May 14, 2013
HP's 3000 virtualization was MOST-ly done
Nineteen springtimes ago, HP was offering an operating system to run alongside MPE on the same hardware. To say that HP's Multiple Operating System Technology was virtualization might be an overstatement. But the unreleased product gave Unix and MPE equal footing in a single hardware system. MPE was the cradle that Unix would rest in, much like Linux is the cradle where the PA-RISC virtualization rests in the Stromasys Charon product. The only reason it was not released might have been the horsepower demands on the hardware. MOST was not starved off the price list by a lack of HP desire from the 3000 division. But the daring of its engineering was on a battleground between HP's own products.
I worked on external communications for MOST for Hewlett-Packard in the spring of 1995. It was one of the biggest assignments I took on during the months that led up to creating the 3000 NewsWire. The audacity of putting a venerated OS in as a bootstrap system for HP-UX apps led me to believe HP was exploring every prospect to win any customer who was veering toward the market's magnetic pull of Unix.
HP showed off external specifications for MOST to key partners in '95. The product was scheduled to emerge in the fall of that year on Series 9x9 and 99X PA-RISC systems. These were the highest horsepower 3000s in the HP stable. MOST was to begin with two partitions, one for MPE/iX and the other for HP-UX. Or, a customer could run two separate instances of MPE on a single server. MPE was to be the primary partition, controlling the uptime of the hardware.
In one sense, this product wouldn't have been a 3000 -- because half of it would be dedicated to running Unix apps and processes. Independence, a white paper on the product stated, "is especially important, as the co-dependencies between the different OS should be as small as possible."
MOST might have been ahead of its time in hardware requirements, but it reminds me of the virtualization that nearly every operating system enjoys today. The Stromasys Charon lineup, the VMware partitions which run Windows, Linux, and Mac OS all at once -- all of these flow from the concept that drove MOST. Well, there's a major difference. HP didn't release MOST, even after a beta test period and surveys that showed most of the customers saw it as an evolutionary path to heterogenous computing.
"The future path is almost impossible to foresee," HP's briefing stated. "Windows or OS/2? WARP? Unix or NT? Once proprietary, but now open systems?"
The software would have realized the founding principle of PA-RISC engineering: "Eventually, any PA-RISC operating system will be able to operate concurrently and independently on the same hardware platform."
HP delivered on some of these promises many years later, employing its Superdome designs for high-end servers with flexible partitions. This was not strictly emulation, because the native hardware remained the same. It's a sad piece of history that by the time Superdome was rolled into the markets, MPE/iX was not an environment supported on the high-priced server.
The OS came closest to its rightful place as keystone of HP's business computing strategy with MOST, however. HP said that it "is a natural complement to the four strategic directions of the HP 3000:
- Reinforce HP 3000's strengths in mission critical OLTP environments
- Superior integration in a multi-platform environment
- Provide an evolution to client/sever computing
- Deliver innovative applications and services
The Hewlett-Packard of 1995 was looking for a way to "let customers add, test and develop new applications without purchasing a new Unix box." That might have been the downfall for MOST. A successful server, steered by MPE but also able to run Unix apps, would surely have been a roadblock to more HP 9000 server sales. HP bet hard on Unix in that era, a play that now seems to have run out of step with the Windows and Linux choices of today.
May 13, 2013
The magic code for licenses HP never sold
The meeting room brimmed at the Computer History Museum May 10, where Stromasys spooled out more than six hours of technical briefing as well as the product strategy and futures for Charon HPA/3000. This emulator was anticipated more than eight years ago, but only came to the market in 2012. And that gap, largely introduced by HP's intellectual property lawyers, killed one license needed to run MPE on any Intel server.
But the good news is that an HP licensing mechanism still exists for MPE/iX to operate under the Charon emulator -- pretty much on any good-sized Intel system that can run VMware and Linux. However, you need to know how to ask HP for the required license.
Charon HPA product manager Paul Taffel uncorked the phrase that permits a customer to switch their MPE/iX from HP iron to PC or Mac hardware. It's called "an intra-company license transfer." If you don't ask for it by name, the standard HP transfer forms won't pass muster. Most SLTs happen between two companies. Who'd sell themselves their own hardware, after all?
In short HP's using its existing and proven Software License Transfer (SLT) mechanism to license emulated 3000s. It's doing this because of that delay which ran out the clock on a hard-earned path to the future. HP called it the Emulator License back in 2005. It just happened to need an emulator on sale in order for a customer to buy this license.
The Emulator License isn't quite like the mythical griffin of ancient lore. It made more sense than a jackalope. But the process to earn one of these licenses is not well known yet, which was one of the reasons Stromasys held its training and social event.
Perhaps HP's lawyers -- who certainly had to be convinced by the 3000 division at the time -- insisted on the "existing emulator" clause in the license. The license was supposed to cost $500, but HP could never collect that money without a working emulator for a 3000 on the market. Then HP stopped issuing MPE/iX licenses because its Right To Use program ran out at the end of 2008. No RTU, no emulator license: this was a moment when the 3000s in the world were limited to whatever HP iron was on hand.
However, this was not the first time HP had ever tried to make it legal to run one of its OS products on non-HP gear. By the time OpenMPE wore HP down and got that Emulator License, the Stromasys product line was running hundreds of instances of VAX and PDP emulated systems, all using VMS. Digital, even after it became part of HP, didn't care if you were emulating its "end-of-lifed" PDP and VAX systems. What Digital-HP cared about was the ongoing support revenue, and the good will, of keeping older systems running where they remain the best solution.
This time around, for the 3000, HP intended to cut off all of its business by 2006. Er, 2008. Well, certainly by 2010, even though some 3000 owners still could call on HP for MPE and hardware support during 2011. No matter. Customers are the ones who determine the life of a computer environment, and software never dies. At the Stromasys training event, general manager Bill Driest said that the natural end state for every computer is virtualization -- or what the classic 3000 customer would call emulation.
"We're here to help preserve the software investments that you've all made," Driest said. "We've always believed that the value of the system is in the uniqueness of the application. For 14 years we've had this tagline that keeps coming back: preserving the investments we've all made across these hardware generations."
So to recap, you contact HP's Software License Transfer department. You tell them you want to do an intra-company transfer. And instead of the $500 that HP said this emulator license would cost eight years ago, it's $400 -- the same fee HP wants to collect on any MPE/iX system transfer. You need to have a 3000 license to begin with, of course.
You don't get to create MPE/iX licenses for Charon systems. Stromasys cannot sell you one. But a copy of MPE/iX does exist in the freeware download, model A202. It's just not licensed, because you attest you won't use this freeware for commercial use when you run through configuration. The licensed copy of MPE/iX in freeware -- the holy grail of open source pursued by OpenMPE for more than nine years -- is as much a mythical creature as an emulator license. This isn't the first time Hewlett-Packard built an item for 3000 customers that it never did sell. But at least the previous one got into testing before it was killed off. More on that tomorrow.
May 03, 2013
Goodie box delivers 3000 skills, tools
Howard Schelin started his HP 3000 career in Miami migrating. It was 20 years ago, and The Miami Herald had to make a move -- away from IBM and onto the 3000. There was much for Schelin to teach the IT department then, and the Interex user group catalogued all of what was needed. This week a generous box of that reference material and software arrived at our office, because the offices of the Herald are moving along, just like the 3000.
In a few weeks the Miami Herald will be relocated to a new building about 15 miles southwest of 1 Herald Plaza. As in any move, there is a lot of material that gets pushed to the curb. I am sending you items that will not be making the trip to the new location.
The box as big as a Ram Truck battery had a reel of tape on top, a release of the Interex Contributed Software Library from the days of the early '90s, when DAT cassettes were still a novelty to the user group. But then there were a hearty stack of the familiar boxes that contained software treasures created by fellow managers of 3000s, then given away for the community to use.
Now the HP 3000 is making its migration away from the Herald, Schelin says. "The HP 3000 stay at the Herald is drawing to a close, as its last application is on schedule to be migrated to the cloud by April, 2014. I have been an avid reader of the 3000 NewsWire for many, many years, and I hope you find a home for the enclosed material."
Considering that some of these programs and proceedings continue to be useful tools for the homesteader -- and are difficult to locate -- he's probably right. Maybe not so much that 1993 lab handbook on Managing a POSIX HP3000 System, although the lab was taught by MPE legend Jeff Vance. But the Catalog of the CSL for that year, printed and bound, is a working collector's item.The goodie box includes eight years' worth of technical papers on CDs, some discs so classic that the boxes advise the user to be sure to have Windows 3.1 to look at the material. But the DDS tapes -- the lingua franca of 3000 data -- start in 1997 and run through 2004. By 1998 there was a Freeware account of software, added to the Contributed Software Library. As Michael Hensley explains in the 1999 Supplement to the CSL Catalog, indexed by name and by keyword
When HP added Posix to MPE, creating MPE/iX 5.0, it became possible to port many popular "Unix" utilities to MPE. Since it was possible, many people started to do so, and then made these utilities available via the Internet. When HP was asked about providing C++ on MPE, HP suggested downloading the GNU G++ product via the Internet. I sarcastically asked if they had actually tried it, over a typical-at-the-time 9600 baud modem.
As a penance, I decided to make these utilities available via tape. Although most people now have access to fater Internet connections, the size of the downloads has grown ever larger. I think the tape will continue to be useful for some time to come.
By the time Schelin and the Herald IT staff were gathering these resources, the HP 3000 was moving into its open source era. The specifics of CSL programs that worked for MPE V (the Classic 3000 OS) as well as XL were being supplemented by the Posix/Unix offerings. (Click on the image at the left to see who was writing the software in the era, and what's available on the tapes.) It was one of the richest times for software on the platform. Y2K was sparking interest and renewed investment in the 3000. We were growing the 3000 NewsWire on the wings of that interest.
These resources have outlasted the user group that marshaled them. In time, the hardcopy delivery seemed unneeded. The Proceedings of the final HP World Conference in 2004 remain shrink-wrapped. But Interex went out of business the following summer. And all of that Internet resource went dark. OpenMPE has gathered some of this online, but good fellows like Schelin keep adding to the community's assets.
I'd be glad to make Howard's desire come true, and let this material work its magic in other shops where 3000s will be working for, as Hensley said, "for some time to come." We can also hope that this classic resource goes to live in the cloud in the future, just like that final HP 3000 application at the Herald. Email me if you'd like more detail of the contents, and I can pass them along. Via US Mail, just like they were delivered in the 3000's classic era.
May 02, 2013
Congrats, Pivital on 10 years an HP VAR
Ten years ago this month the HP 3000 community gained its final official reseller. Pivital Solutions stepped in to sell HP 3000s, even though Hewlett-Packard only intended to manufacture the computers until the end of October, 2003.
In fact the final HP sales of the 3000 crept into 2004, including deliveries and back inventory. Pivital took on the spot because the company had confidence the 3000 user base would be needing official and trained support for many more years to come. An official place in the HP authorized reseller lineup would enhance what the company had been doing for years already.
That extra service has translated into new resources, even recently. Pivital is one of the few holders of a license for the source code for MPE/iX. Support companies use that resource to create workarounds and even custom patches.
In 2003, we wrote:
Pivital Solutions CEO Steve Suraci hears the tick of a different clock than the one which HP has been counting down for 3000 sales. Less than six months before new HP 3000 sales will end at HP, Pivital is ramping up its efforts as the newest authorized reseller of the servers in North America.
Pivital has taken over the system integrator spot in HP’s 3000 hardware channel that’s being abandoned by Dimension Data. Suraci said that Dimension released much of its 3000-capable integration staff which Pivital was working with, and Pivital saw an opportunity emerging from the situation. It may seem to be late, but Pivital sees its entry as early in the lifespan of the 3000 customer
“Strategically, we know there’s going to be long-term homesteading customers on the HP 3000 out there,” the CEO said. “Even HP is attesting to a quadrant of the market where people will homestead forever. That is a big portion of the customer base which we deal in today.”
The company had built up a practice of offering the application and then extending MPE support to customers using the GrowthPower ERP application, moving on in the late 1990s to expand its customer base beyond ERP sites. “We found we were becoming more involved in the other business aspects of these companies,” Suraci said, leading to partnerships with Minisoft and Cognos, for example.
But as of late last year, “we felt we no longer had Dimension Data as an outlet to move 3000 hardware to customers. We needed an outlet to sell hardware and get the deals done.”
National hardware partners couldn’t interest Pivital in becoming part of their folds, and HP was willing to let the 18-person firm with operations across several US states take over the reseller spot from Dimension Data. Suraci said selling 3000 systems to customers is only the start of what Pivital plans to do with its new prospect. Selling the last round of new hardware to sites which need to upgrade from older models lets Pivital position itself for support business in the future, as well as other hardware sales.
HP has announced it will continue to make N-Class and A-Class CPUs, IO and network cards, peripherals and memory available for new sales during 2004, though Suraci said the vendor hasn’t released specifics of how that aftermarket will work with the authorized channel. The support business that flows from hardware sales looks to be a more reliable prospect for revenues for Pivital. Suraci wants HP to see the company as a contender for any third-party 3000/MPE support partnerships HP may launch in the years to come.
April 24, 2013
Program for legacy with a legacy dev tool
Good tools don't always survive bad times. When HP pulled its plug from the 3000 dynamo, popular development tools began to slide. One of our favorite COBOL legends and 3000 consultants, Bruce Hobbs, was looking for ways to connect to the legacy community for such a dev tool, Programmer Studio.
"I have a vague recollection that you published something awhile back regarding the demise of Whisper Technology, and the situation for anyone now interested in using the Programmer Studio product," Hobbs said. "Could you please point me in the right direction?"
The genesis of Programmer Studio comes from the days when HP was still buying print ads for the HP 3000 in the general computer industry trade press. Ads that astounded the installed base -- like the one at left -- because they were so rare, and resonated so well with the established consumers. The 3000 had giant corporations using it, something HP had to admit from time to time while it labored to create a business computing market for Unix. Whisper popped up often when we surveyed the legacy developer community in December. This is unsupported software, but it's still in use at the occassional programmer's bench, such as the one that Michael Anderson operates at J3K Solutions.
I was never much for purchasing tools for development. However, since the late '90s onward, I used Programmer Studio from Whisper Technologies as a "character based" editor. In the latter years of working on MPE, the languages I used also included Java, Perl, and SQL.
(In a bit of circular technology, the Robelle programming tool for the HP 3000, Qedit for Windows, also knows a lot about Suprtool -- since Supertool is also a Robelle product.)
"But today I don't use the HP 3000 much any more, nor Windows," Anderson added. "For years Programmer Studio kept me tethered to Windows as my favored editor. Recently I've started using JEDIT on Linux. JEDIT doesn't know how to access the HP3000, so for that I still use Windows along with Programmer Studio."Authors and creators tend to dig in with their tools. Hobbs asked about Programmer Studio because of its reputation, but he understood the software had not survived the HP purge.
But for that matter, that kind of afterlife is where other 3000 software resides today. The developer of the Programmer Studio has moved on to other things, according to the Whisper Technology founder Graham Wooley. In 2009 he said
Unfortunately Whisper Technology is no more. As the developer, Greg Sharp had looked after Whisper and Programmer Studio by himself for the last three years, but he has now moved on to other things and the company has now closed.
The UK's Whisper built and promoted the Programmer Studio PC-based toolset, then sold it as a development environment which understood exchanges with the 3000, but could also be used to create programs under Windows. Robelle responded promptly with a Windows version of Qedit, and for more than five years the 3000 ecosystem had a lively competition for programming tools.
Survival is one of the better measurements of quality, but good technology sometimes has to succumb to business issues and investment strengths. Such was the case for HP's business with the 3000 and MPE. Like Programmer Studio, MPE is no longer supported by its creators. Unlike Programmer Studio, MPE has third party support, as well as an emulation engine being sold this year. These things are markers of survival.
An experienced 3000 developer like Hobbs probably won't care much about support for a programmer's tool. Wooley's company was a lively bed of 3000 ardor in the 1990s. At one point, he placed a bet with Adager's Alfredo Rego. Wooley was so concerned about HP's treatment of the 3000 in 1993 that he wagered with Rego that HP wouldn't advertise the system -- mostly as a prod for HP to do so. Wooley lost his bet, happily, when Hewlett-Packard put ads in both US and European publications for the 3000 at the 11th hour of that year.
An abandoned but beloved product is usually passed along from one user to another, with each exchange marking another step into the public domain. HP's been vigilant about MPE to keep the OS out of this sort of drift. People admire it in the same way that Programmer Studio advocates praise that product.
The difference is that you'll still be able to buy support for MPE from independent professionals, some of whom have a source code license for the software. Adager is on that source code holder list. So are the indie support firms Pivital Solutions, Allegro Consultants, Beechglen Development and Terix. They are all eating their Wheaties, surviving into our new era.
April 18, 2013
How Ending Support Might Change Things
If the above subject seems obvious, then the story of the HP 3000 and MPE has had moments to refute it, as well as prove it. Hewlett-Packard considered the end of its vendor-priced support to be the ultimate change in 3000 ownership. If HP wouldn't support MPE and the 3000, who'd use it?
That one is filed as a refute -- several thousand companies have relied on 3000s and MPE over the four-plus years since full HP support ended. Even as a government-required archival system, the computer outlasted the end of HP support.
But in proof of ending support as a trigger of change, we offer the case of the disappearing database. No, not IMAGE, still wired to this day with elegance into the MPE filesystem and 3000s. No, we're examining Oracle here. Many IT managers consider Oracle to be the industry leader. So if its support drove off the 3000 cliff, and so dropped off for MPE after Y2K, didn't that deal a crashing blow to the user community?
One manager who wants to remain anonymous, but still tends to a 3000, told us this week that he believes it was true. "I asked HP people at a trade show if they had heard how Oracle, recently in court and in the news, began the demise of MPE -- when in a previous pre-Sun business decision, they announced end of support for Oracle on MPE?"
Yes, the end of this support did change the 3000's future -- at HP. In the early 1990s HP was hoping that IMAGE would become only one of several database options for the servers, and so it tried to unbundle the custom-tailored IMAGE from MPE. This was meant to make room for the likes of high-dollar Oracle, or other databases which had not made the port to the 3000. HP wished they would do so. Hewlett-Packard's 3000 group pined for SQL Server on MPE.
But Oracle never was thrilled to be part of the 3000 ecosystem. There was so much more profit to be had in the Unix world, or up on IBM mainframes. In 1985 I was reporting on rumors that Oracle was moving to what we were still calling MPE V at the time. The Oracle VP I reached had a question for me. "Why in the world would we do that?"About four years of market time changed this approach, but in '85 Oracle wondered why in the world any vendor would offer an MPE-ready database while IMAGE was included with every 3000. How could Oracle compete with that value? It wasn't like HP was reducing the prices for 3000s which shipped with no database. Enter, after Oracle's arrival on the 3000, the scheme to unbundle IMAGE -- and the customers' revolt at a public roundtable over this strategy.
Oracle trod its path away from MPE after many versions of the database were built and rejiggered to try to match the IMAGE advantage: speed, and the compatibility with the catalog of HP 3000 applications and tools. While that latter group of software bled away -- cut back by the vendor's forecast of an ailing 3000 ecosystem -- Oracle updated Oracle/iX less and less frequently.
That might be the same situation HP's other enterprise environment will experience with the loss of Oracle support. Oracle didn't want to continue with the successor to the 3000's hardware architecture, Itanium. The courts forced this otherwise, but the last period of that game is yet to be played.
Will the end of Oracle support for HP-UX change things? Of course. Will it be a fatal blow? More fatal than the Oracle evaporation from MPE. Few applications ever relied on Oracle on 3000s. It didn't force a transition. Oracle never got traction as a database for in-house apps. That is a different situation than the reality for HP's Unix servers. But one third-party software platform like Oracle never sinks an enterprise ship on its own. It takes a vendor to deliver the coup de gras -- and even then, the demise can be years away.
However, for a company migrating to a new application, the existence of Oracle on that platform can be welcome news. Oracle administrators and developers are in rich supply. Replacing one who quits to become a coffee cart owner or gun-shop salesman is easy. Oracle is everywhere, and thousands of applications rely on it. In a 3000 migration situation, the absence of Oracle support is more reason to change an application from something in-house to something else. "We always wanted to walk away from those old apps," a MANMAN manager said in a user group. "HP ending support for the 3000 gave us the opening."
The ruler to measure change by: the critical nature of the element whose support is ending. Oracle isn't MPE, but it might as well be for any company that considers itself an Oracle customer first, with a few HP 3000s as outliers. As we can see today, support for IMAGE has not ended, thanks to independent companies. Oracle on HP-UX support -- like the 3000's, without new development -- might trigger changes.
How HP reacts to the eventual Oracle departure this time around, compared to its reaction in the 1990s, will determine how much support can change things. The greatest change from ending support takes place in vendor-built environments which have receding application ecosystems. What's the trend for application vendor enhancements in your target environment?
April 17, 2013
HP hardware: bargain, but needed now?
It's an interesting time for 3000 hardware these days. Prices have dropped severely for unlicensed HP iron. Meanwhile, there's a no-cost way to use a computer to run MPE/iX, thanks to the Charon HPA/3000 emulator, Model A202, freeware edition. Times are plentiful for ways to run MPE software, if the license is not much of an issue.
The HP-brand hardware is flowing so freely that I had a reseller ask if I wanted to buy an N-Class at an astounding price. Nothing that the rest of the public couldn't get off eBay. However, in that offer anybody would have to come up with their own license for MPE/iX.
Nothing's perfect this year about acquiring an MPE server. On one hand you have the option of real HP iron, power-hungry but the genuine engine. However, the HP-badged boxes need disks and memory and components in reserve for real support, the kind of items that a system manager would scavenge from things like an $1,800 N-Class. A support contract for MPE, as well as the hardware, is part of that equation. If you've got an MPE/iX license, let's just say it's about a $2,000 investment, plus the ultra-important hardware-MPE support contract purchase.
And you need that MPE/iX software support no matter what you're doing, unless you've got enough experience to be selling those services yourself.
The bottom line on an emulated, virtual HP 3000 is higher, unless you're freewaring it. You can expect there are nominal consultants -- retired but available -- who'd use the A202 to discover bug fixes and workarounds. The better ones will have the real HP iron, running tiny, 9GB LDEV 1 disks. The beefiest drive you can put in a 3000 is 146 GB.
But I have to admit, I thought for awhile about that offer of an N-Class for under $2,000. It was a kind of a "get it while you can, the price won't be better than this" sort of decision. For a production or a development shop, it's likely to be different. A manager could figure that a 5-figure cost to acquire Charon emulator software, plus support for it, could be balanced against the cost to maintain a stable parts depot. Emulation installs mean that hardware support goes way down, to about $100 a year for a typical Intel-Linux box. But adding any kind of 3000, emulated or iron, to our offices would be news. Operating my own MPE system has never been a part of my 28 years of working in our community.
People who know MPE very well might say they're not surprised. I have generous readers who correct the flubs in syntax that show up here. But in those decades of writing and reporting about the HP 3000, I have never worked for a company which owned one, including my own company (since 1995). However, that doesn't mean that there haven't been days when I felt I could make use of one. Just the other day, Vladimir Volokh said "you wouldn't have written that, if you'd had a 3000 to use and test that command."
As close as genuine 3000 iron ownership ever came, I think, was when used 9x7s were everywhere and the Newswire was roaring along in the Y2K era. Our net.digest tech editor John Burke bought one of those 9x7s -- for a song -- and since he was an editor of ours at the time, that was enough for me.
My first 3000 publisher, Wilson Publications, used dial-in timesharing access to a Series 42 in 1984 to produce The Chronicle. The terminal access came via PC 2622, the software later known as Reflection. It ran a typesetting program that generated our printed galleys down at Futura Press in Austin. But within four years we worked on the bleeding edge of desktop publishing, using tiny Macs and a LaserWriter and a 5GB shared disk that crashed as often as MPE/XL 1.0. And so the HP 3000 became a subject, rather than a tool we used ourselves.
I am a little surprised that nobody has yet picked up that N-Class 220, even unlicensed, that Cypress Technology offered via eBay. It seems quite the bargain for somebody who wants genuine HP iron. But for a tinkering editor, or someone who wanted to check a command or syntax or filesystem processes, the freeware A202 might do.
We're still here if any owner or reseller wants to spread the word about hardware, via a modest ad. I'd love to hear when that N-Class sells. It's the lowest price I've ever seen for one of these models. Only something free, but without the ability to work in production, could be considered less expensive.
