinessWeek article didn't supply easy answers to the brain-drain dilemma that every company seems to face. The firms that put computers into their business processes during the last 35 years -- that's just about every company -- are working with new staff by now, or watching their tech foundation head out to the pleasure cruise life.

The article notes that up to one-half of all COBOL and Fortran programmers are at least 50 years old. Younger developers arrive with experience in newer languages. There's a gap to cross between what's operational and what's state-of-the-art. "Smart companies have recruitment and succession plans, of course," the business magazine said. "What they don’t have is access to an adequate supply of workers with the technical expertise they need."

The staffing issues complicate the timing of migrations. How long can you depend on legacy software while you get a replacement up and tested, something the younger set of developers can understand? A migration takes at least 18 months, Foster says. He adds that getting started on the assessment is pretty much a do-it-now item. August is a month that hosted HP World conferences for a good business reason: this is the time of the year when companies are planning their IT budgets for the year to come.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:47 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 31, 2014

TBT: Java's promise spun 3000s into style

Just about 15 years ago from this ThrowBack Thursday, the HP 3000 was having its high moment of renaissance at Hewlett-Packard. The computer was going to make its stretch into the world of a Java-based interface for applications, in an era when Java was considered stylish. A new Java library was going to be patched into the operating environment, and the 3000 division was about to enjoy its fourth straight summertime with the same general manager, something we'd not seen in many years.

HarryYoyoHarry Sterling pushed at the heartstrings of the customers during his tenure leading the division, and in 1999 he threw out the stops to make the HP World conference update on the 3000 memorable. The 3000 was always in style, Sterling maintained, just like the classics of yo-yos (a popular late '90s show giveaway) and tuxedos. Sterling managed to pull off a combination of the two at what amounted to a State of the Product address.

His hour-long talk was built around the theme of "The HP 3000: Always in Style," and featured a video of customer interviews comparing the system to classic dances such as the tango and the waltz. The general manager finished his talk spinning a yo-yo from his hand.

“Just like this yo-yo and just like my tux are always in style, so is the 3000,” Sterling said. The white-hot dot com boom was on, and Sterling felt the yearning from customers to feel the heat.

"You are seeing a new mindset at HP, doing the things that will make it possible for us all to be a pivotal player in Chapter Two of the Internet. Many of you are saying it’s about time — and I agree.”

It was the last such speech he'd give. He retired from HP and his position later that year, handing over leadership of the group to Winston Prather. Y2K came and went, and the tuxedo-flashing era came and went, too. At the time of Sterling's talk, HP shared details of a GUI plan it called Visage, figuring that legacy-looking apps were not helping the 3000 hold and win customers. Mike Yawn, the CSY engineer who lead the Java project for the 3000, outlined elements of using Java to build GUIs for existing 3000 applications, as well as creating interfaces from scratch for new apps.

Technology refreshes like integrated Java were not moving as fast as HP's top management changes; commodity computing was cemented in the CEO's office by the march of Windows into business readiness. Visage never made it out of HP's labs, while faster 3000s using a new IO bus remained on the runway of the labs too long, in hindsight. But for a week in San Francisco, while Hewlett-Packard celebrated its 60th company anniversary, the view of the 3000's future was stylish to the max.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:05 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 30, 2014

Find :HELP for what you don't know exists

Last week we presented a reprise of advice about using the VSTORE command while making backups. It's good practice; you can read about the details of why and a little bit of how-to in articles here, and also here.

But since VSTORE is an MPE command, our article elicited a friendly call from Vesoft's Vladimir Volokh. He was able to make me see that a great deal of what drives MPE/iX and MPE's powers can remain hidden -- the attribute we ascribed to VSTORE. "Hidden, to some managers running HP 3000s, is the VSTORE command of MPE/iX to employ in system backup verification." We even have a category here on the blog called Hidden Value. It's been one of our features since our first issue, almost 19 years ago.

MPE commands exampleFinding help for commands is a straightforward search, if those commands are related to the commands you know. But how deep are the relationships that are charted by the MPE help system? To put it another way, it's not easy to go looking for something that you don't know is there. Take VSTORE, for example. HP's HELP files include a VSTORE command entry. But you'll only find that command if you know it's there in the operating environment. The "related commands" part of the entry of STORE, identifying the existence of VSTORE, is at the very bottom of the file.

Vladimir said, "Yes, at the bottom. And nobody reads to the bottom." He's also of the belief that fewer people than ever are reading anything today. I agree, but I'd add we're failing in our habits to read in the long form, all the way beyond a few paragraphs. The Millennial Generation even has an acronymn for this poor habit: TLDR, for Too Long, Didn't Read. It's a byproduct of life in the Web era.

But finding help on VSTORE is also a matter of a search across the Web, where you'll find archived manuals on the 5.0 MPE/iX where it was last documented. There's where the Web connects us better than ever. What's more, the power of the Internet now gives us the means to ask Vladimir about MPE's commands and the MPEX improvements. Vladimir reads and uses email from his personal email address. It's not a new outlet, but it's a place to ask for help that you don't know exists. That's because like his product MPEX, Vladimir's help can be conceptual.

Hold down the right-most or left-most mouse button and you'll see contextual help in plenty of applications. MPE commands don't have this feature, and while they don't seem to need it, conceptual help is missing, too. There's :HELP for many subjects, but conceptual help involves skipping over those TLDR habits.

Our original article about VSTORE used the command in context with a primer on when to create a System Load Tape. Do a VSTORE when you make an SLT, said Vladimir as well as our ally Brian Edminster. Creating context is high-order programming, something we can do more easily with our wetware than with software. It's about seeing relationships, connecting the dots.

"You can't ask for help for something you don't know exists," is how Vladimir posed the problem of contextual help in the MPE interface. Go to the %HELP of MPEX and you'll get related commands right away. For example, typing %HELP STORE will allows you to choose from the following topics:

1. %MPEXSTORE, MPEX command
2. MPE's :RESTORE help text
3. MPE's :STORE help text
4. MPE's :VSTORE help text
5. STORED, a file attribute variable

In comparison, you might not be aware of VSTORE's relationship to backups by using HP's :HELP files.

How did we learn about those %HELP options? The Internet led us to a 19-year-old technical paper written by Paul Taffel while he was in the Vesoft stables. The paper, hosted at Gainsborough Software, details the improvements to MPEX as a result of integrating the (then-new) Posix interface of MPE. Two-thirds of the way through an article of 2,800 lines, there's that %HELP information. (There's even a little joke about typing %HELP SENTENCE, and another about %HELP DELI in MPEX.)

It's all out there, somewhere, these opportunities to learn what you even don't know exists, but need to know. And you'd want to learn about efficient and effective use of MPE because? Well, because an HP 3000 might be a key part of your datacenter longer than expected -- and your best expert has already typed his final :BYE. In that 19-year-old article, Taffel expressed Vesoft's ideal about questions from the community.

We at VESOFT really encourage you to contact us with your favorite "I'd like to do this but I can't" problem.  MPEX has evolved largely as a result of the continued suggestions of our many thousands of users, and we hope to continue this process as long as you continue to come up with new problems.

After that message, there's a contact phone number for Vesoft, the one that still reaches the company's offices, unchanged after decades. But there's also current email to follow by this year for contextual help, by dropping a note into Vladimir's inbox. Your reply might include a call, a sample of MPE help that's so well hidden you don't know you need it.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:58 PM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (1)

July 28, 2014

Taking a :BYE before a :SHUTDOWN

BYEHP 3000 systems have been supporting manufacturing for almost as long as the server has been sold. ASK Computer Systems made MANMAN in the 1970s, working from a loaned system in a startup team's kitchen. MANMAN's still around, working today.

It might not be MANMAN working at 3M, but the Minnesota Minining & Manufacturing Company is still using HP 3000s. And according to a departing MPE expert at 3M, the multiple N-Class systems will be in service there "for at least several more years."

Mike Caplin is taking his leave of 3000 IT, though. Earlier this month he posted a farewell message to the 3000-L listserve community. He explained that he loved working with the computer, so much so that he bet on a healthy career future a decade-and-a-half ago. That was the time just before HP began to change its mind about low-growth product lines with loyal owners.

Tomorrow, I’ll type BYE for the last time. Actually, I’ll just X out of a Reflection screen and let the N-Class that I’m always logged in to log me out.

I started on a Series II in 1976 and thought I died and went to heaven after working on Burroughs and Univac equipment.  The machine always ran; no downtime, easy online development, and those great manuals that actually made sense and had samples of code. I still have the orange pocket guide for the Series II.

I found this list about the same time that getting help from HP became a hit or miss. I always got a usable answer after posting a question, usually in under an hour.  So the purpose of this is to say goodbye, but also to say thank you for all of the help over the years.

I was in a headhunter’s office about 15 years ago and he told me that I needed to get away from the 3000 because I’d never be able to make a living until I was ready to retire. I told him that he may be right, but that I was counting on knowing enough to be able to stay employed and that I intended to outlast MPE. I guess I got lucky and won that argument.

We love the part of Caplin's message where he gambled on his expertise and spent the last 15 years staying employed, instead of running from the 3000. We've been doing something similar here. This summer is the 13th we're writing and publishing since HP announced its end-date with the 3000 business. It can be sporting to try to figure who'll be the last to turn out the lights, but there's a good chance we won't be working anymore when it happens to MPE.

So that devoted MPE user has typed his last BYE. But MPE -- at least in some transitional mission at 3M -- has outlasted his days with the server. The community is still full of people who will make their exits before their HP 3000s do. Terry Floyd of the Support Group has said that at some manufacturing sites, there's a good chance the expertise will retire before the hardware does a shutdown. The marvel is to be able to go into retirement operating the same flavor of enterprise server as when you performed your first COLDSTART.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:02 PM in History, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 22, 2014

A Week When HP Gave OpenMPE the Floor

OpenMPE2005CSYmeet3000 community members at HP's facility for the OpenMPE meeting that replaced the scrubbed HP World 2005. From left, Walt McCullough, HP's Craig Fairchild and Mike Paivinen, Birket Foster (standing) and Stan Sieler.

It was a Maple floor, to be exact, in the Maple Room of the HP campus that's now long-demolished. On this day in 2005, in the wake of a washout of the user group Interex and its conference, the OpenMPE board met with HP to earn a space for an all-day meeting. HP extended use of its Maple Room -- where many a product briefing for the 3000 line had been held -- to the advocacy group that had fought for more time and better programs for migration and homesteading users.

In what feels like a long time ago, given all else that has changed, Interex closed its doors during this week in 2005 owing $4 million to companies small and large. The unpaid debts ranged from individuals owed as little as $8.30 on the unserved part of a yearly membership, to HP World booth sponsors who paid $17,000 for a space that the group could not mount in San Francisco. Then there were the hotels, which lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid room reservation guarantees. At five creditors to a page, the list of people and companies which the user group owed ran to more than 2,000 sheets. The file at the Santa Clara courthouse felt thick in my hands.

There was little money left at the end, too. The Interex checking account held $5,198.40, and a money market fund had $14,271.64 — neither of which was enough to satisfy the total unpaid compensation for an outside sales rep ($65,604 in unpaid commissions) or executive director Ron Evans (who had to forego his last paycheck of $8,225).

That OpenMPE meeting in August, in place of the Interex show, was notable in way that Interex could never manage. 3000 managers and owners could attend via phone and the web, using meeting software that let them ask questions and see slides while they could hear presentations.

Webinars were not uncommon by 2005 for the 3000 community, but this web and phone conference poked further into the realm of interaction by adding the meeting software with the ability to raise your hand for a question, chat between attendees, and more. That same flavor of software, updated for our current decade, is on display at the MB Foster Wednesday Webinars of this year. (The latest is set for August 6.)

HP was gracious enough to provide a lunch for those who attended in person on that August day in 2005. The event was proof of the communication that OpenMPE sparked through its work up to 2008, when the 3000 labs and MPE experts closed off their doors and timesheets.

The meeting of nine years ago included a promise from HP's division managers that it would enable a time-honored tradition of a hobbyist's license for operating systems. It was supposed to give the 3000 community a way to teach itself and experiment with MPE for non-commercial research and education. But HP's method of licensing MPE/iX to the programmers and students of the environment was supposed to use the proposed emulator license, an agreement that required an emulator to surface for HP 3000 hardware.

Alas, the first emulator to surface for the 3000 arrived in 2012, a few years after HP stopped issuing new MPE/iX licenses. There's no hobbyist license per se today from HP. The freeware version of the CHARON emulator makes its users promise they've already got a valid 3000 license, since they've got to enter a HPSUSAN number to get started. A true hobbyist license requires no other OS-hardware license. OpenVMS has a hobbyist license, but that was begun by Digital.

As far as 2005's user group meetings went, the OpenMPE seminar was the only one to follow its proposed schedule. HP said that anybody who'd paid to attend the Interex show could shift their paid registration to the first-ever HP Technology Forum. That event was to be held in New Orleans in the thick of hurricane season. And a whopper emerged, Katrina, which wrecked the city so badly that HP's September show was moved to Orlando. 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:50 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 17, 2014

TBT: When users posterized HP's strategy


PosterLargeThe
Orange County Register captured this picture of the football-field sized poster that users assembled to call notice to the 3000 at the annual Interex show. We offer it in our collection of ThrowBack Thursday photos. Click on it for detail.

Recent news about a decline in the health of community guru Jeff Kell sparked a link to another 3000 icon: Wirt Atmar. The founder of AICS Research shared some medical conditions with Kell, but Wirt was never at a loss for gusto and panache. Twenty-eight years ago he started a print job in July, one that wouldn't be complete until the following month, when HP World convened in Anaheim. The 1996 show was held not too far from a high school football field -- one where ardent users of the 3000 wanted to make publicity for their beloved MPE server.

WirtAtPosterThousands of panels rolled out of Wirt's HP DesignJet plotter, driven by an HP 3000 at his Las Cruces, New Mexico headquarters, each making up a small section of the World's Largest Poster. HP had set the record for largest poster just a few months earlier, with a basketball court's worth of 8x11 sheets, placed carefully to make a giant picture of Mickey Mouse. Wirt and his league of extraordinary advocates took on another element while they aimed at a bigger poster, by far. This World's Largest Poster was to be assembled outdoors, in the Santa Ana winds of Southern California.

All morning on that summer day the winds continued to climb, testing the resolve of a growing number of volunteers. Panels would spring up in the breeze, which seemed to flow from every possible direction. Atmar, whose company had printed the thousands of panels over a six week period and who had driven the poster in a U-Haul truck from New Mexico, stood alongside the poster's edge and gave instruction on holding it in place, using gutter-width roofing nails pressed into the turf.

But by 11 AM, no more nails were on hand, and the question was on everyone's lips -- where are they? The winds climbed with the sun in the sky, and volunteers were forced to use shoes and poster tubes to hold the panels in place. As a section would rise up, dedicated customers would call out,"It's coming up!" and then race to tack it in place, an organic version of a fault-tolerant system.

Wirt on the fieldThe document of about 36,000 square feet was somehow kept in place on the high school football field. The work of printing began in July. When Wirt was finally able to point across the field, at the completed poster, he breathed a sigh of relief and good natured fatigue. He quipped that after printing the four-foot rolls of paper needed for the poster, loading them into a van for the trip to California represented “the summer corporate fitness program for AICS Research.”

Atmar, who died in 2009, was never at a loss for words about the 3000's potential and its fate. He touted the former with the zeal of a preacher and bemoaned the latter like a man saddled with in-laws who came to visit and never left. Like community leaders, he could make a sound case for the fact that Hewlett-Packard didn't understand what a gem it'd built in MPE and the 3000. The Poster Project was meant to remind CEO Lew Platt and the vice president of the computing group Wim Roelandts that the company already had customers who were avid about using a computer that had nothing to do with Unix.

At that point in HP's history of the 3000, computers had to at least integrate with Unix. The company had bet its enterprise future on Windows NT up to that point, but corporations were flocking to what was called an open systems environment instead. In truth, Unix was no more open than any other operating system, once each vendor finished called it something like Solaris, or AIX, or HP-UX, and ever more brands. At least MPE was plainly a specific environment.

Poster and housesBut Atmar and his cohorts remembered that the 3000 was a general purpose computer, as first conceived. Demonstrating that the 3000 could produce artwork, and at a grand scale, was one aim of the Poster. The publicity stunt was covered by the Long Beach Press Telegram and the Orange County Register, among others. I rode in the Bell Ranger helicopter to take an aerial shot, but the Register's remains the throwback picture of record.

In an account of the event, Wirt was eager to point out all of the friends and allies who'd made the day possible.

A fair number of the people who participated in the poster can be recognized (primarily by their clothing). Alfredo Rego is walking across the top of the middle football player's helmet. Ken Paul, Ken Sletten and Jon Diercks are all at the base of the group of people in line with the "u" in the word, "Butt." Rene Woc is seen walking directly above the shoe of the rightmost football player. And Jeanette Nutsford appears just below the knuckles of the middle player.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:08 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 16, 2014

Kell carries key account of 3000 revival

We've come to learn that community icon Jeff Kell is battling a serious illness. While I wish this keystone of MPE wisdom a quick recovery, and the best wishes to his wife, I'd like to share some insights he relayed about the transition from Classic 3000s to the ultimate edition of the server he's worked on and cared for most of his career at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Concept of RISCI'd asked Kell to explain what the HP CEO during that transition era, John Young, might have been talking about while the CEO told Computerworld in 1985 about the strategy of RISC. As the clipping from Computerworld to the left shows, Young was a lot less than clear about what RISC would do for HP's long-term computing plans. A comment in the second paragraph of the clipping -- about networking, one of Kell's most ardent studies -- made me want to reach out to him earlier this summer. Young's conflation of "9000 series terminals emulated the 3000 architecture in some ways, but not really completely" was something Kell could clear up.

I'm not aware of any similarities [Young noted] between 3000/9000 Series except after adoption of RISC, and they used the same processors/hardware. They may have shared some peripheral hardware earlier, but certainly had little in common until RISC. The 3000/9000 had practically nothing in common prior to that other than perhaps HP-IB peripherals.

Network-wise, the 9000-series was following the ARPA/Ethernet track, while the 3000 initially started down the IEEE/OSI architecture. Ethernet was only accepted by the 3000 as an afterthought, it was a checkbox on the NMCONFIG dialogue if you wanted to allow it, and it defaulted to OFF.

So unless Young was talking post-RISC (timeframe is wrong), I'm not sure how he would compare 3000/9000 lines at all. The initial RISC 3000s were in the last half of the 1980s. If I recall correctly, my "migration training" to the "new" 3000s was at the Atlanta response center around 1985 (or a little later) and we were expecting a 930. We ended up with a 950 (since the 930 sucked so badly.) But I do recall many of the details.

"At that time," he said, "we had stretched our Series-IIIs to the limit. HP had "loaned" us a 42 and 48 to "tie us over" until delivery of Spectrum. We had the week at the migration center in Atlanta and spent most of it doing switch stubs for our extensive set of SPL support routines. We finally got a 950 and never looked back, but we had several engineers scratching their heads in the process. We were doing some really peculiar stuff."

Those were "interesting times" indeed. I think at the time we had a Series III with 64 terminals attached (production), a Series III-R (development), a Series 40 or 42 (Library), an academic 44/48, a leftover Series III (academic), and that loaner pair of 42/48 (or 52/58?) to tie us over until Spectrum. We were long overdue for an upgrade, but no hardware was available yet to satisfy the need.

The 3000's direction on networking was most disturbing, taking the OSI standard model in the midst of our evolving Sun/Solaris Internet computers. We had 3000s on our LAN that could only talk to other 3000s on our LAN... while the rest of the server room was on the Internet.  It was laughable.

It would be another decade before Posix came to MPE, and it started to play well with the other kids on the block. But unfortunately, a decade too late.

HP executives were taken up with the "Unix" movement... and the 9000s dominated their focus. The 3000s were just along for the ride. And looking back today, that wasn't such a great bet either.

Kell is a classic example of a chapter of living history -- and the lessons we learn from it -- that should be cherished by the community. After nearly 40 years, the decommissioned 3000s at his UTC shop were picked up for recycling. "We're now officially 3000 history," he said, "with nothing left on site."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:28 PM in History, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 10, 2014

TBT: The month fem-power first led HP

You only have to go back 15 years to find a Throwback Thursday photo that captured watershed change for the HP 3000's creators. Carly Fiorina was named as HP's sixth CEO on a Monday in July, the start of the finale for a company's business way which created Hewlett-Packard-designed products as its biggest business.

