November 20, 2014

TBT: When Joy of Tech Was Necessary

SuperGroup Fred White


The cover above of the SuperGroup Association magazine from January, 1985 came to mind here on ThrowBack Thursday. Fred White passed away this week, and it's been a delightful trek down the lane of memories to recall his gusto about the art of technology.

The cover above shows some of that gusto which is not easy to describe. SuperGroup understood the MPE and IMAGE technology of the '80s as well or better than any magazine of the day. But that 3000 publication edited by D. David Brown had a sense of humor and whimsy about it no other publication has been able to eclipse. (Even on my best day as HP Chronicle editor I was only cooking up editorial cartoons about PA-RISC that somebody else would illustrate, and there have been those Ken-Do strips from the NewsWire. But nothing as savvy as what was staged above.)

The players in the little romp were, from left, White, Adager's Alfredo Rego, and Robelle's Bob Green. The photo was a teaser into a great technical paper about a perceived need to acknowledge that databases needed "uncomfortable Procrustean designs... [using] methodologies associated wth normalizing and relating."

Procrustean creditsLike the paper that Eugene Volokh wrote in the following year, the technical report put relational databases in their place -- capable of permitting multiple views of data, but with a steep performance price to pay compared to IMAGE/3000. The article was on the vanguard of unmasking the shortcomings of relational databases of that era, as I read it. Also clever and playful, two words not often associated with technical writing. The paper was authored by more than the three in the picture; Allegro's Stan Sieler and Steve Cooper got credits, as did Leslie Keffer de Rego for editing.

Two of the actors in that photo represented a database that had to be filled out for length, and one that needed to be chopped short. Procrustes would kill travelers by placing them in "beds of various sizes, and when he lighted on a traveler who was tall, he consigned him to one of his short beds, lopping off so much of him as exceeded the length of the stead; but if his guest were short, a long bed was provided him, and his limbs, by help of a machine, were stretched out to its length."

Procrustean summaryIt took great savvy to use a Greek myth to explain how relational databases of that day were no more capable than IMAGE.

This kind of super-wizard comedy was essential to the period when White was spreading his wings. He was a consultant to Adager at the time and sometimes graced the speaker lists on that day's then-crowded user group meeting calendar. At one show in Southern California, held in the halls of the converted Queen Mary, I watched White expound on the exactitude of writing files to tape, an amazing talk that ran more than a quarter-hour over its 90 minutes allotted. White had more to say, too, even as the organizers had to turn over the room.

The 1980s of the HP 3000 were a time when the Joy of Tech was necessary to overcome the growing pains of the 3000's success. Users were outstripping the processing power of the CISC-based systems, and the competing databases of the era needed serious integration skills to maintain their value to their owners. That integration had been wired into the 3000 by the IMAGE work of White and others. Experts like him, Rego, and Green not only wielded the know-how, they made complex topics entertaining. In SuperGroup they found a wry editorial staff which knew how to showcase gusto.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:15 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 19, 2014

Fred White, 1924-2014

FredWhiteCourtesy of his long-time collaborator and partner Alfredo Rego, this picture of Fred White was taken in 2004, when Fred was 80 and several years into retirement. The legendary co-creator of IMAGE and the SPL expert in Adager's Labs, White was a Marine Corps veteran. Rego said while offering this portrait, "I took this photo with my Olympus E-1 on October 26, 2004 (just a bit over 10 years ago!) in Cedar City, Utah, where he and Judy lived for a while. Fred invited Judy and me to lunch, and I snapped this image across the table. I loved everything there: The warm light, the delicious food, the stimulating conversation, the young college students rushing about..."

The creator of the heartbeat of the HP 3000, Fred White, passed away on November 18, 2014 at the age of 90. White died peacefully in the presence of his wife Judy and family members, of natural causes. He had relocated to Arizona after retiring from Adager in the year after Y2K. His work in building the essential database for MPE, alongside Jon Bale, was the keystone of the 3000 experience. Rego took note of a key identifier inside the IMAGE internals, one that signified a database was sound and accurate. The flag was FW, or as Rego said in a short tribute to his partner, "%043127, the octal representation of “FW” — the flag for a normal IMAGE/3000 database (and TurboIMAGE, and IMAGE/SQL)."

White's work for the 3000 community came in two stages. The first was his innovations while working for HP, building a network database which won awards until HP stopped selling IMAGE and included it with the HP 3000. (Bundled software would not be considered for prizes like the Datamation award bestowed on IMAGE in 1976.) IMAGE, integrated at a foolproof level with the MPE intrinsics and filesystem, delivered a ready field for a small army of developers to plant applications and tools. Without White's work, the 3000 would have been just a footnote in HP's attempts to enter the computer business.