March 29, 2013
Hope floats today for a 3000 resurrection
As a former Catholic altar boy, I learned a lot about resurrection during Springs in the 1960s. But the headline above isn't early April Fool's blasphemy. Some 3000 users -- more than a dozen, like disciples -- believe that an emulator in their market is a reason to believe in the server's revival.
They're somewhat correct, but how accurate is a revival of MPE/iX, versus the hardware to host it? Stromasys has accomplished the latter miracle with Charon HPA/3000. Servers as common as bottled water are running MPE/iX today, in production environments or proving the concept that PA-RISC systems have come back from a state of doom. Some are even succeeding with untested chips from AMD, somehow, rather than the approved Intel processors.
We've just approved a comment here on our blog that invests the emulator with these regenerative powers. HP would need a revival of its spirit to start to sell proprietary servers again, but at least there's powerful spirit among a few customers. None of them are paying HP any longer for the 3000. We'll get to that in a minute, and how it affects the salvation of critical MPE/iX applications. But to that prayer:
I say that with the advent of Stromasys and the interest from application developers who wrote for the HP 3000, there is now the opportunity for the community to form a company to begin marketing MPE/iX. The world is ready for a stable, secure, alternative to the out-of-control Linuxes and the costly well-known operating systems.
This manager doesn't want his name or company mentioned, but I assure you he's real and in charge of several HP 3000s. Third parties provide MPE and 3000 support at his site, and he runs HP's final low-end model of 3000, an A-Class. Although this is the season of miracles for hundreds of millions, marketing MPE/iX would demand a change of ownership at Hewlett-Packard. To kick-start it, people like our manager above would have to become customers of HP once more. The company took a conservative view of "customer" and "owner" five years ago this month. Nothing's changed there yet.
The issue of enabling Intel hardware to host MPE/iX is settled. Over and over, we've heard that the emulator runs the 3000's OS just as well as HP-built iron, the boxes HP stopped building nearly 10 years ago. The big rock to roll back is the status of software ownership. Many of the largest software companies take a dim view of operating their programs on fresh hardware. At least without any notice of the shift in platform.
Some companies -- and the 3000 veterans know who they are -- want a license fee upgrade if there's significant performance boosts on the new platform. The change that triggers this is the HPCPUNAME. Unless it still reports "Series 929" or somesuch, this emulated installation is a newer 3000.
Other software vendors are simply delighted their products will continue to work at customer sites. A customer site, however, is often defined as a company which pays a regular fee to maintain a relationship with the vendor. There's a lot of dropped-support software running out in your community. Vendors always have to live with this. Now there's a new wrinkle with the change of platform.
"If I was a paying customer of a software vendor, I'd keep quiet about using the emulator," one vendor said. He added that he's got no problems with his own customers using Charon. Any company prohibiting a switch "would be stupid, because you'd be losing revenue."
Earlier this week, however, I heard a statement that's true. "There's no application company yet which has approved a license for running software on the emulator." There's one story of Cognos permitting Quiz to run on a production emulator at an Australian insurance corporation. Warren Dawson, who plunged into the emulation pool, got it arranged by his Cognos reseller. Who's dealing with IBM these days, since Big Blue bought Cognos long ago.
IT managers can be lured into beliefs that run afoul of the computer vendor's catechism, however. Some managers believe they own their software once it's abandoned by the vendor. HP made its case that MPE/iX will always belong to HP, and always did, even while people were buying support from HP in 2008.
At a user meeting that year, the business manager of 3000 operations at HP Jennie Hou made HP's position clear.
Hou confirmed the clear intention that HP will cede nothing but "rights" to the community after HP exits the 3000 business."The publisher or copyright owner still owns the software," Hou said when license requirements beyond 2010 were discussed. "You didn't purchase MPE/iX. You purchased a right to use it."
Several years ago, a European Union judge gave an advisory on a case about PC software. The judge said if a company walks away from a product, anybody has any right they'd like to use it in any way. There's a lot of defining to do to arrive at "walks away." It was only one judge. But things are changing very quickly in the world of intellectual property.
To see the cross that such hopeful disciples bear, look at what I wrote five years ago, after hearing HP's statement and seeing the slide below.
We were writing about independent support and source code -- which at the time wasn't released. Now MPE/iX source is in the hands of seven companies. One recently reported they'd used their source to create workarounds for support customers -- just the limit HP hoped for the use of its MPE/iX source.
I wrote in 2008
It's a mystery how HP can give any significant use of MPE/iX to third parties in the years after the vendor won't offer services for the 3000 community. A third party owns nothing under these rules, but should build a business model and employ experts on this basis? Risky business, that.
A third party will just have to hope to rely on access to MPE/iX source. And nothing else but hope. In any contract no better than a typical customer's, a support firm would own nothing but that Right To Use what HP owns. Support for the third party support supplier for MPE/iX from HP? Shut down, by 2010. Support suppliers could consider that deal a sketchy foundation to build a business upon.
The 3000 community can only hope that's not HP's intention for support providers: To make any alternative support for the 3000 community remain sketchy. HP retains its ownership, but the intention of this 2005 announcement was to "help partners" do support business. Here's that HP 2005 statement, as a reminder of Hewlett-Packard's intentions.
"When HP no longer offers services to address basic support needs of e3000 customers, HP intends to offer to license HP e3000 MPE/iX source code to one or more third parties — if partner interest exists at that time — to help partners meet the basic support needs of the remaining e3000 customers and partners."
You generate partner interest with customer purchases, now that HP's made hardware emulation legal. Then you step out of the way and let licenses evolve. For the disciples, the back half of that resurrection is a revelation they must arrange on their own.
March 28, 2013
OpenMPE's afterlife lives on a live server
Eleven years ago this spring, OpenMPE was calling itself OpenMPE Inc. and proposing a business around the HP 3000. The organization was just getting on its feet, led by Jon Backus, a consultant and systems manager who ran his own business and took the first steps toward advocacy for the computer HP was cutting from its futures.
The hopes and dreams of a shell-shocked community of 3000 lovers came to the window of OpenMPE. But even in 2002, the group of volunteers' founders knew the holy grail was hardware to replace the boxes HP would stop selling in about 18 months.
A petition, in the form of customers' Letters of Intent, got presented to HP during that year's Interex 3000 Solutions Symposium.
The document is asking customers if they would support the new organization’s mission to enhance and protect the HP 3000 community’s lifespan, though software development and creation of an emulator that mimics the HP hardware on Intel processors.
And after a decade, the community got its emulator. The software that's now making ripples in the calm pond of 3000 use emerged from hard work at Stromasys, to be sure. But OpenMPE laid the first tracks to demonstrating user interest, as well as an MPE license for emulated 3000s. The HP license is one of the few that were written specifically for the emulator. (Minisoft has announced another.) The other evidence of OpenMPE's work is an HP 3000, hosted at the Support Group in Texas, where it holds software that still matters to MPE managers.
OpenMPE pays a nominal amount to maintain this server inside a hardened datacenter. That's evidence there's still a trace of business going through OpenMPE, although the Support Group volunteers more than a payment can cover. (That's the way volunteers roll, after all. Nobody got paid a dollar for working with OpenMPE, although there was plenty of pay-outs of public scorn.)
But host software on an HP 3000 and you become one of the beacons across the inky landscape of MPE in 2013. One customer wanted a copy of GCC, the Gnu C Compiler that's the bootstrap code for all 3000 open source riches. Mark Klein created an MPE/iX version of GCC to enable printer and file sharing, Internet addressing and advanced networking, perl and so much more on a 3000.
One source for GCC is on Brian Edminster's MPE Open Source server, a repository of free software. But he tipped his hat toward the OpenMPE beacon while answering a question posted on the 3000 newsgroup.
There are several third-party software support providers that could help -- you can find 'em through searching the 3000 newsgroup. And there's also a few of us that are keeping copies available for download on sites of our own.
I have a site that has it as part of a 'OpenSSH sftp client' install (which also happens to include perl as well). But at the moment, probably the best place to get GCC for MPE/iX is from a site that's a partial copy of the old 'Jazz' server at HP.
The direct URL is: http://www.openmpe.com/jazz/MarkK/gnuframe.htm
As the page notes, GCC was ported to MPE by Mark Klein. The community owes him a debt of gratitude for this, even thought the latest version available isn't quite so current anymore. In spite of that, Mark's work has made it possible to port quite a bit of software to MPE.
Klein volunteered his hours to create the MPE GCC, and more than 30 people volunteered their hours through nine years to make OpenMPE a player during the darkest era of the 3000 -- those springtime months of 2002 when it was so easy to hear the HP user group Interex trumpet the "migrate, and soon" message that HP was hawking. Plenty of sites did, although not nearly as soon as HP hoped. During that era, however, HP got to be instructed about how to curtail business for a business computer community -- hearing all the things it overlooked for the transition, denoted by OpenMPE's volunteers.
March was the time of year when OpenMPE volunteers ran for elections, starting in 2002. Although there are just three directors at the group now, it still has its friends in places like Measurement Specialties, where former director Tracy Johnson manages 3000s and a shadowed OpenMPE server. Or at Applied Technologies, where Edminster supports the ideal of free software that drove OpenMPE during its first year. Or out at the datacenter building in Texas, where the live 3000 still dishes out software that homesteaders find useful, once they search for it.
February 20, 2013
One decade later, change remains complex
I just retired the pages and stories of the latest Newswire printed edition, our 137th. It's always a celebration day when the pages go onto the press for each print edition. But print, plus one monthly Online Extra email update, used to be all there was to the 3000 Newswire. There's been so much change since February of 2003 -- in your community, not just in the Newswire -- that I went back to look at what was crucial one decade ago.
To my surprise, the message from HP was mixed with migration as well as emulation. HP held a Webcast for C-Level staff at their customers' companies. About 70 people arrived online, but it didn't look like a lot of them were CFOs, CIOs, or any of the other Cs. There was a lot of talk to explain how HP got to its decision to drop the 3000 off its lineup. In 2003, every HP message was based upon future directions they believed customers would take. But the company also acknowledged some sites wouldn't ever migrate -- or take so long that HP would not be supporting the server by the end of a migration.
Yes, migrations are still underway. HP predicted that correctly.
In 2003's February, 18 print articles got the reporting done, along with another three articles' worth of Online Extra. In the month of 2013 that led to our printed date, we published 22 articles. A decade later we're one article up on our report count. But the news appears five days a week now, instead of once every 30 days, with one extra day of Online Extra.
How could the news stay so constant, given the reduction of installed 3000s over 10 years? Well, this has been an era full of migrations, as well as the transitions to sustain which the homesteaders have pursued. The migrations are as complex as ever. The homesteading has new wrinkles to write about, like that emulator. But like the change factor of migrations, it turns out we were writing about emulation during 2003, too.
Here's a current report from a customer who's been working on a migration for about six years now. We just heard this on the day we sent off February, 2013 -- or as we say in publishing, Volume 18, Issue 2. The launch date for this project was 2007.
We worked on system configuration and data clean-up/migration during all of 2008, and went live with the first module (H/R and Payroll) in January 2009. We went live with the Finance module (my area of support) in July 2009, and with another critical module in January 2010. A very aggressive implementation schedule. The modules still on the HP 3000 are our telecommunications system and our computer user tracking system.
"Of course," our correspondent added, "the general economic meltdown that occurred in 2008 affected our entire process. It affected the ERP budget as well as the organization's general budget." He went on to say the organization had to stop hiring temp workers to do office tasks while regular workers were in training. "It made an already hard process even harder."
When I thumbed through our pages of 2003, I didn't find any reports like that. Nobody had a current migration project to summarize. Early 2003 was a planning and deciding era, one that would last about another two years before projects genuinely began. Although building 3000s and selling them was going to end eight months later, everyone figured they had at least until December 31, 2006 to get projects finished.
And as it turned out, HP's support end date was extended another four years. Like a lot of migration projects. We talked to the Interex Advocacy Manager Deb Lawson in that issue, and the user group estimated 25 percent of all companies had not made a decision to migrate by early 2003. "Many [of that group] aren't going to migrate at all," she said, "while some will eventually migrate, just not in the short term."
It was a much larger pool in that year, of course. 25 percent of the customer base would've represented 5,000 servers that hadn't decided to migrate yet, if at all. Interex estimated that out of a 25,000-machine base (as estimated by IDG), 77 percent would be underway in a migration by the end of 2004. Nothing moved nearly as quickly as expected. Including the arrival of an emulator.
A hardware replacement for the 3000 boxes was a keen need, according to Lawson. "The biggest need for the 3000 base is a hardware emulator and getting the 2006 date extended," she said. I know HP is aware of those two huge needs."
A decade later, the Stromasys emulator is only now marking its first year of availability. Just like migration got extended or stalled, key elements of Charon HPA/3000 were delayed.
Hewlett-Packard could only go to the brink of devising a license for MPE/iX on any unbuilt, unstarted emulator. A plan to have Intel-based emulator license terms announced in February, 2003 had slipped from the “early in 2003” promises made in the fall of 2002. We believed "HP’s commitment to its homesteading customers shows no apparent signs of slipping."
But that depended on what part of HP you could see. The 3000 division was doing what it could, although it was 2004 before any license plan emerged. But in the HP legal division, decisions were made that held up key technical data that could have made a 2004 license relevant in a few extra years, at most.
And for anyone left in our community who believes OpenMPE didn't have an active role, they can look to our story about that Webcast's homesteading message. HP's Mike Paivinen, working out of the 3000 division, said "We’ll continue to work with OpenMPE to understand the needs of the users they represent.” HP said it would hold teleconferences with some of the homesteading community, to “better understand how customers expect to use their 3000s after HP’s end of support date." The division's last GM, Dave Wilde, said he wanted OpenMPE "to have the lead on this" emulator license issue.
Migrations got compared to homesteading, especially their costs, during that Webcast. Staying versus going was a choice that triggered an HP statement that "many HP 3000 owners have discovered those two curves have already crossed, or will be crossing very shortly." But out on the migration road trip three months earlier, HP said that migrations would cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, unless customers were moving Powerhouse or Speedware apps to HP's Unix. Nobody could say they were spending that much to homestead.
For the HP 3000 customer hiring their first Oracle DBA in a migration effort, HP was advising that a sharp question ought to be asked. "Ask them about data structure differences [between IMAGE and Oracle], automatic masters, have them draw the map for you," said a manager from one of HP's Platinum Migration partners in 2003. " If they don't understand, you don't want them working for you."
That's because just like the situation in 2013, the migration changes were going to be costly enough to trigger scrutiny from the C-level. Birket Foster of migration partner MB Foster said back then that customers "need to start planning from the end, like on what date does it become too risky to say on the 3000? You probably should have started last year. A lot of folks haven't got a grip on when they should have actually started."
A decade later, some people still want to know about how to manage MPEX use, track the latest improvements to Suprtool, or even get support for 9x7 systems. We reported on all of that, too. The complexity of changes led me to advise in an editorial that even measuring twice, before taking one cut at migration, might not be enough. Carpentry experience was a pretty apt allegory, until we mentioned that getting a fresh piece of wood to create a baluster rail was easier than a restart on any migration.
I looked back on our Volume 8, Issue 5 with a fond gaze, admiring a list of more than two dozen sponsors and 50 percent more pages. But there was no blog in that February, or its sponsors, to keep everybody up to date. A lot less was available to report on migrations. But the conclusions about change weren't going to shift. It would take longer than expected and cost more than planned, most of the time. The 3000 story is no less complex today, even after we've all taken a decade's leap in expertise and technology.
February 18, 2013
When Bigger Isn't Better for Commerce
There are at least 60 companies in the world that are still using Ecometry direct commerce software on an HP 3000, according to members of that software's community. Perhaps four times that number have already made a migration off MPE/iX, many taking the road to Ecometry Open on Windows.
But that path might have become steeper than the migrated sites expected since Ecometry's owner RedPrairie decided to join JDA Software. JDA is to logistics software as Infor is to manufacturing: a company with a practice of purchasing other companies. Bigger is better to these kinds of entities.
A deal announced in November to combine the two companies says that RedPrairie is acquiring JDA by purchasing JDA stock, but it's a reverse takeover. RedPrairie is the smaller entity, buying up JDA stock to plow through the regulatory scrutiny if the deal was the other way around. The merger was announced as complete about six weeks later, during the Christmas week where news gets dumped because nobody is supposed to be looking.
A larger owner can sometimes not be looking at the best of interests of smaller, acquired customers. It matters enough that some users say say they're freezing Ecometry projects until they get convinced the software will still exist in a year. The 131 products that are now part of JDA, post-merger, suggest something's got to give -- at least in the software development resource derby. At Infor, plenty of software checks in with an ability to continue to pay for support. But development often slows for these acquired products, such as MANMAN.
There was a time -- and not so long ago -- when Ecometry was the sole focus of its ownership. Those owners included people who'd grown the customer base from its HP roots while the server was rebranded the e3000.It's not easy to remember what the "e" was supposed to stand for in e3000, but HP added the vowel as a way of trying to brand the server as a web resource. (Okay, you'll read something about Enabling growth, Enhancing app partner and solutions focus, and Embracing new technology. Less than two years later, Hewlett-Packard was using the little "e" to mean "extinguish," as it shut off HP futures for the server.)
Ecometry, named to draw upon the new e-commerce strategy, was a flagship app partner in that e3000 era. Even as recently as 2005, Ecometry was just taking its first departure into the realm of equity capital ownership.
The founders of the company, Will Smith and Allan Gardner, retired and sold off their firm in 2004, but that transaction didn't change things for customers as much as another retirement. The equity firm Golden Gate Capital, guided by Ecometry executives led by CEO John Marrah, mothballed a strategy that all Ecometry HP 3000 customers had to leave the platform by HP’s Dec. 31, 2006 support deadline.
Even though that deadline was extended twice by HP, that timetable never mattered as much as establishing a continuing support business. That's the strategy at Infor and JDA, too. MANMAN and Ecometry sites, regardless of their platform, buy support for their applications from the current owners.
Question 17 of an FAQ about the merger explains how a customer would know if their product had been terminated.
JDA’s general policy is that products are not sunset, and that customers are not forced to upgrade to specific versions of our products. Our customers are our top priority and we are committed to continue to provide customers value for the maintenance fees that they pay.
Additionally JDA has a comprehensive solution investment policy available online that outlines JDA’s industry-leading policy for supporting legacy versions of products. This policy will carry forward to the merged company.
JDA established that investment policy in 2011, after it acquired Manugistics and i2. These company brands like Ecometry, Escalate and even RedPraire all become integrated, running behind the shield of JDA. Some of the largest retailers in the world are being served by the combined product roster now, according to the FAQ. The combination of the two companies creates a customer list of more than 3,200. At its height of direct commerce focus, Ecometry had less than 400 companies in its client base.
What JDA now calls an impressive customer roster includes 82 of the STORES Magazine global top 100; 87 of the Consumer Goods Technology global top 100; and 22 of the Gartner Supply Chain Top 25. If that sounds like a mismatch against smaller retail customers such as Seeds of Change, TLA Video, Stumps and Diamond Essence, its because these smaller companies believe they're entitled to some assurances. One problem is the preferred system integrators for JDA, CAPGemini, Tata, and Wipro, can't work on projects of under $5 million. There's too much overhead to start the integration engines for less than that figure. Integrations figure large in the customer experience of "omni-channel" retailers like the Ecometry sites.
Smith and Gardner retired after building up their company to the point where they renamed it Ecometry. As it moved into equity capital ownership, it represented one of the biggest single groups of HP 3000 packaged application customers. There were the best-known brands in the 3000 base there as well, such as M&M/Mars, Brookstone and Title Nine.
The buy-up plan began in 2005 with the Ecometry doing the acquiring. It grew its customer base off competitors through purchases. Marrah said that Ecometry, bolstered by Golden Gate’s $2.5 billion wallet, "would pursue an aggressive acquisition strategy, buying companies to both extend its customer bases and advance its technology."
But in the meantime Ecometry was spreading the word that 3000 sites could expect application support of its MPE-based software during 2007. The 3000 sites can still buy support, six years later.
Customers say they want to know more than support plans for the lifecycle of a retailer app. The JDA Focus conference is scheduled for May 5-7. If there's one thing in common with those classic Ecometry days for these customers, it's the location of Focus. The show is held in Florida, the state where Smith and Gardner founded their company. RedShift, the RedPrairie conference, was to be held in Las Vegas -- where HP is opening its Americas Partner conference tomorrow.
February 13, 2013
Where they've gone: TV George, on from HP
For awhile in the 1990s, George Stachnik was the equivalent of Ed McMahon for the HP 3000 world. He hosted the first set of telecasts, via satellite feed to HP offices, directed at improving the HP 3000 customer experience. You were likely to see him at Interex user group events. And then he had a reprise as HP's voice of migration advice in a series of Webinars, back when that was still a new medium.
This year Stachnik has made his exit from HP, after more than 29 years of service. He has joined the staff at Porter Consulting in the Bay Area. The company develops marketing programs, collateral material such as articles and white papers, enterprise marketing management, and content delivery via websites and mobile channels.
In summary, it's the same kind of work Stachnik did for HP for the past two decades and more. He made a transition from HP support engineer to marketing in 1991 and never looked back. After the era of educating customers via satellite and videotape ended, he trained customers for HP's NetServer Division. These were Windows enterprise servers. To the last of his HP days, Stachnik was an enterprising face in the 3000's cast. One of his wilder moments involved destroying an HP 3000. Or attempting to do so.To be fair, it wasn't Stachnik who pushed an HP 3000 off a two-story building's roof during the 1990s. But he narrated the stunt that the marketing group had designed to prove the system's durability.
It's part of HP 3000 lore, and a simple 7 MB download that opens in the world's tiniest web video player window (as a Quicktime file). We scooped it up when the Web was a lot newer and that 7 MB seemed like a big file. His audio, however, is bigger than the movie looks.
Stachnik was also a prolific writer, penning a series of more than 30 articles for Interact magazine that educated the novice IT pro on using the HP 3000. The articles first appeared in 1997, at the 25th anniversary of the system. The full extent of that series is available at Chris Bartram's 3k.com website, in the papers section.
We say congratulations to him for landing in a new spot after taking leave from HP. He was one of the last lights from the 1990s 3000 group who'd remained at the company, at least in a very public job. Some engineers remain, working in other divisions. But nobody who could narrate a Parachute Event for the HP 3000 Games is wearing an HP badge anymore.
February 02, 2013
Unix's Future: How much does it matter?
At the LinkedIn HP-UX Users Group -- as friendly a spot as you'll find on the Web -- users are deciding that the future of the environment won't matter much to them. As users, of course, and administrators and developers.
Naturally, Linux is talked up as the replacement for HP's proprietary OS. Plenty of HP 3000 migrated sites went for HP-UX over the last decade, although nothing close to what HP desired or the number of Windows replacements for MPE/iX.
But if an admin who's loyal to the OS isn't bothered much by this evolution, why should a company concern itself about the decline of another Hewlett-Packard OS? In this case, the vendors selling off-the-shelf applications will decide how severe the pain of change will be over the next several years. Be sure to ask your app provider about their plans for Linux. If you're astute, like the school districts using the QSS K-12 apps that grew up on MPE, Linux was always the migration target away from the 3000.
Unlike the transition away from MPE/iX, however, a migration off HP-UX to Linux represents little change for the IT pros and their skill set. Nobody is suggesting that HP-UX is the same as Linux or IBM's AIX or Solaris. But in a world where Linux is so ubiquitious that it acts as the cradle for the 3000 hardware emulator, the Little Penguin that Could seems to have almost chugged to the top of the mountain of enterprise choices.
HP 3000 users and vendors remember what happens when new sales fall off in an HP product line. The company cares for its installed base as best it can, all while it keeps its eyes trained on the business figures.
One member of the Linked In group knew his history. "I guess open systems and the Open Software Foundation weren't such a bad idea after all," said Martin Anderson. The OSF, formed two decades ago, supposed that every Unix was alike at its roots. MPE never had a chance at joining those Open Software ranks in the market, not even after HP added Posix extensions and renamed it from MPE/XL to MPE/iX. The technology trench-workers knew the differences. The differences made MPE better in many cases, but bigger mattered more to system suppliers.
Anderson, a former Compaq technologist, belongs to two Red Hat Groups. And so it appears that Linux is the cradle of all virtualized servers, and the graveyard for any OS not named Windows or Mac OS X. The latter seems headed toward its mobile progeny iOS, from the signs I saw this week at the annual Macworld/iWorld show this week. The name of the conference tells the future well.
January 03, 2013
Panel producer pursues PDF processes
Norbord, an international producer of wood-based panels, runs some of its operations on an HP 3000. This $1 billion company with 13 operating sites around the world needed to create PDFs on its 3000, a task assigned to John Pickering of the company. He went to the 3000 newsgroup for advice on how to do this, working to discover free, online resources already stocked away by indie support companies.