HP-CEO-FiorinaFiorina was all of 44 years old when she took a chair that had always been held by men over the first 60 years of HP's existence. In a BusinessWeek story that marked her ascent, the woman who'd become known only as Carly explained that she'd talked Dick Hackborn into staying on HP's board of directors. Telling readers that "Carly Fiorina has a silver tongue and an iron will," reporter Peter Burrows relayed Carly's own admission of feminine business power. The CEO-to-be said she was interviewed in a Chicago airport club restaurant.

"You can't tell me there's a better person for the job,'' she told Hackborn as the Gaslight's waitresses, clad in skimpy uniforms and fishnet stockings, made their rounds. Over the course of three hours, Hackborn agreed [to helm the board]. ''And no, I did not put on fishnet stockings,'' Fiorina says with a laugh. ''Don't even go there.''

Carly and GwenAt the time of her ascent, the business media had pegged Carly as the most powerful woman in business, with Oprah running number 2. “She is quite simply the ideal candidate to leverage HP’s core strengths in the rapidly changing information-systems industry and to lead this great company well into the new millennium,” said board member Sam Ginn, who led the search committee. It was a move that would lead the staid company into new eras of panache.

HP’s board said it was pushing for the company’s first outside CEO to lead the company in its new e-services push. Heading up AT&T spinoff Lucent’s $20 billion Global Service Provider division, Fiorina was named America’s Most Powerful Businesswoman in 1998 by Fortune magazine. Her selfies with pop stars came later.

Six years later, HP was shucking off a CEO who'd brought exactly what the board thought HP needed -- commodity products to sell alongside high-profit enterprise computing systems. The Compaq merger she pushed, adding PCs to the top of HP's sales results, meant the end of some HP product lines that overlapped with Digital servers that Compaq was selling, such as the OpenVMS-MPE collision.

Within one year of Fiorina's ouster, Burrows had written Backfire, his history of the Carly era at HP. Interviewed on PBS, Burrows gave his take on why the sizzle of a CEO -- who hired pop star Gwen Stefani to headline a tradeshow beside her -- didn't satisfy.

I think she is a very polarizing figure. Initially people almost always, you know, sort of think the world of her and are sort swept away with her charisma and her good ideas and her passion. But I think that over time, a lot of people at HP particularly I know, lost faith when it became clear that her ideas just weren’t working.

Fundamentally, HP was a great printer company and a very average to poor computer company. She went out and did a merger that doubled the size of the poor business, and now they’re stuck in a lousy — a very challenging PC industry.

She got that deal done against all odds, and sort of against the market’s wisdom. Investors hated the deal. They took 17 percent out of the stock immediately when it was announced.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:50 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 26, 2014

3000 sages threwback stories on Thursday

DirtydicksTwo weeks ago in the modest London pub Dirty Dick's, a few dozen veterans and sages of the 3000 system had their personal version of a Throwback Thursday. This is the day of the week when Facebook and Twitter users put out a piece of their personal history, usually in the form of a picture from days long past.

BruceTobackIf pressed for a piece of June Throwback Thursday material, I might reach for our very first blog post. Nine years ago this month we kicked off our coverage of new, every-workday reporting. My first story was a tribute to a just-fallen comrade in the 3000 community. Bruce Toback died in that month the Newswire's blog was born. As I said in that first blog article -- "A Bright Light Winks Out" was already a throwback, before the term gained its current coin -- Toback was extraordinary, the kind of person that makes the 3000 community unique. He lived with a firm grip on life's handrail of humor. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 48. As part of a gentle and generous Toback memorial, David Greer hosts pictures of Bruce like the one above. Many of these were taken as Toback became important to the Robelle Qedit for Windows project.

Bobgreen-beachThe passing of a special life is a good reason to celebrate what remains for all of us. That's probably what motivated those London veterans to gather at Dirty Dick's Pub this month to toss off stories and toss back drinks. Bob Green of Robelle (pictured here in a throwback picture in the spring of 2001, when he was working from his Anguilla island headquarters) shared some pub photos and a brief report about this month's Throwback Thursday for your community.

BrianDuncombe“It was great to catch up with 3000 colleagues from around the world: Steve Cooper, Dave Wiseman, Brian Duncombe, Kim Leeper, Brad Tashenberg, the Nutsfords and many more (about 20 in all). We exchanged notes on the current state of the machine -- especially the new emulator -- and discovered what each of us was doing. [Editor's Note: Duncombe (above) had made this trip in a record 48-hour-complete turnaround, from Canada to the UK and back. The intensity still burns bright for some of your community members.]

Steve Cooper Kim LeeperGreen noted, while posting photos of Cooper and Leeper in conversation, or the sweet couples' photo (below) of Jeanette and Ken Nutsford, "An amazing number of people are still doing the same thing: helping customers with their IT concerns. But in reality, most of the time was spent swapping war stories from the past, which was great fun.

Nutfords"Here are some photos from the party. Everyone is older, but perhaps you will remember some of them." This photo of the Nutsfords, ever the COBOL and HP Rapid standards-bearers, is something of a coup. The couple retired from the world of the 3000 to set off an epic career of cruise line travels, so catching them for a picture requires some foresight. They are circling the globe in a lifestyle that shows there's another, more rewarding kind of migration awaiting the luckiest of us.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:25 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 25, 2014

What level of technology defines a legacy?

Even alternatives to the HP 3000 can be rooted in legacy strategy. This week Oracle bought Micros, a purchase that's the second-largest in Oracle history. Only buying Sun has cost Oracle more, to this point in the company's legacy. The twist in the story is that Micros sells a legacy solution: software and hardware for the restaurant, hospitality and retail sectors. HP 3000s still serve a few of those outlets, such as duty-free shops in airports.

Stand By Your Unix SystemMicros "has been focused on helping the world’s leading brands in our target markets since we were founded in 1977," said its CEO. The Oracle president who's taking on this old-school business is Mark Hurd, an executive who calls to mind other aspects of legacy. Oracle's got a legacy to bear since it's a business solution that's been running companies for more than two decades. Now the analysts are saying Oracle will need to acquire more of these customers. Demand for installing Oracle is slowing, they say.

In the meantime, some of the HP marketplace is reaching for ways to link with Oracle's legacy. There's a lot of data in those legacy databases. PowerHouse users, invigorated by the prospects of new ownership, are reaching to find connection advice for Oracle. That's one legacy technology embracing another.

Legacy is an epithet that's thrown at anything older. It's not about one technology being better than another. Legacy's genuine definition involves utility and expectations.

It's easy to overlook that like Oracle, Unix comes in for this legacy treatment by now. Judging only by the calendar, it's not surprising to see the legacy tag on an environment that was just finding its way in the summer of 1985, while HP was still busy cooking up a RISC revolution that changed the 3000's future. Like the 3000's '70s ideal of interactive computing -- instead of batch operations -- running a business system with Unix in the 1980s was considered a long shot.

An article from a 1985 Computerworld, published the week that HP 3000 volunteer users were manning the Washington DC Interex meet, considered commercial Unix use something to defend. Like some HP 3000 companies of our modern day, these Unix pioneers were struggling to find experienced staff. Unix was unproven, and so bereft of expertise. At least MPE has proven its worth by now.

In the pages of that 1985 issue, Charles Babcock reported on Unix-for-business testimony.

NEW YORK -- Two large users of AT&T Unix operating systems in commercial settings told attendees at the Unix Expo conference that they think they have made the right choice. Both said, however, that they have had difficulty building a professional staff experienced in Unix.

The HP 3000 still ran on MPE V in that month. Apple's Steve Jobs had just resigned from the company he founded. Legacy was leagues away from a label for Unix, or even Apple in that year. It was so far back that Oracle wondered why they'd ever need to build a version of its database for HP 3000s. IMAGE was too dominant, especially for a database bundled with a business server. The 3000, even in just its second decade of use, was already becoming a legacy.

That's legacy as in a definition from Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies. The curator of open source solutions, and caretaker of a 3000 system for World Duty Free Group, shared this.

A Legacy System is one that's been implemented for a while and is still in use for a very important reason: Even if it's not pretty -- It works.

A Legacy System is easy to identify in nearly any organization:  It's the one that is constructed with tools that aren't 'bleeding edge.'

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:22 PM in History, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 09, 2014

Heirs to the 3000 Family's Fortune

It was about this time nine years ago that the Newswire's blog began, and one of our first few items in that season was a personal one. Squirreled away in an email update we once called the Online Extra, we noted a happy event in the Volokh family. Eugene -- now a tenured law professor, had become a father once more -- making his dad Vladimir a grandfather again.

Now the family has another milestone. Vladimir reports that younger son Sasha, also a law professor, has earned tenure at Emory University in Atlanta. Two tenured law professors as sons, and each of them had their HP 3000 experience, chronicled in publications.

SashaDCSasha was first depicted in the DC Daily, a daily newsletter that Interex published during the 1985 DC user conference, in a pictorial called Kids at the Konference. "While mom and dad are attending the round tables, the kids are enjoying the conference in their own special way." This show, almost 30 years ago, was my first exposure to the Interex yearly meetings. I have a firm memory of the young Sasha making his way happily from vendor booth to vendor booth, wearing a vest that was festooned with the giveaway buttons from the vast array of 3000 vendors.

SashaEmoryLike his brother, Sasha was just shy of age 12 during his debut in the wide HP 3000 community. His parents Vladimir and Anne shared the photo above of a 12-year-old Sasha -- now tenured. It's a marker that your community has enough tenure that it's produced father-son heritages. And yet another generation has been born to these heirs. There are others to note, too.

In addition to the Volokhs, we've written up -- during a week that like this one is nearing Father's Day -- the combo of Terry and David Floyd. During the past year, David has moved into the ranks of an established manufacturing system manager, after his stint of leading the Support Group. He too had early first steps onto the path of his father, writing an application that he finished at age 15. David's first HP 3000 experience was at age 5, in 1981, on a Series III.

Sasha is among the youngest of 3000 family's progeny.  David has not seen his 40th birthday yet. David was a tender nine years old at the time of that 1985 conference, the first show since HP had announced that its Vision program for the 3000 would be replaced by Spectrum. Below is a pictorial wrap-up from the Daily of that year. (Thanks to Sasha's mom Anne for the 3000 photo history.) Note the picture of David Packard, enjoying attendees at the conference.

DC Daily Final FarewellAnd from our own late May, 2005 Extra -- sent out two decades after that DC show -- and in the same season as Father's Day, we offered the new-dad news below. It extended the third generation of 3000-related family members.

Volokh empire adds another heir

Eugene Volokh, the co-founder of HP 3000 utility software vendor VEsoft, added another member to his family with the birth of his son Samuel. Volokh, who has added the career of constitutional law professor to his roots programming for HP 3000s, now has two sons by his wife Leslie Periera. Proud grandpa Vladimir, who heads up the VEsoft empire, reports that Benjamin was born at 10.5 pounds, bigger than Eugene’s 9-pound birth weight.

While Eugene’s technical legend remains fixed in the minds of HP 3000 customers who cut their teeth during the 1980s — the son of Russian immigrant Vladimir, he worked at HP as a teenager and created MPEX with his father before graduating high school — his later life illustrates even broader interests. His writings on law and society are profound; his Volokh Conspiracy blog (volokh.com) bristles with a wide scope of commentary. Now the father of two, Eugene might have even more drive to accomplish one of his more nascent desires: to write children’s fiction. In an interview with blogger Norman Geras while Samuel was already on the way, Eugene admitted a wish to entertain:

Q. What talent would you most like to have? 
A. Being able to write memorable and entertaining fiction, especially children’s fiction.

Fifteen years ago, we wrote a full-throttle feature for our printed Newswire edition celebrating the fathers of your community who had heirs in their footsteps, or upon their shoulders. The Floyds -- David has a couple of sons of his own, by the way -- were captured in the following account from 1999.

Fathers pass 3000s to next generation

For MANMAN/HP expert and founder of the Support Group, inc. Terry Floyd, working with his son David has been the return of an often prodigal son. David first began to work with his father by writing an application he finished at age 15 — but worked for another HP 3000 company as a programmer/analyst before returning to tSGi last year.

"David wrote a program I'd always wanted — a Labor Summary Report for the 3000 — in 1989, because there was no such thing in MANMAN," Terry said. "He wrote in FORTRAN and IMAGE, and called a subroutine I'd written, one that exploded a Bill of Materials 150 times faster than ASK had been able to. Every user should have it. We sold it for $1,500 four or five times, and David was filthy rich at 15, made about $4,000."

While David did take a FORTRAN class in college, learning IMAGE was an on-the-job education. His father brags that his son learned FORTRAN in night school and got the best grade in the class at age 15.

Working together on the Labor Summary Report "was a lot of trial and error, because we went back and forth, setting new goals and changing the specs, so he would get used to the real world," Terry said. "He learned a lot of IMAGE by himself, by looking at the ASK programs."

Working together on an application "that was unique and different was what really got him excited, and me too," his father said. "We worked in the house for so long, he couldn't avoid learning how manufacturing companies work." Later on when Terry taught a FORTRAN class, David was one of the students. "He'd ask questions like 'Could you explain that part to them a little better?' " Terry said.

"My dad and I worked on cars together that would last three years," Terry said. "But that's a lot more static than working with customers, asking you questions. When David's in the middle of that, he picks up on all that."

Terry is happy to have his son use his experience as a springboard. "There's a lot of stuff for us to talk about now, besides fun and cars and running around," Terry said. "He's been in and out of the company often enough to have five different employee numbers, including employee number three after me and [my wife] Caren."

The master-apprentice relationship between the two HP 3000 technicians moved faster because of the familial bond. "I'm a lot harder on him than I would be on anybody else," Terry said. "He's a test case, and I try things out on him. He's really into volunteering to help prototype ideas, and he's always done that with me. I've always told him everything, to give him the advantage of all the mistakes I've made. I don't just admit my mistakes, I advertise them. We're alike in many ways, and it's because we've worked together."

Later on in 2011, we gave David his own spotlight as president of the Support Group. In the introduction, we noted

David can say he was at the console in those early years, even though he wasn’t born until the Series III was shipping and ASK was enhancing MANMAN. He first used an HP 3000 at the age of 5, in 1981. 

DavidFloydHe says he would “connect our kitchen phone to a 300-baud acoustic coupler modem to dial a terminal into one of the ASK 3000s. There I could play Mystery Mansion, Adventure, Dungeon, and other games.” He started doing paid work on a 3000 in 1991, at the age of 15. His first project was creating a MANMAN report called the LSR/3000 (Labor Summary Report). He continued working summers in high school programming and providing MANMAN support, got a job at Belvac Production Machinery in 1995 as a MANMAN programmer, and became a consultant in 1996.  

Your dad started the ball rolling on your family’s MPE experience, and you believe there's another decade left for MANMAN users. What would another 10 years of MANMAN mean to your family?

    My dad timed it so [the 3000] will be the entirety of his career. He had an HP 1000 right out of college, and within five years he had an HP 3000. If we manage to get another 10 years out of this, which it looks like we will, that’s his entire career on MPE and HP systems. He’s thrilled about that.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:16 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 06, 2014

A Long Time in Passing

TimpassingIt's very late spring here at my house, and that means our basketball ardor is at its zenith. This year my beloved San Antonio Spurs are already playing in the championship round. The NBA calls this The Finals. But for the last seven years, there's been nothing final about the Spurs' work to win a title. Each year the organization, as they like to call the coaches, managers and players that comprise the team, seems to make a serious Drive for Five after four previous championships. Their last championship was in 2007 -- or in the middle of HP's first "wait a minute" two-year extension of its 3000 business.

Over the past three years, though, analysts in the sports community have tried to write off the Spurs as too old to compete at the highest level. Tim Duncan, Spurs superstar and Hall of Famer in waiting, is about as old as a Series II HP 3000. Unlike that CISC model of server, Tim's gotten better with age, more crafty with the minutes he plays in what's clearly the last act of his career. The former monster scorer has become a passer.

By his side on the court, two other stars play, to make up the Spurs' Big Three. Everybody's got a Big Three now in basketball, from the Celtics to the Miami Heat. The Spurs were the first. Their other stars are as old as a Series III (Manu Ginobilli) and Tony Parker, a younger man, but as old as a Series 68.

One of my first assignments in journalism was as sports editor. I covered five prep school districts and wrote a lot of stories about boys and girls who were 13-18 years old. There was plenty of drama and heroics. What I learned back then was that age didn't matter, if you had the right coach and you were focused enough to learn how your skills could shape each game. Del Coryover was a star at 15 in Leander, carrying the football for a couple of touchdowns a night. Nobody told him he was not the right age to fly past bigger defenders.

So it seems, sometimes, for HP 3000 installations begun in the 1980s. Like those Spurs stars, these servers and the pros who manage them just keep coming back for more work. On the ABC network, they've taken to calling the Big Three and their legendary coach Gregg Popovich "The Same 'Ol Spurs," with affection by now. Their continued championship relevance, over a stretch of time that goes back to before there were A-Class and N-Class servers, has earned them respect. They are not flashy. Nobody pounds their chest and screams to the rafters after a monster dunk, or a back-door cut, or dropped-bomb three-pointer, or the blocked shot -- although they perform all of these nightly.

 

Last night they played badly, under brutal conditions. The AC failed in their homecourt at the ATT Center, and in that 90-degree indoor swelter they failed to pass crisply. Miami stole the basketball like bloodhounds after loose pork chops. But the Spurs play their bench men often, and in crunch time, too. It's a full-team approach, instead of superstars like cloud servers and Oracle databases. They survived on reliability last night, counting on the fact that fresh players make better plays. What makes the 3000 great is what makes the Spurs great: consistency, the clockwork-like execution that happens from hundreds of hours of practice, all laid down upon a bedrock of team-first strategy. They practice passing "from good shot to great shot."

As one example of delicious good to great dependability, consider something called the outlet pass in basketball. You probably never heard of it because it's fundamental. Tim has been re-coached by Coach Pop, as he's called, to use stunning talent to make these offense-sparking plays perfect and extraordinary. At their best, they can be the long-bomb touchdowns of basketball. For the basketball geek, the YouTube video embedded here gives you a taste of these Duncan veggies, whizzing the ball down-court to make the sizzle happen at the other end.

How is it possible that the outlet pass -- or a bank shot, one of Tim's mainstay plays -- still works wonders in the modern NBA? He does these things as a trademark that's earned him an un-flashy nickname: The Big Fundamental. When sports analysts are agog at the success of a bank shot -- first performed in the 1950s -- I think of the consultant who observed companies using the equivalent of the bank shot, PowerHouse.

"I am amazed to know that Powerhouse is still running on any platform," Bob Kaminski said, after Unicom bought the product and worked to revive it. As a young employee with the vendor he said, "I started with Quiz, Quick and QTP in 1983-84. Sold it, until I left Cognos in 1989. It was great then, and I assume is still a great tool."

But this passing year means more for the Spurs, and perhaps more for the 3000, than many others before. This season is one of redemption for the team, having seen that Fifth title slip away last year with 28 seconds left to play. It was a gut-punch few other teams could recover from, losing like that. The team responded by leading the league in wins during the next regular season, and now returning to The Finals to gain their revenge -- as well as their respect. Tim Duncan is in the twilight of his career, just like HP's hardware that runs MPE/iX is running out of time.

There's a future for the operating system, the brand of computing that's as extraordinary as the selfless, ball-sharing approach Coach Pop teaches. In the Spurs locker room there's a hungry young star named Kawahi Leonard, gifted with speed and wingspan and intelligence that make him the next generation of The Big Fundamental.

And in your HP 3000 community there is CHARON, the HPA/3000 emulator that will sail higher and faster than any iron HP could ever design. Kawahi needs a coach of the caliber of Pop. CHARON needs coaching that should remind people of Harry Sterling, the last HP general manager who practiced the fundamentals of computer product management. Push the technology to something better like N-Class servers. Be selfless about your own HP future, because the customers matter more than your career. 

When there's a Kawahi around, a Coach Pop tends to emerge. It might take awhile for them to find one another, and in the meantime there are pronouncements about how the star will never amount to championship material. Or a product won't make a mark on the market.

It's a long season for host-based servers, though. While IBM sells off its low-end server business, while Dell crawls into the services space and downplays its iron, the concept of managing an MPE machine yourself is still alive out there. It's pounding the ball up and down the court and looking for its leader, the one who will take a revitalized MPE platform and score. Not so that a lot of people will see and notice. But for a group of companies who are as small as any TV marketplace in San Antonio, it matters because it's history, carried out every day. 