The second stage of White's gifts to the community began when HP had infuriated him for the last time. Never a fan of large organizations, he left Hewlett-Packard when it became clear the vendor had no interest in enhancing IMAGE. But before he departed HP, White met with Rego when the latter was visiting HP in an effort to learn more about IMAGE from the vendor, in preparation for a forthcoming database manager he'd create. As the legend is told, White decided he'd try to help Rego just to ensure that the creation to be called Adager could emerge a little easier.

"He hoped we would answer his questions," White said in a post-retirement interview. His partner Jon Bale "said that kind of help would be contrary to HP company policy. I said to him, 'Jon, this guy’s going to get this done whether we help him or not. All we’re doing is helping a fellow human. Whatever it takes, Alfredo’s going to do it anyway.' "

"At that point, Jon said it was up to me, but he couldn’t do it because it wasn’t HP company policy. He wished Alfredo the best of luck and left. So I answered his questions, and even told him things he couldn’t possibly have thought of, such as privileged mode intrinsic calling and negative DBOPEN modes, things peculiar to the software rather than the database. We chatted for an hour and a half or so."

The exchange in 1977 pointed toward the door to the Adager segment of White's career. The years between 1980 and 2001 allowed Fred to make up for his reticence inside corporations by becoming the conscience of accuracy and fairness. Innovations for IMAGE finally arrived in the middle 1990s. But White's most saucy moment of advocacy came in Boston when HP was trying to make IMAGE a separate product once again.

The battle raged in a conference hall on the scene of the Interex user group meeting in 1990. Unbundling was an HP strategy designed to make it easier to buy an Oracle database for the 3000, reducing the price of the hardware modestly while making room for an add-on product. HP's database would be on a footing with all other offerings, but White and others knew that a 3000 without IMAGE was not the product the community trusted with its loyalties.

It was an era when users offered advocacy in a tone of angst. This sometimes was not the exchange that HP desired to air in public. But it was good for the capability of the system. HP had to watch the international computer press listen to a rumbling roar of revolution from 3000 users. A meeting of the IMAGE Special Interest Group came to be known as your community's Boston Tea Party. Rego recalled the moment of highest revolt.

Fred White (co-author of IMAGE and at the time Senior Scientist at Adager Labs) addressed Bill Murphy (HP’s Director of Marketing) from the floor and complimented Bill on his tie. Fred then explained how stupid it was for HP to unbundle IMAGE. Fred continued by describing the negative effects in products that depended on having IMAGE on the HP 3000. Fred also provided some historic background by relating how Ed McCracken (a previous 3000 General Manager) had made a success of the HP 3000 by bundling IMAGE in the mid '70s. Fred was firm but courteous. No tomatoes (err, tea bags) were thrown. Perhaps the whole “Boston Tea Party” legend started because Fred used the word “stupid” in public, applying it to HP’s management, with no apologies.

The crucial work needed to support a dizzy array of date types was near the apex of White's work at Adager, details scrutinized and attended to during the advent of Y2K. After his retirement, White remained visible in both online communities and at gatherings of the 3000 community's most formidable minds.

His computer career crossed five decades, starting in 1957 when programmer degrees didn’t exist and math experts did the heavy lifting to create file systems, operating environments and applications. In the beginning of his work for HP, he was creating the first file system for the 3000. He was then transferred to another project that grew into the creation of IMAGE.

He came to his HP work from 12 years of positions at Sylvania Electronic Defense Lab, United Technology Center and IBM. White had prepared for his more than 43 years of programming by work and study in forestry, engineering, Japanese, criminology and math. He joined Sylvania two months before Sputnik was launched by the Russians. By 1969 he’d responded to HP’s entreaties and followed some UTC colleagues to HP Cupertino, where he headed up the File System Project for the Omega System, which evolved to MPE.

Never a fan of large organizations, White eventually left HP in 1981 after he had been moved away from IMAGE and onto other projects. He first met Rego when the latter traveled to HP Cupertino to meet the IMAGE creators and learn more about IMAGE and its data structures. White took a post which Rego offered as a consultant to Adager in 1981, and became a senior research engineer for that company in 1989.

During the 1980s and 1990s, the tall, silver-haired programmer cut a notable swath through the HP 3000 community, especially at the annual Interex user group meetings. Always ready to level with HP’s management about what the HP 3000 needed, White’s comments and criticisms in those meetings represented the same unflinching focus required for his SPL programming on the 3000’s internals.