Pickering began by pursuing shareware, which is can sometimes be the budget choice for 3000 shops. (There's a superior and tested PDF-creating solution from Hillary Software, byRequest, which does this for 3000s as well as other enterprise systems.) But if a site wanted to bale together shareware like the txt2pdf software, a manager like Pickering needs Perl to run.
I'd be happy to use the shareware txt2pdf, but I don't know where to begin. The Sanface web site indicates that Perl is required, but that isn't on this 3000, either.
Allegro Consultants, supporting 3000s and crafting MPE software even in 2012, ponied up the Perl that Pickering needed to run txt2pdf.
I've placed TXT2PDF.c version 1.1 from Phil Smith onto my site (It's MPE Software item #13) for those that might want to review it.
It's most likely not as advanced as the Sanface product. Probably need to change its name also.
Finally, Robert Mills reported that while he managed 3000s at Pinnacle Entertainment from 2001 to 2008, txt2pdf version 1.1 never gave him many problems in production use.
I had to increase the size of either the pageObs and/or locations arrays, because some of our reports were causing an abort (think that I doubled the size of them).
We didn't have HP's C compiler, so I downloaded GCC and it worked fine. Also, I had some other utilities that were only available in C source, which also compiled and worked when using GCC.
The Gnu C Compiler (GCC) Mills mentioned is the public domain bootstrap software of the 3000's open source software era. It was first forged in the 1990s by Mark Klein, whose DIS International hosts the compiler's software. The latest versions of GCC and related tools may be downloaded from DIS.
An open document format such as PDF was once locked away from HP 3000s until such open source options appeared. We chronicled the other aspects of PDF techniques for HP 3000 use in a story almost two years ago.
The longer that HP 3000s remain online worldwide, the more these updated features will need to be added to the MPE toolbelt. The community is not shy about sharing its experience, and it seems to be well-stocked in what's needed to use open source solutions.
December 11, 2012
Robelle adds to history with its horse tale
Robelle Solutions, mostly known as Robelle in our community, has started to unbridle its Suprtool prowess this fall. The company is offering a Suprtool scripting service for the first time. It's a creation and maintenance service which, for $999 for 10 hours of work, helps "extend the life of your current system and keep it in tune with your company's current needs."
Although a lot of Suprtool is running on MPE/iX servers, this is a data extraction and manipulation tool also performs under Linux and HP-UX. These are favored environments for the IMAGE workalike database Eloquence. The most recent HP-UX version of Suprtool, 5.5, now supports 268 fields in an Eloquence database. The company was the first to integrate Eloquence into its product, "opening up new migration options for TurboIMAGE users. The same Suprtool commands that clients are familiar with on MPE now work on HP-UX, so porting of Suprtool tasks are very little work."
But there's a good deal of ardor left at Robelle for the use of HP 3000s in a production environment. It's a company which took off at the start of the 1980s, when many of today's biggest MPE vendors were establishing a customer base. The company's founder Bob Green recently talked about the humble beginnings of Robelle. In case you're in possession of one of the older conference giveaways, like the Las Vegas splash towels or a simple desktop document clip, Green's latest story explains a little about why that cartoon horse carries the Qedit logo.
Robelle grew up on a horse farm, Green says, a place where it raised software alongside rural creatures great and small.
Once Robelle started adding employees, it needed a real office, but its first one big enough for a staff opened up in an uncommon place, Green says.
Robelle’s first real office, when we started having employees, was in a rural town of British Columbia called Fort Langley (named for an outpost of the Hudson Bay Company which is now a tourist destination). It wasn’t your traditional business office, as it was located on a horse farm. The farm was on a ridge overlooking the Fraser River and the Golden Ears Provincial Park in the distance.
The office consisted of a tiny chalet with loft and a porch that had the best view on the property. The main house was attached, and built later. As our business grew, we added an HP 3000 server and desks in every possible location, including one in the kitchenette! Because it was on a horse farm, there was always a dog on the porch and a cat warming itself on the top of one of the monitors.
We worked closely together with a lot of energy. Business was growing rapidly, which included lots of travel to users group meetings all over the world.
In the earliest days of the 3000 community's social era, the user group meeting and conference was the greatest place to learn about system management and examine new software and hardware products. As a vendor like Robelle, you'd arrive at these meetings and conferences with giveaways. The Qedit horse and the Suprtool cat carried a lot of the helpful tone of the company in that era.
In spite of that deep MPE-era heritage, Robelle continues to stand with a foot in each field of computer environments. Its website suggests that if migrating your applications doesn't make sense you, the homesteading strategy is a good one. However, Green's also got a paper he delivered at the start of the migration era which advises about transforming TurboIMAGE data for Eloquence, Oracle and other database.
It's a long trail from the Silicon Valley heartlands of the 3000 to a horse farm in rural British Columbia. Green and his company continue to make tracks away from the early 1970s.
"From the age of 19, I had worked at Hewlett-Packard in California in the computer division," Green wrote this year, as the company celebrated 35 years in the community. "HP's computer division was very new and small. The software lab had less than 10 people. I did many interesting jobs as the division grew, including programmer, tech writer, training instructor, and software tech support."
But after more than a decade of programming, Green was a 30-year old programmer working for an HP 3000 site.
It was time to make my move. I had an idea for a very fast text editor designed for HP 3000 programmers, which I called Qedit (for Quick Edit). A year later I got the idea for Suprtool, a very fast extract and sort tool for databases and files.
That first office was in my apartment. In those days, there was no easily available Internet (and even if there had been, you could not easily connect to an HP 3000 via Internet). But the 3000 did have serial modem ports, so I bought a portable computer terminal (actually just a small box with a keyboard and an acoustic coupler to hold the phone handset, and a connection for a TV monitor.) Connection speed was a blazing 28 characters per second.
November 14, 2012
What day is it? Oh, it's THAT day
It's November 14 in the US for awhile longer. If the date isn't significant to you anymore, or you never knew why the middle of this month represented a visionary cliff for HP, let us bring you up to speed. HP announced a five-year plan to the HP 3000's end of life on this date. Eleven years ago.
I know, you must be confused. You've probably looked over at the 3000 in your server closet or the office and had a thought. Hey, this machine has already had it's end of life. How can I still be using it? Didn't HP promise dire consequences and risks galore for anybody using that computer after December, 2006? If the maker didn't kill it off, who's in charge of that anyway?
To assist in marking the anniversary of HP's jump off the cliff, we've assembled a short FAQ.
Who was in charge at HP when they made this decision?
Good question, although it doesn't matter much because everybody's moved on. The CEO, Carly Fiorina, wrote a hardcover book and ran for US Senate after leading HP around for six years. She had a "it's growing or it's going" mantra once the company wanted to buy up Compaq. The high-growth march left HP's 3000 plans on the cutting room floor.
Wasn't it some general manager who decided to end HP's 3000 life?
It was, but don't let anybody tell you it was anyone but Winston Prather. On the strength of a promise to preserve the jobs of people in his division, he told the world "it was my call" to chop off the futures of the HP 3000 at Hewlett-Packard. He might have been the first GM in the company's history to kill off his own product line without any involvement from above. Or, there might have been a series of elaborate PowerPoint slides presented to the VPs who had some access to Fiorina. The CEO wasn't fond of giving much authority away. Prather took the credit for the hit, but he wasn't the single shooter. It's tough to imagine a 28-year-old product line with 25,000 servers worldwide, including some inside of HP's own datacenter, being slashed by a general manager who'd held his job for less than two years.
Prather has taken on work outside of product general management at HP. Christine Martino, the marketing manager whose job involved selling 3000s in marketing, has hung on in something you might have heard of called cloud services. The HP Cloud is up against Amazon's, so there's got to be some real deja vu going on there against another Goliath.
The last general manager who tried to grow the 3000 was Harry Sterling, and the last marketing manager to truly try to sell it was Roy Breslawski. His successor told us that putting Oracle 8 onto the 3000 wasn't going to help, because IMAGE was enough, and advertising wasn't part of her job, either. Things didn't get better for new business on the 3000 from there -- unless you count the dot-com boom that created scores of new high-profile customers in retail and catalog sales. You hadn't heard about those? That doesn't come as a surprise. Nordstrom's just turned off their HP 3000 last year.
I heard the 3000 was dead anyway, and the Nov. 14 stuff just killed it. Doesn't it die in 15 years because of its software?
There are a lot of things that will be dying in 2027, but that 3000 isn't one of them. What will happen depends on how much you need a correct calendar year representation in your software. On Jan. 1, 2028, very novel things will happen to the 3000's timekeeping. But it will continue to keep 60 seconds to the minute, 60 minutes to the hour, 365 days to the year. You just will have to get used to the year looking like "1900," even though it's 2028.
So it doesn't have 15 years or so left?
There's some disk drives that won't survive into the start of the next US Presidential campaign. But what we know as the HP 3000 is really MPE/iX and TurboIMAGE. Aside from that odd calendar year, there's nothing else that's broken enough to consider this a mortal wound. Sorry to say it, but the computer whose life HP was eager to begin finishing off is going to outlive some of the people who tried to kill it.
What about that decision to not move MPE/iX to Itanium -- didn't that doom the 3000?
You probably have heard a lot about Itanium from Oracle. HP's spent a lot of money calling Oracle a liar about its Itanium promises. But in 2012, Itanium doesn't look like it would have provided much help for the HP 3000. OpenVMS got an Itanium port by 2005 or so, but pack a lunch and thick hiking shoes while you look for a VMS owner who feels good about their Itanium protection.
Wasn't there an ecosystem HP was worried about in 2001, so they wanted to warn us?
HP certainly did warn everybody about that shaky ecosystem. Except for some of the biggest software vendors who made up the friendly forest of 3000 tools and apps. There was a problem with the 3000's ecosystem at the time. The real trouble began on Nov. 14, when HP took a public sip of the system's growth prospects and yelled out, "This milk's gone sour." The company had lost its taste for the nectar of the cash cow that was tens of thousands of companies paying for support they didn't use.
What's the big deal about all this anyway? Isn't what HP says about a software's future the way it goes?
Let us refer you to WebOS, from just last year, powering the now elusive HP TouchPads. HP's history in predicting the value of software, and ensuring the same, is not exactly spot-on. Just as the company has promoted and invested in software that didn't stand a chance against entrenched competition, it has also let good technology wither to satisfy larger partners who want to operate smaller development staffs.
So if I have an HP 3000 today, am I running on borrowed time? Whatever happened to that five-year plan?
It became a nine-year plan, with exceptions for customers who still wanted HP to support the 3000. The ecosystem suffered because software companies lost customers who'd lost faith in HP. But a wider array of support providers emerged over those nine years. HP predicted a bubble that would burst. It turned out to be the company's valuation. R&D, the kind of magic that built the 3000's innards, was not a favorite line item in the budgets of HP's CEOs for more than a decade.
Now you're back on years again, so I still don't get it: what keeps that 3000 year machine from running as expected? I heard there was a "sheer volume of application and store data" relying on it.
This is a phenomenon known as the Spectre Temporal Memory Displacement. The 3000 is just a spectre by now, goes the theory. So by the time its calendar runs out of genuine years, it isn't supposed to matter. Except for that "sheer volume" of data, which all will somehow remain crucial and vital. You're supposed to remember at one moment the 3000 is evaporating. At the same time, there's a massive volune of data still important to customers.
Humans are extraordinarily bad at predicting future happiness. It's not a malady that's limited to planning offices in Cupertino, California -- although by the time 2028 arrives, those HP offices will be replaced by already-aging Apple headquarters offices.The only thing keeping the 3000 from running a business in 2028 is a desire from a customer who will pay a wizard to adjust time. Around the year 2000 a product emerged that acted as a Time Machine. Or an HourGlass that you could tip over.
Never mind 15 years from now. About 15 years ago, companies sold products exactly by those names to adjust HP 3000 dating for Y2K testing. If the same wizards eat their vegatables and exercise and take plenty of naps, there's a fair chance that dating will become an online nirvana in the land of the 3000. One 3000 veteran, Terry Simpkins, suggests that if the MPE CALENDAR base year could be changed from 1900 to 1950, that might do the trick.
November 01, 2012
November wasn't a-happening for 3000s
HP intended for a November of 40 years ago to be the debut month for the HP 3000. But delays swept the 3000's stage entrance more than a year farther into the future. One of the key players during that year was one of the system's best advocates, Ed McCracken.
He was charged with un-selling HP 3000s as his first job in public related to the system. According to Tom Harbron's Thinking Machines, the month of November 1972 was the final month that HP tried to keep that inevitable postponing of the system at bay. The future was obvious by December at Anderson College, where Harbron was leading the push to put a 3000 into the datacenter.
During the period from April to November, 1972, we continued to learn of delays. Cobol and IMAGE were pushed back from December 1972 to June 1973. We also wrote the 1620 simulator during this time, using HP’s new language called System Programming Language or SPL (not to be confused with SPS on the 1620). SPL was essentially Algol with some machine dependent extensions.
By February of 1973, McCracken "was going about the country, visiting customers, and unselling the 3000," Harbron wrote in his book. At the time McCracken was only the Market Manager for Government, Education, and Medical Markets. Within a few years he became essential to putting the IMAGE database on every 3000. It was a move that most of the community's veterans consider the turning point for your server's survival in the markets of the 1970s.
About 10 years later, McCracken was on his way toward becoming the CEO of Silicon Graphics, but still working in HP as a VP. InterACT, the magazine of the Interex users group, interviewed him about HP's business server strategy in the spring of 1984. McCracken called the earliest days of the 3000 a time when customers were buying a database machine to create their own applications. He was taking note of a shift in the enterprise computing market space that would make outside software companies essential to 3000 success.According to Chris Edler's Early History of the HP 3000, someone in the HP 3000's birthplace lab had come up with the clarion call that "November is a Happening" to spur on the platoon of engineers.
In the weeks prior to the release of the first HP3000, dozens of the "November is a Happening" posters were placed all over the factory floor. The posters showed an HP3000 going out the shipping dock door, ostensibly to its first customer, the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley.
HP installed the machine, turned it on, and discovered -- along with the customer, of course -- that the 3000 could only accommodate one or two users before falling to its knees. It was immediately returned.
IMAGE, the database which would win an award from Datamation when stacked up against other system vendors' software, was not a part of that November failure. It wasn't ready until 1974. The earliest success of the system matched a profile of a customer "looking for a generic database management tool to adapt to his own particular environment," according to the InterACT article. IMAGE literally was the HP 3000 to most of its earliest adopters. It's what led McCracken to bundle the database with the computer -- an unprecedented strategy at the time.
But by the '80s McCracken had become the GM of what HP called the Business Computer Group. He saw "the market has changed dramatically in the last four or five years. Now almost every customer is really interested in a complete solution." That meant letting third-party software companies, building applications as well as tools, into the HP 3000 strategy, in addition to software sold by HP.
In that November of 1972, it looked to HP like it would be enough to release an HP 3000 with programming languages and a database management system. A decade later bundling the database and selling the customer a range of HP-written apps and tools wasn't going to satisfy the majority of customers. What's more, the Not Invented Here attitude HP had taken toward partners was supposed to be on the wane.
But new independent software companies could only be lured to the HP 3000 if the vendor had an open architecture, one that relied upon similarities with other vendors'. HP, and the 3000, needed to become less of an island, McCracken said.
I think we used to be somewhat arrogant about our capability to survive as an island in the computer industry. We've come to realize that an open-architecture philosophy is fundamental to a successful strategy.
He went on to explain that HP was changing the architecture of the 3000 to offer a single design for all of its computing platforms. This was PA-RISC, which McCracken explained was "to have one architecture that spans the applications from personal computing to real-time control of machines to commercial machines." That would become HP's Series 100 PC efforts, the RTE real-time platform of the HP 1000, and the HP 3000. Oh, and a commercial role for the HP 9000 -- which had a head start on an architecture similar to other vendors' because it was based upon Unix.
McCracken left HP in 1984 to become CEO of Silicon Graphics, a company whose workstations powered the hottest graphics and lifted SGI to rock-star status. For eight straight years every movie, such as Men in Black, nominated for the Oscar for Achievement in Visual Effects was built on SGI systems. But unlike McCracken's advice for HP, SGI used proprietary MIPS processors and fostered its own ecosystem of software suppliers -- even while basing its OS on the not-quite-similar Unix.
Similarity became so prized at the Hewlett-Packard which McCracken left that 18 years after that Happening November, the company attempted to pry IMAGE loose from the HP 3000 by un-bundling it -- simply to encourage wider-installed database companies to select MPE and the 3000 as a supported platform and kick start sales. What had made the 3000 a winner for the 1970s HP was now being viewed as an island.
Those participating software suppliers of 1984 were not about to let HP cast away such a bundled target market, though. Most of them report that IMAGE made the 3000 as good as it would ever be for a high-value business platform. That's high-value as in one which is capable of lasting through many Novembers. And at some companies of as large as $5 billion yearly revenue, this November continues to be a month with 3000s in place, their month-end cycles still a-happening.
October 29, 2012
My Life with HP, Top to Bottom
Editor's Note: We've invited 3000 veterans to tell their stories of their first HP 3000 encounters, as a way of stocking the 3000 Memoir Project. Some have graced us with full-on accounts, like this one by a manufacturing software pioneer.
By Terry Floyd
The Support Group
Note: I was at first surprised when I counted the number of times I used the word “I” in this article (much less in this very sentence). But then I decided to just let it go and admit that it takes an egoist to attempt to write his own story in the first place.
Forty years ago I was in college taking a FORTRAN IV class on a PDP-11. I went to work for Thermon Manufacturing Company in San Marcos 10 days after graduating from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State) in May of 1974. I had a major in Computer Information Systems and Quantitative Methods and a minor in Accounting. An application called TRACE, running custom FORTRAN heat-transfer calculation software, had been developed in-house on an HP 1000 (2100A) with core memory and 5 MB of disc.
In 1975 HP came out with a Time Sharing Basic system on RTE with TCS (Terminal Control System) but we ran FORTRAN programs on it, not BASIC. In November of that year I went to a class in Cupertino for something called the IMAGE Database. That may have been the first class HP ever taught on IMAGE (at least for non-employees). There were 10 of us in that class taught by Paul McGillicuddy.
I had a FORTRAN/IMAGE Payroll system working on RTE by 1976. So that I would really get it right, the CFO, my boss, Kenneth Pitzer, made me do the payroll by hand (no kidding, with a pencil) while developing the code and documentation all by myself. I found out that manual payroll processing for 100 employees took about four days a week (more when I first started) and that Quarter-End and Year-End were special periods of extra torture. Six months of that was all I could stand and fortunately it was enough, because we did go live on my payroll system and never looked back.
I learned a lot when I converted my RTE IMAGE payroll system to the HP 3000; anyone remember the Decimal String Arithmetic Package? It was ASCII math in firmware, precise to 128 digits of accuracy. There were no rounding errors in my FORTRAN payroll system. That payroll system ran at Thermon for about 15 years, long after I had left.
Thermon bought an HP 3000 Series II in mid-1978 and, for just a little bit more money (a special offer from HP), it became a Series III by the time it was delivered two months later. I remember sponsoring a FORTRAN programming class, after working hours at Thermon, and how the local university professor of Computer Science told us that an “Engineering Minicomputer” ran ASCII and that a real business system ran EBCDIC. We showed him different. I remember dialing in at 300 baud on an acoustic coupler from the geodesic dome I had built while in college on the GI Bill. My kids, David and Callie, played HP 3000 games at 300 bps from home when they were 3 years old.
I went to MPE classes in Cupertino and Atlanta and attended the 1978 General Systems Users Group meeting in Denver; that group became Interex and David Packard gave the keynote address. I met a fellow named Orly Larson and another named Alfredo Rego, both of whom liked to talk about databases. I went to IMAGE class again in Houston and worked with Frank Letts and Brad Webb from HP's Houston office throughout 1979. I attended HP classes in Maryland as well.
The main reason we bought an HP 3000 at Thermon was Sandra Kurtzig's MANMAN (Manufacturing Management) MRP software system. The application drove the hardware sale, beating out Univac and IBM. I had called ASK Computer Systems the first time in December of 1975 after reading a 1/8 page ad in Datamation magazine and after learning that MANMAN was priced at $65,000 I spent the next 2 years trying to do it myself thinking that was too much money. After messing around with IMAGE/1000 during 1977 and early 1978, doing A/P manually (this time with an Olivetti 801 “Posting Machine” instead of a pencil) and trying to code that and also thinking about how to write my own Inventory Control software, we decided to buy a software package.
One day the VP of Engineering wanted something on the same day as the VP of Finance and I found out that money talks. Most valuable lesson learned, that. We started the project to acquire a business computer the next day. I was really glad MANMAN was written in FORTRAN with IMAGE (crazy basis for a decision) but it really worked out nicely. MANMAN/3000 became an iconic classic. Birket Foster visited Thermon in 1979 and I hired John Banks before leaving Thermon.
I went to work for ASK Computer Systems in August 1981 and moved from “The Dome” to Houston. We installed over 50 HP 3000 MANMAN systems before I moved on and started my own company, Blanket Solutions, in 1985. From that came a move back to Austin and starting The Support Group in 1994, and the rest is history.
In 1979 my first wife, Nanci, and I went to the 1979 World HP General Systems Users Group meeting in Lyon, France. I still can't believe Thermon approved that, but it's where I met Vladimir Volokh and Bob Green. I remember D. David Brown hitchhiking outside Nice. During all those years, I missed only one of the annual Interex Conferences, in 1984. Together with David Groves, Jane and Tinker Copeland, and Bill McAfee, we hosted the Interex Conference in San Antonio in 1982. A particularly lasting memory is of working with Ron Seybold on the 1994 AllTex RUG Meeting in Lakeway.
I've worked with some great people since I first started programming on HP's RTE and MPE Operating Systems; thousands of people. MANMAN took me to over 350 manufacturing sites in North America where just regular folks were doing the best they could. I think in some small ways I helped them make all those diverse products labeled Made in America. From Greyhound buses to Conner disk drives, from Lowrance fish finders to MagicAire A/C units, from MSI sensors on the space shuttle to Korry's Dreamliner dashboard to Bose speakers and Wave Radios, MANMAN and MPE made things better at over 2500 locations worldwide. Even in 2012, it still does for several hundred companies.
I've spent over 35 years with jobs all related to using the HP 3000: an entire career on one platform. I've seen HP come and go. It ain't over yet. I will only be 77 years old in 2026. My kids will be in their early fifties by then. Time enough to forget about Carly Fiorina. Here's to the future of MPE! May the singularity bring peace and prosperity to everyone associated with HP -- and to you too, Carly.
October 23, 2012
Never Happy, Even With the Advances
The HP 3000 had detractors and opponents from the day of its birth. It was not an HP-style product, this computer, said Bill and Dave. It started out too slow, or crashed, or relied on software so expensive people had to write their own. Later on it got slammed because it used proprietary operating software. It didn't speak in Unix, collaborate with Windows, communicate with computers on standardized LANs. It didn't FTP files like other computers. It didn't have a modern user license. It didn't use low-cost peripherals. It wasn't the Digital VAX, the IBM AS/400, the Compaq ProLiant or even an IBM mainframe.
But for all of its failings, the HP 3000 did as much as Hewlett-Packard's best to keep up. It did even more when the customers' love was allowed into its designs. Its flaws run back to the business managers, MBAs, engineering leaders and finance officers curating the 3000's future. What this business system finally was not results from choices that its customers made, choices led by the computer's creating vendor.
I am thinking about this today as Apple announces a new generation of computers, revamped with things like a Fusion Drive, ranging from its hottest mobile products in iPads to its least sexy systems in desktop iMacs, skinny laptops, and stacking-small Mac Minis. For every one of these improved machines, snarky commentators brayed out the missing benefits during Apple's worldwide introduction of five distinct computers -- six, if you count the stack-and-rack Mini version that companies use as business servers. I don't believe it's fair to call Apple a company selling to consumers alone. Businesses are filled with pocket-sized iPhone computers and tablets -- the kind of devices that the business-focused HP tried and failed to sell.
At the end of 90 minutes of Apple's parade of advances, its detractors spewed their opinions. Something everyone has, like a certain body part. No matter what a vendor does to try ries to improve a product, these kinds of gimcrack mavens have their juvenile sport. Not a one of them ever shepherded a product like an A-Class server through battles with finance VPs or focus group disciples or engineering leaders who wanted designs that were only successors. In spite of all of that blathering drool, people will love their new iPads and Mac laptops and the same way your community still reveres the concept -- if not the execution -- of the Series I shown above.