The Big Three and Coach Pop and the Spurs are passing -- both in the sense that they share the ball in their 10-man community of players, and they are working toward that final act of their careers. But it's been a long time in passing, their retirements. Some here in Texas say that even at advanced ages, the Big Three could hang around for another season, challenge for another title. Anything in life that hangs on longer than predicted, and remains productive and relevant and unique while it does, should be applauded and cheered. Those are the sounds coming from my living room this month, while we watch a legend extend days and nights of excellence.

And if it takes any team even longer than expected to make its passing -- while it remains essential -- what a gift, for those of us who love the fundamentals.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:23 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 02, 2014

Looking Up, from a Vision to a Spectrum

While I'm researching for another Newswire story, I've found an archive of reporting from the year that HP was taking its first full turn onto the path of RISC computing. RISC is the architecture that grew from the MPE XL version of the 3000 and its 900 Series systems, until finally HP evolved it into the Integrity lineup -- the only host that will ever run HP's Unix replacement OS. Back in 1985, it really looks like the company's CEO didn't know any more about 3000 designs than any other CEO at HP has since that time.

Young Misunderstands RISC Oct 85John Young was HP CEO, interviewed in the week while the Interex user group was hosting its Interex Washington DC conference. But the CEO wasn't at the conference. The company's founder was there, but David Packard wasn't the subject of the Computerworld interview. Young was asked what was prompting HP to pursue RISC as a computing strategy. He spent some time conflating and mixing several HP servers' technology. In the most baffling part of his answer, he said this about how muddled HP's computer architecture was -- and how RISC was going to change that.

We had desktops with one architecture, factory floor terminals with another and the HP 3000 with yet another stack architecure. The 9000 series terminals emulated the 3000 architecture in some ways, but not really completely.

Young went on to add that HP spent 90 percent of its development time changing things to make its networking perform correctly. "And those changes propagated down the whole computer line. I just decided, when I became HP president [in 1978]... that we wanted to find some way of bringing a harmony out of this unique business opportuntity. We needed to make a jump, and the conjunction of all those things was a program we Spectrum."

9000 series terminals? He probably meant the HP 9000 desktop systems, built for engineering. The 3000 architecture was Complex Instruction Set Computing (CISC), but so was the 9000's. Just a different design, called FOCUS. The factory floor terminals might have been attached to HP 1000s. One of the engineers on the scene at the time, Stan Sieler, told us he figures emulated in Young-speak might have been more philosophical than technological. Sieler also said that the sparkplug of RISC at HP was eager to get the Vision project out of the way, so Joel Birnbaum could enjoy his spectrum.

Sieler said, "I suspect [Young's] referring to the 9000/500 that was based on the FOCUS chipset.  It was, if I recall correctly, a stack-based chipset. I think he meant 'emulated' more in the 'inspired by, and is similar to' manner, not what we'd normally think of as emulation."

At that point in the era where the PC was only just starting to be a dominant business tool -- it now drives the largest share of HP's revenues -- and such computers were called micros, HP was sweeping technology away that it had spent years creating but never released. Failure was always HP's first option for the predecessors for Spectrum, Sieler said in his interpretation.

At one point, I was part of a task force that designed the "FOCUS-II,", which was pre-Vision (and pre-PA-RISC). It was supposed to be the next CPU architecture for the 3000, 9000, and 1000.

Scott Stallard was the chairman (he later became an Executive VP at HP), and others worked on it. But when we presented the report, we discovered that no one had told us we were supposed to fail -- so that Vision could be given the official blessing.

But neither FOCUS, FOCUS II, nor Vision were RISC CPUs. Birnbaum was hired away from IBM after Big Blue didn't want to create a RISC system, Birnbaum's dream design. Sieler went to work on Vision, then, only to learn that he'd been put on another blind alley. "I don't think that Vision fell short of what Spectrum became," he said.

To the contrary, it could do things that no subsequent architecture can. But, that came at a cost. Vision was definitely a CISC instruction set.

In 1983 (and somewhat earlier), I was doing design/development of process management for the HPE operating environment (for Vision). "Process management" meaning creating, starting, controlling, and killing processes (programs).

When I left HP (late September, 1983), we had one or two minimal (breadboarded) Vision computers running. Most of the time we used emulators/simulators involving re-microcoded HP 3000s. About a week after I left, HP killed Vision in favor of PA-RISC.

I once mentioned to Joel Birnbaum that it was cause/effect: I left HP, HP killed Vision. His response was quick: "If I'd known that, I'd have gotten rid of you earlier."

Sieler laughs at this today, bemused at the way things changed so quickly -- and then have not changed since. "HPE was renamed MPE XL," he said, "and most of the code written for it survived, To this day, much of process management in MPE/iX is still my code."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:19 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 29, 2014

They knew what they had before it was gone

In the classic Joni Mitchell song, she asks, "Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you got 'till it's gone?" However, in the HP 3000 world, the advocates, fans and users know the special place the 3000 held in their lives -- and long before it was really gone.

Redwoods PicnicAt the now-defunct Boyle Engineering, the last in a long line of HP 3000s was sold for scrap this month, according to Harlan Lassiter. When Boyle was purchased in 2008, the site that housed the 3000 was closed down. Equipment was left behind, but Lassiter -- who worked at Boyle 27 years -- kept track of an abandoned 3000 Series 928. He reported he was sad to see it go. One last boot-up was all that Lassiter wanted at Boyle, whose services were engaged to plan, design, and construct infrastructure projects.

Last time I was in the building, in the corner of the raised floor computer room, was our HP 3000 928 system, console monitor and LPQ1200 printer. Yesterday it was gone. Apparently it was picked up late last week as scrap. Also picked up and sold for scrap from the room were about 50 Dell LCD monitors (some new, still in bubble wrap) and perhaps 30 Dell desktop computers, APC battery backup systems, server arrays, and other assorted computer equipment. Much of the equipment could have been donated to organizations that could use a computer system, even though it would not be the most current.  

That 928 was the last in a series of HP 3000 systems for the company, having begun with a Series II when I first started with Boyle in 1979 . We came a long way. I started as a programmer and left as the system manager. The system ran all of the company in-house accounting, finance, payroll and project tracking reports and engineering software.  All software was developed in-house and was written in FORTRAN. As FORTRAN evolved through the years, so did the software. Files were converted from serial (flat) files to KSAM and eventually to IMAGE databases. What used to take overnight to process took less than an hour in later days.

It was a great learning experience. I guess I was hoping to fire the system up one more time just for nostalgia's sake, since I am the only one left that would be able to do such a thing. 

Another piece of HP history, a living one that served both the 3000 and HP-UX systems, has been bulldozed, right off the ground of the old Hewlett-Packard Cupertino campus.

Apple HQApple now owns the acres of Cupertino where the HP 3000 grew into a business powerhouse. The HP buildings have been razed, and Jim Hawkins of HP reports that even the grove of redwood trees is no more. Apple's building a spaceship-like headquarters in its place. Employees and retirees held picnics there, along with the historic Glendenning Barn which HP maintained as a reminder of the property’s pioneer-era life as an apricot orchard and farm. Hawkins, one of the last 3000-focused engineers at Hewlett-Packard, celebrated those redwoods as a place of the 3000 community.

The HP Cupertino Site, home for (most of) the HP 3000 R&D teams, and manufacturing source of (most) pre-RISC MPE servers, is now scraped clean in preparation to land Apple's "Steve Jobs memorial spaceship." 

The redwood grove where execs used to serve us hamburgers during beer busts is all cut down, as are apparently all other trees except those on the borders of Pruneridge, Wolfe, Homestead, and Tantau streets.

After reading Lassiter's farewell, Ed Effinger shared a memorial in waiting. His was report of a forthcoming shutdown at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario. "We have a similar story to what mine will be next March," Effinger said, "as we plan to pull the plug on our Series 929. We also started with HP in 1975-76, to replace our old Honeywell system -- and I too have done all things here."

These are customers of more than 35 years of MPE computing, and that redwood grove was servicing the community at HP's campus even before that time. At least these veterans of the ecosystem know what they're losing, and how much that loss stings. At the old HP campus, it looks like Apple's paving paradise to put up a an underground parking lot.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:38 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 28, 2014

3000: Cards and punching and tape, oh-29!

The Hewlett-Packard System/3000 -- that's what the computer called the 3000 was first known as during the era when punched cards and tape could drive its data. The 3000-L mailing list popped back up to life last week with stories about the era when hanging chads and IBM 029 punch machines were a working part of MPE's four decades of historic service.

Reader-punchHistory for an active operating environment whose pedigree includes punched tape and punched cards -- that's pretty much exclusive to the HP 3000. Punching pedigree is a mark of utility and durability, even if those card readers are only in museums and garages today. One recently sold on eBay for more than $300 to a collector.

Maybe it was the debut of a System 360 mainframe on Mad Men's penultimate season that put punched cards into the minds of its longstanding users. Mark Ranft of Pro3K told a story last month about his first IT job as a System 360 operator in the US Marine Corps -- and how that led to a Nortel assignment with a card reader and paper tapes. "Thankfully they had a Series III [HP 3000].  As an operator, I was bored to death, so I read all the manuals.  That's how I got hooked on MPE."

PaperTape2About a month later, former OpenMPE secretary Tracy Johnson started the 3000-L readers down nostalgia lane by pointing to TELTAC: a Teletype tape-to-punched card conversion program. "Was there a Contributed Software Library program for that?" he asked. The MPE CSL was born as a swap tape, during this era of punched card holdouts. Gilles Schipper of GSA associates replied there was no need for a CSL program, because FCOPY has always had that capability.

The memories of cards and punching and the 3000 started to tumble out of the readers of the L. "If I recall correctly," said Terry Simpkins of Measurement Specialties, "when I was with HP's Disc Memory Division in Boise back in the early '80s, we actually had a card reader connected to one of our 3000s. I brought several boxes of cards with me from grad school, and we read them into EBCDIC files. Don't ask why I was carrying boxes of punch cards around the country."

The HP 3000, in its infancy, could use punched cards or paper tape. Those were two computing props not seen in Mad Men this spring. But they're remembered as durable data mediums, even by those of us who dropped a deck or two of them in front of a college computing center on the way to running a program.

"Why cards? asked Tracy Pierce. "A darn reliable medium. You never worried a sec about losing the data in those grad school cards. It's easy to mangle a card so it's not machineable, but darn difficult to really destroy its data. You can run cards through a shredder and still recover the data."

In just a matter of about eight hours, Jeff Kell of the University of Tennessee at Chatanooga had chipped in a thorough history of how data was sent to and from the earliest HP 3000s. The story included a speed measurement that used a holiday as comparison. The HP optical mark sense card reader was the tortoise in the data race.

As for the "mark-sense" reader... we had this grand plan to do grades on "mark-sense" cards. The idea was to "print" class cards (one card per student, sorted by instructor by class), and let them pencil-mark the corresponding grade for the student.  It was great in theory, but the mark-sense reader had much less than stellar performance and reliability (it sucked!). And having these "printed" cards burst on their perforations to yield the "card" left some rough edges, which the reader really, really hated. And it was slow as Christmas. Heck, it was slower than Leap Year.

We got an HP2000/Access system in Fall of 1975. It not only supported a card reader and printer, but also supported the remote job entry communications with the IBM at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. So we had a card reader upstairs in the student keypunch lab, as well as a printer, and there was no more waiting for submission.  They could just feed their jobs directly to the reader, their printouts came back to the printer, and it was available constantly. Big step forward.

Later we got an HP 3000, and had a copy of MRJE/3000. Now students could enter their programs online via Editor/QEdit/Quad/whatever they prefer, submit their jobs via MRJE, and view their output in SPOOK before actually printing it out. Even better still.

Kell added that his campus kept the card reader for the 3000 for legacy purposes. This is a 3000 customer that only turned off its MPE systems last December.

Card readers for the 3000 lasted through the lifespan of the Series 70, which means into the early 1990s. 

"HP reluctantly supported a card reader through Series 70," said Bob Jankowski of Ideal Computer. "It was definitely available with HP-IB interface and required a dedicated GIC and an auto tap switcher for power. I remember working on these a few times -- and one of my current customers still has theirs in the computer room. One of the wearing parts was called a 'picker sector.' Try saying that 10 times fast. The HP 7260A was the optical mark sense reader. I remember it being a serial device used through MPE-V and being picky about what it would read.

Kell's colleague Tony Shepherd recalled the budget-conscious approach that a computing pro of the 1970s had to embrace. Carpentry power tools and rubber stamps were sometimes among the best data tools.

The perforated card edges were a problem. We wound up printing and bursting them, then putting them in card trays (3,000 cards per tray) and sanding the long edges. It took a little explaining to get management to understand why we needed to buy a dual-action orbital sander with integrated vacuum pickup in order to get grades to post. Sears had one for about $50 that did a great job. We had a good incentive to get the OpScan process developed quickly, and it was indeed much better.

In those days we were just staying ahead of the bleeding edge -- we had a small (but dedicated and very smart) staff and no money. Solutions had to be quick and cheap. For example, one office wanted a new system to record sales of parking bumper stickers. We spent some hours "studying" their needs, then presented them with a bound ledger book and a Bates numbering stamp. It fulfilled all their stated requirements.

The physical manifestation of data, cards had personality. "The first card stock we used had problems with curling," Walter Murray reported from his early 3000 days, "but the second stock we tried worked pretty well. Something to do with "long grain" versus "short grain," as I recall. You'd think we were buying rice."

As for the card reader on Murray's Series II HP 3000, Kell described it as hardware that reduced the footprint versus IBM's original designs.

In the HP card reader you loaded cards on the right into a diagonally-slanted tray, pushed the start button, and it had some sort of combination air driven / pick roller thing that swiped the card through the reader into the output stacker on the left. It was pretty darn quick about it too... not up to par with an IBM's speed, but not slouchy at all. And it fit easily on a tabletop, while the IBM version was the size of a chest freezer.

The work was obviously tedious. It might have helped develop an attention to detail in the earliest part of a 3000 pro's career. Kell has the last word on what a keypunch looked like from that era.

If I remember models correctly, there was the 029 (punched cards real-time), the 129 (buffered a card, you could "backspace," it only punched the card once you released it) -- and this service bureau I worked for had some key-to-disk things that "punched" (wrote) data to floppy diskettes. When they were done and verified, you loaded the diskettes into another IBM thing that loaded the diskettes to 9-track tapes that were used as data input on the mainframe.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:59 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 20, 2014

Who's SUSAN, and what's her CPUNAME?

The MPE operating system, first booted for genuine use some 40 years ago, is a most unique creature of the computer ecosystem. This is software that does not have its own license, specifically. According to HP, the ownership of any MPE/iX version is determined by owning an Hewlett-Packard 3000 server, one built to boot up MPE/iX.

SusanWe reached out for clarity about this when a very large aircraft maker tipped us off -- once again it will examine replacing HP's 3000 iron with CHARON licenses. Once the MPE/iX software will be turned off on any replaced 3000 hardware, does its hardware-based license then expire? The operating system license, according to HP's MPE Technical Consultant Cathlene Mc Rae, is related to the HPSUSAN of the original HP hardware.

So wait a minute. Are these HPSUSAN numbers of 3000s considered de-licensed, even if they're going to be used on the CHARON emulator? Mc Rae explained.

The HPSUSAN number is different from the MPE/iX license, although there is a relation between the two. The ability to use MPE/iX on the emulator is a result of completing a Software License Transfer. The original MPE/iX license on the HP e3000 would then no longer exist. 

In the hardware world of HP 3000s, HPSUSAN takes the original serial and model numbers on the system. It remains the same, as long as the customer owns the system. This combination was used to ID the hardware and enable diagnostics for the correct system.

However, that transferred license for the MPE/iX installation on the CHARON emulator -- available via a $432 Software License Transfer Fee -- won't be getting a new HPSUSAN number during the process. HPSUSAN gets re-used, and so it leads us to see what HPSUSAN stands for, and how the HPCPUNAME is a key in emulator installations.

The U in HPSUSAN stands for Unique, as in System Unique Serially Assigned Number. Mc Rae said that HPSUSAN is one of a kind for HP-built 3000 systems. But SUSAN doesn't designate an MPE/iX license, even though MPE is licensed via hardware ownership. 

Mc Rae explained to us, and to the CHARON prospective user, "MPE hardware and software was created before the technology of  virtual systems and emulators, in the 1970s. Licenses were based on hardware ownership."

This sounds familiar. HP once compared the licensing of MPE/iX to license plates issued for a car. They could not be separated, these numbers and the car that was the HP 3000 iron. (Let's just put aside the common practice of those metal-plate days, when they'd give you a new number after your plate was older than 8 years in Texas.)

In 1999, HP was busy suing Hardware House and a few other resellers over the resellers' separation of HPSUSANs from HP's 3000 hardware cars. The House was taking other PA-RISC servers and pressing valid HPSUSAN numbers onto the non-3000 iron. People went to jail. Lo-jacks were ordered for ankles.

Thanks to the passage of 15 years' time, an HPSUSAN number can now move to a USB thumb drive plugged into a CHARON Intel- or AMD-based server. Those license plates can travel to a newer model of car. The emulator's HPCPUNAME, however, can only be designated as an A-Class or N-Class system, according to HP's knowledge. That'll likely be a reason to contact all software vendors whose products operate on the replaced HP 3000 iron.

You see, vendors use a combo of HPSUSAN and HPCPUNAME to control licensing. Products such as Infor's MANMAN or PowerHouse not only want to read HPSUSAN -- which you can move to CHARON -- but also HPCPUNAME. If you're moving off a Series 979, for example, "979-100" isn't an emulated system under CHARON. No 979-100 for HPCPUNAME. You've got to get license permission from your software vendors to enable an A-Class or N-Class HPCPUNAME.

The HPCPUNAME on the CHARON system may not be set to 979, Mc Rae said. "Based on the CHARON HPA/3000 family, it is assumed that the HPCPUNAME will be set to an A-Class or N-Class CPUNAME," she said. "For example: HPCPUNAME = SERIES e3000/A500-200-50. As far as I know, CHARON can only emulate A- and N-Class systems." That's true: a Series 9xx model isn't on the HPA/3000 product list.

The silver lining in this cloud is that you're only doing this contacting and CPUNAME-changing once. Moving to an A-Class or faster CPU from a 9x9 system is the last time you'll be changing from an unsupported CPUNAME to something included in the CHARON product line. 

In short, independent software vendors are going to have to be contacted, if they've licensed their products with the HPCPUNAME-HPSUSAN combo on a Series 9xx. Contacting your software vendors about a system upgrade is a fair business practice. But it's more than the right thing to do. Series 9xx users headed to the emulator look like they need that refresh to boot up their indie software.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:06 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 19, 2014

PowerHouse users launch enhancement run

Years ago, the Interex users group for HP 3000 managers and owners provided a way to make MPE better. There wasn’t much that HP was willing to do to re-engineer its hardware servers — not working off the requests of customers. But ah, the operating system and its allied software subsystems were always open for system enhancement requests. They called it a System Improvement Ballot, and every year had an SIB.

In their day, these were much awaited missives from lovers of MPE to the heart of the OS, the HP labs. They were ranked and debated. The collection of a Gang of Six such requests made up the mission statement for OpenMPE from the first year of that group’s existence. When the labs went dark and that list was frozen, there was little hope of anything thawing the development stream.

That’s what makes the PowerHouse community so novel. After years of nothing new in the product line, the new owners have opened the doors to enhancement requests. The discussion of who’s going to manage the enhancement requests started bubbling up at the LinkedIn Cognos PowerHouse group. It tells a good deal about how slowly things were flowing at the time by looking at the name of that group. Cognos hasn’t been the owner of PowerHouse since 2009. Now that IBM has sold off the products and customer base, Unicom Global is using an established representative to build a wish list.

Bob Deskin has taken the discussion of enhancements onto the Powerhouse-L mailing list. If you're watchful about how much email fills your inbox, you can simply keep track of the list's archives without subscribing. Customers are giving the new PowerHouse management fresh improvement requests using that list.

There’s a lot of catching up and improvement to do. As one example, Fatal Errors of the software were “never documented in the manuals,” according to Bob Deskin, formerly the Cognos/IBM voice of PowerHouse products to the customer base. 

"More often than not," Deskin said of the Fatal Errors, “they simply represent something that should not have happened. And the most common cause for that was something else that happened but shouldn’t have that ended up causing the Fatal Error. That’s why many of them are so hard to trace.”

Details of what could be brought up to date in PowerHouse, shared to that mailing list this week, are going into deep specifics. But that’s what you expect from the creators of software. Deskin’s encouraging transparency.