Or how loved its 9x9 3000s -- and then finally lusted after that first A-Class unit that Dave Snow carried under his arm to the front of a hotel meeting room at a conference. (Watch at the 20-second mark; somebody in the room wanted to buy that demo unit right out from under Snow's arm.)
That 3000 didn't run Unix, cost twice as much as a Dell server, and it undercut the value of computers HP had sold just six months earlier. People wanted it, no matter what the know-nothings said about value.
The final class of HP's 3000 design was unfair to anyone who bought a 9x9 in 2000. But it advanced the art of MPE business servers. Customers suffer when they purchase too close to the future. But whether they buy a server on the eve of its futures, or an iPad this spring, they suffer on our behalf. The cost of not advancing the art can be seen in a collapse of a vendor's futures.Being too close to the future might seem like living too close to the sun. It's bright and warm there because you purchase what's become a hot value. The price has dropped by the time you get there, the momentum of the user base is with you. Apple said today that it's sold 100 million iPads already. You have to go back to the rank of Windows PCs to find a number that big. And nobody has ever done it in just 30 months.
But now those kinds of breakthoughs -- like the HP employees who lined up to form the number 10,000 when that many servers had rolled off 3000 factory lines -- are ended for HP's iron. Stories appear regularly now which wonder if Dell or HP could ever regain their strength. A customer who got burned buying an N-Class just weeks before HP ended its 3000 futures might find some solace in seeing HP stripped of its market cap. It's been three weeks since the stock was above $17. When the 3000 was on the product line and HP was still selling unique environments, the stock was at $70 before it split.
A vendor which leaves its product on the market too long without advances pays a price. And one which updates too fast makes nitwits niggle about timing, too. Perhaps getting it right to please both those who live close to the sun and those who orbit the asteroids is genuinely tough. When the response to advances is measured in millions of sales, however, the niggles seem foolish.
October 12, 2012
3000's cells seem simpler to retrained vets
Walter Murray was a veteran of 10 years' service in HP's language labs when he left the company in 2003. HP's writing was on the wall about all things MPE including the server's languages. Murray took an IT post at the California state prison system. But last month he left the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for another state agency job. The new work has led Murray into a genuine legacy cellblock: IBM's mainframes, the System Z and MVS.
Murray is a veteran of the 3000 from 1975 onward, but his newest job is in the world of systems which are even more established. "I'm spending a lot of time learning how to do all the things that were so easy in MPE," he said this week. In 25 years at HP,he worked on 3000 graphics software, the HP Toolset manufacturing development suite, 3000 millicode, HP COBOL and the C compiler and libraries at HP’s language labs. During the era when Hewlett-Packard was developing and improving compilers for the 3000, Murray was doing the engineering.
Murray signed on to enter a different, more complex world of data processing with IBM legacy iron. In the meantime, the 3000 platform is still working in what some might call cells at 33 prisons. About 40 HP 3000s still run at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which includes one A Class at each of the 33 state prisons, an N-Class at the central office, and a handful of test machines.
Another veteran of the 3000 checked in with us to report he's set a flight path for some of the newest computing, after the same length of journey in MPE. Paul Edwards has bought an iPad 3, a tool for heading back into the skies as a pilot at age 71. That iPad, Edwards' first Apple tool, is in his cockpit because it runs an application he needs. Even the BYOD marketplace follows the same attaction as the 3000s do -- it's the software.It's been four decades since the veteran Edwards filed a flight plan or had to know the way into and out of US air territory. "Forty years later, it's a lot different air space," he said.
Edwards is retraining on the iPad as a user, but he's employing an app that tracks flight plans, airspace maps, fixed base operation providers and more. He's familiar with those elements as a pilot, and the iPad delivers newer technology than the paper-based maps and flight log books from his younger flying days.
He said it's a lot like that for 3000 users who may be training on newer technology: proven concepts like DP management and development, enabled on more prevalent technology. He went on to note a handful of clients in his IT community in Dallas who are making that move, including Club Technology (club billing) and MilesTek (electronics connectivity products).
"They're winding down and converting their stuff to Windows," he said of those companies, places where Edwards has helped with tools like Speedware and Suprtool. In particular, Club Technology was a great advocate for the 3000 technology while the systems were replacing computers the size and scale of those where Murray now works.
While legacy systems seem shackled compared to a 3000, both then and even now, it was the software delivered under MPE that made the difference, Murray said. "The most impressive thing about the 3000 was the bang for the buck, especially in terms of the compilers and IMAGE. We wrote our first online system in COBOL using KSAM, which was brand new, and DEL." He was proving that legacy technology of the mid-'70s had to give way to interactive 3000s.
The first 3000 on which I programmed was a CX machine located at the HP Fullerton Sales Office, connecting via a 300 baud modem with an acoustic coupler. With that technology, my partner and I ran a number of benchmarks, demonstrated the feasibility of converting our existing applications (mostly COBOL) from a Honeywell system, and started exploring the world of online transaction processing.Everything older can appear to be chained. But there are those 40-some 3000s still keeping the California prison system running for now. Some shackles, like Murray's new MVS job, have stability to call upon, too.
September 28, 2012
3000 Memoir Project: Wins from Easy Use
The 3000 Memoir Project is a living and growing history of your community, told by the server and its software. There are excepts of the book to be published next year, in paper as well as e-book formats. 2013 will mark the genuine 40-year anniversary of the system, while 1974 marks the start of the user group that integrated community pioneers.
We're looking for your stories of the first time you encountered a 3000. Call me at 512-331-0075, or send an email to the NewsWire's offices.
In this installment, the 3000 tells about relative ease of use versus mainframe standard, stories told to, and told by, Paul Edwards -- a former IBM mainframe manager, US veteran, and director of several user groups. By the HP 3000
I was sold on ease of use, and fun.
I like what Paul Edwards and the others said about working with me, versus those entrenched mainframes. See, HP didn’t think of selling me as a big datacenter computer at the start. I was supposed to be a wheel-it-in computer. Some of my early ads showed people “rolling it up to the side of the desk,” Edwards says. My early models, the Series 30s and 40s, even had me built into desks as if I was part of the office furniture, instead of running the office.
That’s because I was a new idea in computers: something that regular office workers could manage, with the help of people like Edwards at HP.
They had a great database they gave me for good in 1976, IMAGE, and one of the fun examples of it used statistics from the NFL. Orly Larson at HP had cooked up the demo of IMAGE, “and every HP sales site had a copy of it. It was just a six-dataset database. But we’d say to the Systems 3 people, ‘let me show you how you can retrieve something, or update databases. They were amazed. It was fun. IBM systems weren’t fun – they were work.”
Edwards says that back in those early days, you couldn’t take fundamentals for granted. Like just writing a file. Me, I did it like a swimmer just jumping in after years of practice, not even thinking about it. “When I came to the 3000, I didn’t have to worry where on a disk I was going to put a file,” he says. “I just wrote out a file. On the IBMs, I had to specify which sector, which disk platter.” He called it one of the most advanced bits of tech that I had when he first started using me.He says the other magic that made me easy was IMAGE, my strong heart of a database. I even had a built-in QUERY, something that the other computers’ owners had to write themselves. “It was fascinating to me,” Edwards says, “because you could just build an application with QUERY on the fly. You could just send a report out to a printer and show it immediately to the customer. It was the ease of sitting down to the terminals and developing with COBOL and IMAGE. Tools like QUERY, FCOPY for files, they would’ve loved to have had all of those built-in on the mainframes. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”
Of course, my console was a 50-pound beast, the 2640 or 45. This wasn’t a weight contest, so I could even have little tape drives in those consoles. I also had card readers to help Edwards and his cohorts absorb the IBM mainframe programs into my MPE. HP gave me my own version of RPG — that code still feels funny on my bones — which was a lot like IBM’s RPG, Edwards says. He’d do my updates, in the earliest days, by using 9-track tapes with a new version of MPE. I even had a paper tape reader for early demos, although the tape wasn’t paper — it was really mylar.
Comparing tape to disk was another place where I could shine in stealing IBM’s customers. Edwards worked in Frito-Lay’s manufacturing operations before he joined my family. “I went from a tape-based operating system to a disk-based one,” he says. “It was light years ahead of the mainframe.”
I had a lot of ardent fans coming on in those days. People would punch out programs on cards from the System 3s, then go to work using the Data Entry Library. It was my first part of my body that had a human name: the DEL/3000. “We’d build the screens quickly, so the customers could come in and review them,” Edwards says. They’d give HP guys T-shirts from my birthplace in California that said, “Series I Has Begun.” Call them out to what they called the factory, back when they actually built me next to the labs, so they could learn something new and sometimes have beer blasts afterward in the parking lots. They they’d go back and cross-train the others at their HP offices. SEs and CEs collaborated.
Eventually Edwards left my Dallas office to go out on his own. A lot of the sharp SEs would do that in the early ‘80s, when he was just getting a fresh start as an indie consultant. He worked with Speedware on projects, taught things like Robelle’s Suprtool. From a time when my 7910 disks, with one fixed and one removable platter, held just 10 Mb, I’ve grown my reach into places like 500Gb disks, and maybe soon, up in that vague and uncharted storehouse for data called the cloud. Edwards tells me that he’s still got a Series 928 of his own at home that he fires up for consults. “Once or twice a year I’ll vacuum out the fuzzies, but other than that, it just runs,” he says. I like that reputation. I’ve held on more than three times as long as Windows XP, another computer body that Edwards says has fierce loyalists. I might get inspired by Paul to go to newer heights. He wants to take his FAA exam to extend his piloting experience, so he might get to fly classics in the Commemorative Air Force like the T-28 trainer — a prop aircraft that’s 20 years older than me. “They’re now looking for younger guys,” Paul says about the CAF, “but not necessarily that much younger.”
September 27, 2012
3000 Memoir Project: Jousts with IBM
The 3000 Memoir Project is a living and growing history of your community, told by the server and software that made HP's first business server a landmark, enduring success. We're introducing the Project as an except of the book to be published next year, in paper as well as e-book formats. 2013 will mark the genuine 40-year anniversary of the system, while 1974 marks the start of the user group that integrated the community pioneers.
We're looking for your stories of the first time you encountered a 3000. Call me at 512-331-0075, or send an email to the NewsWire's offices.
In this installment, the 3000 tells us of its days besting the old concepts of IBM. It earns its place as a minicomputer alternative replacing mainframes in the 1970s. It's a set of stories as told to, and told by, Paul Edwards -- a former IBM mainframe manager, US veteran, and director of several user groups. He's still working as a consultant today.
By the HP 3000
My easy magic made mainframes look hard.
I’m not starting at my very beginning, but I sprang to life against mainframes. I’m the HP 3000 and I always have been, even after HP stopped making me in 2003. My operating system — the muscles and organs that have made companies stronger and my life much longer — has been passed down from one generation of computing to the next. My hardware bones have changed in obvious ways, like a youngster growing taller. But even when my muscles and organs were still new, and my bones hadn’t grown, I was still knocking off bigger and older mainframes. It was my time to claim a minicomputer’s place in white-coated DP shops. We didn’t call it IT then. Paul Edwards, who’s only about 30 years older than my 40-year-old spirit, was a lot of help in making my bones against IBM.
Those jousts happened in Dallas with him at my console or his head inside a cabinet. He was coming into my HP realm after four years of working with IBM’s mainframes at Frito-Lay’s headquarters, plus a bit of time tending EDS, he tells me. A mainframe guy coming onto my team. It was kind of like having a new big brother to help you stand up against those bullies of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. IBM spread FUD in the 1970s about using anything but their batch beasts. Edwards and others found my easy magic and showed it off to win me new customers. Lots of them were using System 3s, he said, until they saw me.Back in those 1970s I was a six-foot tall box, and that didn’t even count the room I needed for my console and disks and tape drives. One of my earliest failure points back then, when HP didn’t even manufacture the drives that I used, was my two fans in the bottom of my cabinets. “They blew air across the circuit boards,” Edwards says, “because those boards were stacked horizontally.” My boards in my Series II era were three feet square. Edwards still talks about saving the removable blue nameplate from that earlier version of me, after I grew up into the better-known Series III. I had a switch panel in those early days, something Edwards used to boot up my MPE.
I should explain a bit about Paul. He was working as an HP SE after those mainframe days of his, coming into HP’s Dallas-area offices in 1976. He says he’s been working on me as well as my forebears for half his life. Considering that he’s 71, that’s unique. There aren’t many Navy pilots from the Vietnam era still working in data processing. He might be the only naval commander who can still command MPE. He’s still consulting with companies who have a hole in their tech know-how, the ones using me in 2012 without experience updating my OS, or even how to restart me.
It’s those restarts where I got to shine against IBM. Edwards says, “We’d ask the IBM guys about their mainframes, ‘What if I go unplug it?’ “ And they’d get a look that told me I was special in the late ‘70s. Those mainframe boys once got hammered by a Texas thunderstorm, Edwards says. I remember the day that storm swept in and a temp receptionist wasn’t looking out the windward window, like they usually did. The IBM boys would power down their systems to avoid a lightning strike that’d kill the power. They didn’t have the early warning that day, though.
When the power died, “I heard this wailing from the IBM guys,” Edwards tells me. “They had to call up specialists from IBM, because the power outage had destroyed their entire file system. They were there for a couple of weeks rebuilding file pointers because they didn’t have a good backup. The tech magic was its reliability and ease of use,” he says. “As far as something you could show the customers, the power fail restarts could be demonstrated. It showed the reliability of the hardware.” But I had an edge in pleasure, too.
Next time: Ease of use, compared to IBM iron
September 18, 2012
Staying on the road: Job 1 to own a classic
As autumn bears down on us this week — it begins on Thursday — I'm struck by changes of more than just seasons. A pair of experts about older engineering are retiring from the radio airwaves here in the US. They'll live on in a virtual format, with older shows full of the same rich information — just a little more aged. The comparisons to the 3000 community seemed apt to me.
Riding on a very old technology this summer, I filled my ears using a bit newer technology, to hear about tech with both innovation and heritage. I rode my bike, tech first envisioned and built in the 19th Century. I listened to a radio show while I pedaled my 13-mile circuit around my hilly neighborhood. It's often an hour that's blessed by the miracle of podcasts, smartphones and Bluetooth transmissions to my earbuds.
But I listen to talk from a show first created for a medium that's over 100 years old. My ears fill with laughter, troubles, innovation and love for technology that's not new. I listen to Car Talk, and I sometimes think about all of you, and what you do and have done.
Car Talk is a top-rated NPR radio show created once a week by two auto-repair garage owners, the brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi. These fellows are winding down an amazing career of detailed engineering advice and inspired comedy. Known as the Tappet Brothers, they're ending their radio show creation as of the end of September. They've been on the air since the HP 3000 was brand-new.
There are a lot of similarities between a radio show that starts with a bluegrass riff followed by with hard Boston accents, and your community of minicomputer owners.
Of late I've been hearing the 3000 called a minicomputer because I've been talking with MPE experts as old as Tom and Ray. The younger Ray is 63, the older Tom is 75. Your community's founders are from that generation, mostly Boomers, with their elders born pre-War. All of us were taught to mind our elders. A lot of us thumbed our noses at that rule, until we got older ourselves.
There's only one guiding rule on Car Talk: keep a perfectly good car on the road. Technology that's old might have been bypassed unfairly, so it's easy to hear the ardor coming from Tom while praising some cars built in the 1980s and '90s. The important word back there is some cars. Not all. Beloved as the original Volkswagen Beetles are, Click and Clack call them death traps.
It's essential to have florid language ready if you're going to keep your place in radio for 35 years. You also need to tell stories on yourself as well as idiots and innocents who offer up their problems.
Just like my job for the past 28 years, listening to Car Talk always makes me feel important (for remembering) and ignorant. But like so many of you, I can learn. One of my favorite septuagenarians, Vladimir Volokh, took me under his tutelage this year in an advanced course of 3000 technology. He started to call in earnest once I published my first novel -- because like an older car, it needed some tuning up.
Your HP 3000s could use a tune up, some time spent with as much honesty as ardor. They're running on borrowed time, some of them, but they're still on the road. Their disk drives have been spinning, some of them, since the Simpsons was brand-new. Some of them hum with MPE versions that were first designed while the Dallas Cowboys were winning NFL championships. Others have gotten new drives or memory or fresher MPE/iX. But Vladimir says their system's insides can be as clotted as a senior's veins off a diet from the Midwest, all cheesy, creamy and eggy. (Okay, and oh so tasty.)
Some of you are driving Dodge Darts along your roads of computer commerce. That's a car so storied, legendary and disrespected that Chrysler is reviving it. The commercials here during the Olympics gave us a teaser for the Dart II. The folly and glory of that venture reminded me of the Magliozzis' comic instruction, as well as the path for the 3000's remaining journey.
Yeah, it's old tech, all of it: radio, two guys taking phone calls, talking about 30-year-old vehicles. But like a classic and classy computer system, a car is vital to commerce and enjoyment. It's hard to hold a job without a car, but not impossible. It's hard to run a business without owning a computer, but it's becoming more possible.
Like a Dart that you hear about on the radio, business computers are becoming virtual. Even a classic like a 3000 is going to be virtual one day. That means the essence of its spirited engine, MPE, and its carb of IMAGE will be run someplace other than the circuits, disks and memory in a chunk of iron down the hall in a workplace. It will run in a server farm thousands of miles away from that office, rolling its bits and bytes along what we once called the Information Superhighway.
Click and Clack never see the cars which are the subject of the callers' ire and adoration. Things like the Dart, the Beetle, a Lincoln or a Mercedes are only understood by what the brothers have seen in their own garage, or the talk that good mechanics certainly share about the most frustrating and mysterious machines in their lives. Now the brothers themselves are going virtual. Car Talk will remain on the air, rebroadcasting shows, enough of them that producer Doug Berman figures it will be at least eight years before they have to repeat anything.
Would eight more years of a useful HP 3000 be enough for your company? It would be for most of you. If you're like me or Vladimir, you might dream of seeing your beloved MPE machine run longer, even beyond 2027, another 15 years of service. It's just as possible as seeing a 1971 El Camino rolling down a Texas highway, driven by another 3000 septuagenarian, Paul Edwards.
Edwards started his 3000 career about the time Click and Clack took their first radio call. Paul's not going any more virtual than Vladimir will this year. With tuning, memory and respect, lots of us want to stay on the road behind the wheel of a classic. If you turn yours off the pavement, I hope it's with a good plan for driving something you love just as much.
Would you like to be a part of the 3000's story of its journey, from the Sixties to infinity and beyond? Call me, or write a little email to the addresses on the back of this page. The 3000 is writing its memoirs, as told to this writer, retold from the ears of others. Tell me your role in keeping it rolling on the road.
September 12, 2012
The Actual Size and Start of the 3000 World
Ask around to discover how large the 3000 world grew to be, or when it all began. You're likely to get a couple of stock answers. The size of the world counting every system ever sold might be reputed to be more than 50,000 servers shipped. Its genesis is regularly quoted at 1972, so this November would mark 40 years of the 3000's lifetime.
That genesis is only correct if you count the 3000s days of gestation. An out-of-print book by one of the longest-termed 3000 veterans, Thomas Harbron, tells a story of a often-patched, crashing computer. In Thinking Machines, Harbron reports that so pot-holed was the 3000's start that the delays gave HP enough time to rename the system the 3000CX, instead of the System/3000. As has been reported all over, the start was so flawed that HP's founder vowed no HP product would ever be announced before it could be demoed.
Harbron shared a section of his book with us that explains why HP needed the lengthy delay. (We'd love to bring Thinking Machines back into e-print, especially as part of the 3000 Memoir Project.)
After all, is it still a 3000 without a database or a business langauge? He says neither IMAGE or COBOL were ready to demonstrate until mid-1973. BASIC and the 3000's unique SPL were the only languages a customer could use to create software for most of 1973. (And creating your own software was the only way an application suite could go into work in the early 1970s on a 3000.) HP limited access to its lab 3000s in 1972 to communication via teletypes.
Harbron also reported that the first 3000 training seminar of two weeks in California was "classes that were mostly taught by Bob Green," the founder of Robelle. Even at the 3000's start, familiar faces of today were there spreading its seeds.
Harbron says in his book that things turned bad in a hurry when some of the other eight customers in that class tried to use that 3000 in December, 1972. This multi-user system couldn't support more than four simultaneous users. Time between crashes had a mean of about two hours, he says.
Every time I logged onto the system... a newer version of the operating system had been installed. In the two weeks I was there, the version number increased by more than 50, meaning there were that many versions in just two weeks. Clearly the developers were frantic. The effect on the people in the class was devastating.
While we were in the class, HP released a schedule for MPE. In it they acknowledged that they would not be able to deliver the full operating system on schedule. They showed an initial release in December with three subsequent releases which would bring MPE up to full specifications by June 1, 1973.
Harbron also notes that HP celebrated the shipment of the 25,000th HP 3000 in 1982. The company took a picture of the 1,000 people in the 3000 division and mailed this postcard to customers. Around that time the personal computer became such a serious alternative to business computing that HP began to sell the 3000 against it, even while it offered a touch-based console PC.
To continue those calculations, doubling that number of ever-shipped 3000s over the next 10 years -- before HP swung to Unix for preferred enterprise sales -- seems realistic. But the decade between 1992-2001 probably only showed give-and-take shipments. Losses of 3000s, some to HP's own efforts, which were then offset by new customers. Harbron published his book in 2000, showing the same kind of optimism we used in sizing up the 3000 market, as he looked back on that 1982 postcard.
The 3000 had become the fifth most popular computer ever made [by 1982]. Today, nearly 30 years after its advent, it is still selling briskly and has probably climbed even higher in the rankings (microcomputers excluded).
September 06, 2012
Core memories spark a cold start for 3000s
Editor’s Note: Jon Diercks, the author of the only comprehensive MPE/iX administration book, offered us this story of the 3000’s very first year. It was a time of HP retreat from the minicomputer market: HP staff resigning, others unselling a system touted just months earlier as “a happening,” as the slogans of 1972-73 said in HP labs and offices.
Diercks worked at Anderson University in the 1990s alongside Tom Harbron, who’d been the college’s computer department director during 3000’s first months on the market. Diercks said Harbron was heavily involved in early discussions with HP about MPE and IMAGE.
The institution began as Anderson College, and its very first HP 3000 was one of the earliest models. Diercks said the bragging line in those days was "Anderson College has the first HP 3000 ever installed anywhere between the Rockies and the Appalachians."
Harbron’s report on the 3000’s 1973 is part of Diercks’ 3000 memories, and so he’s contributed the writing as part of our 3000 Memoir Project — in all of its authentic, human and humbling beginnings. It's the first story I've read that details the 3000's retreat. An HP employee who couldn't look his customers in the eye about the 3000, and so resigned. A man whose job was to unsell the 3000s -- and later would bundle the greatest software HP ever wrote, IMAGE, to the Classic hardware, which not long after, fell behind the state of the art.
By Tom Harbron
Reports of problems with the HP 3000 operating system, MPE, continued to be received in the opening weeks of 1973. While it was not encouraging, I had confidence in the basic soundness of the 3000’s design and the integrity of Hewlett-Packard to ultimately deliver what had been promised.
HP’s Phil Oliver called and scheduled a meeting with me for February 6, 1973. He brought along Bob Stringer, who had replaced Ed Pulsifer as the District Sales Manager; Ed McCracken, who was now HP's Market Manager for Government, Education, and Medical Markets; and Jay Craig, who was a new HP salesman from Indianapolis. McCracken would tell me, years later when he was the 3000 division manager, that the morning in my office was the most difficult day of his career. The people that HP hired were, mostly, an honorable group of people.
On that day in 1973, they had some bad news to deliver. Specifically there were seven points:
1. HP cannot bring the software components of the system up to full specifications before Fall 1973.
2. They are devoting “maximum resources” to correcting the problem.
3. The system will currently support no more than 4-6 simultaneous users.
4. HP will loan an additional 64K bytes of core storage to bring the system up to this 4-6 user level of performance. (We had ordered the system with 64K bytes of core storage.)
5. IMAGE will be further delayed to January 1974.
6. Because of hardware difficulties, a slower console printer would be provided.
7. They would like us to cancel the contract. Lacking that, they wish to amend the contract.
It was a tense meeting. McCracken was going about the country, visiting customers, and unselling the 3000. It was hard for everyone. Phil Oliver would return to his office later that day and resign. He told me he couldn’t look his customers in the eye. Ed Pulsifer had already resigned for similar reasons.
I resisted their pleas to cancel the contract for four fundamental reasons.
First, I had faith in the basic design of the system. I had run benchmarks that had come in almost exactly where I had predicted from the timings in the ERS. MPE was clearly a better design than nearly anything else then available. The combination was more cost effective than anything else by a factor of two or three. Moreover, I had met many of the people involved with the project and had confidence that they could do the job, given the time and resources.
Second, there really were no viable alternatives on the market at the time. DEC tried long and hard to sell us, but in the end their salesman conceded that the systems DEC had were either too feeble or far too large for our needs; the HP 3000 was a perfect fit. IBM tried hard to sell us on various timesharing patches to their systems, none of which worked well. The only systems available that would do the work were the XDS Sigmas and they cost five times as much as the 3000.
Third, I thought that HP had to make the 3000 succeed if they were to remain a growth company. At that time, HP had about half of the instrument market and could not significantly expand their market share without anti-trust problems. Their other market areas, such as microwave, were respectable, but in small markets that were not growing very fast.
The only way that HP could continue to grow at historic rates was by entering the computer business in a major way. With $25 million already invested in the 3000, they were unlikely to write off that investment and content themselves with their existing markets. If the 3000 failed, they would have had to immediately start over on another computer project.
Fourth, we had already invested several man-years in application development for the HP 3000 at the time that HP was trying to unsell the system. It would have been a financial disaster for us to write off all of that work and begin again with a different system. We really had no option beyond the 3000.
Years later, in a speech before the Users’ Group, McCracken said “I want to thank those of you who had faith that the HP 3000 would succeed at a time when many at HP had profound doubts.” I’m sure he was thinking of that cold February day he spent in my office.
August 29, 2012
What's Overlooked or Lost: Test Disciplines
Whether a 3000 customer is hanging in there for good business reasons, or heading off to another platform, they all need testing skills. Retirements and workforce reductions contribute to the loss of those disciplines. One advantage of making a migration is a refreshed demand for testing. After all, changing environments means measuring the effects of those changes.
During a recent online presentation about migration practices, the scope of that underestimation was revealed. Figure on three times the amount of resource for testing, experts say, as you'd initially budget. About a third of the cost and time to make significant changes of applications or an environment should go into testing. The lucky part of that costly equation is that at least on enterprise systems, you can work to replicate bugs.
Touchpad interface developers are not so lucky. Give a user an infinite number of ways to touch a screen, swipe it, pinch it or tap it. Then when an app crashes, try to replicate the exact combination of user interface actions. Testing, says Allegro's co-founder Steve Cooper, is much more complex in that world of BYOD apps.
Complex testing is an artifact of the rising art of systems. Where the HP 3000 can guarantee that programs written in 1978 would run in 2008, the 2010 iPads cannot run software built less than two years later. Testing is costly, and remaining in place on a platform like the 3000, for business reasons, reduces the need to do it. When you do go, an HP 3000 expert might be out of their depth in juggling development tools of Java, Ruby or even iOS -- but some of those veterans know testing disciplines better than any recent graduate, offshore, or near-shore programmer.You have a test which you execute and watch fail before something is fixed, "and then it won't, after it's fixed, and you add that to the regression test suite," Cooper says. "That means you can tell if you ever accidentally introduce that bug back again."
There's a lot to know about testing, and some of the methods don't involve higher technology tools at all. One major 3000 migration at an insurance firm of Fortune 500 size took place because the users' possible interactions were recorded, one screen at a time, using Microsoft Word documents. The magic there was the ability to analyze human behaviors against the potential of each program. That can happen more quickly with someone trained as a programmer-analyst, or a P/A as they were called in the earliest days of the HP 3000.
Analysis skills are not in vogue like creativity skills or the magic of mobile among the tech workforce. Everybody wants to be a creator, and there seems to be no limit to the size of such teams. The number of people involved in creating a program tells a lot about the ability to test it. Cooper estimated that perhaps three people were working on HP's IMAGE team, from what he recalls hearing in the '70s. All of MPE was at first maintained by five people. No more than three developers maintained the 3000's systems language, SPL.
Fewer voices made more robust systems in those legendary times. The accepted wisdom was that three people arguing in a room over how to create a robust program was about the right number. There is certainly a lower number of IT pros who can perform the higher-order thinking of test disciplines. That number will not necessarily improve just because the next systems and programs are more popular. Auditors aren't popular either, but the real money in enterprise computing flows through them and their tests.
August 21, 2012
First 3000 steps: chasing HP's Mighty Mouse
Twenty eight years ago today I took my first steps into the world of Hewlett-Packard. I stepped from the workdays of a small town newspaper editor to the monthly quest for news of bits, segments, and mice. When I walked into the Austin office of Wilson Publications, creators of The Chronicle (we didn't dare to use "HP" in the title) I found wood-paneled walls around a desk with no terminal, no keyboard, and no clue about a new HP 3000 coiled and ready to change the system's reach.
The new Series 37 Mighty Mouse was revealed to me and managing editor John Hastings about two weeks after I'd assumed the reporting and writing for that monthly tabloid, just eight issues old at the time. We opened the mail on September 13 to learn of a minicomputer covered by our arch-rival, the Interex user group's InterACT magazine. We'd never seen a Mighty Mouse, and neither had InterACT's Sharon Fisher. But InterACT got a pre-briefing on the first business computer HP ever built that needed no computer room or operators.
Being scooped in your first issue is a humbling way to start a news job. But as a dewy lad of 27, I chalked it up to the lack of newsroom practices at Wilson and began to lift my wings onto the radar of Hewlett-Packard. HP was a company so small at the time that its total quarterly sales were less than today's profits from 2012's last quarter. The $6.4 billion company had a total of five US PR contacts to cover every product in the lineup. It also had several thousand products and more software than it knew how to nurture and improve. But that Mighty Mouse was a shot across the bow of the fleet of personal computers already riding the waves of change. HP said the Series 37, priced at under $20,000 in bare bones, was an alternative to what we called microcomputers.
It can operate in a normal office environment. It looks like a two drawer filing cabinet sitting beside a desk. No air conditioning, special temperature control, or unusual electrical requirements are needed. It can be placed in carpeted rooms. Moreover, it's very quiet; HP claims it makes even less noise than a typewriter.
Longs Drug, I learned by reading my competition, was going to install more than 150 of these Mighty Mice among its hundreds of stores in the Western US. At that time a microcomputer was strictly a device for personal computing, rarely networked with anything. HP wanted businesses to purchase HPWORD, running on the 3000 for office automation, and HP DeskManager for the 3000 to tie workers together with internal mail and document exchange. Thousands of dollars worth of software, piled on top of that $20 grand.
Just outside the door of my paneled office in Texas, we ran a Columbia PC with a 300-baud modem and WordStar, plus PC 2622 software to make that micro behave like an HP terminal. We dialed up to timeshare with a 3000 at Futura Press, where our stories were set and then delivered back to us in galleys which we waxed up and pasted for tabloid layout. It would be another year before we'd even get Compuserve to link us to the rest of the computing world.
Like a lot of businesses, Wilson and The Chronicle relied more on the steel filing cabinets the Mighty Mouse mimicked in size. We had phones and transcription machines, though, and I had the fortune to mess up editing a story which brought me closer to a preeminent community creator. Mistakes, hubris and getting bested will make a perfectionist spend longer hours trying to learn to avoid subsequent embarrassments.Hewlett-Packard didn't think much of any other environment for its business computing on that August afternoon. Its HP 1000 RTE environment was focused on real-time controller computing. Its HP 9000 Unix servers were workstations serving scientific and research customers, mostly, plus the labs connected to the major manufacturers running HP 3000s. But The Chronicle had me covering it all, from RTE so buried that some customers didn't even know they had one embedded in their systems, to the HP 9000 still running a Unix OS that writers of the day were calling an experiment which needed standards to become significant.
The HP 3000 community was the one I could call upon, literally. I didn't know enough about what we'd call enterprise computer systems to contribute much analysis, but I wanted to earn my keep with interviews and editing. A comprehensive technical paper, printed out on tractor-feed paper, lay in the in-basket, written by Adager's Alfredo Rego. I tore into it with a red pen, thinking I was improving it. But misguided economy of English yanked the paper away from Alfredo's intentions and accuracy. Within six weeks he traveled through Austin and gave the local user group entertainment and enlightenment, all while telling me that leaving good technical work unmarred would have served everyone better.
Alfredo was gracious in his corrections that afternoon, because it seemed important to both of us to get things right from the beginning. Once my ears and cheeks stopped burning I took a closer look at the relations between tech writers and an editor still learning HP 3000 landmarks. HP was fighting hard against the tide of IBM and Compaq micros which were landing in businesses for less than half of what a Mighty Mouse cost. That $20,000 price tag was for a system with 512K of memory and 55 MB of disk. Oh, and "HP's usual 90-day warranty." The cost of support for the system was nowhere to be seen in that InterACT article.
HP dubbed its Mighty Mouse part of "a plan called the Personal Productivity Center that will integrate HP's 3000 and personal computer products." The latter was called HP 150, running a variation of CPM instead of the widely popular MS-DOS. It was a touchscreen computer with little but HP software which could use the touch capabilities. When we got one into the Chronicle offices it was a marvel -- but the KayPro portable micros were where our stories got banged out, doing work that created less noise than the IBM Selectic used when I'd written for that small town paper.
The rich resource I didn't expect on that hot wood-paneled afternoon was the ardor of the 3000's experts, developers and user group leaders. They hadn't been interviewed in newspaper style and were glad to help a cub reporter learn something about MPE/V, enough IMAGE to make his eyes glaze over, and the jungle thicket of peripheral hardware needed to link computers together and get them backed up and printing to dot matrix devices. HP's LaserJet was just out by that summer, but laser printing was a novelty few businesses used at the time.
The Series 37 was new, but scarcely as fast as the Series III which HP had released more than six years earlier. HP went for small and less costly rather than improving power; it had its Series 68 powerhouses to do the high-transaction and forest-of-terminals work. But the Series 37 drew a fraction of a 68's electricity and didn't need raised flooring or special cooling or heavy-load wiring. Whether it needed an operator, as HP claimed it did not, depended on how much a business did with it. At the Longs stores, the 37s were confined inside mesh cabinets with just a slot open for backups to the cartridge tape drive. Administration was taken care of at the Walnut Creek data processing HQ.
What made the Mighty Mouse a breakthough was the way that a large company like Longs could rely upon the uniformity of the 3000's environment. A senior tech analyst Tom Combs told InterACT nothing but a 3000 was going to work to serve what'd eventually be hundreds of stores.
Combs explains that it's difficult to find computers small and cheap enough to run in multiple stores that will also run the same software as larger models. Not all IBM computers, for example, use the same operaing system. Personal computer were not considered for the same reason. When different models all run the same software, he maintains, software development and support becomes easier.
And Longs, like so many large customers using this smallest system, had its own software developed for managing its business. Relying on IMAGE everywhere and MPE/V that was backward compatible eventually became the differences which let those Microsoft-based PCs, then Unix, get into the hearts and minds of cost-sensitive businesses. But the IMAGE and MPE distinctions with industry standards didn't matter in 1984. Getting everything from one vendor working together, reliably, was the miracle that filtered down to that magic $20,000 entry price tag.
At SuperGroup Magazine, an article that best explained the system got itself scooped by my own fledgling story of six months earlier. But D. David Brown reviewed the box as a systems manager would, and he understood that HP had sneaked in a big-style computer inside a compact box with the Mighty Mouse.
This toy-like box is really no toy at all. It's a serious, down-to-business mainframe, and at the same time a painless entry point to the HP 3000 world for a small user. The upward growth path is virually unlimited. HP reports that as of April 1985, 2,000 Mighty Mice had been shipped, beating HP's projections by 20 percent. HP has finally gotten the small business user what he really wanted: A genuine HP 3000!
The fall of 1984 was a time of serious transition for both HP's business computing as well as my own journalism. Like a government reporter just moved into a small town, I had to earn the trust of both luminaries like Alfredo as well as the steady attention from officials at HP. It was like the first weeks of covering a county seat in Texas, where the county clerk and the city clerk become your lifeline to news as well as contacts. The 3000 was scampering into the realm of PCs with the Mighty Mouse, as the vendor assumed that a smaller mini or mainframe would satisfy small businesses.
The Mighty Mouse did satisfy the 3000 customer who wanted affordable models, those with a data processing staff instead of office managers. But orders of magnitude more managers were choosing IBM and Compaq PCs for their offices in the middle '80s. Compaq and ATT, not Hewlett-Packard, got the business for office computing at The Chronicle. We relied on the community's developers, user group leaders, experts and vendors to teach our readers how to automate and administer. Those HP Mighty Mice of 1984 were going to be caught by HP's Spectrum servers in about four years' time -- when I could place a reporter in HP's next press conference which introduced a computer breakthrough that HP wasn't shipping yet.
August 16, 2012
Moving Data in Migrations: the Tools, and Who Uses and Develops Them
Arby's sandwich chain turned off some HP 3000s recently, but moving its data stocked a menu's worth of practices and tools. Based on a report from Paul Edwards, the journey worked smoothest when expertise could be outsourced or tapped.
Edwards described part of the project as a move to Oracle's databases, facilitated by Robelle's Suprtool and Speedware's software. The former supplier has retained its name for 35 years by now. The latter has become Fresche Legacy, but DBMotion as well as AMXW software is still available for data transfers. In the photo at left, the veteran Edwards is in motion himself, flying on a 1968-69 US Navy tour on the USS Hornet. He figures he's been working with 3000s half his life, which would give him enough time in to witness Robelle's entry into the market, as well as the transformation of Infocentre into Speedware, and then to Fresche Legacy.
I'm standing on the right. The two young guys kneeling down are the enlisted operators that ride in the back of the plane. The guy standing on the left is our Crew 13 Aircraft Commander. The aircraft is an S-2E Tracker Carrier Based Anti-Submarine Warfare Navy aircraft. It has a large propeller attached to a 1500hp Wright R1820-82 engine -- one of two on the plane.
Some of the data moves at Arby's went to Oracle, he reports. "They were using Oracle for part of their operations. Using Speedware with Oracle was interesting. Most of that was dumping data with Suprtool or Speedware, then formatting it in the layout they wanted." Suprtool has been guided and developed by Neil Armstrong at Robelle for nearly two decades. He recently marked his 20th year with the vendor, according to the Robelle newsletter.
Arby's also took its payroll application off the 3000, "and it went off to a service bureau. We had the file layouts that bureau wanted, and so it was a lot easier. We just said, 'this field is the one on the HP system, and this field on your layouts is equivalent.' We just matched them all up. We had some where we could say 'forget about that field, we won't need it.' "
But the transition to Oracle, as performed by a team that was supposed to be experienced in the database, was not so easy.The Oracle contractors "had absolutely no clue about how to do migrations," Edwards said. "They'd never done any before."
The migration of data from a well-polished, longtime set of 3000 applications is just as crucial as moving code, selecting a replacement app, or testing what's been moved. And it's not as easy as it might seem to find contractors who've done a migration, especially any who know MPE. Plenty of systems from other vendors haven't been worth the time to migrate. The HP 3000, with its lengthy lifespan, often sports apps that are decades old. Almost as entrenched as Armstrong has been at Robelle.
The avid racing cyclist this summer completed 20 years' worth of "helping to make Qedit and Suprtool great products," Robelle reported in its newsletter.
Neil worked at one of our customers in Ontario, then worked for us in British Colombia, then worked for us in Alberta. At one point Neil moved to Anguilla in the Caribbean to work on Robelle software with Bob Green, our president. Lastly, he moved back to Canada and works on Suprtool and Qedit near Niagara Falls. He is currently our Software Architect, chief systems programmer and a big help for difficult technical support questions.
During his time in Anguilla, Armstrong raced in the 2004 John T Memorial Bike Race. The photo at left shows him with Bob Green cheering him on at the finish. Armstrong has been quick to the pedals for as long as I've known him; as a fellow cyclist, he rides at a rate I can only dream about. But his work in Suprtool -- especially in recent years getting it to Linux, and soon to Windows -- must have been as steady and careful as a rider navigating a busy, two-lane, no shoulders road. That's a tool that began its life in the 1970s, when Edwards was still in the Navy Reserve and working at HP as an SE. Imagine what's been changed in Suprtool over those decades to get it to Suprtool Open.
Sometimes great care to advance a product unveils its rewards when it's compared to other migration methods. It helps if you can call on some military precision during critical transits, too. At Arby's, Edwards and the IT staff seemed to be glad Suprtool was on the migration menu.
August 10, 2012
Community sage tracks HP's historic dream
While I'm researching the meaty bits of the 3000 for its autobiography, I found another rich resource in a chat with Birket Foster. Like few other vendors, he's celebrated 35 years this year of 3000 business. Yesterday he pointed me at a few dreamy links of HP concept videos.
These are the fond wishes of companies looking toward the future. The video of 1995 was broadcast to the press and the public during the year 1988, when the NewWave office communication products were just released. Ideals in this video -- which is full of office drama about winning a big contract -- include interactive agents tracking schedules and taking voice commands to create reports, plus presentation tools automated by spoken commands.
Everything was connected in an "all-in" concept using HP's NewWave foundation. The HP 3000 had a NewWave role, providing the data to make reports from a well-connected database. I thought 1995 was lost to dusty VCR collections, but Birket tracked it down via YouTube. Concept videos can be unintentionally comic. You can tell from this one it was written in the era of suspenders, white shirts and ties in the office. That's just about the time of the start of HP's shift-to-Unix campaign. And the HP 3000 and other product names are never used. Unlikely to be named, the 3000 just works.
This just-works ideal still lives in the 3000's heritage. A couple of interviews from industry veterans like Ron Miller of Amerigroup and Paul Edwards referenced that reliability pledge. Both said that when the 3000 just worked, the computer was demonstrating its strongest asset. Compared to the alternatives at the start of 3000 service, the MPE ideals must've seemed as far forward as a 1995 vison which was devised in 1989.HP has another concept video called Cooltown in the YouTube archives. Cool Town was unveiled in 2000, with a focus on a broader field than just business and enterprise computing. 2000 was the last full year when the HP 3000 had a cogent message delivered by HP about the system's future. "It's not Windows NT or Unix, but it has an essential role," summed up HP's concept about the 3000.
If you search for "concept videos" in YouTube, or just watch the 1995 vison, you'll see suggestions from other vendors' videos. Apple's got a couple including the Knowlege Navigator. The power of smartphones is suggested in both Cool Town and Apple's concepts, although they use PDAs that look a lot more like circa-2000 Palm Treos than the mobile computers Apple pioneered in 2007.
A concept video reminds us of how far a company can reach and dream to encourgage faith in technology futures. Or it proves that some visions didn't have the benefit of real world input. Instead, they're stories and scenarios built out of the labs and marketing focus groups. The HP 3000 is beyond concept videos in all but one place by now. Emulation of HP's MPE/iX hardware, plus a cloud computing potential for such emulators, would make a good concept video. Throw it out four years and no further and you might see hand-computing devices like HP's new business tablet or even smartphones controlling cloud servers, including MPE/iX partitions.
The markets of today need to show respect for individual environments which include things like MPE/iX for the platform to win a part in these fever-dream productions. It's more likely that just as in 1995, specifics of products fall out of the next concept story. Foster believes that cloud computing will continue to move server hardware out of IT datacenters, even more quickly now. "People will buy a server in the sky," he said. "We're at a crucial stage in the marketplace." Sometimes pie-in-the sky visions show a way toward new concepts, too.
August 03, 2012
Win for HP-UX's Present No Proof of Future
Over at the headquarters of HP's Business Critical Systems division, the streamers and sighs of relief float in the air this week. A court of California has ruled that Oracle must continue to do business with HP just as it always did. That threat of killing off its database for use on the Itanium systems -- as therefore, HP-UX -- was an empty one if Oracle follows the law and the ruling of a judge.
The HP 3000 had a similar close call more than once in its life. During 1993 and 1994 HP was hammering away at the core of the 3000 customer base. It used R&D managers and GMs to convince leading app vendors they'd be better served by porting to HP-UX. By the spring of '94 Adager organized a Proposition 3000 movement (like the California propositions, all numbered) complete with fine embroidered t-shirts. We wore them to the Interex Computer Management Symposium and lashed at the HP managers on hand.
Soon enough, sense seemed to prevail at HP. A revival of the tech investment began that brought out a better database, moved the system into the open source and Internet world, attracted new customers through the likes of Smith-Gardner ecommerce, and generally swung the sales meter upward. In the middle of this trend we started the NewsWire to spread the word about that year's renaissance.
But HP was a vendor with its own mission. A success in rebooting HP's 3000 business was certified by new sales, right up to the year Hewlett-Packard sounded its swan song for 3000 futures. We had won the battle with HP, but the damage was done with an internal wound. And so goes the same song for Oracle and HP-UX, and probably the future of that operating system inside HP this time. Oracle backs away with this court ruling. But this week's win delivers no proof there's a healthy future for Oracle's HP relationship. You cannot force a company to do business differently, not even if there are tens of thousands of customers who desire the same kind of love they've had for decades.The story chronicled above comes from the HP Chronicle, a newsmonthly which I helped launch in 1984 to cover all things HP. By the time this story surfaced I'd left the Chronicle to "pursue other interests," as they say about anyone who departs from a company with ideas of his own. I didn't leave with an idea about the NewsWire, but it came to my wife Abby, and then to me. I was still writing a guest column for the Chronicle when the above was printed. We saw a focused information opportunity that nobody wanted, and nobody thought would break even. Plus fresh evidence -- like that HP win this week -- that the 3000 was winning respect inside HP. Enough honor to stop the internal assault on the customer base to switch to Unix. Enough admiration to teach the Unix group how to engage with the Customer First in mind.
From the outlook of HP, however, that renaissance didn't have a future. By the late '90s new IA-64 design was becoming an engineering reality instead of swell PowerPoint slides shown to the big customers running 3000s and 9000s. HP had to decide if it would spend tens of millions of dollars to make MPE/iX ready for the latest chip design. It decided no. Then it recanted. Then the inevitable happened -- inevitable if you realize a Compaq-HP merger swung the ax on the necks of some products.
While the 3000 renaissance was rolling, and even after Y2K got beaten as soundly as Oracle did this week, the future looked bright. Especially when, like Oracle's forced march into HP's Itanium, there was a promise to bring what was by then called Itanium to the 3000 world. But forces high inside HP -- indeed, as high as Larry Ellison and Mark Hurd sit at Oracle -- didn't want a 3000 business around to compete with the newly-purchased, just as devoted, and much larger VAX-VMS lineup.
The 3000 left HP's futures. Just as surely, Oracle will leave the realm of HP-UX and Itanium, and take with it many of the very customers pumping billions in profits into HP. Support profits, mostly, since there's not a lot of new Itanium winning its way into companies. What's more, there's plenty of Itanium getting turned off, so HP's BladeServers with Linux will step in. Many blades will have nothing to do with HP.
Those of you who read me regularly on the subject of HP probably know where this is headed. "Oh, HP made a mistake then. They'll make another now. Investing in HP's Unix doesn't have a lengthy upside." I still believe all that, and I'm not alone. Some vendors are glad, however, that the FUD of Oracle and Itanium is going to have to go underground. But it's not going to go away.
It's good to have customers as well as prospects who are using HP-UX and Itanium, if that's the pulse of your profits model. But do not mistake this HP legal win for a renaissance of Itanium at Oracle. There was a time when that might have happened, but that time was back when there was no Internet, when faxes were the fastest, and when the USA Dream Team was making its basketball Olympic splash. Plenty has changed since Oracle and HP could do billions in business together without so much as a signed napkin. One of the biggest changes is that HP's old CEO, given the bum's rush by the Hewlett-Packard board, is now running an operation aimed at killing off Itanium.
Mark Hurd was such a key hire for Oracle that he had a remarkable clause in his employment agreement. We've learned from reading documents that Hurd had a provision for what might happen when Oracle purchased HP in a takeover. There's no need to go all tinpot-despot while sizing up the Oracle management chiefs. But any company that figured they could buy you up while they hired your former CEO isn't going to let one judge's ruling, plus $4 billion in damages, pull them off their windmill-tilting quest.
The drive-by shooting bystander in targeting Itanium is HP-UX, just hanging out on HP's chips and still outselling Solaris. Not Linux, though. Hewlett-Packard knows the enterprise future is Linux, too. So if you're hip-deep in HP's Unix and reading the 43-page victory announcement from the judge, enjoy it. We announced an HP renaissance about the 3000 in 1995, and it lasted six years until HP had to grow up and grow out of the operating system business. It won't take Hurd and Oracle's uber-meister Larry Ellison that long to get Itanium out of the way, even as they're discovering technical problems with new Oracle database releases for Itanium.