As you can imagine, the UNICOM PowerHouse team is still in transition. That said, they are looking to the future and although they and I have some ideas, we’d like to hear yours big or small. You can post them here for everyone to see. That way everyone gets to see them and expand on them.

There’s no guarantee about how many of these requests will ever be acted upon. Or even which versions of PowerHouse products (MPE, or VMS, or AS/400) are eligible for wishes. But Bob Deskin, consulting with Unicom to moderate a dialogue with users, suggests that everybody with a PowerHouse request chip in, right out in public.

A colleague of Deskin’s, one who’d worked with him both at Cognos and then later at IBM, offered this testimonial to Deskin being the right fellow to listen at this moment. Matt Ohmes said nobody’s a better match for this role -- a pivot point for PowerHouse, happening at Unicom.

I’ve worked with Cognos, then IBM for 31 years, many of the early years especially using PowerHouse and gained quite a reputation myself. And I would like to say that there is not another person — literally — on earth who knows more, or is better qualified to answer questions about PowerHouse than Bob Deskin.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:11 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (1)

May 08, 2014

A pretty fine book for MPE's after (HP) life

How could a vendor suggest that a widely-installed and mission-critical product be turned off? Have a look at what Microsoft is doing this year. The advice has been to turn Windows XP off, replace what's working. HP 3000 users got the same advisory in 2001.

FourelephantsandturtleThat was a momentous year for MPE users, but the year that followed contained the same confusion from the vendor that Microsoft is facing now. I noticed this as I dug into Jon Diercks' MPE/iX System Administration Handbook. It carries fine information, an opinion I expressed in our recent mini-lesson about BULDACCT and some automatic security that it provides. As I did my digging I found a stale message inside the book, but it wasn't one that Diercks created.

You might believe that nobody could apparently see what was about to happen to HP's 3000 business, considering what appears on pages xxi through xxiii. It's a foreword from the General Manager of HP's Commercial Systems Division, Winston Prather. A book that was released in 2002 -- yeah, months beyond that 2001 exit notice -- includes this advice about ownership.

Today, with technologies like Samba, Java, GUIs, our WebWise products and our partners, the HP e3000 still provides a great environment for the creation and support of new object-oriented, web-based applications, as well as e-service and e-commerce environments.

The book's readers absorbed that message for years after HP insisted that Prather was wrong. Or to be accurate, when Prather took pains to tell his customers the 3000 was not a great environment for any of the above tasks. It was probably as confusing as what Microsoft's done this month by releasing an XP security patch after it insisted it would not. Some writers believe that patch should not have been released. That's the kind of sentiment I continue to hear about HP twice-delaying its 3000 exit.

Follow the link from the top of yesterday's story and you'll find a writer who thinks "its a huge mistake" that Internet Explorer will not suffer from this month's zero-day exploit, even if the browser runs in XP.

IT admins, faced with the harsh reality of finally having to upgrade to a modern operating system, will sleep well knowing that Microsoft is a pushover and will continue to support XP while it has a significant number of users. The status quo is preserved.

Except it's not preserved, not any more than MPE/iX status was preserved during a pair of HP's two-year extensions. It's just that many companies -- perhaps the same percentage as the 3000 owners of 2002 -- find it beyond their budgets and resources to dump XP. And so even today, Diercks' book has value a-plenty to any company that still finds MPE to be the best tool for their circumstance. The book's not perfect, and Diercks always knew that was so, citing the rule all authors live by: omissions and errors will be in every creation. You must let your work go, however, learning from the creation and promising yourself to Do Better Next Time.

Put another way, perfect is the enemy of good. MPE was never perfect. If it were, than a mighty fine product like MPEX, an eXtension of MPE, would never have gained its candidacy as one of the elephants for the 3000 owner, developer, or administrator. Elephants, supported by a turtle.

Turtle? Elephants? And this has what exactly to do with MPE?

In a Hindu legend, the world is supported by four elephants, and those elephants ride on the back of a turtle. (It's a legend, so you'll have to take my word for this. Look at the picture above and you'll see four, with the fourth one tucked just behind the first.) But in this model of the world, MPE is that turtle. A few key independent software vendors are those elephants. You can decide for yourself who they might be, those elephants holding up the world -- which is the 3000 community.

But none of the elephants are mentioned in that fine MPE book. Diercks took care to note that he'd mention nobody's software except HP's in that book, no matter how fine the vendor's software performed. We've been in this situation, where including anyone just ensures that someone who's overlooked would be upset. You handle this situation a lot like Diercks did in his prologue: We know there are good products out there, but he wanted "to avoid being accused of unfairly representing (or failing to represent) any vendor or product."

One way of looking at the 3000's legend is to consider that MPE (and its database IMAGE), comprise the turtle in the Hindu story. Without MPE, there would be no Suprtool, no Adager, no MPEX. These might be considered elephants, and I'll leave you to fill in that fourth pachyderm. (If you're still with me, nominate a fourth elephant; that's going to be fun to share.)

ForewordWhile you're pondering all this, don't forget that Diercks' book is also something of a time machine. I mean that it contains a snapshot of the full faith of Hewlett-Packard in the 3000's MPE, right down to the hp.com/hpbooks webpage (now defunct) and HP logo on the title page Then there's Prather's best guess about the 3000's future, although it really was not written as a guess. See the language in the excerpt above; click for details.

Like Prather said in that foreword, things in the IT industry can change fast. Much faster than a printed book can be manufactured and released, with essential edits and reviews and distribution. If the publisher Prentice Hall had finished that book any later (because a publisher controls the birthdate of a book, not the writer) the MPE/iX System Administration Handbook might not even exist. That would be a great loss. At the least, this fine book wouldn't take us all back in time to HP's confusion about the 3000, confusion that mirrors Microsoft's of today.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:42 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 01, 2014

3000 mailing list notes becoming fainter

Have you ever been down to your mailbox with anticipation, pulled open the door and find nothing new? The HP3000-L listserve, which we variously call the 3000 newsgroup and the 3000 mailing list, is having that kind of dry spell. Like the rainfall that we yearn for in Texas this spring, it's been close to two weeks since a single new note has been in that mailbox.

Silent RunningsThere's little point in comparisons but being the thieves of joy. However, the days of 1,500 messages a month were more joyful for the prospect of MPE and 3000 wisdom in those times, a torrent shared and shaped by a larger community. A goodly share of those messages, even in the heyday, covered the flotsam of politics, as well as more scandalous off-topic notes on climate science and treason. You could shop for a car or camera off of the advice, in those days.

The message count has drawn down despite a stable subscriber tally reported by the hosting system, servers at the University of Tennessee at Chatanooga. A little less than 600 readers are now receiving 3000-L mail. That is, however, the number of subscribers who were tallied nine years ago. And at least all of today's mail -- well, nearly all -- is related directly to HP 3000s. Off-topic noise has been all but eliminated.

We have a slavish devotion to the 3000-L, as the community veterans call it. Thousands subscribed to its messages for free, and I read that rich frontier of information in the early 1990s and could believe in a monthly newsletter for 3000s and MPE. We even devoted a column to summarizing and commentary about its traffic, for many years. John Burke was columnist for many years of those reports; the columns ran for more than 9 years in the printed edition of the Newswire. (Find them at the classic archives of the Newswire Tech Features, or type net.digest in our search page off the link at left.) Our caveat in passing along that expertise was "Advice offered from the messages here comes without warranty; test before you implement." If not for 3000-L, our last 18 years of work here might not have emerged.

A similar dry spell for the "L" took place in February, but the current one is the longest we've measured so far. It's simple enough to break the drought, simpler than what we face in Texas, anyway. Ask a question online -- you can do it via a web browser -- if you're subscribed (or sign up, from the website.) Then watch the wisdom echo back. In some ways, the L is like a canyon wall that won't speak until you shout out to it. Or futuristic drone robots, waiting for a command.

In years past, the mailing list was also a newsgroup. By using newsgroup reading software, and then later using a browser, readers of comp.sys.hp.mpe could enjoy all the wisdom, and wince or chuckle at the chaff. Alas, the synchronizing of listserv and newsgroup has broken down by now. You could not get a specific number in those days about readers. You knew how many subscribed via emails. But comp.sys.hp.mpe could be read and used by countless others.

After the previous dry spell, readers could learn how to lock a KSAM file in PowerHouse Quick, or get advice on how to rebuild a 3000's filesystem. The former is an arcane bit of technical knowledge, yes, but the latter is everyday wisdom. And the L offers a dialogue process, to follow up with additional questions.

Like the drone robots Huey and Dewey from the sci-fi classic Silent Running -- a movie so old that Bruce Dern was young while he starred in it -- the L is likely to run long after most people will find an everyday use for it. In an apt coincidence, Silent Running made its premeire the same year that HP did its first Series 3000 launch, in 1972. The 3000-L looks back for its wisdom, while the direction in which that film looked gave a view of one kind of future. Nobody can be certain when either of these stories will see their final showing. The Web, after all, remembers all.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:09 PM in History, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 29, 2014

Foolproof Purges on the HP 3000

Cheshire_catThe software vendors most likely to sell products for a flat rate -- with no license upgrade fees -- have been the system utility and administration providers. Products such as VEsoft's MPEX, Robelle's Suprtool, Adager's product of the same name -- came in one, or perhaps two versions, at most. The software was sold as the start of a relationship, and so it focused on the understanding the product provided for people responsible for HP 3000s.

That kind of understanding might reveal a Lewis Carroll Cheshire Cat's smile inside many an HP 3000. The smile is possible if the 3000 uses UDC files, and the manager uses only MPE to do a file PURGE. There is a more complete way to remove things from a 3000's storage devices. And you take care about this because eliminating UDCs with only MPE can leave a user unable to use the server. That grin is the UDC's filename. 

To begin, we assume your users have User Defined Commands. User Defined Commands are a powerful timesaver for 3000 users, but they have administrative overhead that can become foolproof with the right tools. These UDCs need to be maintained, and as users drop off and come on to the 3000, their UDCs come and go. There's even a chance that a UDC file could be deleted, but that file's name could remain in the filesystem's UDC master catalog. When that happens, any other UDCs associated with the user will fail, too. It might include some crucial commands; you can put a wide range of operations into a UDC.

When you add a third party tool to your administrator's box, you can make a purge of such files foolproof. You can erase the Cheshire Cat's grin as well as the cat. It's important because that grin of a filename, noted above, can keep valid users from getting work done on the server with UDCs. This is not the reputation anybody expects from a 3000.

First you have to find all of your UDCs on a system, and MPE doesn't make that as straightforward as you might think. Using SHOWCATALOG is the standard, included tool for this. But it has its limitations. It can display the system-level UDC files of all users in all accounts. But that's not all the UDCs on a 3000.

MPE, after all, cannot select to show a complete set files by attributes such as program capability. Or for that matter, by last accessed time, or file size, or file security. It's a long list of things that MPE makes an administrator do on their own. Missing something might be the path to looking foolish.

Employing a couple of third party tools from VEsoft, VEAudit and MPEX, lets you root out UDCs and do a foolproof purge, including file names. VEAudit will list all of the UDCs on a server, regardless of user -- not just the ones associated with the user who's logged in and looking for UDCs. The list VEAudit creates can be inverted so the filename is the first item on each line. Then MPEX will go to work to do a PURGE. Not MPE's, but a user-defined purge that looks for attributes, then warns you about which ones you want to delete, or would rather not.

By using MPEX -- the X stands for extended functionality -- you can groom your own PURGE command to look out for files that have been recently used, not just recently created. MPE doesn't check if a purged file is a UDC file. 

Such 3000 utilities provided the server and its managers with abilities that went far beyond what HP had built into MPE and its IMAGE database. Now that MPE is moving on, beyond HP's hardware, knowing these third party tools will transfer without extra upgrade fees is like ensuring that a foolproof MPE will be running on any virtualized HP 3000.

They're an extra-cost item, but how much they're worth depends on a manager's desire to maintain a good reputation.

In the earliest days of the sale of these tools, vendors were known for selling them for the price of the support contract alone. That's usually about 20 percent annually of the purchase price. If a $4,000 package got sold that way, the vendor billed for just $800 at first. It made the purchases easier to pass through a budget, since support at the manager-tool level was an easier sell. Think about it. Such third parties passed up $3,200 per sale in revenues in the earliest days. They also established relationships that were ongoing and growing. They were selling understanding of MPE, not just software.

As we wrote yesterday, this kind of practice would be useful for the community's remaining software vendors. This is not the time to be raising prices to sustain MPE computing, simply because there's a way to extend the life of the hardware that runs MPE. As the number of MPE experts declines, the vendors will be expected to fill in the gaps in understanding. Those who can do this via support fees stand the best chance of moving into the virtualized future of 3000 computing.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:04 PM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 02, 2014

Newest paper-based issue signals Spring

By Ron Seybold

It might feel a bit absurd to think that hand-written forms, some even photocopied, would be essential vehicles of crucial monetary reports. PDF has become old-school, it’s so mainstream now. After all, several current and former Newswire sponsors sell software to eliminate paper. 

“Good luck with that,” my friend says of eliminating the need to extract. We meet for our coffee in the evenings now, while drinking decaf, because his alarm rings at 5:30 every workday and a good night’s sleep makes for an accurate workday. He's breaking open envelopes with springtime government forms, and more lately paper checks and money orders, enclosed. It's a temporary job with lasting benefits.

He tells me, with a look that I envy, that his wife is rousing herself into those wee hours to make his breakfast, pack his lunch. It’s like the Cleavers, June and Ward, I told him. “Yeah, and just like my dad,” he replies, talking about his pop eating eggs in the Sixties before sunup, to make a 7AM shift start. He says those eggs were cooked by his mom, who was just as much on the clock as his dad.

I remember such mornings only dimly, from my own days when I served that government in the US Army. You got used to a workday beginning before sunrise. Coffee of high-test variety was essential. And boy, was that Army of the 1970s ever run on paper. Three part forms and carbon and typewriters, not to mention my job — radio teletype operator, relaying troop strength and mobile armor readiness reports. All printed out on rough newsprint-grade paper in three-inch-thick rolls. Delivered across equipment that was already more than a decade old, and balky on our lucky days.

But those Army days of mine, like my pal’s temporary workdays, have one thing in common. It’s the rare job, he says, “where when you’re not there, you don’t have to care.” The work is important, of course. This agency pumps the lifeblood of revenue into the US. But for a season that’s well-known this time of year, it’s powered by piecework. Like a dance, he tells me, and I furrow my brow because I don’t get it. “We can raise up our desks to stand, and I rock back and forth while I move that mail.” I can just see him in his thick-soled shoes, flexing calves while he funnels all that paper through the mill, a throwback to shift work. There’s even a company cafeteria, he says, and a nurse’s station for paper cuts and sometimes worse.

The careful reader of ours will note that we’re now shifting to calling our paper issues Spring, and so forth. We have printed four per year, like the seasons, ever since 2006. Things do change, like climate or the habits of readers. If it were up to me, there would be a respected place for paper in my life for the rest of it. If I’m lucky, that’ll extend beyond the 3000’s CALENDAR wall of 2028. I’ll only be 71 by then. Just a boy, compared to the sage age of Fred White (beyond 85 now) or Vladimir Volokh (just celebrating number 75 this spring, he tells me.)

While my friend talks of everlasting paper, I think fondly of our newsletter, that name we gave to this Newswire product when we created it back in 1995. It was a time when online usually meant rolling off a PC terminal or a 3000’s 792 hardware. There was no Web when we planned this, but we certainly had to embrace it quickly. We got advice on making a website, but the blog was built out of our own observations. It helped that I’d been telling 3000 stories for a couple of decades before the blog went online.

Where does that leave all the paper we’ve all grown up communicating with, like this newsletter? Like all those forms in my pal’s workday, probably everlasting, but not as common. The ratio of customers using paper is dropping all over the world, not just in his temporary job. Perhaps paper becomes a seasonal tool, something special that is used on demand, just as it does down in that workroom he describes as “a football field’s worth of fluorescent lighting.” 

If a government can be run with decades-old communication technology, something that a serious share of its customers prefer, then that’s an option which ensures everyone can participate. One former Hewlett-Packard competitor, Unisys, now touts its information technology as stealth. “You can’t hack what you can’t see,” says the company. Things have changed a great deal, as well as not much at Unisys — the mash-up of Burroughs and Sperry from the 1980s. BUNCH referred to Burroughs, Univac, NCR, Control Data and Honeywell, all muscling up against IBM. 

HP was nowhere in that picture until its 3000 floated up out of the software labs that created IMAGE and MPE. Burroughs is still trying to catch up to the leaders, even while it calls its products stealthy and itself Unisys.

My friend likes to boast that the security in his temp job makes it a challenge to hack anything so old as paper. Our US government insists on this secure channel, I learned years ago while communicating corporate data on Social Security payments. No email, they said. So one paper document at a time, one issue a season, we continue our polished practices of telling the tales about what we earn, what we’ve bought, our alliances and competitions. In a few short weeks, I’ll see my pal back at the taco breakfasts, while that paper he has touched wearing latex gloves moves along to semi trailers, and eventually warehouses as anonymous as his own temp job.  Maybe that’s the fate for anything inclusive, like a computer that never leaves a program behind no matter how old, or a paper news vehicle still filling envelopes and mailboxes. 

But we do embrace the modern even while we honor the old. One avid reader of ours wondered why stories of migration would ever be printed on our pages. 

The fact that our pages are still in the mails, in their own season, is a testament to how inclusive our work has been here across nearly two decades. E-filing documents or mailing papers, migrating to commodity environments or homesteading, these are apt examples of being inclusive — even while we still practice our exclusive storytelling about the HP 3000. Like that sea of paper in my pal’s mill, heaven knows when that storytelling will ever end.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:12 AM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 24, 2014

40 years from a kitchen-size 3000 to 3.4GHz

HP3000 CX 1974Forty years ago this spring, the HP 3000 was just gaining some traction among one of its core markets: manufacturing. This was a period where the computer was big enough to take over kitchen space in a software founder's home, according to an HP software VP of the time. That server didn't run reliably, and so got plenty of attention from the software labs of that day's Hewlett-Packard. And if you were fortunate, a system the size of a two tall-boy file cabinets could be yours for $99,500 in a starter configuration, with 96KB of core memory.

MPE was so new that Hewlett-Packard would sell the software unbundled for $10,000. The whole collection of server and software would burn off 12,000 BTU per hour. HP included "cooling dissipation" specs for the CX models -- they topped off at a $250,000 unit -- so you could ramp up your air conditioning as needed in your datacenter. (Thanks to the HP Computer Museum for the details).

DL380Those specs and that system surfaced while I wrote the Manufacturing ERP Options from Windows article last week. Just this week I rolled the clock forward to find the smallest HP 3000 while checking on specifications. This 2014 era 3000 system runs off an HP DL380 server fired by on a 3.44 GHz chip. It's plenty fast enough to handle the combo of Linux, VMWare and the Stromasys CHARON 3000 emulator. And it's 19 inches x 24 by 3.5.

We've heard, over the past year from Stromasys tech experts, that CPUs of more than 3 GHz are the best fit for VMWare and CHARON. It's difficult to imagine the same operating system that would only fit on a 12,000 BTU server surviving to run on that 2U-sized DL380. The newest Generation 8 box retails for about one-tenth of the cost of that '74 HP3000 System CX server unit. But the CX was all that ASK Computer Systems had to work with, 40 years ago. And HP needed to work with ASK just to bring MPE into reliable service. "It didn’t work worth shit, it’s true," said Marty Browne of ASK. "But we got free HP computer time."

The leap in technology evokes the distinction between a Windows ERP that will replace ASK's MANMAN, and other choices that will postpone migration. Especially if a company has a small server budget, enough time to transfer data via FTP or tape drive -- and no desire to revise their manufacturing system. What started in a kitchen has made its transition to something small enough to look like a large briefcase, a thousand times more powerful. Users made that happen, according to Browne and retired HP Executive VP Chuck House.

The last time I saw these two in a room together, the No. 2 employee at ASK and HP's chief of MPE software management had a touching exchange over the roots of MANMAN -- an application that's survived over four decades. (No. 1 at ASK would be the Kurtzigs, Andrew and Sandy. It's always been a family affair; their son Andy leads Pearl.com, a for-pay Q&A expert site.) 

At the HP3000 Software Symposium at the Computer History Museum, Browne said that if the 3000 had failed to take root, ASK would have been hung out to dry.