Those are the releases that will be court-ordered to run on what HP will call game-changing Itanium designs. However, we've heard from both inside and outside of HP that this FUD campaign of Oracle's has already landed a mortal blow to the Business Critical Systems group. Not even $4 billion in damages will offset what's going unsold, or return the top tech talent that HP's cut in its latest employment purge. The HP-UX and Itanium writing is still out there, but instead of being on the wall it's now it's in legal briefs waved in appellate courtrooms.
These 43 pages from the judge won't be enough to prove anything but Oracle violated an agreement, one struck under pressure when Mark Hurd lept to a rival overnight. Gaudy mistakes like axing the 3000, or kicking a hornet's nest in firing Hurd, come from a boardroom level at HP. The little people working magic in the labs, and the customers trying to protect investments, are the ones getting stung.
August 01, 2012
Just how good were those good old days?
NewsWire subscribers who receive our email updates have heard that I'm collecting stories about the early 3000's days. I'm working on an autobiography of the 3000, written "as told to" me, by the system. I've fielded phone calls and gotten some nice email stories. Today's was great fun to read and instructive, too. That's because the negative experiences in our lives are remembered clearer than the positive ones.
What I mean to say is that war stories are more fun to read, chock-a-block with details. Before I offer an excerpt from today's story, I want to make an observation about the 3000's life. It wasn't always the better time we prefer to remember.
Even the president of the Connect user group falls prey to this memory. In his column in the latest user group magazine, Steve Davidek remembered days when HP was packed with people eager to service a 3000 customer. After a disk head crash in 1984, Davidek recounted three HP employees he knew by name who chipped in to resolve the problem. A different time indeed, when Davidek managed just one Series III HP 3000.
Our HP sales rep would visit every month or so just to see how we were doing. Some months he'd even bring a Systems Engineer along to check on things. It was amazing.
Dave Wiseman, who says that "Most of you will know me as the idiot dragging the alligator at the Orlando conference, or maybe as the guy behind Millware," told us a tale of days even earlier in the 3000's life. Buying a system from HP in 1978 meant investing in a terminal to test your application -- before HP would even fill the system order.One of the first three HP 3000 customers in Southern England, Wiseman was managing at an IBM shop looking for a better system. "I called the HP salesman and asked him in," he says.
What HP never knew is that if the project went well, there was a possibility that they would get on the shortlist for our branch scheme – a machine in every UK branch office. That would be 45 machines when the entire UK installed base of HP 3000s was around 10 at the time.
So the salesman came in and I said that I wanted to buy an HP 3000, to which he replied, “Well I’m not sure about that, as we’ve never done your application before. Why don’t you buy a terminal and an acoustic coupler first and make sure that your application works?"
"Okay," I said. "Where do I buy a coupler from?"
"No idea," he replied “but the 2645A terminal is $5,000."
So he bought the terminal, and then tested against HP's 3000 in a UK office. "I started dialing into the Winnersh office. (I still have the telephone number and address engraved in my heart). On occasion when I needed answers, I would drive over there and work on their machines."
Wiseman goes on in his early history to praise the improvement that the 3000 delivered to Commercial Union Assurance.
I recall our durability test was to unscrew the feet on the 50MB disc drive and push it until the disc drive bounced off its HP-IB cable. On more than one occasion the cable came out and you could just plug it back in and carry on working. Try that with an IBM and you could expect two days of work to get it restarted.
The IBM guys couldn’t understand how we could run so many users on such a small box, but we were always looking for improved performance -- as we already had the largest HP 3000 around. There were no tools available in those days, so we used tricks like putting a saucer of milk on each disc to see which one curdled first. (Okay, that's not really true. But we did spend a long time just standing there touching the drives lightly just to see what got hot.) We did a full system unload and reload every three months, and unloaded and reloaded most databases at the same time.
Davidek recalls his warm feeling of having ample HP support, but he does recognize it as a bygone emotion. "The customer experience today is probably not ever going to return to those days, but I would love to come close," he writes. "HP is working on this issue, and with a little luck, we may get there."
War stories are useful for more than the warnings about potential pitfalls. Even from 30 years ago, they remind us the good old days were not as good as we remember. They also remind us how our initiative made the bad times manageable. That's a confidence builder in these uncertain career times.
A 3000 manager needed a little luck, all the way back to the beginning. I'd like to hear about your lucky and unlucky days. Call me at 512-331-0075 if you want to chat, or email me. By recalling both the good and the bad, we can chronicle the middle path for that autobiography.
July 30, 2012
Security patches still floating HP-UX cloud
Migrating from the HP 3000 can be an act of faith. Once a vendor has closed down a business platform, the alternatives might look less certain to survive -- at least until a manager can survey the security of a replacement host. HP genuinely dimmed the lights on its MPE/iX activity when it stopped creating security patches. Windows XP is still getting these, but Microsoft has said they'll stop patching in 2017.
Apple's starting to join the previous-platform shutdown crew. Its new OS Mountain Lion is blasting across the downloading bandwidth -- the vendor said more than 3 million copies went out in the first four days of release. With every copy of Mountain Lion that's downloaded, or shipped out on new Macs, the older platform of Snow Leopard loses a step in Apple's march. Snow Leopard shipped out in 2009. Some managers are on watch, waiting to see when that leopard will lose its security spots.
HP continues to support two earlier releases of HP-UX with security patches. Two separate breaches were repaired last week. One vulnerability could be exploited remotely to create a Denial of Service (SSRT100878 rev.2). Another patch (SSRT100824 rev.3) addressed vulnerabilities which "could be exploited remotely to execute arbitrary code or elevate privileges." Samba and BIND opened the gates to these hacks. Both have been supported in MPE/iX, but it's been many years since Samaba or BIND had any access to a security patch on the 3000.
The Mac's OS is built out of the girders of such open-sourced, Unix-based tools and software. Now there's a rising current of change flowing through the Apple community around the two latest releases of the OS. Lion and Mountain Lion change so many things that older, more experienced Mac managers find themselves learning new interfaces and administration in a forced march -- all because Apple sees profit in making Macs behave like mobile phones and tablets.
Whatever's been learned about managing a Mac is now being depreciated with each new OS release. That kind of change is only the early stages of what a 3000 manager experienced when HP stopped creating MPE/iX or patching it for security. The Unix customers of Apple (Mac OS managers) and HP have one thing in common: continuous re-learning and patching of their environments. This will stretch an IT pro's skill sets. It can also stretch out a workday into work nights and weekends. Enterprise customers must always hope that their vendor doesn't get too enterprising about the profits from churn. Apple seems to be doubling down on a strategy that churns up security issues: cloud computing.
HP added this level of capability to MPE once during the history of the OS, when it grafted a Posix interface onto MPE/XL in 1992 to create MPE/iX. The Posix namespace provided instant familiarity to adminstrators who knew Unix admin commands and programs. But MPE/iX didn't stop behaving like administrators expected who wanted nothing to do with Posix. They didn't have to trick the 3000 into the polished and proven processes that established reliability and security.
Apple's iCloud is the default file storage location in that 3-million download OS version. The vendor really doesn't believe in things like a desktop for file management anymore. Let the cloud take care of finding things and keeping them up to date. In other words, let Apple's server farm security maintain the sanctity of personal and professional data.
This turn of events was triggered by the sudden fortunes of Apple's computing business. Mobile devices make up more than 75 percent of the largest capitalized company in the world today. With so many ways to carry a computer out of the office, Apple figures a cloud is the only chance to keep documents and personal data up to date. When a business takes off enough to double a stock price, a company will pivot to capture the opportunity.
The situation illustrates the challenges in staying on a fast track of technology. Apple's "doubling-down" on iCloud, according to its CEO. HP is making a bid for this kind of computing, too, but not by pushing all the chips to the center of its enteprise table. Cloudsystem is good for some businesses, but the top reason that 3000 managers cite for avoiding it: security concerns. HP's got a Enterprise Cloud Services-Continuity version that the vendor says "is part of what makes this an 'enterprise' cloud service."
Some of the security freature include Network Intrusion Detection and Prevention (NIDS/NIPS), firewall and VPN monitoring and management, two-factor authenticated access to privileged user accounts, operating system hardening, physical datacenter security (access by key card or biometric palm scanning, video surveillance, and on-site security personnel) and SIEM monitoring.
That last bit of ackronymn soup stands for Security Information and Event Monitoring, real-time analysis of security alerts generated by networks.
Quite a bit like the MPE/iX customers of just five years ago, us managers of Snow Leopard systems haven't got the latest iCloud, update-everywhere powers, the place where we can abandon our regard for file system skills. We are still getting security patches like the ones that HP-UX admins processed last week through HP-UX Software Assistant.
Every vendor will judge when securing older releases -- like Snow Leopard, MPE/iX or HP-UX B.11.11 -- stops making business sense. Trying to estimate that date is as tough as guessing the thoughts behind the inscrutable face of any cat, either leopard or lion. But knowing that end-of-security deadline is on its way is easy to predict. Every OS gets such a day to test the faith of its customers. And the changes a manager must adopt to keep pace with their OS could be so profound that staying current feels like adopting a new set of administration skills.
July 20, 2012
Apache helped 3000s live to serve
In a July of 15 years ago, the HP 3000 was struggling for Web relevance. Since it was built as a general purpose computer, the 3000 and its operating system were expected to deliver any service which a business required. Newer elements of the IT landscape by 1997 included serving up websites, something which Unix and Windows NT competitors were handling nicely.
HP thought it had a solution to a requirement which many customers didn't even acknowledge. The Internet was becoming popular, and serving web pages was a novel means of delivering data. The 3000 had been recently supplied with standards-based email through third parties, most notably 3k Associates. But Web services were still in flux in 1997. The first choice for a third party MPE/iX-ready web server pulled out just before its product could get inserted into 3000 IT.
In the dog days of that summer, I fumed over the initial HP response to Open Market's web exit. "One of the first thoughts this division had about losing its Web server solution amounted to 'we can always let NT do it using the 3000's data.' That idea deserves to fall out from heatstroke, and quickly."
The product segment was so novel that HP had an Internet Product Manager for the 3000 (CSY) division. "We're as disappointed as anyone," Daren Connor said. HP had partnered with a company that decided to drop the product HP had ported to MPE/iX. Open Market left the 3000 with a sour aftertaste to two years of negotiations and engineering. Two years was a long period to fall behind in the Web derby while the Internet bloomed.
HP appears to be as surprised as anyone. CSY's spring promotion directly preceded Open Market's notice to HP that it was dropping the software which HP just placed in customers' hands. While HP is the primary support contact for the product, it relies on Open Market to resolve more complex support issues. CSY also looks to Open Market to engineer enhancements to the product.
There was an open solution waiting for the 3000's Internet dilemma. HP had not pinned its enterprise hopes on web services. Sun was stealing that march, but open source software would arrive to bridge the gap. Apache rode in on the steed of a savvy customer who ported it for free. HP eventually hired Mark Bixby to port the 3000 into a future where it was called the e3000. It just took one more feint at a commercial server that didn't plug into the 3000.
The open-source Apache had open hosting options, however. You could easily install it on a cast-off PC or a low-powered Unix workstation -- computers which didn't hold high-rent corporate data stores like the 3000 did. The 3000 could run Apache, once its port was completed. But HP was believing in other platforms as general purpose tools. As sexy as Internet services looked, by sprucing up the 3000's aging attire, 1997 customers wanted to clothe lesser systems with those togs.
Connor said he has been contacting the customers who have been waiting for the Secure Web Server. He also has an idea that many HP 3000 sites who are serious about using the Web with their 3000s are willing to let the server reside on another platform integrated with the HP 3000.
"It was pretty clear to me that the majority of folks out there who were doing more than playing around with the Web were heading toward a front-end box being their Web server and incorporating the 3000 as a back-end server database," Connor said.
Open Market was important because it worked in the 3000's Posix namespace -- the most standardized element of a server that was just gaining credibility as an open system.
It felt important during that July to keep any more 3000 computing tasks from eroding into the waves of Windows NT. The 3000 was hosting some websites as a result of a third-party product, QWEBS. That MPE-only software sold for under $500, but its abilities were a subset of a Posix-based server.
QWEBS, built by K-12 app vendor QSS, was the only commercially-supported Web server for HP 3000s. Commercial support became an essential in those early days of Web services. Apache had a great reputation but needed vendors to adopt and adapt it for traditional support levels. One server based on Apache, Stronghold, was carrying then-new SSL security. Alas, Stronghold only ran on Unix.
HP recovered well by the time the '97 HP World conference convened a month later in Chicago. General manager Harry Sterling announced a deal to bring the Netscape FastTrack web server to MPE, sometime in 1998. The vendor demoed FastTrack by summer of '98. But the momentum of serving websites through commodity hosts like PCs was too great to resist. FastTrack never got an MPE foothold either at Netscape or in the 3000's community.
Netscape had a 90 percent share of browsers at the time, but any customers savvy enough to integrate their 3000s closely with web services were choosing Apache/iX, ported by a systems administrator in a California community college enterprise. More than six months before FastTrack was even expected for release, Mark Bixby was rolling out a 1.3 beta version of Apache that ran on all of HP's enterprise platforms. It lacked security features HP promised for FastTrack, however.
HP's job was to add that security. Given one more year, HP would embrace Apache as its official 3000 webserver. The computer had just celebrated its 25th birthday. We wanted HP to "create a resource working for the company that won't decide Web server business isn't lucrative enough. Secure web servers can be important at first, and lucrative later. Excuse-me offers of leveraging other platforms don't help CSY's future -- and it doesn't help CSY's customers much, either."
Bixby became that 3000 resource once he joined the labs in HP's Internet and Interoperability 3000 unit. Bixby built that first Apache on his 3000 because "we had all of our student data on the 3000, and the Internet was getting more popular." To acknowledge and recall a time when the Internet wasn't like electricity in our lives, you'd have to admit the 3000 has been working throughout major changes in computing. Open Market and FastTrack weren't firm enough or fast enough to strike what may have been a good spark for new 3000s -- during an era when HP was genuinely trying to sell them.
July 19, 2012
3000 vendor links, many lost in history
Early this year I started to explore the vitality of links on the hp3000links.com website. After four passes through a pop-up list that's larger than a paperback cover, I bring you to the final 15 suggested connections to 3000 vendors. This is a resource that's without an adminstrator for its content, seeking a volunteer or vendor's resource to maintain its links. After more than 100 searches of its biggest list, I have a summary in the wings about this Web resource, launched about 15 years ago.
1997 was a different time for Web interfaces, and so a vast list of vendors appears on a single pop-up click at the site. These final T-Z links run from TAG Business Computing through the Wick Hill Group. There are only three relevant links on that slice of the list by now.
Other reports on the fate of vendors appeared on this blog covering A-G, H-O, and P-S companies. After a recent talk with volunteer Olav Kappert about the project, I figured it was time to wrap up this safari, and sum up. Among this last group, Taurus Software not only remains vibrant and in business, but still sells software for HP 3000s. Its Bridgeware Bundle was launched last summer, a package of hardware and software that moves data between 3000s and other hosts. Both migrators and homesteaders have uses for Bridgeware.
VEsoft still serves over 1,600 HP 3000 sites with its MPEX and Security/3000 and VEAudit/3000 software. VEsoft's never had a robust Web presence, but that hasn't held the company back. "As the vendor of your software we do this unusual thing -- we visit the customer," says founder Vladimir Volokh. The 3000links pointer to VEsoft refers to the phone of Dan Howard, one of the better-known VEsoft distributors.
(To link to a rollicking website which flows from the Volokhs, visit the Volokh Conspiracy: articles and discussions led by Eugene Volokh, his brother Sasha, and a mighty crew of blog contributors. Politics and law rule that roost.)
The last bit of this T-Z vendor list is not totally bereft of value. Need a C compiler for your HP 3000? The Internet Agency still sells the CCS compiler and the Trax debugger. It also offers ADBC and ADBC-UX, "Java-based API's that provide direct real-time access to TurboIMAGE and Eloquence databases from client applications, without the overhead of ODBC."
However, other 3000-free links include:
• Telamon, now pointing at a "technology deployment partner."
• Tidal Software, a job management vendor that now reverts to Cisco’s website
• TJ Systems, which mentions no 3000 or MPE links
• Unison, another job manager vendor which reverts to the Tivoli IBM page
• Wick Hill, a UK firm which still offers consultancy and resells products -- but none mentioned involve MPE/iX.
Finally there's WRQ, which refers to the website of Attachmate, WRQ's owner after a 2005 merger. If you click on products at Attachmate, you can find the Reflection software, Windows-based products that were once the most widely-installed packages for 3000s.
Completely dead links: TAG Software, Telemarshal, URCA Solutions, Vaske Computer Solutions and Whisper Technology. If you're compelled to do searches on these companies, you might as well be using Google to start.
A great deal of time -- indeed, a generation in computing years -- has passed since hp3000links started its good work. By now the pop-ups that it uses are banned by default in the most modern of browsers, Google Chrome. There might be a last-resort mission that would spark using this site, but telling your every desire to Google's search engine looks like a swifter pursuit. There are resources online that will track most of what's related to the 3000 on the Web. More than anything, the current hp3000links.com pop-up (click above graphic for details) is a catalog of what was once vibrant in 3000 vending.
Even up at the quiet and stable OpenMPE website, a list of application vendor contact data was updated in 2011. The OpenMPE link at hp3000links.com is out of date.
If you're scoring at home, that's 15 vendor links this time, with only Taurus, the Internet Agency and WRQ leading to vendors which know the HP 3000. Over our four journeys, more than half of this epitaph of 110 HP 3000 vendor connections leads a browser astray. Back in January, I supposed there was a means to inform or update the site's caretakers about changes -- but a suggestions box on today's site is missing a "submit" button.
In my view, I'll submit that this website has become a history project. Ther site sports still another massive pop-up menu to track documentation and articles, plus one for some software products by name; many point to HP websites no longer in operation. James Byrne, whose server at Harte & Lyne is hosting the site, said that HP3000links.com has a limited lifespan remaining -- the web address has only been renewed through November 1.
Its pop-up menus are now crammed with blind alleys. The concept of a portal for all things 3000 was once a viable mission. It might remain so, if enough volunteers' help could extract the validated addresses, then concoct a simple, modern interface. Google is not the final answer to this kind of information challenge. But without more help, these link to these links will expire in a little more than 90 days.
The companies and the software and advice which they point to -- about half the time -- have a much longer lifespan. So long as a vendor still speaks MPE, there's some value in tracking them. After all, one of the most prominent links at the site which still operates points at the classic "Why Migrate?" article written by AICS founder Wirt Atmar. Wirt often pointed at less-obvious but logical strategies, such as in his 2002 advisory.
I do not believe that staying on the HP 3000 indefinitely to be a particularly risky strategy. If your code and business procedures work well today, they will work just as well tomorrow, a week from today, or 20 years from now. In great contrast, migration may be the riskiest thing you can do.
The real trick to operating obsoleted hardware and an OS is to buy multiple spare equipment. This equipment is going to become startlingly cheap in the next few years, so keep your eyes open for it. In your free time, configure these spare systems to be identical to your production boxes.
July 12, 2012
Robelle opens demos, expands MPE futures
Ten years ago this summer, the 3000 community was riding the angry rapids of change. Bedrock technology for mission-critical systems was being pounded by HP's waves of the future: Business servers on Windows and Unix were moving forward in HP's plans. MPE/iX was not.
In a few months' time, the community would gather in LA and face off with HP for the first time since that announcement. During the weeks leading to that annual HP World conference , some vendors were spreading the word that the 3000's days were not being numbered -- not by HP, at least. Robelle issued a press release that established the company's course for the post-HP era of the 3000. CEO and founder Bob Green set the lifespan of 3000 relevance at "a long time."
I started on the HP 3000 before the first system was shipped from HP, and I plan to be there long after the last 3000 is shipped. The 3000 and the people who know and support it will be around for a long time. Robelle along with other committed friends of the HP 3000 like The 3000 Newswire will continue to act as hubs for 3000 information.
While Robelle has remained steadfast, there's more to the company's mission than protecting 3000 investments by homesteaders. This month, demo copies of SuprtoolOpen -- the cross-platform Suprtool which now runs natively on Red Hat Linux -- are available at Robelle for downloading. The company's also extended its MPE futures with successful testing of Suprtool on the Stromasys HPA/3000 emulator. Development is looking to expand the 3000 lifespan at the same time that it will bridge any migration onto Linux.Robelle hasn't been shy about telling the community the 3000's life is as long as a customer needs. It was among the first companies anywhere to say they'd be supporting 3000 shops beyond 2015. Those messages started appearing in Robelle's ads and website far back in the previous decade. It might have seemed like bravado at the time.
Needing migration support for Suprtool beyond HP's Unix -- that might have seemed fruitless, too. In the summer of 2002 the proprietary operating systems ruled the enterprise roost: Windows from Microsoft, HP-UX from Hewlett-Packard, AIX from IBM, Solaris from Sun. Linux was an entertaining project of an OS, rather than an enterprise tool. A lot has changed in 10 years time. Now HP's announced a project to put its proprietary Unix features into Red Hat. That's what Project Odyssey amounts to, in a nutshell. In what might take even longer, HP says it's moving HP-UX onto a commodity chip, Intel's Xeon.
Suprtool/Open was a long project for Robelle's Neil Armstrong to undertake. The company followed the needs of its customers in timing the development, testing and full release of its software for data management, extraction and transfer. But Robelle's always taken the long view toward the shortest path to data and migration support. Even in 2002, Green knew the community would be making its moves over a decade and more, slowly and carefully.
Migrate at your own pace… step by step. We all know that the cost to change IT systems is high, especially when switching from a known reliable platform like MPE to a new platform of unknown quality. But these days you do not need everything in your shop on one platform. Suprtool from Robelle is already widely used to help integrate HP systems with Windows, Linux, Sun, and IBM systems by sharing data. One of our customers uses Suprtool to distribute their data from the 3000 to a nationwide network of HP-UX boxes, and then bring new data back to the 3000 for integration.
As for that emulator support, Robelle's moved quickly. Back in January, the company had a release of Suprtool ready for use on the Charon HPA/3000 virtualized 3000 solution. At the same time that this emulator was first emerging from beta testing, Green's team was complimentary of this expansion of 3000 futures.
We have installed and been testing our products and made them available on a test virtual server. So far the test has been relatively issue free. We did bring the system down once with a large and fast read, but Stromasys had the issue fixed over a weekend.
So far the response to issues has been fantastic, and follow up from Stromasys has been very attentive! It is fascinating to know that this all works on an Intel box.
As 2012 began Robelle was both polishing up its first SuprtoolOpen as well as testing and trying out certain functionality on the emulator, "especially those things that drive IO and or memory." That's a demo of another kind. It is proving that its 2002 life-of-the-3000 statement includes both support for migrations (to targets such as Marxmeier's Eloquence database) as well as the technical resources to ride the latest wave of enterprise designs: virtualization.
June 20, 2012
Blogging marks history, reports on legacy
Seven years ago this week, the 3000 NewsWire's blog opened for business. During that week of June that I consider historic, I reported on the Sun initiative to make its operating system an open source item. Seven years later, Sun's Solaris software (hawked by Oracle and former HP CEO Mark Hurd) is pushing Hewlett-Packard into a no-win situation with HP-UX. (We were also looking at customer uptake on HP-UX as a migration target. Trailing Windows, even then.) Back in 2005, the prospects for Solaris looked like a lipsticked pig, as one recently-fired Oracle executive said of the OS and hardware. Given seven years, pulling Oracle's futures out of HP-UX, OpenVMS and NonStop (via Itanium) will cost HP $4 billion in profits through 2020, according to the HP lawsuit against Oracle.
Seven years ago during that summer, Interex entered its last throes of existence by closing its offices and websites virtually overnight. An organization with three decades of activity and service on the books never created a history of itself. That's an omission that Bill Hassell, the former Interex board member and HP-UX expert, noted for us today. Wikipedia believes the former user group has been only a European-MidEast-African (EMEA) venture.
Looking around the Web one day, I typed in "hp interex" to see what showed up. Wikipedia defines Interex as EMEA-HP. Wow -- 30 years of history undocumented, at least at Wikipedia. Have you got any references and history for Interex? I started attending with the San Jose HP 1000 conference in 1980 or 1981. There’s a lot of misinformation about the beginnings of EMEA.
I made a comment one time in Wikipedia to clarify a term used in serial port communication, but I got critiqued for not having references ('net or paper) for most of my comment. The HP 3000 and the 1000 seem somewhat well-covered, but the history and legacy of Interex seems lost to the Internet.
Not lost, perhaps. But since there's no Interex archives online, you have to piece together the history of the group from accounts such as ours in the NewsWire -- starting with the '05 meltdown and working backwards. We have stories of the user group on the Internet that date back to 1996. Summertime used to be an important meeting point for your community, thanks to that user group. Its legacy is online, but scattered.
Someone with patience to pursue our archives will find a lot of history across the Internet about Interex. Even farther back in the electronic ether you might locate stories like the one about Hurricane Andrew chasing off much of the Interex '92 attendees in New Orleans -- including CEO Lew Platt. The refugees who held on were treated to a user group party tossed together in the New Orleans Hilton ballroom, where complimentary hurricanes were available for every table of attendee.
Hassell provided the improvised entertainment that I recall, doing a medley of songs to a karoke back-beat, sporting a stunner of an all-white suit. Not only was he the user group's go-to liasion for HP-UX (still being at HP), this volunteer also pitched in during a desperate hour at the year's largest conference. Interex (the show) revenues always paid up the tab for the rest of the user group's operations throughout the year.
That financed things like the Special Interest Groups (SIGs), the area of Interex where the finest advocacy and technical exchange took place at meetings like Interex. In '96 I interviewed Tony Furnivall, who was the then-current chairman of SIG-MPE. The operating system had sprouted its own SIG to put a face on a software environment.
Any group of people who get together with a common interest can legitimately regard that common interest as a special interest, in small letters. So no, I don't think that the presence of SIG-MPE is a sign that MPE needs special advocacy. On the other hand, as the group develops cares and concerns, the SIG becomes a good way of clarifying those issues, and working with HP to resolve them.
Advocacy is an important aspect of the SIG's activities, but it is not the only one! The sharing of information and other experiences is just as important. Human beings are social animals, and it is important not to underestimate the need for simple association with others who share the same interests and problems. Despite the ease with which we can communicate electronically, face-to-face encounters are still important for our human needs.
I like to think that one of the greatest benefits of SIG-MPE involvement is that it humanizes the platform -- we can see the people who create or use the product, and realize that they too are people.
Regional User Groups (RUGs) were more popular with the Interex management and board members, especially leading up to the HP exit announcement from the 3000. This push toward a mirror image of the international group, pared down to regional size, was a step that helped marginalize the user group in my view. People began to embrace ideas and concepts as their common denominator, not the part of a country where they lived. The Internet and the Web changed all that, and while Interex posted a great deal of advice and instruction online, it was wiped out in a single business bankruptcy. We're lucky to have a community left behind like Hassell, who cares and wants to help chronicle the life of Interex.
June 04, 2012
Pigs fly in Classic 3000 storage skies
Terry Simpkins was looking for a piece of HP storage history recently. Simpkins once worked for the fabled HP disk division in Boise, Idaho. Now he's managing the IT empire for Measurement Specialties, a manufacturer with more than a dozen HP 3000s churning in China and elsewhere. Simpkins heard a phrase that culled up a memory of a circuit board with an insider's message about accomplishing the impossible with an HP 3000.
A friend made the comment, "when pigs fly" during a discussion and for some reason, this memory popped into my mind. I was at HP's Disc Memory Division in Boise when the HP7933/5 was designed and introduced in the early 1980s.
The story goes (and is attested to by several of my co-workers at the time) that a manager, upon hearing of the plans to make the disc pack removable, proclaimed this plan would work, "When Pigs Fly"! Hence there is etched into one of the PC Boards of the 7933/5 drives a little pig with wings. I've decided that I'd like to have one of these boards to go with some of my other "conversation pieces." I had (and disassembled) several of these drives over the years, and have no idea why I didn't keep one of these boards. But I didn't.
HP 3000 users are a sentimental lot. It wasn't long before Simpkins got what he needed from the community. There's more out there for collectors -- or gad, anyone who's still got a Classic 3000 tucked away in a garage.Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies in Maryland came through with a 7933/5 drive. "I gave my last 7933 disk to Terry Simpkins of Measurement Specialties last week," Edminster reports. "He drove all the way up here to Frederick from the Hampton/Norfolk area to pick it up."
Technically the 7933 was the 'fixed' pack drive, but you could swap packs by popping the shroud and clicking the chamber release latch with a screw driver, or strong fingers. Don't ask how I know this.
For anyone else that's interested, I'm consolidating my offsite storage (and doing a proper inventory in the process), so if anybody has need for parts/systems from that Classic era, drop me a line.
I have a number of systems and spare boards for: Micro/XEs, Series 42, and even an old Series 30 with 8-inch floppy and what at least used to be a bootable copy of MPE/V on 8-inch diskettes for it! It took 10 floppies to boot, if I recall correctly. Let me know what you're looking for, and I'll see what I can dig out. Regardless, I can post an inventory of things that are looking for a good home when I'm done sorting it all out.
I gotta move this stuff to make room for some 918s and 989s that I've recently acquired.
June 01, 2012
Community volunteers to extend 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.
While Civilization was having 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, nearly 30 years after it was first launched for MPE. Tracy Johnson, a volunteer with the OpenMPE advocacy group, sent along the story of how EMPIRE has gained a web address -- so now anyone in the world can join a multi-player game.
By Tracy Johnson
For about a dozen years in various incarnations, starting with an old HP 3000 922RX and later on a 957, IT management at my company Meaurement Specialties undertook a small, fun-time project: to enable some of the old Interex Contributed Software Library games written for the HP 3000 to run on the web. Notably, the game of Empire and a few others. The website needed something to hang its hat on, so the name EMPIRE was chosen to encompass everything at the site.
We also got in contact with one of the original contributors of Empire, Ben Norton, who started making enhancements to the game after 20 years. Another programmer eventually picked up the mantle, and improvements to the game are still being made to this day.
Eventually, someone in upper management asked what our EMPIRE machine was being used for.
So all good things must come to an end, but it was arranged to port the game (and its website) over to the INVENT3K server. By coming off an old 957 on MPE/iX 6.5 onto INVENT3K's four-processor 969 on MPE/iX 7.5, the move became a positive upgrade.
The former host machine had no domain name. This made it rather difficult to promote the game, because any time you referenced website in an email -- http:// followed by an IP address -- all the heuristic spam blockers marked it as spam. Now it has a domain name, and you can put empire.openmpe.com into your Reflection, Minisoft, or QCTerm configuration. Meaning of course I can now reference the website as http://empire.openmpe.com, and not get this the message treated as spam.
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.
May 22, 2012
A 3000 plucked barren of IMAGE never flew
"Options offering a lower-priced version of the Series 920 server, without database software, are available on the July HP price list."
With those words, HP went to war on the wings of a bundled database. IMAGE was not only the heart of the 3000's value. IMAGE had become the rocket fuel of the 3000, a constant in a formula that produced better transaction values than anything offered by Hewlett-Packard. Or elsewhere in the industry.
But HP didn't know how to sell it. You can read as much at hpmuseum.net, where a July Channels newsletter about the "confusion" over 3000 pricing was being cleared up. Sort of. "Our objective is to price the HP 3000 systems at a price/performance advantage for transaction processing over our HP 9000 family." Fair enough. But then "We anticipate that much of the confusion regarding price/performance may have been caused by the higher prices of the HP 3000 version of a PA-RISC processor."
Except there was no such version. The same chip was used in both 3000 and 9000 server. HP had just locked the 3000's software to the higher prices. There was a version of prices that was higher, to be sure. So HP looked around for what it could clip from the 3000 value. It tried IMAGE for a month or so, until its partners and customers revolted in public, in the lap of the industry press.
Unbundling databases became the norm for the classic business computing vendors, even through the HP 250 Business minicomputer included a version of IMAGE when HP brought it out in 1979. A good thing, too, for current business computer users who are planning or deploying a move away from the 3000. The HP 250 gave wings to Michael Marxmeier and his Eloquence database, starting in 1987. It's the only drop-in replacement for the 3000's IMAGE, using its TurboIMAGE compatibility mode. Eloquence is also getting a turbocharged full-text search ability this summer. The open beta test program for 8.20 just started; full release is in July.In a summer more than 20 years ago, one thing that seemed fast to IMAGE users was HP's move to strip it out of the 3000's value. By August of 1990 IMAGE had been part of every HP 3000 sale for 14 years. This was the period that built the MPE application base. Companies invested in applications that used IMAGE underneath, or they bought tools that relied on IMAGE to roll their own apps. Languages like COBOL, Speedware and Powerhouse called IMAGE directly through intrinsics. Or developers used software that improved upon this common coin of a database, such as Suprtool and Adager.
In spite of customer devotion, at the Boston Interex show of 1990 HP felt heat beyond the summertime swelter of New England. Vendors and consultants and members of Special Interest Groups organized passionate meetings at the show around the HP unbundling scheme. They rose up to lash HP in a public forum, complaining bitterly in front of a host of reporters from national IT weeklies like Computerworld and InformationWeek.
HP lost face at the meeting while its top enterprise management tried to defend the business re-arrangement. IMAGE remained an included part of the 3000. A bonus from this revolt -- some called it the Boston Tea Party -- was extra investment in the SQL interface for IMAGE. The database went from being called TurboIMAGE to IMAGE/SQL over the next two years. That SQL capability delivered opportunity for Open DataBase Connectivity middleware between IMAGE and outside tools on desktops and elsewhere. MB Foster's ODBCLink became part of the 3000's bundle in an simplified SE version.
This year Foster is hosting a three-day conference on the newest querying tool for Eloquence. July 25-27 will deliver training for developers and application architects on the latest enhancements for the database that's more than two decades mature and still improving. Even though HP won't be making IMAGE any better, there's 25 years of development on Eloquence so far. Marxmeier has shipped upgrades to Eloquence every year since before HP shuttered its MPE labs. He made a sound case for flying toward technology advances on Linux, Windows and even HP-UX -- the places that Eloquence operates.
Eloquence keeps evolving. Even for 3000 emulator users, there’s a good question to be answered. There might be some workarounds to implement some of the technology changes like PCI and encryption -- but does it make sense? Can you afford to miss all those changes that the outside world might be demanding from your business and your application?
We want to show the value that makes sense for applications. What’s important about this full text indexing in Eloquence 8.20 is that it will look like Google, where you it gets you a million results within a fraction of a millisecond. Eloquence was always designed to support IMAGE applications. Our original customers used IMAGE, too. Eloquence is a second- or third-generation IMAGE, I believe.
May 21, 2012
HP runs ahead and behind, then and now
The iconic entity called Interex emerged this month 28 years ago. HP had announced it would catch up to 32-bit computing with Spectrum. And the vendor whose sales still didn't exceed $7 billion said in 1984 that touchscreens were the most intuitive interface. Being ahead and behind all at once is a sign that you're still developing, making leadership while you catch up your customers
Hewlett-Packard used the 1980s in your community to push out new ideas. Touch-based personal computing hit the market in the HP 150, one of the Series 100 PCs that transformed the International Association of Hewlett-Packard Computer Users. Before HP cast its seeds of PC innovation, Interex didn't exist. In a May column from executive director Bill Crow in InterACT magazine, the user group renamed itself "to define the association's independence" from HP.
Although that user group has been in the grave more than six years, its members' insights haven't evaporated. An era of ink on paper (click above for detail) has preserved milestones like HP running more than 25 years ahead of the industry with touchscreens. It's easy to forget your community was reaching for a breakthrough office experience even while it was dragging along chips devised a decade earlier.
Ed McCracken, a GM of HP's Business Development Group, announced in early '84 the seven basic principles guiding HP's "office automation strategy:
1. The workstation is the most important component, followed by the distributed data processing system (DDS)
2. All workstations will be personal computers
3. The touchscreen is the most intuitive interface
4. Workstations will not tie directly to mainframes but to an intermediate DDS
5. A pragmatic approach to open architecture is required
6. High quality is essential
7. There must be an intuitive integration linking managers' workstations, secretarial workstations, and the other components of the system.
Number 3 is the most striking of the guides offered by McCracken, the man who drove the genius of bundling the rising DDS of the 3000 with a crack database. But in '84 HP was already considering IMAGE a database that needed a successor. The vendor was following in IBM's wake, right down to a new partnership with a small company built by an IBM ex-pat. Interex also recognized that Alfredo Rego -- "the man behind Adager" -- was on par HP's CEO, John Young. Both gave 1984 user conference speeches, but Rego recognized that IMAGE was to remain the force behind the 3000's success.
It wasn't going to come through a new processor family -- although the Spectrum project's 32 bits were critically overdue. Like today, software mattered more than hardware like Itanium. Oracle's database, built upon the same IBM roots, will determine the fate of the last remaining OS that HP ever built with its own R&D. Databases are lynchpins.HP saw as much when it partnered with Esvel Inc. The firm founded by Kapali Eswaran, one of the founding members of the IBM System R relational DB product, would develop "scalable database architecture for HP." The next product turned out to be Allbase, but HP already wanted a common database among its real-time, scientific (HP-UX) and office systems.
Like then, the vendor's reaching for some commonality with its Itanium futures. Last year Intel was announcing new underwear for the chip the industry forgot, promising that Xeon architecture would share base elements with Itanium. HP wants to have it both ways -- a market in a the commodity space along with the power of software built on proprietary hardware. You've still got that kind of power in your MPE-IMAGE world. Because Oracle's got HP by the scruff of its enterprise neck, the software still calls the plays. But now HP doesn't control the database -- to the point of seeing customers define themselves as Oracle shops. Oracle's not leaving HP computing. It's departing the computing most profitable to HP.
Esvel was the first step that HP took toward embracing an industry standard for its enterprise business. Back in 1984 the little company had already delivered the seeds of DB2 to IBM. HP was chasing Big Blue in every field but instruments back then. The vendor which created the HP 3000 believed in a pragmatic approach to open architecture: standards were less important than reliable value. In less than seven years HP didn't believe that anymore, driving the Open Enterprise with open systems.
Allbase earned a few footholds in the Open Enterprise, but IMAGE ruled the 3000's roost. Just like Oracle does today, HP's database had become the common coin of computers for HP business. You couldn't switch over billions of records without a lot of magic in 1984. Hewlett-Packard had the right idea about touch interfaces, but the wrong technology and message. This May the message is in the hands of the software providers, not the hardware makers. HP used have R&D enough to be both, which is what still makes the 3000 value durable beyond all accepted wisdom.
May 09, 2012
Which bits produce the 3000's stall in 2028?
At the risk of beating a dead horse, we will return to the 3000's roadblock in 2028 one last time. We can wrap up our CALENDAR intrinsic discussion with an explanation of the reason for its hold on the 3000's far future. But it might be useful to consider that 2028 is not so far away that engineers aren't already conceiving its technology. When you merge VW and 2028, you can get an image like the one above.
Before the future, though, there's always history. When MPE was created in 1970, it started as a project called Omega. The miracle of this engineering was its use of 32-bit computing, still a novelty at the time. But when HP canceled Omega in favor of a 16-bit 3000 -- a management choice that prompted black armbands among HP staff -- it sealed the server into a 57-year period of service.
That's because, we were reminded by MPEX co-creator Vladimir Volokh, 16-bit 3000s left only enough intrinsic room for 127 years of accurate dates. The intrinsic CALENDAR, written for the eldest MPE Segmented Library (SL), uses only 7 bits to describe which year is in effect. That delivers a maximum number of 127 years which you can express, and MPE was built with 1900 as its base for dates.
date 16-bit unsigned integer (assigned functional return) Returns the calendar date in the following format:
7:9 Day of year
0:7 Year since 1900
HP only allotted 7 bits to describe the year for MPE. Who'd expect that the OS would have a lifespan of more than 50 years? Someone who figured newer and better tools would take over by then. It's commonplace to believe in the equivalent of flying cars -- Volkswagen's 2028 model concepts (shown above) are online in the company's German video and Flash site. Maybe cars will fly in some places, maybe not in others. Oh, for one extra bit. But HP ordered 16 extra, just too late to influence the heart of MPE.
Working in the realm of the original 16-bit MPE intrinsics, "You cannot make less than 9 bits for the date of the year," Vladimir said. "That would be less than 365 days. So that leaves us 7 bits to express the year."
The vintage-'90s HPCALENDAR, reaching into the new elbow room of 32 bits, can use as many as 23 bits for the year. That intrinsic will cover 8 million years, even more. HPCALENDAR is available in Native Mode MPE, and it remains the best choice for any new work done on a 3000's applications.
But MPE's existing intrinsics provide the barrier here: the oldest are in Segmented Library (SL) -- and the newer HPCALENDAR is in Native Library (NL). And the only companies with any chance of adjusting the 3000's dates into 2028 and beyond are those which have insight into MPE/iX source. Then there's knowing what to do with it. They must get into the MPE source and recompile it to use HPCALENDAR.
For complete reference, here's the manual page for HPCALENDAR:
NM callable only. This intrinsic returns the date in the supported date type code 4 listed in the table, “Supported Date Formats.”
Syntax I32 date := HPCALENDAR; Operation Notes Where date is the 32-bit unsigned integer (assigned functional return). This returns the calendar date in the following format: Bits Value/Meaning 23:9 Day of year 0:23 Year since 1900
Dates don't vex MPEX, Vladimir reminded us. It can do operations with DATE. "If you have MPEX, and who doesn’t," he says, "DATETOCALENDAR is a function in MPEX."
Vladimir also talks, on his return from consulting trips to 3000 sites, about the level of 3000 knowledge he sees in even long-time users. Management relies on the HP guys to tell them what’s up, and the HP guys don’t know.
"There are all kinds of excuses not to know what you’re doing," he says. He tells of his philosophy about learning. You draw a circle to represent what you know. "Inside the circle is what you know, outside is what you don’t know. You go along the circumference. Only by going along there can you see what you don’t know. So you learn, and you draw a bigger circle, a bigger circumference. The more you know, the more you know what you don’t know."
In converse, consider the smallest circle of knowledge, just a point. Vladimir adds, "When you know nothing, you think you know everything."
No one knows who will be working in the years near 2028 on HP 3000s. But in an era where Amiga computer games can be played on iPhones -- and companies now earn money for such a creation -- it's easy to say we don't know who will break this 2028 barrier. And they might be driving a car called a Volkswagen, and using a computer called the 3000, and neither will resemble what we know today, more than 15 years away.
May 08, 2012
Taking the Console at Your History
In a community that spans decades of IT, history is around every corner of memory and experience. This year the HP 3000 marks its 40th birthday, a milestone that prompts examination and recollection in everyone. (Not to mention an HP 3000 biography I am working on. Your stories are most welcome.) A veteran of the system is offering parts of that history, as well as a small monument to a simpler time for this computer.
Dave Wiseman has a few HP 3000 items he wants to donate to a good home, including a Series III console. The hardware at right (click for detail) drove the CPU cycles that were first establishing the 3000 as a business-critical platform. Being a Series III, it harkens back to the times when third-party software of any sort was a novelty, plus the need to understand the iron underneath at a level which younger IT pros can only imagine -- when they take the time to do so.
Wiseman splashed into my notice at a user group conference in the early '90s in Nashville, where he toted around an inflatable alligator as an icebreaker stunt. Awhile later he helped to found the ScreenJet experience with his partner Alan Yeo. By now he's moved on to other technical and sales work, but he owns a serious collection of these markers of 3000 history. In a storage closet here in my office, hung over a clothes rod, rest a handsome set of HP-branded ties he shipped me five years ago. Some of us wore such things with pride at these conferences. Wiseman would like to ship you his historic console for a tiny fraction of the hardware's original cost."Do you know who might be interested in these?" he asks. "I want don't want money for the items – just shipping costs."
The full array of the memorabilia above includes multiple editions of the VEsoft Thoughts and Discourses on HP 3000 Software, which include papers by Robelle's Bob Green -- plus Robelle's own HP 3000 Evolution, collecting other papers and some NewsWire articles. Even more fun is the DVD of Chris Gauthier's Growing Up with the HP 3000 short film, the Seldom Met User Group (SMUG) guidebooks, and some of those HP-branded giveaways we knew from the era when alligators followed software vendors.
Wiseman will ship it all for $40 to the US or France, or 25 Euros. "The console has protective plastic still on it," he says, "so this is new, unused item! I have a second console -- and I intend to wire it up by my bed so I can press 0003006 and then Start/Enable, to boot myself in the mornings!"
You can contact Wiseman to get your history at email@example.com.
April 30, 2012
3000's use in 2028: bug, or feature?
The CALENDAR intrinsic that blocks HP 3000 use in 2028 has been described as a bug. On the first day of that year, dates will not be represented accurately. Some in your community consider that New Year's Day, less than 16 years from now, as the 3000's final barrier. But it depends on how you look at it -- as a veteran, or a voyager.
A voyager sees CALENDAR as a deadline for departure. This is a part of MPE that was designed in the 1970s, a period when HP had just scrapped a 32-bit release of the 3000's first OS. And just like the Y2K date design, HP engineers never figured their server's OS had any shot of working by the 21st Century -- let alone 2027. But VEsoft's Vladimir Volokh says, "It's difficult to predict anything, especially the future." An IT pro who's planning to depart the 3000 believes CALENDAR is a bug, but that's not how Vladimir sees it.
"This is not a bug, really," he said. "It's a limitation. The end of 2027 date was as far away as infinity when MPE was created." This is a man who defines the term veteran, the kind of professionals who had to work inside 4K memory spaces to build 3000 programs. Limited and expensive resources like memory and disc were supposed to be extended with newer computers. "Every analyst told us a computer would live five years, at most," Vladimir said.
But as a veteran, you've now come to see the day when MPE's lifespan is reaching eight times that prediction. The veteran who chooses to see CALENDAR as a limitation can refer to HP's own lab response. Engineers during the '90s built HPCALENDAR to start extending the 3000's date limits.The HP 3000's date intrinsics will outlast those in Unix, so long as a program uses HPCALENDAR. HP advised its 3000 customers in 2008 to begin using it on HP 3000s. HPCALENDAR harks back to version 5.5 of MPE/iX. Its power lies in the 3000 for use by programmers who want accurate dates beyond 2038 (the limit in Unix) for application files.
Lifting the limits in application date handling -- that's one level of engineering skill. Extending the operating system limits beyond the 16-bit CALENDAR is a task with a greater challenge. It doesn't mean that it cannot be done. What matters is how healthy the 3000's best experts will be in 10 years or so. Vladimir says he'll be younger than 90 by then. Almost everyone in today's community will be even younger. And isn't 70 the new 60? It will matter when the 3000 needs the last set of bits to move from 16 to 32.
There's a old joke about software shortcomings being called features, rather than a bugs. Veterans learn to call them limitations and look for ways to overcome these aging designs. Everything is aging, even something as omnipresent at Windows XP. (Microsoft wants to end the life of that OS, used on more than 90 million computers, by 2014. Good luck with that.) XP is dying, the 3000 is dying. Well yes, says Vladimir. He tells his hundreds of customers who he visits, "We are all dying. But slowly."
April 26, 2012
IBM's experiment begat 3000's first SQL stab
A reader asked, after enjoying our summary of the 3000's 1984 springtime, whether the computer's Allbase database really arrived off another's vendor's lab shelf. The database never caught on, although HP sold it right up to the final month of 2009 you could order MPE software from HP. Some of the reason that SQL indexing instead took root via IMAGE might be the pedigree of Allbase. IBM built its bones in the same year that the 3000 became a computer that could be used -- instead of one to be returned and rebuilt.
Allbase started its life as RSS, a derivative of IBM's experimental System R. The System R experiment was launched in IBM's San Jose Research Lab the same year as the 3000's successful general release, 1974. System R begat SQL, influenced by E.F. Codd's 1970 ACM paper on relational models. (Click on the System R summary below for details.)
System R began its life as a database system built as a research project. "System R was a seminal project," says the article on Wikipedia. "It was a precursor of SQL. It was also the first system to demonstrate that a relational database management system could provide good transaction processing performance. Design decisions in System R, as well as some fundamental algorithm choices (such as the dynamic programming algorithm used in query optimization), influenced many later relational systems."
Allbase got its chance on the 3000's iron because another internal project was hitting the skids inside HP's software labs. The HPIMAGE project, the first relational database for MPE, was being built to run on the 3000's new RISC hardware as part of the Spectrum project announced in '84. Over at Allegro, Stan Sieler says that co-founder Steve Cooper "recalls HPIMAGE being an unreleased Pascal-based, not-quite-compatible verison of IMAGE for MPE XL ... one that was unreleased because it wasn't compatible enough."
The new relational HPIMAGE database was cancelled much later in the project, after a brief encounter with end-users. I don't remember much about HPIMAGE, except that a lot of work went into it and it didn't succeed as hoped. TurboIMAGE ended up as the database of choice on the Spectrum [3000s].
However, HP still had customers who wanted relational indexes for their 3000 data -- and the fast-indexing Omnidex was not going to sell at those customers, because it didn't have the HP brand on it. Enter Allbase -- a database that HP first rolled out to Unix sites -- but caught on at just a few 3000 sites.