Marty Browne: It used to be so expensive to buy computer time to do development work. And it was so much better a deal for me to do this 3000 development. I was able to put several years of engineering work into my product before I ever sold it. I could not have afforded that since I was bootstrapping my business.

Chuck House: Let me add that was true for Sandy too. She got a free HP 3000 for her kitchen. 

Browne: It was not in the kitchen. We had the first HP 3000 on the computer floor at HP. Did you say kitchen?

House: Correct.

Browne: Yes, we got an HP 3000. We had to work at night, by the way.

House: But it was free time.

Browne: It was free time. It didn’t work worth shit. It’s true. But we got free HP time.

House: No, we used you to debug.

Browne: Pardon me?

House: You were our debuggers.

Browne: Yes, right. HP provided an open house in a lot of ways, I mean that’s part of the HP culture. They were good partners. HP is an excellent partner.

Moderator Burt Grad: So if the 3000s had not been able to sell, you would have been hung out? 

Browne: Yes.

Why is this history lesson important today? You might say that whatever MANMAN's bones were built from is sturdy stuff. Customization, as we noted in that ERP article, makes MANMAN sticky. Robert Mills commented to clarify that after I posted the article.

MANMAN could be customized and added to by the customer because they were given full documentation on the system. ASK would, for a reasonable cost, make modifications to standard programs and supply you with the source code of the modified programs. Even MM/3000 had a Customizer that allowed you to make database and screen changes. Can you do this with MS Dynamics and IFS? Will Microsoft and IFS allow this, and give you the information required?

The answer to the question might be just a flat-out no, of course not. Just as HP stopped selling MPE unbundled, Microsoft and IFS don't customize their application. But partners -- some perhaps the equivalent of Marty Browne, abeit of different skill -- would like to do that customization. It's just that this customization in the modern era, which would run on the same DL380, would come after host environment transfer, plus work configuring and testing the apps and installation of a new OS. Then there's the same transfer of data, no small task, which is about the only one that these options have in common.

If a migration away from the HP 3000 for ERP is essential, that change could cost as much as that 1974 CX server did. This is one reason why still-homesteading companies will work hard to prove they need that budget. A $2,000 DL380 and disks plus CHARON might be more cost-effective and less disruptive. How much future that provides is something your community is still evaluating. 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:56 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 21, 2014

Shadows of IT Leaders, at HP and Apple

JacksonEarlier this week, the Reverend Jesse Jackson made an appearance at Hewlett-Packard's annual shareholder meeting. He used the occasion of a $128 billion company's face-up to stockholders to complain about racial bias. In specific, Jackson complained that the HP board, by now, should have at least one African American serving on it.

HP's CEO Meg Whitman took respectful note of Jackson's observation, which is true. After 75 years of corporate history that have seen the US eliminate Jim Crow, and the world shun apartheid, HP's board is still a collection of white faces (10 of 12). Hewlett-Packard always had a board of directors, but it didn't become a company with a board in public until it first offered shares in 1958. We might give the company a pass on its first 20 years, striving to become stable and powerful. But from the '60s onward, the chances and good people might have been out there. Just not on HP's board, as Jackson pointed out.

But that story about the vendor who created your HP 3000s, MPE, IMAGE and then the systems to replace all, is incomplete. It's just one view of what Hewlett-Packard has become. In spite of Jackson's accurate census, it overlooks another reality about the company's leadership. HP has become woman-led, in some of its most powerful positions. Whitman had the restraint to not to point to that. But she's the second woman over those 75 years to be HP CEO.

Companies with potent histories like HP will always be in the line of fire of misunderstanding. The same sort of thing happed to Apple this week. This rival to HP's laptop and desktop and mobile space was inked over as a company still run by the ghost of its founder Steve Jobs. Like the Jackson measurement of HP's racial diversity at the top, the Ghostly Jobs Apple story needs some revisions. HP's got diversity through all of its ranks right up until you get to the director level. Given what a miserable job the board's done during the last 10 years, it might be a good resume item to say "Not a Member of Hewlett-Packard's Board."

HauntedempireipadRegarding Apple, the misunderstanding is being promoted in the book Haunted Empire. The book that's been roundly panned in reviews might sell as well as the Steve Jobs biography by Walter Issacson, but for the opposite reasons. Jobs' biography was considered a hagiography by anybody who disliked the ideal of Apple and "Computing for the Rest of Us." He indeed acted like a saint in the eyes of many of his customers, and now that very sainthood is being devolved into a boat anchor by the writer of  Haunted Empire. It doesn't turn out to be true, if you measure anything except whether there's been a game-changer like a tablet in the past four years.

BillanddavecoverSimilar things happened to Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard after Hewlett died in 2001, leaving HP with just the "HP Way" and no living founders. Whatever didn't happen, or did, was something the founders would've fought for, or wouldn't have tolerated. The Way was so ingrained into the timber of HP that the CEO who preceded Whitman, Leo Apotheker, imagined there might be a Way 2.0. Tying today to yesterday can be a complicated story. There was an HP Way 0.5, according to Michael Malone's history of HP, Bill and Dave.

And the term "Bill and Dave" is invoked to this day by people as disappointed in 2014's Hewlett-Packard as Jackson is impatient with its diversity. Like the Ghostly Apple story, WWBDD -- What Would Bill and Dave Do -- can be told with missing information. Accepting such missing data is a good way to show you know the genuine HP Way. Or if you care, the correct state of the Apple Empire.

Since my reader will care far more about WWBDD, let's just move to Malone's book, well-reviewed and available for the cost of shipping alone. Under the section An Army of Owners, he outlines the discounted HP employee stock ownership, one product of the Way.

One of the least-noticed aspects of Hewlett's and Packard's managerial genius was their ability to hide shrewd business strategy inside of benevolent employee programs, and enlightened employee benefits within smart business programs -- often at the same time.

Having so much company stock in the hands of HP employees ultimately meant that Bill and Dave could resist any pressure from Wall Street to substitute short-term gains for long-term success.

Malone goes on to note that employee stock purchasing gave Bill and Dave a great engine to make cash, as well as keep lots of stock out of the hands of institutional investors. That HP Way 0.5 came out of the period when Hewlett and Packard established their business ideals -- then crafted the story about it in a way that was true, but missing some of its most potent context.

When HP employees' stock descended into the nether regions of popularity -- share price plummeting into the $20s and qualification for the program becoming tougher -- Mr. Market of Wall Street started to take over. The board let the vendor chase big markets like PCs, as well as cut down small product lines to make way for a new way of doing business at HP. Bigger was sure to be better, even if it sparked lawsuits and besmirched the HP patina built over all those decades.

But at the same time, the company was getting on the right track with diversity. One of the last general managers the 3000 group had was Harry Sterling. He came out as a gay man before he left his job, and diversity for gender preferences was written into HP's codes.

The New York Times story about Jackson's visit to the meeting emphasized that representation of gender was not Jackson's chosen subject.

HP has a female chief executive, a female head of human resources, and a female chief financial officer, perhaps the largest representation of women in power of any major Silicon Valley company.

Meg Whitman, HP’s chief executive, cited what she said was a long record of civil rights activism on HP’s part. Mr. Jackson noted that HP did not currently have a single African-American on its board. “This board, respectfully, does not look like America.”

Ms. Whitman later said she would meet with Mr. Jackson on the subject.

HP's diversity, or the success of the post-Jobs Apple, are subjects to be misunderstood. Past injuries -- from dropped products, or envy of a supplier that made its fortune on mobile while others did not -- tend to shape beliefs about all that follows. Some 3000 owners will never forgive this vendor for losing its belief in unique platform environments, starting with MPE. Other pragmatists still have an all-HP shop, including decade-old 3000 iron. Leadership changes, sometimes more swiftly than products are eliminated. If Whitman and her board figure that naming an African-American is part of a new HP Way, they're likely to do so. Directors Shumeet Banerji and Rajiv Gupta would remind Jackson HP's board already has some diversity. HP isn't supposed to look like America, but present a world view.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:43 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (1)

March 17, 2014

Breaching the Future by Rolling Back

Corporate IT has some choices to make, and very soon. A piece of software that's essential to the world's business is heading for drastic changes, the kind that alter information resource values everywhere. Anyone with a computer older than three years has a good chance of being affected. What's about to happen will echo in the 3000 owner's memories.

Windows XP is about to ease out of Microsoft's support strategy. You can hardly visit a business that doesn't rely on this software -- about 30 percent of the world's Windows is still XP -- but no amount of warning from its vendor seems to be prying it off of tens of millions of desktops. On this score, it seems that the XP-using companies are as dug-in as many of the 3000 customers were in 2002. Or even 2004.

A friend of mine, long-steeped in IT, said he was advising somebody in his company about the state of these changes. "I'm getting a new PC," he told my pal. "But it's got Windows 8 on it. What should I do?" Of course, the fellow is asking this because Windows 8 behaves so differently from XP that it might as well be a foreign environment. Programs will run, many of them, but finding and starting them will be a snipe hunt for some users forced into Windows 8. The XP installations are so ubiquitous that IT managers are still trying to hunt them down.

Classic-shell-02-580-100023730-largeThe market sees this, knows all, and has found a solution. It won't keep Windows 8 from being shipped on new PCs. But the solutions will return the look and feel of the old software to the new Microsoft operating environment. One free solution is Classic Shell, which will take a user right back to the XP interface for users. Another simply returns the hijacked Start Button to a rightful place on new Windows 8 screens.

You can't make these kinds of changes in a vacuum, or even overnight. Microsoft has been warning and advising and rolling its deadlines backwards for several years now, but April 8 seems to be the real turning point. Except that it isn't, not completely. Like the 2006-2010 years for MPE and the 3000, the vendor is just changing the value of installed IT assets. It will be making them more expensive, and as time rolls on, less easy to maintain.

The expectation is that the security patches that Microsoft has been giving away for XP will no longer be free. There's no announcement, officially, about the "now you will pay for the patches" policy. Not like the one notice that HP delivered, rather quietly, back in 2012 for its enterprise servers. Security used to be an included value for HP's servers, but today any patch requires a support contract. 

Windows XP won't be any different by the time the summer arrives, but its security processes will have changed. Microsoft is figuring out how to be in two places at once: leading the parade away from XP and keeping customers from going rogue because XP is going to become less secure. The message is mixed, at the moment. A new deadline of 2015 has been announced for changes to the Microsoft Security Engine, MSE.

Cue the echoes of 2005, when HP decided that its five-year walk of the plank for MPE needed another two years worth of plank. Here's Microsoft saying

Microsoft will continue to provide updates to their antimalware signatures and Microsoft Security Engine for Windows XP users through July 14, 2015. 

The extension, for enterprise users, applies to System Center Endpoint Protection, Forefront Client Security, Forefront Endpoint Protection and Windows Intune running on Windows XP. For consumers, this applies to Microsoft Security Essentials.

Security is essential, indeed. But the virus that you might get exposed to in the summer of next year can be avoided with a migration. Perhaps over the next 16 months, that many percentage points of user base will have moved off XP. If so, they'll still be hoping they don't have to retrain their workforce. That's been a cost of migration difficult to measure, but very real for HP 3000 owners.

Classic Shell, or the $5 per copy Start 8, work to restore the interface to a familiar look and feel. One reviewer on ZDNet said the Classic Shell restores "the interface patterns that worked and that Microsoft took away for reasons unknown. In other words, Classic Start Menu is just like the Start Menu you know and love, only more customizable."

The last major migration the HP 3000 went through was from MPE V to MPE/XL, when the hardware took a leap into PA-RISC chipsets and 32-bit computing. Around that time, Taurus Software's Dave Elward created Chameleon, aimed at letting managers employ both the Classic and MPE/XL command interfaces. Because HP had done the heavy lifting of creating a Classic Mode for older software to run inside of MPE/XL, the interface became the subject of great interest.

But Chameleon had a very different mission from software like Classic Shell. The MPE software was a means to let customers emulate the then-new PA-RISC HP 3000 operating system MPE/XL on Classic MPE V systems. It was a way to move ahead into the future with a gentle, cautious step. Small steps like the ones which Microsoft is resorting to -- a string of extensions -- introduce some caution with a different style.

Like HP and the 3000, Microsoft keeps talking about what the end of XP will look like to a customer. There's one similarity. Microsoft, like HP, wants to continue to control the ownership and activation of XP even after the support period ends. 

"Windows XP can still be installed and activated after end of support on April 8," according to a story on the ZDNet website. The article quotes a Microsoft spokesperson as explaining, "Computers running Windows XP will still work, they just won’t receive any new security updates. Support of Windows XP ends on April 8, 2014, regardless of when you install the OS." And the popular XP Mode will still allow users with old XP apps to run them on Windows 7 Professional, Enterprise and Ultimate.

And just like people started to squirrel away the documentation and patches for the 3000 -- the latter software resulting in a cease-and-desist agreement last year -- XP users are tucking away the perfectly legal "professionals and developers" installer for XP's Service Pack 3, which is a self-contained downloadable executable.

"I've backed that up in the same place I've backed up all my other patch files and installers," said David Gerwitz of CBS Interactive, "and now, if I someday need it, I have it." These kinds of things start to go missing, or just nearly impossible to find, once a vendor decides its users need to move on.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:03 PM in History, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 26, 2014

Comparing Historic 3000 Horsepower Costs

Testosterone-horsepowerOver the last few weeks we've checked in with Jeff Kell, the system manager at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. The university powered off its last two HP 3000s not long ago, and along the way has mounted dozens of Unix and Linux CPUs and virtual servers to replace that pair of MPE machines. We asked him what he believed the school's IT group had spent on MPE over 37 years -- and limited the question to the capital costs of systems. (Ownership cost is much harder to calculate across four decades.)

Kell, who founded the HP 3000 listserve and newsgroup, as well as chaired the SIGSYSMAN group for Interex over the years, said "We have had comparable expenses with each iteration of the 3000's life-cycle." Across those decades, the university owned Classic HP 3000s based on CISC technology, then early PA-RISC servers -- new enough in that generation to be considered "Spectrum" 3000s -- then later-model PA-RISC units, and finally the ultimate generation of HP 3000 hardware.

"In short, it was an expenditure in the low six figures, once every decade," Kell said. 

We ran Series II, then Series IIIs, and the tags were low six-figures in the 1970s. We then got some 950s in the late 1980s (we had some early Series 950 deliveries) at about the same price point. Then the 969 in the 1990s, again about the same. And finally, the A/N-Class during this century.

Comparisons to two points seem worthy. The pricing for the value of high-end 3000 computing remained constant; at the time of the late 1980s, for example, a Series 950 was the most powerful 3000 available. Then there's the comparison to the expenditure of acquiring the hardware to support dozens of servers, virtual and otherwise. The low six figures won't buy much toward the high end of business critical computing gear over a decade, using today's commodity pricing. The newest servers might seem cheaper, but they don't give durable service for 10 years per installation, like the ones at Kell's shop did.

It was not all smooth sailing on value for expenditures, Kell added. The A-Class server line was performance-challenged, even though it was rated a bit faster than the previous, K-Class 3000 hardware known as the Series 900 line.

"We had some performance issues with the A500 after we started offering our "online" applications: self-service, and we tried web-based apps, too -- but that was early on and challenged," Kell reported in his 3000 debriefing. Even at that moment in time, there was belief expressed for the ability of HP 3000 hardware to rise to the need, so long as it was more powerful 3000 hardware. Given the performance issues with the A-Class, he explained, "there was some political incentive to address the problem when we got the N-Class, which was a dominating force until the end of our 3000 days. It never blinked."

In short, the longest lifespan for any server still available with a Hewlett-Packard 3000 badge belongs to the N-Class. This is illustrated by the drive to match the horsepower of the top three models in that lineup, an effort which kept Stromasys CHARON engineers well-engaged during 2013.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:17 PM in History, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 14, 2014

Even a classic 3000 game can get LinkedIn

Screen Shot 2014-02-14 at 9.15.11 PMLinkedIn, the Facebook for business relationships, is now the home a new group related to the HP 3000. Veterans of the system know Empire as a stragegy game that was first hosted under MPE in the 1980s. Now these game players have their own LinkedIn Group.

Johnson, who's helped to administer 3000s for Measurement Specialties (a cross-global manufacturer) as well as OpenMPE, moved the group of users off Yahoo, he reported.

Since February of 2000 I've kept a Yahoo Group dedicated to the text game of Empire on the HP 3000, mainly to announce regenerations of new games and enhancements.  Empire is piggy-backed as an account on the INVENT3K server, which is still running in DR mode. Games are free -- and unlike most Internet games today, it doesn't track your whereabouts, place cookies, install hidden apps, or seek your mother's maiden name.

The game still goes on, but since Yahoo went to NEO format last year, I've been looking for something easier to manage (and more socially viable).  Without plunging into the supra-popular mediums like Twitter and Facebook, I have decided to close the Yahoo Group and put a new one for Empire on LinkedIn.

Johnson noted that LinkedIn "has some features for discussions that seem interesting. While LinkedIn seems focused to connecting with associates and ostensibly job hunting, features designed for purposes can be purloined for other purposes, such as:

- Regular Discussions and comments.

- Permanent announcements can be posted using the "Promotions" type of discussion.  Will probably use that to announce new games.

- Temporary announcements (two weeks) can be posed using the "Jobs" type of discussion.  

He added that  LinkedIn hasn't got much bad press. Of late, Yahoo and its groups have had "near half a million passwords hacked, and total shutdown in some areas of the world," Johnson said.

Empire has a domain name, and you can put empire.openmpe.com into your Reflection, Minisoft, or QCTerm configuration. Porting the game and website was rather easy. The original site used Orbit+/iX disk to disk backups (courtesy of Orbit), and it was simply FTP'd to the new machine and then restored.  Additional assistance was provided by Keven Miller at 3kRanger to make the website fit in with the regular INVENT3K website. INVENT3K's website now has a button that links to Empire. Both sites are hosted on the same machine where the games are running.

Empire, one of the original role-playing games for computers, gained a home on the HP 3000 during the era of text-based interactive gaming. Reed College in Portland hosted the first board-game version of Empire (at left), giving the game a Pacific Northwest home that would lead it to the HP 3000.

In 1971 Empire first emerged from Unix systems, created by Peter Langsdon at Harvard. It resurfaced under the name Civilization on an HP 2000 minicomputer at Evergreen State College, where an HP 3000 would soon arrive. When that HP 2000 was retired, the source code to Civilization was lost -- but Ben Norton wrote a new version of the game for MPE, Empire Classic, in 1984. Built in BASIC/3000, Empire became the 3000's best-known game, in part because it was included in the 3000's Contributed Software Library.

EmpireWhile Civilization began to have a graphical life on personal computers like the Amiga, Empire on the 3000 is text-only, using prompts and replies designed to build eco­nomic and polit­i­cal entities, with mil­i­tary actions included. That's right, we mean present-day: the game remains in use today, 30 years after it was first launched for MPE. 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:36 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (2)

February 12, 2014

How Shaved Sheep Help Macs Link to 3000s

The HP 3000 never represented a significant share of the number of business servers installed around the world. When the system's highest census was about 50,000, it was less than a tenth of the number of Digital servers, or IBM System 36-38s. Not to mention all of the Unix servers, or the Windows that began to run businesses in the 1990s.

SheepShaverIf you'd be honest, you could consider the 3000 to have had the footprint in the IT world that the Macintosh has in the PC community. Actually, far less, considering that about 1 in 20 laptop-desktops run Apple's OS today. Nevertheless, the HP 3000 community never considered Macs a serious business client to communicate with the 3000. The desktops were full of Windows machines, and MS-DOS before that. Walker, Richer & Quinn, Tymlabs, and Minisoft took the customers into client-server waters. All three had Mac versions of their terminal emulators. But only one, from Minisoft, has survived to remain on sale today.

MinisoftMac92That would be Minisoft 92 for the Mac, and Doug Greenup at Minisoft will be glad to tell a 3000 shop that needs Mac-to-3000 connectivity how well it hits the mark, right up to the support of the newest 10.9 version of the OS X. "Minisoft has a Macintosh version that supports the Maverick OS," Greenup said. "Yes, we went to the effort to support the latest and greatest Apple OS."

WRQ ReflectionBut there were also fans of the WRQ Reflection for Mac while it was being sold, and for good reason. The developer of the software came to WRQ from Tymlabs, a company that was one of the earliest converts to Apple to run the business with, all while understanding the 3000 was the main server. The first time I met anyone from Tymlabs -- much better known as vendor of the BackPack backup program -- Marion Winik was sitting in front of an Apple Lisa, the precursor to the Mac. Advertising was being designed by that woman who's now a celebrated essayist and memoir writer.

What's all that got to do with a sheep, then? That WRQ 3000 terminal emulator for the Mac ran well, executing the classic Reflection scripting, but then Apple's jump to OS X left that product behind. So if you want to run a copy of Reflection for Mac, you need to emulate a vintage Mac. That doesn't require much Apple hardware. Mostly, you need SheepShaver, software that was named to mimic the word shape-shifter -- because SheepShaver mimics many operating environments. The emulation is of the old Mac OS, though. It's quite the trick to make a current day Intel machine behave like a computer that was built around Apple's old PowerPC chips. About the same caliber of trick as making programs written in the 1980s for MPE V run on Intel-based systems today. The future of carry-forward computing is virtualization, rooted in software. But it's the loyalty and ardor that fuel the value for such classics as the 3000, or 1990-2006 Macs.

Barry Lake of Allegro took note of SheepShaver as a solution to how to get Reflection for Mac to talk to an HP 3000. The question came from another 3000 vet, Mark Ranft.

I've been looking for a copy of Reflection for Mac.  It is no longer available from WRQ/Attachmate. I've looked for old copies on eBay without any luck.  Does anyone know where a copy may be available, and will it still run on OSX Mavericks (10.9)?

Lake replied

It was possible to run the "Classic" versions of Reflection under OS X up through Tiger (10.4). Sadly, Apple dropped Classic support in Leopard (10.5). The only way to run Classic apps now is in some sort of virtual environment. I've been doing this for many years, and quite happily so, using SheepShaver.

But you have to find a copy of the old Mac OS ROM somewhere, and have media (optical or digital) containing a Classic version of Mac OS.

As with so many things that were once sold and supported, the OS ROM can be had on the Web by following that link above. That Mac OS ROM "was sort of a 'mini operating system' that was embedded in all the old Macs, one which acted as an interface between the hardware and the OS," Lake explains. "It allowed a standard OS to be shipped which could run on various different physical machines.

Modern operating systems simply ship with hundreds of drivers -- most of which are never used -- so that the OS (might be Windows or linux or even Mac OS X) is able to run on whatever hardware it happens to find itself on. But this of course, has resulted in enormous bloat, so the operating systems now require gigabytes of storage even for a basic installation.

The beauty of the old Mac OS ROM is that the ROM was customized for each machine model, so that endless drivers didn't have to be included in the OS, and therefore the OS could be kept small and lean.

Lake said that althought using SheepShaver to run the favorite 3000 terminal emulator "took a modest effort to set up, it has been working beautifully for me for years. And yes, it works on the Intel Macs (the Power PC instruction set is emulated, of course)."

So here's an open source PowerPC Apple Macintosh emulator. Using SheepShaver (along with the appropriate ROM image) it is possible to emulate a PowerPC Macintosh computer capable of running Mac OS 7.5.2 through 9.0.4. Builds of SheepShaver are available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:56 PM in History, Migration, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 03, 2014

Yours is a gathering group of users

Almost as soon as the June meeting of SIG-BAR was announced, others in your community wanted to join in. A meeting of ASK Computing manufacturing veterans and friends -- the IT managers running and developing the MANMAN app, still used in scores of companies -- want to gather in a reunion on June 14. It's just a few days after the June 12 SIG-BAR, a bit up the road in the UK.

WisemanGatorSIG-BAR, for any who don't know, is the communal gathering of HP 3000 people lately being organized by Dave Wiseman. It's named SIG-BAR because such an event usually convened at the hotel bar of the main conference hotel of Interex shows. With a beverage at hand and cocktail nuts aplenty, the HP 3000 users and vendors solved the problems of the world informally. When last call rolled around, everybody knew and trusted one another better. If they were lucky, someone had done something silly that had just made everyone who worked with machines all day seem more personal. Like Wiseman (above) posing with the inflatable alligator that he toted through the aisles at an Interex show in Orlando. Wiseman notes that "we filled it with helium at Bradmark's stand -- they were giving away balloons -- so we had high squeaky voices all evening in the bar!"

Those were the days when the bar bets could not be settled with smartphones. When the bets were about commands in MPE or model features of HP 3000s, the community's experts flexed their memory muscles.

The reunion of ASK users is just being mounted in Milton Keynes, a manufacturing town just a couple of stops up from Euston Station in London. And London is the location for the June 12 meeting of SIG-BAR at Dirty Dick's. SIG-BAR on Thursday, ASK on Saturday, all in the gentle climate of and English summer. Why go? To stay in touch with people who know how to help your continued use of HP 3000. It's the one element that always made the HP 3000 users stand out from others that I chronicled from the 1980s onward. A very social species, you've been.

Details on the ASK Reunion can be had from Sarah Tibble, formerly of ASK and one to cross the pond during those days of social travel. The networking is different by now for the Millennial generation, but Gen 3000 doesn't want to cease those days of gathering. "I was with ASK for 11 years and did about 15 US trips," she said.

Blectchley ParkMilton Keynes has some computing lure and lore of its own. The area of the UK was the site of Bletchley Park, where English cypto-wizards cracked German code in WW II using as much brain power as they could muster. The first wave of the Government Code and Cypher School moved to Bletchley Park in August, 1939. Now the buildings at Bletchley house the National Computing Museum of the UK, which includes a working reconstruction of a Colossus computer by a team headed by Tony Sale along with many important examples of British computing machinery.

As for examples of 3000 computing machinery users who have RSVP'd for SIG-BAR June 12 London, the current list, plus your host Mr. Wiseman, is

Rudi Huysmans
Ian Kilpatrick
Graham Woolley
Jason Kent
Ken Nutsford
Jeannette Nutsford
Robert Mills
Roger Lawson
Sally Blackwell
Brian Duncombe
Steve Cooper
Suzanne Cooper
Alan Yeo
Michel Kohon
Tim Cullis
Brad Tashenberg

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:13 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 31, 2014

The Final 3000 Quarter at Hewlett-Packard

LifeboatsIt's the final day of HP's Q1 for 2014, so in about three weeks we'll know how the company has fared in its turnaround. Analyst sites are rating the stock as a hold, or giving the company a C+ rating. It's instructive to see how much has changed from the final quarter when 3000 customers sent measurable revenues to Hewlett-Packard.

That would be the Q1 of 2009, including the final two months of HP's regular systems support sales of November-December of 2008. At the end of '08 HP closed its MPE/iX and 3000 lab. And without a lab, there was no way business critical support would offer much of an incentive to keep HP's support in a 3000 shop's IT budget.

The customers' shake-off of HP's support revenue didn't happen immediately, of course. People had signed multi-year contracts for support with the vendor. But during the start of this financial period of five years ago, there was no clear reason to expect HP to be improve for MPE/iX, even in dire circumstances. Vintage support was the only product left to buy for a 3000 through the end of 2010.

In Q1 of 2009, HP reported $28.2 billion in total sales. In its latest quarter, that number was $29.1 billion. Nearly five years have delivered only $900 million in extra sales per quarter, despite swallowing up EDS and its 140,000 consultants and billions in sales, or purchasing tens of billions of dollars worth of outside companies like Autonomy.

In January of 2009, HP 3000 revenues were even more invisible than the Business Critical Systems revenues of today. But BCS totals back then were still skidding by 15-20 percent per quarter, 20 quarters ago. And even in 2009, selling these alternatives to an HP 3000 was generating only 4 percent of the Enterprise Server group's sales. Yes, all of enterprise servers made up 2.5 percent of the 2009 HP Q1. But that hardware and networking is the short tail of the beast that was HP's server business, including the 3000. Support is the long tail, one that stretched to the end of 2008 for MPE, more than seven years HP announced the end of its 3000 business plans.

It's easy to say that the HP 3000 meant a lot to HP's fortunes. In a way it certainly did, because there was no significant business computing product line until MPE started to get stable in 1974. But the profits really didn't flow off the hardware using that 20th Century model. Support was the big earner, as the mob says of anybody who returns profits to the head of the organization. HP 3000 support was always a good earner, right up to the time HP closed down those labs and sent its wizards packing, or into other company divisions.

It had been a small business all along, this HP 3000. A billion dollars was a great quarter's worth, and the 3000 division never came close. But all of HP's business critical servers together only managed $700 million in sales -- five years ago. The profits from such customers were only significant because of support relationships. This is why those contracts were the last thing HP terminated.

This eventually became a good thing for the stalwart support companies that remained by the 3000 manager's side. At least there was no HP to quote against a company like Pivital Solutions that specializes in real MPE/iX support, for example. No vendor claims of "we can engineer a patch or software fix" that a system vendor uses to retain a customer. By January of '09, HP Support took on the remaining 3000 operations and briefed customers but offered no clue on how much contact the community might expect from support. HP's community liaison to the 3000, its business manager and lab experts departed. 

The final months of 2008, which made up that very last HP 3000 quarter, capped a year with many months of no information whatsoever from the vendor. HP didn't appear eager to address much except the migration nuances still available to companies leaving the platform. To nobody's genuine suprise, Hewlett-Packard wasn't winning much migration business from 3000 customers making a transition.

We know that's true because of a report from Stromays during 2010. Sometime during 2008, HP re-established contact with the only company that made a concerted effort to emulate an HP 3000. According to Stromasys CTO Dr. Robert Boers, three out of every four departing 3000 sites chose a non-HP environment. And without MPE/iX to support, the only money a former 3000 owner would be sending -- if they were pragmatic, and not incensed -- would've been for HP's Intel-based Proliants, running Windows.

The quarters of 2009 and 2010 might have eked out a bit of revenue from 3000 owners. Some were determined to purchase the HP support that had no hope of fixing problems via new engineering. But HP was not encouraging this by the final months of Q1, 2009

HP strongly recommends that customers request all available PowerPatches and SW Media that they may need for the remainder of the life of their e3000 systems, before December 31, 2008. Customers under Mature Product Support without Sustaining Engineering (MPS w/o SE) can still request PowerPatches and SW Media during the remainder of the Limited Support Extension, through their local HP Representative or Contract Administrator; however, processing and delivery time may vary.

The one and only source of revenue today from the HP 3000 community to HP -- something that will comprise a scant trickle of cash -- is the $432 license transfers, still in place after five years to enable an emulator to replace a 3000. 

The HP Software License Transfer process will continue to be used in the event an HP customer wishes to transfer an existing MPE/iX Right-To-Use (RTU) license from a valid e3000 system to an emulation platform of the customer’s choice that runs on other licensed HP products. It will be a system-to-system transfer, regardless of the number of CPUs on the destination platform.

Even in the situation of forcing companies off a server that was working, Hewlett-Packard attempted to keep them on hardware "that runs on other licensed HP products." Classy to the end. HP signed off in January of 2009 with a thanks for all the fish message, urging everybody to get to a lifeboat. But few of the boats would be flying an HP flag, despite these lyrical hopes.

Finally, we want to take this opportunity to thank OpenMPE, Interex, Encompass, and Connect for their dedication to customer advocacy over the years, our HP e3000 ISVs, tools, and support partners that have contributed a rich set of products and services on top of MPE/iX for our customers, and our migration service and tools partners for their invaluable services and products in assisting our customers with their migrations to other HP solutions. Most of all, our sincere thanks to our valued customers. HP looks forward to continuing to provide our customers the best-in-class services and the opportunity to serve you with other HP products.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:49 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 24, 2014

The Volokhs Find the Amazon Finds Them

AmazonmapIn 1980, a 12-year-old boy and his father began to create a beautiful expansion of MPE for 3000 customers. These men are named Volokh, and that surname has become the brand of a blog that's now a part of The Washington Post. The journey that began as a fledgling software company serving a nascent computer community is a fun and inspiring tale. That 12-year-old, now 45, is Eugene Volokh, and along with this brother Sasha the two created the Volokh Conspiracy. Volokh.com became a blog in 2002 -- something of a breakthough in itself, according to the Internet's timeline. Now the new owner of the Post, Jeff Bezos, has replaced a long-standing blog from Ezra Klein with the Volokhs' blend of legal reporting, cultural commentary, and English exactitude.

Bezos, for the few who don't know him, founded and owns the majority of Amazon, the world's largest online retailer. And so, in one of the first Conspiracy posts out on the Post, the article's headline reads

In Brazil, you can always find the Amazon — in America, the Amazon finds you

This is a reference to the Russian roots of the Volokhs, according to founding father Vladimir. He recalled the history of living in a Communist country, one that was driven by a Party relentless in its dogma and control. With the usual dark humor of people under oppression, he reported that "In Russia the saying is, 'Here, you don't find the party -- the party finds you.' "

AmazonAmazon has found the Volokhs and their brand of intense analysis -- peppered with wry humor, at times -- because it was shedding Ezra Klein's Wonkblog. Left-leaning with a single-course setting, this content which the Volokhs have replaced might have seen its day passing, once Klein was asking the Post for $10 million to start his own web publishing venture. There may have been other signs a rift was growing; one recent Wonkblog headline read, "Retail in the age of Amazon: Scenes from an industry running scared."

This is not the kind of report that will get you closer to a $10 million investment from the owner of Amazon. That running scared story emerged from this month's meeting of the National Retail Federation, a place where 3000 capabilities have been discussed over the years.

We've run reports of NRF from Birket Foster of MB Foster in the past. Those capabilities surround the need to secure commerce that runs through HP 3000s. At one point the server had scores of users of software that included Point of Sale aspects, although few 3000s ever integrated with such retail devices. But NRF isn't the point of this article. We intend to congratulate Eugene, Sasha -- and of course their proud father -- for breaking into the mainstream media with their messages, information and opinions.

"When you ask them how they feel about it," Vladimir told us this week about his sons and their blog's transition, "they say, 'We will see.' " The Conspiracy didn't need the Post and its mainstream megaphone. The compensation is slight, Eugene wrote as he explained why volokh.com will slip behind what he calls "a rather permeable paywall" in a few months. 

The main difference will be that the blog, like the other Washingtonpost.com material, will be placed behind the Post’s rather permeable paywall. We realize that this may cause some inconvenience for some existing readers — we are sorry about that, and we tried to negotiate around it, but that’s the Post’s current approach.

In exchange, the Conspiracy, with its ample roster of bloggers covering legal and intellectual subjects, is going to remain free for the next six months, even up at the Post website. "For the first six months, you can access the blog for free. We negotiated that with the Post, by giving up likely about half of our share of the advertising revenue for that time. (Six months is the longest we could get.)"

The website the Volokhs established has an avid readership. Along with that blogosphere presence, Eugene has been visible enough in places like The New York Times, CNN and NPR that I'd give him the award for Most Famous Person that MPE Prowess Ever Launched. It was back in the year when he worked as a teenaged, seasonal programmer for Hewlett-Packard that MPEX was born to become the developer and DP manager's power tool, an express lane for managing and hyper-driving an HP 3000. Vladimir and Eugene created that software, which founded VEsoft.

But more than three decades later, the 3000 and MPE have become a minority of Eugene and Sasha's work-weeks. These men are now professors of law at UCLA and Emory. When asked if the millions of dollars you'd imagine coming off a Post blog would change them, Eugene exhibited a typical pragmatic quip.

What will [we] do with all the millions we’ll rake in? We are sharing advertising revenue with the Post, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be much. Our hourly rate for our blogging time will remain pretty pathetic. We’re not in it for the money; if we were, we’d be writing briefs, not blog posts.

The HP 3000 doesn't take a turn in the subject matter of the Conspiracy. The blog's metier is the law, how the law impacts social behavior like privacy and information sharing, as well as intellectual property rights. It's wide-ranging, a lot like the 3000 has been since it began in the era of "general-purpose computer." To keep reading the Conspiracy for free after July, Eugene says, you can subscribe to its RSS feed, register at the Post with a .gov or .edu address, follow it on Twitter, or look for an imminent Facebook page.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:07 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 31, 2013

Date-based deadline looms once again

Y2khqTomorrow and Thursday, we'll be taking a few days away from our 3000 reports to celebrate the New Year. We'll return with a story on Jan. 3. But 14 years ago tonight, your world was waiting for a new year of calamity. Developers, managers, even executives had spent years planning, coding, even setting aside operations while waiting for Y2K to occur. For many HP 3000 owners, the start of our current century mandated the biggest project they'd ever accomplished: preparing an entrenched set of programs to handle formats for new dates.

For one part of the classic 3000 community, it will be happening all over again. The only break these managers of healthcare billing systems will get is a one-year reprieve. And 90 days of that is already gone.

The healthcare industry is expanding its ICD diagnostic codes in the US, a government mandate that has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act. More than 48,000 distinct codes will be required in order to be paid by the Medicare and Medicaid systems. One story from the New York Times said that getting injured by a killer whale could be one of the thousands of new codes, a part of the fine-tuning to move from ICD-9 to ICD-10.

Virtually the entire health care system — Medicare, Medicaid, private insurers, hospitals, doctors and various middlemen — will switch to a new set of computerized codes used for determining what ailments patients have and how much they and their insurers should pay for a specific treatment.

Some doctors and health care information technology specialists fear major disruptions to health care delivery if the new coding system — also heavily computer-reliant — isn’t put in place properly. They are pushing for a delay of the scheduled start date of Oct. 1, 2014 — or at least more testing beforehand. "If you don’t code properly, you don’t get paid,” said Dr. W. Jeff Terry, a urologist in Mobile, Ala., who is one of those who thinks staffs and computer systems, particularly in small medical practices, will not be ready in time. “It’s going to put a lot of doctors out of business."

ICD-10 has already had a one-year extension for its deadline. It was supposed to be supported by Oct. 1 of this year. HP 3000 managers didn't have that kind of deadline-extending option as 1999 ran out. But they've had postponing options for their migration projects, and they've used them. Migrations off MPE are probably the only thing that could outstrip the resource levels needed to succeed at Y2K.

The Y2K story was a success story, perhaps the most shining moment of the HP 3000's history aside from going from 16-bit to 32-bit with PA-RISC without rewriting applications. Y2K was feared, misunderstood, and exploited by competitors who'd already engineered four-digit dates. Windows comes to mind; MPE was among a wave of computers that had suffered from comparisons to those low-priced alternatives. But the independent software vendors created tool after tool to help MPE/iX make it to 2000. And COBOL programmers, who'd become specters in the years since their software went to work, found themselves back in demand and in the spotlight.

The HP 3000 and its community had been serving crucial industries such as healthcare for more than two decades by the time Y2K arrived on the horizon. Established, older systems needed new hope and some re-engineering. Experts who still work on HP 3000s brought in-house and off-the-shelf software into the future. We asked some what they'd be doing at midnight of Dec. 31, 1999. Most had plans to stay close to the phone.

It’s entertaining, in a horror-flick kind of way, to consider that Y2K is an Extinction Level Event. But it’s a lot more likely to be like a snow day at school, maybe a snow week. I haven’t talked to a programmer yet who plans to fly over the New Year. Lots of them plan to be working, though. While a few programmers are stockpiling canned goods, buying armored Hum-Vees and digging shelters, most of them have been digging into programs to get things fixed. Technical experts with a respect for society aren’t worried about the end of this year. They won’t predict what will happen, but only that we’ll survive. The safest prediction? Some great prices on canned goods and used survival gear by the end of January.

As you're toasting 2014 tonight, and saying goodbye to 2013, take a moment to recall how collective work and respect for mature skills made January 1, 2000 a safe morning for information technology -- and the world which relied upon it. Some of the 3000's migrated healthcare information customers will be facing a similar deadline, based on a date. Amisys/3000 became Amisys Open while the vendor moved off 3000s. Now the customers are hoping ICD will have the same kind of ending as Y2K.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:07 PM in History, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 23, 2013

2013 makes a new migration definition

GoldfishmigrationsIn our interview with Allegro's Stan Sieler, we asked the veteran developer what has changed about 3000 options for the future. His answer identified a significant shift in the definition of migration. He also spoke about Allegro's own season of considering an emulator project, the tech challenges that will be outside of the system's capability, and how his practice of magic has shaped his exemplary technical career. On the occasion of his 30th year with Allegro Consultants, we spoke via iPad in November, just as the US was switching to back off Daylight Saving Time.

In the first year after HP's 3000 announcement, there were a list of options of what could happen to the community over the decade to come. Is there anything new on that list?

There are the same options but with one difference. Migration means something different now. It's not migrating your app with a 3000 lookalike shell on a Unix machine. It's migrating to Stromasys. It's a variation of 3000 Forever.