These middle '80s were days of debate about database structures. Alfredo Rego spoke at a 1985 user conference about the advantages in performance that IMAGE enjoyed over SQL architectures. Ten years later the veterans of IBM held a symposium to commemorate System R. They claimed Allbase as one of their own.
At a 1995 SQL Reunion: People, Projects, and Politics, Donald Slutz laid bare the bones of Allbase.
I originally thought that this twentieth anniversary [event] should be the twentieth anniversary of some particular event that occurred on some day. The day I was going to pick was the day that the project got named System R. It was full-fledged by then; then this chart that I had up here existed. Once there was a System R, all these names fell out: RDS, RSS.
Eventually, the RSS part of it, we delivered that on VM in nine months, starting with an empty office in Campbell. And then there was an MVS version a few months later.
Roger Bamford: You mean the RSS equivalent.
C. Mohan: That HP bought, right?
Slutz: HP bought that, and that became ALLBASE. So we made a contract with HP in early 1984, and then things changed a lot and a number of us left -- six or so, and then another seven or eight -- and HP picked it up with ALLBASE.
April 24, 2012
Writing Down a Life with the HP 3000
I'm celebrating my birthday today, marking how many of my 55 years have included the HP 3000. More than half my life has been devoted to telling stories about this server, but it's a period only two thirds the size of the computer's lifespan. I'm lucky to be living in the 3000's era, and I use the present tense of "to live" to indicate a life with a future.
28 years ago today I was polishing up a feature story about saving the red poppies in Georgetown, Texas for the Williamson County Sun. It was a spirited plea to extend the life of something beautiful. I covered the schools, the festivals, the joyous idle time of life in a small town of 4,500 in 1984. It was work from the first half of my life that prepared me for the next half. You might be feeling the same way, like Craig Proctor bringing his programmer-analyst experience to the next phase of his career, beyond the HP 3000.
In April of 1984 your community was awaiting the future eagerly after a reset. The year's Interex conference had just wrapped up a few weeks earlier, a meeting where HP announced that it was scapping the Vision project to modernize the HP 3000 -- a computer just 10 years old at the time. Vision was HP's plan to turn a 16-bit environment into the 32-bit richness already on offer from Digital and IBM. HP was supposed to deliver a new IMAGE database as part of the program, something based on the ascent of SQL. In a few years HP brought SQL into the 3000 community with Allbase, a product purchased from a third party. Allbase stuck with customers like crushed poppy leaves in the wind.
HP's work during 1984 started the march to RISC computing, the architecture that lives on beyond the iron in the HPA/3000 emulator from Stromasys. Everything we do in life prepares us in some way for what follows, if we connect the dots. I'm about to start a project to help celebrate the dots of the 3000's life. A biography of the HP 3000 is on my menu for this fall, the 40th anniversary of HP's 3000 rollout. I want your stories to spark the 3000's history, so we can see where our lives are leading us.
At the Sun I polished my skills of community reporting, the ones that would serve me while I chronicled the 3000's community lifestyle. I'd already written government news, sports and arts coverage for five communities at another newspaper, plus editorials and obituaries at still another. The Sun's newsroom crackled with the thunder of a half-dozen IBM Selectrics on deadline, reporters sculpting stories by hammering at keyboards to drive the type-balls across rolled paper.
Schools generated some of the most profound passion among 12,000 homes where we were delivered twice a week. The work in education represented the future, hope, and sometimes anger over short-sighted plans and misspent money. It was good practice for the passion of the 3000 community, already full of personalities and problems with meeting the future.
This book that will tell your HP 3000's past includes a future, too. Shaped by the spirit that will fill its early pages, we'll look forward at the Life Beyond the Iron: a virtualized 3000 that will be running after MPE's 55th birthday. At that point at the end of 2027, the CALENDAR bug will arrive like Y2K hit the community. There will be a solution available to keep the 3000 alive. VEsoft's Vladimir Volokh says, "I will only be 90, so I will create one by then." We're all defying age while we expire, adding chapters to our biographies. In the Spring of 1984 your community was eager for Spectrum, the Book Two of the 3000's life. I am eager to hear your stories and gather pictures, too. Together we can polish a vision of the years to come.
April 13, 2012
HP's 3000 managers, generally, find futures beyond the designs of HP
I had an afternoon this week that felt like a ride in a time machine. I was turning the pages of a glossy user group magazine, devoted to HP server products. The HP 3000 was even mentioned in its opening pages. And there on an introductory page, right after an HP print ad, was an HP general manager who was bidding his customers farewell, moving out of a division.
But I only had to blink to notice the differences. The magazine was The Connection, 36 pages plus its covers devoted to the world of NonStop servers, the ones you might know as Tandems. The print ad was not devoted to HP iron, but to time software for the NonStop's OS. And that general manager, you may have guessed, was Winston Prather, saying farewell to another of his server customer bases.
Six men have been general managers of HP's 3000 business since the middle 1980s, but Prather is the only one who's remained at HP. Some of the rest have retired to private practices (Rich Sevcik, now an ardent evangelist in the classic sense of that word; Harry Sterling, enjoying a life in real estate) or have simply left HP for the next chapter of their business lives. Dave Wilde, the last fellow to hold the job, even was welcomed at last fall's HP 3000 Reunion. That was a conference which another of the ex-GMs expressed an interest in and best wishes toward: Glenn Osaka left HP before Prather even took his job, and is now working at Juniper Networks.
Networks hold the next opportunity for Prather, an executive best known for the "it was my decision" to end the 3000's futures at HP. This time he's left the NonStop group in the hands of an engineer who's tackling his first GM job at HP. That's the exact position Prather assumed in 1999 -- before he and others at the vendor gave your storied server the paddling it never deserved.In his farewell Connection column where he passed on leadership of another Business Critical Systems unit, this one to Ric Lewis, Prather bubbled with familiar platform enthusiasm as he headed back to engineering management. With "mixed feelings" he wrote about enjoying his days in the NonStop family.
As NonStop customers and partners, you know that NonStop has been providing unique value for over 35 years. The products have evolved to keep up with the times: modern hardware, open standards and development environments. As I move on to the next stage of my career, let me leave you with a few thoughts. NonStop is truly a special business. You can see it in the products. You can see it in the dedication of the employees. And mostly you can see it in the statements that you, our customers and partners, make about how you depend on NonStop.
The customers' dependence on an HP product was not an element in his 3000 decision -- unless he was counting the number of customers. Prather, unlike the community's most-admired 3000 GM Sterling, is moving out of general manager work into HP's Networking unit, one of the few places where HP's still showing profitability growth. He's now Global VP of Engineering there, a management assignment not entirely unlike the R&D Manager job that he toiled at under Sterling in the 3000 division.
Olivier Helleboid, the GM who helmed the 3000 group as we started the 3000 NewsWire, has gone on to become VP of Product Management at Intuit. His encouragement gave us the green light to launch the publication. Sure, that era of mid-90s -- and even before, in the simplicity of the '80s -- might be adequately summed up in the language Prather chose while leaving yet another HP server group. This latest one, he says, can outlive his tenure because it has modern hardware, open standards and development environments. With the notable exception of living beyond his career aspirations, that all sounds familiar.
When Prather cut off the 3000, its PA-RISC hardware -- when unhobbled by management's OS decisions -- was as fast as any other server HP sold; Itanium didn't even have a worthy system to ship. The 3000 was struggling toward adopting modern backplane tech, projects that languished as Prather led the 3000 lab. Y2K was too much stress for those labs, and the new PCI-based servers were as seriously late as the first PA-RISC 3000s were in the '80s. Very little sold as new systems in the years around Y2K. Sales were stymied by the "its coming soon" drumbeats about the N and A Classes. Back in the '80s on the cusp of new RISC tech, the 3000 had management champions to pull the engineering oxcart out of the ditch. No champions could be found at the very end of the '90s. Marching in place with his proscribed headcount was Prather's path into a declining future.
It was his future vision that killed HP's business. In those days MPE, which had been turned toward its Unix features under Osaka's watch, had the same then-current calibre of open standards that NonStop enjoys today. As a GM Prather's predecessor Sterling made sure the division was devoted to the Internet; it captured its first set of open source tools. Development of partner apps had drawn to a standstill after one year of Prather's decisions, something that was due to marketing responses, product delivery and commodity competition. At that point Prather told us that as a GM it wasn't his job to sell 3000s -- just to deliver the right server to the customer from HP's many choices. Later that year he ended HP's 3000 life.
Now that HP is losing ground in such unique server markets, the GM who tolled HP's death knell for its 3000 unit has moved into a commodity unit, Networking. He's rid of the decisions about what to build next, because a higher level of manager will approve the calls that were his to make for the 3000 business. Being tied to a proprietary environment business is becoming a burden for career growth, where execs are measured by revenue increases and rising partner counts. Prather has gotten himself paroled from HP's proprietary jail.
It took a 3000 manager to sum up the last five years of Prather's career, a summary that invoked HP 3000 work on Prather's watch. Connect President Steve Davidek, who we interviewed in a 2010 Q&A, thanks "Winston for his support while at the NonStop Enterprise Division." Davidek said the move "is great news for Winston."
I first met Winston while I was giving the World Wide Advocacy Survey results to HP. Winston was still managing the HP 3000 division at the time. The survey results showed HP that, again, they loved their 3000s but the HP contracts were still a pain.
There was a lot more HP pain to come for Prather's customers and partners. He drank deep from HP's proposals for Unix, predicting at an Interex meeting in February, 2002 that more than 80 percent of the customers would be migrated within a few years. Instead, HP lost two of every three departing customers to other vendors. But HP had an enterprise unit to streamline after buying up Compaq's DEC business. Prather got his bosses to approve the elimination of a unit that was shipping current technology, bearing standards support and boasting a partner network more than 30 years old.
Those components are not enough to survive in HP when your leadership dedicated to the vendor, rather than the customer. Five other men found a circuit beyond HP's changing ways. It's telling to see that only Prather stays plugged in today.
April 02, 2012
OpenMPE still open for some downloading
April is the time of year when a new OpenMPE board of directors was being seated, at least from 2002 to 2009. The count of volunteers listed as board members stands at three as of today. Birket Foster, Tony Tibbenham and Alan Tibbetts make up the tightest group in the 10 years that OpenMPE has been at work. This month marks the end of the second year of stasis for a volunteer group that's still serving up bits which are relevant to homesteading HP 3000 users.
The chairman Foster told us that there's still work to do on licenses for any software which will operate under the Stromasys HPA/3000 emulator. "We ran that emulator project in conjunction with HP," he said in February. Hewlett-Packard came up with the only paid-license project for an enterprise OS running on an emulator, sparked by board direction from OpenMPE. With that HPA/3000 now being shown off in sales calls this spring, it's easy to forget the whole concept wouldn't have existed without an OS license for an emulator.
There's still an Invent3K public access development server online, thanks to the volunteer efforts of the group, as well as supporters like the Support Group Inc. There are proceedings available on that server which contain papers that could help train a replacement generation of managers at homestead sites.
On more everyday matters, the OpenMPE website still hosts some code and scripts useful to a 3000 manager. Scripts by the ever-helpful ex-CSY guru Jeff Vance, Donna Hoffmeister, and others are online today. It's part of the Jazz project on OpenMPE, but the open source dreams of the group are being realized in another web outpost.OpenMPE began as a push to get the source code for the operating system deeded to the customers who'd be using the 3000 for an unlimited future. Over a five-year period, OpenMPE began to turn toward sparking an emulator with licensing and policy requests to HP. Hewlett-Packard never got the open source religion for MPE, but over at the MPE-OpenSource.org site, software that can help is available for downloads, too.
Brian Edminster, who stocks and curates that website, sees a connection between the emulator and the needs of a 3000 community which is making a transition. Even 3000 sites which have definite plans to migrate could find an role for the emulator to play.
"For migrations that are really replacements rather than just re-hosting," Edminster said, "it could well be a lot cheaper to keep a emulated instance of the application at time of conversion -- rather than try to mothball a server, and hope it'll come up okay later."
March 30, 2012
Ordering a Hamburger, HP-Style
This Friday might be a day of heavy lifting for your IT department, with it being the final week of March as well as the end of the first quarter. Even though that HP 3000 will be running reports, it's good to have some oversight ready. You might be eating lunch at your desk -- or supper, if anything needs attention. Maybe something as simple as a hamburger.
But a classic style to HP hamburger ordering -- one that might be as old as the eldest 3000 in your shop -- could leave you dizzy. Not long ago, your community shared this gem. One manager said "I remember telling my HP Sales rep that you needed a PhD to read the configuration manual. The sales rep took the manual from my hand to explain to me how wrong I was. After a 30-minute tutorial, the rep decided it was best if he could call me from his office with the answer."
On a day when you might need a smile from satire, the Hamburger Guide follows after the jump. As the late, great Warren Zevon advised, "Enjoy every sandwich."
By Stephen Harrison and Noel Magee
This is the story of a different kind. No melting CPUs, no screaming disc drives, just the kind of psychological torture that scars a man for life.
I had a nine o'clock meeting with my sales rep. I needed to buy an entire Series 70, the works. He said it'd take about an hour. Three hours later, we'd barely got the datacomm hardware down on paper, so he invited me downstairs for lunch.
This was my first experience in an HP cafeteria. Above the service counter was a menu which began
|MMU's (Main Menu Units)|
|0001A||Burger. Includes sesame-seed bun.
Must order condiments 00110A separately.
|002||Expands burger to two patties.|
|00020A||Double Cheeseburger, preconfigured.
Includes cheese, bun condiments.
|002||Delete second patty.|
|003||Replaces second patty with extra cheese.|
|00021A||Burger Upgrade to Double Cheeseburger.|
|001||From Single Burger.|
|002||From Double Burger.|
|003||Return credit for bun.|
Includes 00010A, 00210A and 00310A.
|001||Substitute root beer 00311A for cola 00310A.|
My eyes glazed over. I asked for a burger and a root beer. The waitress looked at me like I was an alien.
"How would you like to order that, sir?"
"Quickly, if possible. Can't I just order a sandwich and a drink?"
"No, Sir. All our service is menu driven. Now what would you like?" I scanned the menu.
"How big is the 00010 burger?"
"The patty is rated at eight bites."
"Well, how about the rest of it?"
"I don't have the specs on that, Sir, but I think it's a bit more."
"Eight bites is too small. Give me the Double Burger Upgrade."
My sales rep interrupted. "No, you want the Single Burger option 002 'expands burger to two patties.' The Double Burger Upgrade would give you two burgers."
"But you could get return credit on the extra bun," the waitress chimed in, trying to be helpful, "although it isn't documented."
I looked around to see if anybody was staring at me. There was a couple in line behind us. I recognized one of them, a guy who nearly mowed me down in the parking lot with his cherry-red '62 Vette. He was talking to some woman who was waving her arms around and looking very excited.
"What if... we marketed the bacon cheeseburger with the vegetable option and without the burger and cheese? It'd be a BLT!"
The woman charged off in the direction of the telephone, running steeplechases over tables and chairs. My waitress tried to get my attention again. "Have you decided, sir?"
"Yeah, give me the Double Burger--excuse me, I mean the 00020A with the option 001. I want everything on it." She put me down for the Condiment Expansion Kit, which included mayonnaise, mustard and pickles with an option to substitute relish.
"Ketchup?" I hated to ask. "I want ketchup on that, too." "That's not a condiment, Sir, it's a Tomato Product." My sales rep butted in again. "That's not a supported configuration." "What now?" I kept my voice steady. "Too juicy. The bun can't handle it." "Look. Forget the ketchup, just put some lettuce and tomatoes on it."
The waitress backed away from the counter. "I'm sorry, sir, but that's not supported either. The bun can take it but the burger won't fit in the box." The sales rep defended himself. "Just not at first release." "It is being beta-tested, sir," added the waitress.
I checked the overhead screen. Fries, number 000210A, option 110. French followed by option 120, English. "What the hell are English Fries?" I turned to the sales rep. "Chips they call them. We sell a lot of them."
I gave up. "OK, OK just give me a plain vanilla Burger Bundle." This confused the waitress profoundly. "Sir, Vanilla as an option is configured only for series 00450 Milkshakes." My sales rep chuckled. "No, Ma'am, he just wants a standard 00220A off the shelf." I wondered how long it had been on the shelf. I didn't ask.
"Very good, sir." The waitress breathed a sigh of relief. "Your meal is now on order. Now how would you like it supported?" "Supported?" She directed me to the green shaded area at the bottom of the menu, and I began a litany with my sales rep that I'll never forget.
"You get a waiter."
"You tell him how hungry you are and he tells you what to eat."
"Response Center Support?"
"He brings it to your table."
"You get refills."
I shoved some money at the waitress and told her to take it. She gave me my check on three sheets of green-bar paper. I studied it on my way to the table, and decided it'd pass as an emergency napkin.
Table? My sales rep had been bright enough to order us a table. He hadn't been bright enough to check on a delivery date. The table waiter, slouching in his corner surveyed the crowded room, looked at me and said, "Two weeks. But I can get you a standalone chair by the window right away."
I handed him the tray. A woman rushed up to me with two small cups of chili and sauerkraut for the hot dog somebody else had ordered. The room began to grow dim, my eyesight faded....
I woke up clutching the water-glass at my bedside table. It was 5 a.m., four hours till my meeting with HP. I had had a vision; I did what it told me to do. I dialed my office, and I called in sick.
March 14, 2012
Marking History with a Link to 3000 Futures
On the 35th anniversary of MB Foster’s entry to your market this spring, we wanted to ask its founder Birket Foster about how your group grew experience and connections. The old warning that braced conversations in the 1970s was “don't trust anyone over 30.” It's probably flipped over for the advice to 3000 customers today, since the over-30s have the best set of resources and reminders of how to move into a confident future. Much of his research is gathered in classic style, in person, wearing conference badges like the one shown at right.
Foster's MB Foster Associates was one of the first to deliver an alternative information stream for 3000 solutions, creating a catalog of MPE applications and tools. That one was a good enough idea to prompt HP to copy the catalog concept in those days when a thick book of HP and third-party apps was part of a 3000 manager's toolset. Foster moved right on to the next solution, whether it was selling millions of dollars of 3000 connectivity software, or building an ODBC engine robust enough for HP to ship inside MPE/iX, or becoming one of the first Migration partners after HP made its 2001 exit announcement. Lately the company has added a Windows scheduler and even more database access through its UDA Link lineup.
How did you enter this community back in those very different days of 1977?
I'm just out of undergraduate school and I'm in charge of getting the next computing jobs for a team of us. I decide I'm should start a company to do this, so I talk to my law professor and he says he could give me part of my grade for my second year law class for just opening a company. I took the theory and turned it into practice. At the time I'd taken income tax law. I could deduct the $400 worth of textbooks and reference books I'd purchased to build a random number generator that would support benchmarking software -- written in COBOL and platform-neutral -- we were building.
Platform-neutral suggests a lot of server vendors, right?
In addition to HP, I'd worked on Burroughs, IBM, DEC and even a Xerox Sigma system. So I'd written things in FORTRAN, BASIC, assembler and COBOL. When people would put a problem in front of me, I had to pull a team together to solve it. In the 1977 ecosystem there were a lot of different languages available. Every manufacturer had its own proprietary stuff. I had an assignment to train government DP staff to use terminals instead of punching card decks.
Terminals were just terminals, grey screens. Lots of line printers around. I liked terminals with big memories, so you could actually scroll back a lot of pages. At that time the default terminal memory had two pages in it. Disk space was really expensive then: 120MB was $60,000.
People had service bureaus. I worked with one for one of my customers. The reason we were there was because the 3000 was so expensive. Now the reason people are looking at cloud, the new service bureaus, is because the people are so expensive.
We've been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time a number of times over 35 years. We were helping customers out with some pretty big problems, like integrating PCs with their 3000s. We sold millions of dollars of WRQ's Reflection that way. This helped automate processes that went between the 3000 and the desktops. That led to us working with David Dummer, using his DataExpress, to move that product into working on spreadsheet formats. We sold DataExpress starting in 1985, and by 1989 we made him an offer and ended up owning the product, with David working on it from an office in Seattle. DataExpress gave us worldwide customers, which was another thing we'd been working on.
At least once a year you travel to Texas to visit customers and colleagues. What's that about, since MB Foster's Southern Ontario HQ is so far away?
When I started in this market it was before the Internet. You couldn't look anything up. You had to know somebody, get ahold of them and find out what they were doing. I had a huge advantage because I traveled a lot starting in 1979. I got exposed to the Quiz report writer in the earliest days, before it became Quiz. I sold [Cognos'] Quiz before Quick and QTP existed. I got to see people all over my district of Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico. I met people as a result of coming out to speak at regional users groups. People didn't feel the need to call each other. They just got together once a month to talk about a topic. I did the initial deal for [MANMAN creators] ASK Computing. As a result of that, at one point 25 percent of all HP 3000s were using Quiz as a report writer.
But those reports remained on the HP 3000. How did they make the transition to being PC tools accessed easily by end users?
We did some work inside the 3000 to do what we were calling Host Initiated File Transfer. We worked with Doug Walker of WRQ to have the PCs put themselves in receive mode to get handed a file, mostly spreadsheets at the time. We'd figured out how to download things to PCs by 1989, so I was teaching classes in Reflection. We were helping people put PCs on a desk instead of a terminal.
As more PCs showed up, people wanted these 3000 numbers in a spreadsheet so the finance people could look up stuff. Although DataExpress ended up with 33 formats it supported for data extraction, in the beginning it was things like Lotus 1-2-3, VisiCalc and Word Perfect mail-merge files. Now that the product is UDA Link, we've just added MySQL, Postgres, Cache, Ingres and Progress databases, plus those already supported.
How about the MB Foster database work with HP on IMAGE?
We got a contract with HP from 1996-2006 to supply the ODBC middleware for IMAGE/SQL, included software people remember as ODBCLink/SE. It was supposed to be called ODBCLink Jr. but somebody in HP marketing decided that wasn't a good idea, so they changed it to Special Edition.
In 1999 we got involved in a project for a Large Midwestern-Based Insurance Company. Our job was to connect 80 HP 3000s with 8,000 Windows servers. We had to write code called XA Compliant Two-Phase commit to do this. It gave us a lot of experience in cross-database access and understanding deeply how SQL Server worked. We could melt down Microsoft's OS before our middleware driver would fail. It gave us experience in cross-platform databases, the next stage in the 3000's life.
And that would be HP's plans to exit this 3000 market?
HP announced in 2001 that the 3000 would fade to black in a mere five years. Ha-ha-ha. It made it to 2010 before it went away at HP.
March 05, 2012
Telnet opens 3000s with a key cut long ago
Engineering from the past permits us to take the future for granted. In your community the connections between past and present run strong, ties which are now lashed tight by the links of the Web. Programming from long ago stands a chance of tying tomorrow’s computers with the 3000s put into service on a distant yesterday. This technology lay under-appreciated for years — which makes it a lot like the 3000’s design.
Once the executives and sales wizards and marketing mavens grab their tablets and go into your offices, they’ll want to use their iPads to work with information residing in safety on the HP 3000. This year the conduit for the connection is telnet, a protocol given the pshaw in the '90s when nobody could see a tablet anywhere but Star Trek episodes.
I remember telnet gaining traction in feature lists for connectivity software from WRQ and Minisoft. The access method got strongest praise from Wirt Atmar at AICS Research. His engineers were building their own 3000 terminal emulator, QCTerm, and the NS/VT mysteries were not the primary path for data through that free software. (It hasn't been tested on Windows 7, but the software runs on XP -- which is still running 46 percent of the world's Windows PCs.)
Now the world’s networks pulse at a common rate we couldn’t conceive just 15 years ago. No, the block mode interfaces written in the 1980s are not going to transmit data this year to mobile tablets. A more extensive project needs to pass that protocol to the latest of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) computers. But in the meantime the 3000 can prove itself worthy of a spot in the IT future, so long as it can link some of its programs to a tablet. Telnet never got much respect from the developer ranks of your community in the era of the terminal emulator. But now telnet feels like a piece of 3000 engineering which is finally no longer ahead of its time.
Once networking standards swept through the industry, the gamble that HP took to break open 3000 connections became essential. This was catch-up engineering that followed the magic of PA-RISC emulation. There’s other fundamental technology that’s been built or ported to make the 3000 a web-capable database host. The miracle that paves the way into tomorrow is that there is any Perl, or telnet, available for an environment first launched 40 years ago. In a fall when America still hadn’t felt the pulse of disco, a computer took its first steps on a path that would lead to tablets.