We still see people coming out of the woodwork that we've never heard of, using 918s, 928s or newer machines. They have no intention of leaving because they have no funding to leave, and now they've encountered a problem and they're reaching out to the rest of the community. We see people who tend to be on bigger machines, who are either running into limitations, or they're worried about the continued maintainability of the hardware. They are looking at high-end Stromasys solutions.

More than a decade ago, Allegro was considering the prospect of creating its own HP 3000 emulator. The issues involved HP's permission, the economics of creating a product, and more. What happened?

We were concerned that at the time, in addition to not yet having HP permission, that we'd face potential legal action if we did anything. We didn't want to open that door to HP. I kind of regret that now, because I would have approached an emulator a little differently than Stromasys, and I think that might have had some payoffs. 

We've certainly reached out to Stromasys several times to help them with performance limitations that they're encountering with their implementation. I'm hoping that with some of the other 3000 vendors in the process, they may be able to put economic arguments in place that will help convince Stromasys to still pursue that help.

What do you think of the prospects for this emulator making a lot of difference for customers staying on the HP 3000?

I think if they can solve their high-end performance challenges, then they might be able to make some big sales to those kinds of customers. The problem: I don't know how many of those people there are.

It's true: managers are moving off the 3000, and so are moving away from IMAGE. Out of all the SQL databases you've seen, which one is the smoothest in replicating what IMAGE does for MPE apps?

Eloquence. I really like Eloquence. Michael [Marxmeier] has done amazing things with it. Tech support from him is immediate and reliable. He doesn't have problems with you publishing benchmarks. Eloquence has a lot of nice features in it. It has more features than any other SQL database — plus the IMAGE compatibility. It's a win-win situation, it seems to me. 

Do you consider the 3000 has always had a tech boat anchor that made it obvious HP would leave it behind? Is it the equivalent of an unsupported system by now?

It's certainly true about CPU speed and amount of memory, stuff like that. That doesn't mean it won't run perfectly fine.

Are there a set of new tech challenges the 3000 is never going to meet, important challenges?

That would imply that this is going to be a new product you write, and nobody is ever going to write a new product for the HP 3000. If you are doing a new application, it's probably going to talk to a database. Almost anyone you hire will know how to do SQL stuff, not IMAGE stuff. It's just too far behind the times for a new application.

Of all the many projects you're worked on, which stand out at the most fun for you?

For projects, creating SPLash!. I worked with Jacques van Damme. In the very early days, Jason Goertz was helping out. But I remember sitting with Jacques in the HP Migration Center and there was a LaserJet sitting there between us. We had Post-It notes that said things like "tree building" or "generate code." Each was a name of the 20 modules that made up SPLash!. Our source code control system was that if you wanted to modify something, you took the Post-It note off the printer and put it on your terminal. It worked well because you had instant communication with the other developer.

There was that, and then our work with Alfredo Rego on repacking detail datasets. That was Steve and me working with Alfredo, and to some extent Fred White. That was something where data integrity was of absolute importance. Yet it still had a lot of opportunity for using interesting technology, doing things efficiently and fast. 

How do you think practicing magic over the last 15 has had an impact on how you approach your day job?

I've always tried to think outside the box, and with magic it's easier to do. If you're developing a magic effect, you tend to look at the end result and work backwards. That the way I've done a lot of my 3000 stuff — like when I think I was the first person to propose intercepting disk IOs  — I remember sitting down with Joerg Groessler and outlining how it could be done. And so basically giving him the idea for the online backup on the Classic HP 3000s. You could do it behind the operating system's back by intercepting disk IOs.

You don't start out by saying, "what can I do, and where will that lead?" You take the end result, intercepting disk IOs, and work backwards. Sometimes that's the same thing with magic. You say "I want you to be able to look at the card in your hand and see it's not the card you thought it was, but it's a different back, and a bigger card than you thought it was." 

Sometimes a technique comes out for the 3000 and you think of what you can do with them. Like procedure exits came out, and you say, "What can I do with these things?"

If you could talk to the Stan of 30 years ago, what would you tell him to pay attention to?

[Laughing] Buying Apple stock. I would say pay more attention to the Internet and how to link computers together. About 20 years ago, my ophthalmologist asked me where the future of computers is going. I said the future is with computers working together. And I think that's still the answer. We're beginning to get there, but we're not there enough yet. I can't leave this iPad and walk over to my desktop, and resume this conversation yet, like nothing has changed.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:34 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 20, 2013

Climbing a Tech Ladder to Newer Interests

When Allegro's Stan Sieler announced he'd completed 30 years of employment at the firm, it seemed to spark our curiousity about how things have changed over that period for the creator of so much MPE software -- and parts of IMAGE/SQL, for that matter.

StanMugHe joined HP in 1977, after working on Burroughs systems. Over the years both with HP, and then later, he’s left many fingerprints on the 3000 identity. He proposed multithreading that HP finally implemented for DBPUTs and DELETEs. Wrote STORE on the Classic 3000s, plus can see various aspects of MPE/iX because of his work on the HPE operating system [the MPE/XL predecessor using an instruction set called Vision] before he left HP. A lot of the process management stuff that was his code is still running today. Sieler assisted on Large Files. IMAGE/3000 on the classic systems has intrinsic-level recovery he designed. A week after he left HP, they canceled the Vision project and ported 95 percent of his work to MPE/XL.  

Then came the Allegro work during the era when the 3000 division called the company Cupertino East: Jumbo datasets in IMAGE/SQL. Master dataset expansion. B-trees. By that time he was already in the Interex User Group Hall of Fame. We interviewed him for the Q&A in our November printed issue, and spoke via Skype. Stan used his iPad for the chat.

Second of three parts

How are you coming to terms with being really well-versed with a work that fewer people not only know about, but even use?

Yes, that’s a hard question. I know the two places I’d go if I wasn’t doing Allegro anymore. In both places I think I’d be applying knowledge I’ve learned. It may not specifically be MPE, but it’s things like being careful about maintaining data structures of filesystem and the users’ data. These are lessons we’ve learned for 34 years on the HP machine. I think as we get older, we ought to be able to go up the technical ladder. The problem is that there isn’t enough of a ladder, in most places.

What makes the higher rungs of the corporate ladder hard to reach for someone who’s as experienced as you?

I have a friend who’s a fellow magician, and a senior scientist at Apple. I eat in their cafeteria and we talk magic, and I look around and they’re all young enough to be my kids, except for a smattering of people. He agrees that Apple needs more older people, because we’ll point to things and say, “See this? That shouldn’t have happened. We saw that kind of problem 20 years ago. We’d know better than to do that.”  Apple is one place I think I’d want to work, except I don’t think I could stomach their policies. I could see going to Google, too.

My dream job? Being CTO of Tivo. They have the best DVR, and it’s crap. But everyone else’s is worse. It’s so easy to look at theirs and say they could do this and this better, and they haven’t. I’d like to improve it, so I could use it. It’s a lot like the 3000. A lot of the things I’ve helped push over the years are things that I wanted: The ability to properly handle bigger disk drives, and things like that. But sometimes you don’t get your way

What is the current mix of MPE work in your week, versus all other work?

It varies from day to day, and sometimes it’s hard to tell, because there are a few things that I do that run on MPE as well as HP-UX, three or four products plus a couple of internal tools that run on both platforms. There there are things like Rosetta — where all of the work is done off the 3000, but it’s supporting reading from STORE tapes, so it’s 3000-related. But definitely more than half of the work I do is off the 3000. We’ve got a proposal or two out to enhance our 3000 X-Over tape-copying product for them, and then we could use the enhancements ourselves. We’ve identified a relatively major new feature we could add.

People can see Apple seems to be losing its steam. Does it seem like an echo of what happened to HP and the 3000 in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s?

I remember when HP was first abandoning the 3000 in favor of Unix. To some extent, Apple’s doing the same thing with touch computing and changes for the interface on the Mac to be more tablet-like. Also, Apple is putting in more restrictions on what your apps can do if you buy through the App Store. In terms of hardware, Apple’s very quick to roll things over. At least with the 3000, things tended to be backward-compatible for a lot longer time. You didn’t really have a problem with a new version of an OS using more resources and rendering the older machines useless.

On the flip side, a lot like the 3000 came out with the A-Class machines and you’d ignore their crippling, that was pretty cool hardware. Apple’s doing the same kind of leap. I used to bring people into the office to see my Mac Pro, and I’d say, “this is technology aliens dropped down to Earth, it’s so advanced.” The Mac Pro black tower? That’s a more advanced race of aliens.

HP’s been through more than a decade now of no futures for the 3000. How much worse has that been for you than the decade leading up to the 2001 announcement? What have we really lost?

It’s a lot worse in terms of number of customers, income, the ability to fund doing interesting projects. That’s why we’ve branched out to do other things. 

Do you handle Unix support calls, for example?

Allegro does. I tend to get pulled in when they’re hard problems. Same thing goes for the 3000, where I tend to not handle the frontline call. 

For next time: redefining 3000 migration, Allegro's emulation considerations, and how practicing magic can impact a tech career.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:19 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 10, 2013

Google's doodle touts COBOL's relevance

Google COBOL DoodleYesterday was the 107th anniversary of the birth for Dr. Grace Hopper, inventor of the world's most widely distributed business language. That's COBOL, which might puzzle Millennials who manage the world's IT. COBOL's historic ranking won't surprise anyone who earned IT stripes in MPE, of course.

DrGraceHopper worked in the US military before her years developing what we call Common Business-Oriented Language. The US Department of Defense provided shelter for researching what we now call the Internet, another technology that's going to have a lifespan longer than its creators'. Dr. Hopper died on New Year's Day 1992, by which time 30 universities had presented her with honorary degrees.  From 1959 to 1961, Hopper led the team that invented COBOL at Remington Rand, a company that swelled in size while it built 45-caliber pistols during WW II.

The last COBOL compiler ever developed for the HP 3000 didn't come from its system creator Hewlett-Packard and its language labs. Acucorp created a version of its AcuCOBOL in 2001 that understood MPE/iX and IMAGE nuances. Bad timing, of course, given the business-oriented decision HP made about the 3000 later that year. But while Acucorp eventually became a cog in the Micro Focus COBOL machine, there are still Acucorp voices out there in the IT market. And they speak a business argot that's being celebrated now in this holiday season.

Micro Focus has been posting a 12 Days of COBOL feature on its website this month. One of the alerts to the information -- which points at new COBOL capabilities and features -- came from Jackie Anglin, the long-time media coordinator for Transoft. She joined Micro Focus several years ago after her service to migration-transformation supplier Transoft.

The 12 Days items on the Micro Focus blog were up to No. 9 as of yesterday.

Say 'hello' to 21st Century COBOL

COBOL hasn't lasted this long by standing still. As well as its rich OO extensions, take a look at the new XML, SQL and Unicode features in Visual COBOL. They’re there to help you bring apps bang up to date with industry standards.

Migration-bound IT directors might roll their eyes at any message that COBOL is keeping up with newer languages. But according to the online technical publisher Safari Books -- where the ultimate MPE/iX administrator's book is still for sale -- COBOL rules an overwhelming share of the world's information for business. "Applications managing about 85 percent of the world's business data are written in COBOL," it reports on a listing for COBOL for the 21st Century.

Micro Focus likes to say that 35 percent of all new business application development is written in COBOL. That fact may not be as objective as Gartner's 85-percent figure -- but even if it's close, Dr. Hopper should be toasted this week. Few inventions have retained their relevance for more than a half-century, especially ones that are based entirely on brainpower. Dr. Hopper dismantled seven clocks in her home before the age of seven. She also set a language to ticking that hasn't run out of time yet.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:56 AM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 03, 2013

When MPE's Experts Vied at Trivial Pursuit

Pursuit1As the range of expertise on MPE and the 3000 continues to wane, it's fun to revisit a time when knowing commands could make you a leader in a community. The archives of the Newswire run rich into an era before MPE's RISC version, when MPE V was the common coin of data commerce. In those times, regional user group members gathered in person once a year. One such group, the Southern California Regional User Group (SCRUG) mounted a conference so elaborate that it hosted its own Trivial Pursuit version for MPE. Six months before anybody could boot up a PA-RISC 3000, I reported on a showdown between the leading lights in March, 1987 -- a contest moderated by Eugene Volokh in his heartland of SoCal.

PASADENA, Calif. -- It took 10 of the sharpest wits in the HP world to provide it, but entertainment at the SCRUG conference here became a trivial matter for an hour. The prizes were limited to bragging rights, laughter from insiders, and a useless bit of plastic which everybody had and nobody needed.

PursuitwriteringsVesoft's Eugene Volokh moderated the first all-star HP Trivial Pursuit at the conference, as nine top programmers matched wits with each other and Volokh's list of questions. Correct answers drew a small, round reward: mag tape write rings. "Because," said Volokh, "there is no other use for them."

Pursuit 2Competing on four different teams were some of the better-known names from HP's history. Adager's Fred White and Robelle's Bob Green were on hand; local developer Bruce Toback of OPT and Bradmark's David Merit represented the Southern California contingent; Fastran's Nick Demos was on hand from the East Coast, along with Vesoft's Vladimir Volokh adding his Russian wit; and SPLash savants Stan Sieler, Steve Cooper and Jason Goertz made a prominent showing from Allegro and Software Research Northwest.

The questions, like all good trivia, covered HP's most arcane and obscure knowledge of the 3000's OS. Several stumped the teams. For example, "What's the highest alphabetical MPE command, with A as the lowest and Z as the highest?" Green offered VINIT as an answer, but he was told WELCOME was correct.

"No fair," Green said in protest. "They didn't have that one when I started on the 3000."

There were others more obscure, but less difficult for the panel. The product number of MPE (HP 32002). The distinguishing feature of the 2641 terminals (an APL command set) and the product which preceeded V/3000 (DEL/3000, for Data Entry Language).

Non-technical trivia was also included. One that had to be answered by the audience was "What does the HP stand for in HP Steak Sauce?" (House of Parliament). And on one question, Eugene himself was humbled by an overlooked answer. He'd asked what four MPE commands can only be executed by the file's creator. The panel found RELEASE, RENAME, ALTSEC and SECURE. But a crowd member said, "There's one more."

"One more?" said Volokh.

"Think about it -- BUILD," came the reply from the crowd.

HP's history offered some political wit in one question. After asking what post David Packard held in the US government (Assistant Secretary of Defense) Volokh added, "and what years did he serve?"

Green, a Canadian, quipped back "In the Nixon administration, which was too long, to be sure."

As the laughs subsided, the Soviet-born US citizen-moderator chided back, "Now, we'll not have foreigners commenting on our government."

But it was an exchange including father and son of that Volokh family that showed the beneficial byproduct of the contest -- expanding the knowledge of HP's engineering roots. Eugene asked the panel, "What is the earliest date of the century the DATELINE intrinsic works with?" A first answer came from the panel, and then Vladimir answered with March 1, 1900.

His son then gave the correct answer: Feb. 29, 1900. "It incorrectly assumes that 1900 was a leap year," Eugene said. "I should know, since Feb. 29 is my birthday."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:06 PM in Hidden Value, History | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 15, 2013

Newer-comers looked forward for us all

Yesterday I wrote about the group of companies who supported this publication at the time of Hewlett-Packard's November 2001 pullout from the 3000 -- and how many of them have survived that numbskull HP strategy. I don't want to overlook another set of stout community members -- those who showed up to help out and spread the word on keeping up with 3000s, well after HP said the party was supposed to be over.

Pivital SolutionsPivital Solutions comes to mind first. They were HP 3000 official resellers, the last ones to claim a spot for that, more than a year after HP pulled out of the futures business. Started print advertising, became sponsors of the Newswire's blog. All to freshen up our world with another resource to keep 3000s online, running long after HP figured the ecosystem would become toxic.

ScreenJet Logo MarxmeierLogo
I'd also like to tip my hat to ScreenJet, another supporter who arrived in our media after November 2001. First in print, then as one of three founding sponsors of the Newswire blog. With a blog not being a thriving commercial concept in 2005, ScreenJet, Marxmeier Software and Robelle were first to the table to ensure we could afford to report and tell stories online as our primary communication. Robelle was with us from our very first year in print, but ScreenJet and Marxmeier joined in after HP said there was no future in 3000s.

Applied Tech logoAnother new face has been Applied Technologies, a modest consultancy which has been a source of articles as well as financial support. You can get surprised by such good things that happen in the wake of something challenging -- like humanitarian acts in the face of natural disasters. If you clicked on a link to help typhoon victims over the last week, you're that kind of person.

Add to this list of newer-comers here the MPE Support Group, Transoft, DB-Net, Unicon, Allegro Consultants, Can-Am Software, Bradmark, Viking Software, Acucorp, PIR Group, Comp Three, Ordina Denkart, ROC Software, Blueline Services, Core Software, Printer Systems International, Tally Printer, Managed Business Solutions. All arrived after November 14, 2001. Honestly, the list of companies who've been part of our community by supporting the Newswire, whether for one month or for 216, is long. At our last count there have been 146 companies who've had enough of a yearning for the 3000 that they'd be a part of our blog or print issues.

I'm grateful for every one of those commitments, gestures of looking forward for us all -- to a future of deep changes, or to a tomorrow that preserves the heritage of our yesterdays. This will be the last year I'll recall that sudden dagger of November 2001 with a story and an essay. If you want more stories of that day, leave yours to the comments fields below, or send them along via email.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:35 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 14, 2013

4,383 days for an ecosystem to slip, survive

FlyingpagesIt's November 14 once again, a date plenty of people don't consider special. I was part of a telephone-only CAMUS user group meeting today. While we chatted before our meet began, I asked if anyone knew the significance of the date. It took a few minutes of hinting before someone -- Cortlandt Wilson of Cortsoft -- said this was the day HP ended its future vision for a 3000 business.

At the time HP said it was worried about the fate of the MPE and 3000 ecosystem. It had good reason to worry. It was about to send a shock wave that would knock out many denizens in that ecosystem. The losses to customers can be counted many ways, and we have done that every year since that fateful day. This is the 12th story I've written about the anniversary of the HP exit. The day remains important to me when I count up what's been pushed to extinction, and what has survived. 

2001 VendorsCompanies come to mind this year. The photo at right shows the vendor lineup for our printed November 3000 Newswire in 2001. (Click it for details.) It was a healthy month, but not extraordinary. Almost 30 vendors, including three in our FlashPaper, had enough 3000 business to make budget to advertise. We'll get to the ones who remain in business after a dozen years. But let's call the roll to see what HP's ecosystem exit pruned or hacked away.

3KWorld.com was a worldwide 3000 website operated by Client Systems. It was large enough to draw its own advertising and used all of the content of the Newswire under a license agreement. It's gone. Client Systems has hung on, though.

Advanced Network Systems (web software circa 2001) and Design 3000 (job scheduling) and Epic Systems (hardware resales) are all gone, too. Interex went out of business in 2005 in a sudden bankruptcy; OmniSolutions (MPE interface software) and TechGroup (consulting) and WhisperTech (a programmer's suite) and COBOL JobShop (programmer services) are all gone, too.

Believe it or not, out of a list of 29, those are the only complete extinctions. Some of the rest have changed their colors like a chameleon, blending into the IT business of 2013. And many have gotten too pared down to consider the broad business outreach they felt confident about in 2001.

Still serving under their same flag after all these years? Count on 3K Associates, Adager, Computer Solutions, Genisys, Lund Performance Solutions, MB Foster, Minisoft, Nobix, Open Seas, Orbit Software, RAC Consulting, Robelle, ROC Software, Robust Systems, and The Support Group.

A few others have evolved but remain alive after being absorbed. WRQ is now deep inside Attachmate, so deep the WRQ name is no longer part of the corporation. Quest Software slipped into Dell this year. Both of these acquired companies still sell, or support, MPE clients. The same is true of Speedware, which rebranded as Fresche Legacy while it's now honing in on IBM AS/400 clients.

And then there's Hewlett-Packard. Ah, the hand that threw the switch that sent a shock to the ecosystem. Within six months of November 14, the dominant Compaq managers were led by a CEO in her third year to erase HP's Way. Bill Hewlett's son Walter lost a proxy fight so legendary that it's the example used on the Wikipedia entry for proxy fight.

It's coincidental that the departure of 3000 products from HP's future happened at the same time as the vendor's decade-plus slide. The company has reported profits each year. HP became Number 1 in sales by adding billions in PC business. But the rest of the company's heritage has become a specter. Some community members take some bitter solace in knowing that the HP which believed in their computer died its own death less than a year later in a courtroom, where that proxy fight had its finale.

People must weather change as a regular part of life. One friend of mine took note a personal shift in business opportunity, on the heels of a decline, and uttered the prayer of the pivoting hopeful player: "The only constant is indeed change."

The tally of 3000 pros and resources pushed into extinction after these 12 years isn't limited to the Newswire's November 2001 lineup. Other extinguished companies from the Interex side include Hi Comp (backup software) plus the lineup of Interex conferences including HP World, the HP e3000 Solutions Symposium, and one of the hardest-working technical meetings, SIG/3000. A meeting in person is a high-risk opportunity to learn and grow. The Web filled in, at a rate we couldn't imagine in 2001.

Nov 14 01 coverOh, the irony of that November. We wrote a lead story for our Flash Paper that reported a record month for 3000 sales at the US distributor of the server. We then had to fold over another sheet of paper at presstime, an Extra, to explain that HP said it only started a two-year period of "business as usual," to quote the impossible spin of the vendor's marketing chief. "There really was no other choice," said the company's general manager of the time about the exit scheme.

There was another choice, but HP didn't make it for the 3000. Get over it, or forget it, or take the time to make a good transition -- these were all responses that changed tens of thousands of lives and careers. We don't know of many people who left IT altogether for another career since then. Some have retired, or at least planned to do so.

Through those dozen years I've tried to put the most reasonable face on the inevitable trend that HP started. The vendor said its decision to talk about its walkout on this market was "about concluding it's time to advise customers about the long-term trend." It's certainly been a longer term than HP could imagine in 2001. More than twice as long if the remaining vendors and customers count for anything. I believe they do -- representing sage management of a resource, or the prospect for a transition-migration services company and vendors of products for the same.

If 20 out of those 29 advertising partners are still in business, the impact of that trend is limited to what two-thirds of them have done next, or what they've done with what's left. Downsized with layoffs and canceled projects. Consolidated product lines and froze enhancements. Launched new products into different, crowded markets. Found a buyer or a senior partner to infuse cash and new commerce in a new direction. Timed their own exit with enough fortune to retire.

Unlike these companies -- some so small their operating budget wouldn't buy coffee service for a single HP sales region -- Hewlett-Packard didn't want to be the last person to leave the MPE party. Lead onward to Unix, it figured, telling customers on Transition Day No. 1 that free licenses for HP-UX were available. Six years later, according to Dr. Robert Boers of 3000 emulator vendor Stromasys, HP told them that 75 percent of former 3000 owners were using something other than HP servers.

It's a story with potential to be a rousing case study by business graduates, the exit of a vendor that could bank on more than 25 years of business selling a proprietary product. But it can be debated that a simple roll call of survivors tells just the most public part of the story. The career changes and chameleon shifts, the evolution of the elder generation of computer wizards can only be told one story at a time. If there are any less than 4,383 stories like that to tell, I'd be surprised. But we've all lived though a dozen years of surprises throughout that inevitable trend. I'm still here to tell stories, about survival as well as slippage. Try to permit next year's November -- the 40th year of MPE -- contain a memory of the day your ecosystem changed.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:37 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 11, 2013

Emulator's transfers trigger shopping fees

Shopping cartAt the IT shop up at Boeing, Enterprise Hosting Services manager Ray Legault reports that he's getting quotes for the transfer of his MPE/iX software licenses to the Stromasys CHARON emulator. At the end of the process, the HP 3000s that have been running at Boeing in Legault's shop will have their ERP software transferred to an Intel-based server -- one which boots up and runs the 3000's OS and all subsystems.

HP's end of the process is well-defined and costs $432. The Software License Transfer request form requires information including

• Current License Owner details
• New License Owner details
• Proof of Ownership (SAID)
• List of Licenses to be transferred
• SLT fee payment information 
• Current Owner signature relinquishing ownership 

HP also requires the 3000 owner to sign their own SLT form, as the New License Owner. "Once the full documentation is received, we will aim to process your request within 10 business days," said the confirming email from the SLT operation. In spite of the fact that a 3000 owner already has paid for an MPE/iX license, the fee still applies.

That's the last segment of the process with certain costs for licensing. Legault has been looking into his independent software vendor list to discover what each will charge to run on the emulator.

"I think we are too late in the year to get the hardware needed," Legault told us today. "We may get the software, though." Since Cognos software runs at Boeing, Legault has contacted them about a transfer fee. Cognos, now a division of IBM, said "they wanted to know how many cores we will use," Legault added.

Cognos -- where the director of sales is Charlie Maloney -- might care about is how many HP 3000 CPUs are being emulated. The PowerHouse user license is totally independent of the machine it's running on. Maloney has offered to help out any user who is having problems getting pricing from their local [IBM] reps. There are supposed to be relatively new licensing options, which not all IBM reps might know about.

While one other vendor has already hit the highest mark for transfer fee demands, Legault added that Robelle and RAC Consulting (makers of ESPUL) "will charge zero, for being a long time customer." Maintaining relations with reasonable companies -- which might involve keeping up support contracts -- will earn a customer that kind of consideration.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:04 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 31, 2013

Looking Forward from a Peaceful Wake

RadFFFB2

Ten years ago today, scores of HP 3000 users, managers, vendors and devotees gathered in pubs, cafes, back yards and offices to celebrate the end of something: HP's finale to creating new HP 3000 servers.

On our separate photo gallery page, we've collected some images of that day. But the people in those pictures were holding a wake for Hewlett-Packard's 3000s (and a few for MPE/iX). Even today, it's hard to make a case that the server actually died on Halloween of 2003. What ended was the belief that HP would build any more 3000s. 

I cheated deathThe gatherings ranged from "The Ship" in Wokingham in the UK, to Vernazza, Italy, to Texada Island off British Columbia, to Melbourne, to the Carribbean's Anguilla, and to a backyard BBQ in Austin -- where a decommissioned 3000 system printer and put-aside tape drives sat beside the grill. At a typically warm end of October, the offices of The Support Group gave us a way to gather and mourn a death -- the official passing of any hope of ever seeing a new HP 3000 for sale from Hewlett-Packard.

Company employees chatted with several MANMAN customers under those Austin oaks, along with a few visitors from the local 3000 community. Winston Krieger, whose experience with the 3000 goes back to the system’s roots and even further, into its HP 2100 predecessor, brought several thick notebook binders with vintage brochures, documentation, technical papers and news clippings.

HP, as well as the full complement of those October customers continued to use the server during November. And while the creator of the Wake concept Alan Yeo of ScreenJet said, "the date does sort of mark a point of no return, and it will be sad," Birket Foster had his own view of what just happened.

“The patient’s not dead yet," he said at the time, "but we did pass a milestone.”

One software vendor announced new products at the gathering. Steve Quinn of eXegySys said that "We will not be mourning the death of the HP3000 as much as celebrating the birth of two new products." Both ran on Windows but had deep roots in MPE. Almost 40 people signed in at the company's HQ in Salt Lake City.

The Wake drew the interest of mainstream media in the US and the UK, including some of the first notice from the business press in several years. But no outlets devoted mainline coverage to the impressive array of parties and commemorations; instead, Web-based reports of the Wake appeared from print publishers and ABC News. The Wall Street Journal, Computerworld and the website The Register also reported on HP’s end of sales. 

On the website where Yeo first hosted the photos, Gary Stead of the UK reported in a note he was "looking for a job 1st Nov!" 

But Duane Percox, Doug Perry, Steve Cooper, Rick Ehrhart, Ric Goldman, Mark Slater, John Korondy, Tom McNeal, and Stan Sieler joined HP’s Cathlene Mcrae,  Mike Paivinen, Peggy Ruse, Jeff Vance and Dave Wilde to raise glasses in salute at the pub The Dukes, just down the street from HP’s MPE labs. Everybody went back to work on 3000s the next day.

Quinn of eXegySys said his company's new products, while running on non-3000 servers, "both extend far beyond the capabilities of their forefathers." The same can be said of everyone who attended a wake for an HP Way business and an ideal. Moving onward is natural in a lifecycle. The Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu said "New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:06 AM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 30, 2013

Marking Moments on Wake Anniversary Eve

AfterlifeT-shirtIn about six hours or so, the HP 3000 community might pause to commemorate one of its last collective acts. Ten years ago the World Wide Wake, organized by event ringleader Alan Yeo, invited members in dozens of locations throughout the world to lift a glass and salute the end of HP's manufacturing of the HP 3000 computer. MPE/iX would be recrafted and revised for another five years, but Oct. 31, 2003 was the last day customers could order a new HP-badged 3000.

At the time we invited a director of the Interex User Group, Denys Beauchemin, to offer a confirmation about the success of the system and record the aftermath of HP's departure. He did so in our Open Mike column in the November printed issue of the NewsWire. (It would be almost two years before we'd start up this blog.) It's fun to track the predictions in that column. Beauchemin, heading up a group that itself would remain open just another 20 months, collected sentiments from community notables including the late, great Wirt Atmar, who would pass away a little more than five years later.

Wirt outlived HP's 3000 business, right down to the closing of its MPE labs at the end of 2008. Unless you're reading this from the blazing-fast Google Fiber of the afterlife, you've also outlived the end of HP's 3000 saga. For HP computer users whose systems are facing an end of manufacture, the following is educational. It's memorable for migrators to revisit that time of reflection, too, and see if anything resonates in today's platform ownership.

Please leave a comment below to share your own story of the 10 years that have followed this anniversary. Or email one to me to tell your tale of what has followed the Wake.

By Denys Beauchemin

On All Hallows Eve of the year 2003, an historic event took place without fanfare and virtually ignored by the vast population at large. Only the cognoscenti will mourn the passing into computer history of the HP e3000, née HP 3000. This magnificent machine, which would be marking its thirty-first year of existence next month, is instead disappearing from the list of HP computer products. End of Sales for the HP 3000 is now upon us.

I was first introduced to the HP 3000 in 1977 somewhere in New Hampshire. At that time I was working in Montreal on an HP 21MX designing and programming applications in a timesharing bureau. I immediately took a liking to the HP 3000, transitioned jobs to be able to work on one and joined the users group for the first time. Over the years wherever I worked, there was always an HP 3000 in my environment. The HP 3000 has been part of my career almost from the beginning. Its passing fills me with melancholy, and whilst I had not been doing as much with it these last several years, I could always count on it being there, adding new capabilities along the way. This is true no more.

I asked a few luminaries of this long-lived computing environment to reflect on the machine, its passing and perhaps to shed some light on this event and what its effect might be.

“A great IT platform: reliable, affordable, flexible, easy to operate, and easy to program. And every release compatible with the previous for over 30 years. Perhaps some future OS team will adopt these same goals.” — Bob Green, Robelle

“The HP 3000 has been one of very few computers with a very important property: it lets people get things done. Because of that, it’s been my primary professional focus for the last 24 years, and hopefully for many years to come. Its cancellation was the straw that broke the camel’s back in my regard for, and trust in, HP as a company.” — Stan Sieler, Executive Vice President, Allegro Consultants. [Ed. note: Sieler marked his 30th anniversary at Allegro this month.]

“One of the worst things a hardware company (which subsequently develops some excellent software) can do to that software is to support it as if it were hardware. The 3000 was a victim of such treatment. RIP.” — Fred White, Co-creator of IMAGE

“My association with Hewlett-Packard began in 1963, when I was first introduced to extraordinary quality of HP instruments. Our official association with MPE began in 1976, and it too represented to me the very highest ideals of quality engineering. MPE was a magnificent operating system, simple, stable and extraordinarily efficient. The death of MPE concerns me greatly about the future of HP itself, not because MPE was ever a substantial contributor to HP’s bottom line, but because its death is indicative of the kind of company that HP is now casting itself as: a manufacturer of commodity products, having wedged itself in between Dell and IBM, a virtually unsustainable niche. I have come to believe that the most likely scenario now for the future of HP is for HP to be bought by Dell in three to seven years, just for the printer division, with the remainder of the organization either sold off or disposed of. If true, that’s a sad end for a company with which I’ve proudly had a life-long association.” — Wirt Atmar, AICS Research, Inc.

“When HP announced that it was no longer in HP’s best interest to continue with the HP 3000, my reaction was one of joy. I believed that — once HP was out of the HP 3000’s way — MPE-IMAGE would be able to prosper ‘under new management’. HP, unfortunately, had other ideas. Be it as it may, I feel a tremendous amount of loyalty towards MPE-IMAGE users and, as HP’s MPE-savvy people dwindle, I keep adding more and more items to my to-do list. I love IMAGE and I continue to work, on a full-time basis, searching for ways to make the lives of TurboIMAGE users as rewarding as possible.” — F. Alfredo Rego, Adager.

“The HP 3000 has been my business companion for 26 years, providing continuity for my COBOL application development. It enabled my company to become an international solution provider and its tragic demise is a reminder of my own mortality on this earth. May the spirit of MPE live on forever in the user community it leaves behind. I believe that inside every HP 9000 there is an HP 3000 waiting to be released after October 2003.” — Jeanette Nutsford, Computometric Systems Ltd, New Zealand/UK/USA

“I came from an IBM mainframe background and then started working on the HP 3000 at HP as a Systems Engineer on the Series II in 1976. I knew I had gone to heaven when I could use a terminal to do compiles and queries in a very short time and on-line with a very user friendly operating system, MPE. Times were good then in the user community because everyone was in a learning mode and helped each other. Times have changed and we must now move on to new challenges. I really miss the good old days but am glad to have met a great circle of friends along the way!” — Paul Edwards, Paul Edwards & Associates.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:36 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 16, 2013

For almost all, not the first time to migrate

A recent talk with ScreenJet's Alan Yeo shed some light on the migration process for 3000 owners. Our era is not the first time anybody has made a migration in the 3000 world. This one is different, however, from the transition the entire community performed about 25 years ago. That was an era when HP rolled out radically new hardware, but had engineered a way to carry program code forward. There was work, however, that everyone had to do.

Migration Made EasyIn the fall of 1988, moving from MPE V to MPE XL was being called a migration. In the same way that today's migrations are being shaped as transitions or modernizations, the migration of MPE V systems to a new OS was attempting to avoid being labeled a conversion. Big work, that conversion stuff. Migration, by everybody's measure this year, is bigger stuff than replacing an app while moving off a 3000.

Yeo said this month that a customer of his had already made their migration once -- a "proper migration" if you can imagine the British accent -- and was returning to do another migration. "They're happy they migrated, because they now know that they can," he said. Yeo estimated that about one in every five companies that have left have done this proper migration -- which means keeping business logic and lot of MPE code in hand during the move.

Today's strategy for migrating has much in common with what 3000 owners were doing in 1988, the time when MPE XL was first coming online at customer sites. Victoria Shoemaker of Taurus Software wrote an article in the HP Chronicle that month called From MPE V to MPE XL: Migration Made Easy. Her seven steps make up that year's proper migration: Education; analysis; developing a migration plan; MPE/V conversion; installation of HP-PA RISC machines; Compatibility Mode operation; Migration to Native Mode operation. 

How familiar does this paragraph sound, based on today's advice?

Planning is the single most important element of your migration. Regardless of how many applications that run in your shop, how many machines you have, how much third-party software you run, your migration's success depends on how well you have planned it. Spend the time to plan. It pays off.

There are some differences between the advice you can check out in the PDF of that archive article from the HP Chronicle versus the counsel you'll get today. In late '88 there was not much of a thriving market of experts who were selling professional services for getting onto a new hardware platform with a new OS. HP set up Migration Centers in five US cities, plus one in Germany. You'd bring in code and run it on the new Series 900 HP 3000 system, then resolve errors and get time to do rewriting as needed. The centers even included shredders, so your sensitive data and coding wouldn't be compromised.

But nobody inside HP was doing that work. And travel with your tapes and printed code was essential to using that help. You'd apply for some time on some very new computers, and an even newer OS. The timesharing era wasn't that far in the past. It didn't seem a tremendous throwback.

Today there's other options. You can even have that migration planning done for you after a series of interviews at your own site. Or simply phone calls, after you've sent information over this thing we call the Internet. Didn't exist in 1988, to be sure. You could transfer your files via a terminal emulator, of course. The concept of remote system access and inventory was a rare thing indeed.

Tens of thousands of 3000 sites survived and even thrived after the MPE V to XL migration. HP created a Compatibility Mode to operate the old programs unmolested. Performance was actually worse in many cases in that early migration era, because MPE XL 1.x was a slow and unpredictable release. Operating in Native Mode at least made the brand-new Series 950 and 925 servers as fast as existing top-end Series 70s. Like today's ultimate generation of HP's 3000 iron, Hewlett-Packard was certainly leaving a widely-installed field of hardware behind.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:24 PM in History, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 15, 2013

What Posix Delivered, and Didn't, for 3000s

Open3000 pageThe arrival of the POSIX.1 software standards in MPE was a compatibility milestone. I remember the call I got from HP's Glenn Osaka, then a product manager at the 3000 division, asking what I'd think about a renaming of MPE. In the fall of 1991 the 3000's OS was called MPE/XL. In just a few weeks, HP wanted to start calling it MPE/iX. Those last two letters were the same as Unix, but the OS didn't ever produce commercial apps from that OS. HP was hawking its Unix hard by that time. Starting in 1992, the 3000 was being portrayed as open.

But a decade of HP effort to win applications from the Unix environment came to an end in the fall of 2001. What was left over from the grafting of POSIX onto the 3000's OS? To this very day, you can use open source software that's been ported to MPE. Or port some yourself, if this will solve a compatibility problem.

HP wasn't shy about telling 1991's customers how much difference that iX was going to make. Unix benefits that the 3000 were supposed to gain included app portability, a Unix development environment, and multivendor connectivity. HP called it the Open 3000.

"Customers now have access to a wide breadth of industry-leading applications," said 3000 GM Rich Sevcik. "It should be viewed as a very exciting incremental set of functionality for the MPE owner, and it's just another example of the smooth evolution of the HP 3000."

While the arrival of Micro Focus, Oracle's apps, Lawson Software ERP or SAP never materialized, some key non-commercial software made its way to the 3000. Lots of it has become essential at connecting the servers to non-3000s, especially through networking. One of the first and most prominent results of Posix was the file-sharing tool Samba.

One HP lab engineer of that time said the goal of the POSIX.1 effort was "to increase the availability of some types of applications on the 3000, and to provide for modernization and connectivity with other 'open' platforms. POSIX.1 allowed the Apache Web server, Samba, and many other open source tools to be ported at low cost to the 3000."

The cost was so low that a then-essential Web Server, Apache, was ported by a non-HP engineer who needed the software for his community college's datacenter. Mark Bixby was later hired by the lab and became crucial to what was called Internet & Interoperability.

Posix also brought industry-standard administration interfaces to the OS. The ideal there was to be able to take Unix-trained IT staffers and put them to work managing HP 3000s. Or to make the 3000 no different than Unix management, so the MPE server wouldn't stick out too much. Unix was claiming to be an open choice -- that engineer was correct in putting quotes around open -- ever since the late 1980s.

But Posix was never going to future-proof the 3000's environment, in spite of the promises made about its prospects at HP. It was never engineered enough to provide binary compatibility. By the middle '90s, the Newswire was covering "Proposition 3000" to make the 3000's FTP GET, its tar -xzf, its make and make install work like HP's Unix counterparts.  No vendor would ever certify code for every Unix, or even Linux distros in existence today.

But a majority of open source code has a good track record for just working.

The promise of "open" was always on the other side of serious engineering costs. Until Intel processors ruled the planet, you'd have to worry about hardware support and low-level incompatibilities. Things like page sizes, sector sizes, supported devices, ioctl() codes, incompatible drivers and so on.

Eventually even architectural differences between MPE and the Unix world made Web services a non-starter. A Unix standby called the "fork() of death" that made production web services on the 3000 an impossibility. One legendary MPE expert, Jeff Kell of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said the fork simply wouldn't go into the meatiest part of the OS.

"fork() is such an alien and invasive concept to the MPE mindset, yet a laissez-faire operation on *ux," he said. "It would have required some really heavy lifting, perhaps beyond the fork() conversion folks' abilities or resource scope." Plainly put, more engineering time might have brought MPE into line with Unix, but it might have been too great a difference in design, too.

When you can apply Perl, or other open source resources like the ones found at www.mpe-opensource.org, to a 3000's mission, you see the benefit of changing that XL to an iX. Posix was HP’s first effort at making MPE more standards-friendly. The engineering led to the potential for open source programs such as Samba, Apache and more to make it across the porting divide — and give the 3000 its first genuine cross-platform tools. The Posix work in MPE made GNU C for the 3000 a possibility, back in the nascent era of the open source movement. And without GNU C, nothing else would be available from the open source library today.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:45 PM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)