White always wanted to stay busy at his work. In 1946 he worked on Okinawa as a Japanese interpreter for a construction company and applied for a decrease in pay when he thought the company hadn’t given him enough to do. His 19-plus years with Adager made up the biggest single stay in a career in which he said “I quit a lot of jobs. That’s what I’m prone to do when management screws up.”

In his retirement White was active with family members, traveling, hiking and bird watching. The subject of the watches was mostly raptors, he added. "We like our place in Clarkdale (desert plants and critters) with great views of Mingus Mountain and the red rock area of Sedona," he said in 2003. "I like keeping in touch with many of my old friends and enemies on the Internet and mailing lists."

When we asked him about the single biggest mistake HP made with the HP 3000, White was ready with
"at least five I can think of. 1. Not having the development teams being the support teams. 2. Getting in bed with Oracle. 3. Not being aware that there are no relational databases, just relational access to databases. 4. Following the Unix pied piper. 5. Not marketing the HP 3000. For example, they never bothered to tell the world that the computers they used at corporate headquarters were HP 3000s."

As to what kept him so productive for so long, he mentioned his single-language focus on SPL, as well as still being interested in his work. But he also said, "Having a boss who was more interested in quality than quantity." The community poured out good wishes to a special email address, fred@adager.com, in his final days. One developer who heard of his passing said, "Let's hope that when Fred gets upstairs, his entry permit to Heaven is stamped 'Automatic, Master'." 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:34 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 14, 2014

Our World's Greatest Cartoon, Ever

101 MigrationsBecause it's so crucial, and because Alan Yeo was brilliant in commissioning it. Mark your calendars. (Click it for detail)

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:39 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 13, 2014

Thursday Throwback: IMAGE vs. Relational

As a precocious 18-year-old, Eugene Volokh wrote deep technical papers for HP 3000 users who were two or three times his age. While we pointed to the distinctions between IMAGE master and automatic datasets recently, Eugene's dad Vladimir reminded us about a Eugene paper. It was published in the fall of 1986, a time when debate was raging over the genuine value of relational databases.

While the relational database is as certain in our current firmament as the position of any planet, the concept was pushing aside proven technology 28 years ago. IMAGE, created by Fred White and Jon Bale at HP, was not relational. Or was it? Eugene offered the paper below to explore what all the relative fuss was about. Vladimir pointed us to the page on the fine Adager website where the paper lives in its original formatting.

COBO HallThe relationships between master and automatic and detail datasets pointed the way to how IMAGE would remain viable even during the onslaught of relational databases. Soon enough, even Structured Query Language would enter the toolbox of IMAGE. But even in the year this paper emerged, while the 3000 still didn't have a PA-RISC model or MPE/XL to drive it, there was a correlation between relational DBs and IMAGE. Relational databases rely on indexes, "which is what most relational systems use in the same way that IMAGE uses automatic masters," Eugene wrote in his paper presented at COBO Hall in Detroit (above). QUERY/3000 was a relational query language, he added, albeit one less easy to use.

Vladimir admits that very few IT professionals are building IMAGE/SQL databases anymore. "But they do look at them, and they should know what they're looking at," he explained.

Relational Databases Vs. IMAGE:
What The Fuss Is All About

By Eugene Volokh, VESOFT

What are "relational databases" anyway? Are they more powerful than IMAGE? Less powerful? Faster? Slower? Slogans abound, but facts are hard to come by. It seems like HP will finally have its own relational system out for Spectrum (or whatever they call it these days). I hope that this paper will clear up some of the confusion that surrounds relational databases, and will point out the substantive advantages and disadvantages that relational databases have over network systems like IMAGE.

What is a relational database? Let's think for a while about a database design problem.

We want to build a parts requisition system. We have many possible suppliers, and many different parts. Each supplier can sell us several kinds of parts, and each part can be bought from one of several suppliers.

Easy, right? We just have a supplier master, a parts master, and a supplier/parts cross-reference detail:

Relational-IMAGE Fig 1Every supplier has a record in the SUPPLIERS master, every part has a record in the PARTS master, and each (supplier, part-supplied) pair has a record in the SUPPLIER-XREF dataset.

Now, why did we set things up this way? We could have, for instance, made the SUPPLIER-XREF dataset a master, with a key of SUPPLIERS#+PART#.  Or,  we  could have made all three datasets stand-alone details, with no masters at all. The point is that the proof of a database is in the using. The design we showed -- two masters and a detail -- allows us to very efficiently do the following things:

  • Look up supplier information by the unique supplier #.
  • Look up parts information by the unique part #.
  • For each part, look up all its suppliers (by using the cross-reference detail dataset).
  • For each supplier, look up all the parts it sells (by using the cross-reference detail dataset).

This is what IMAGE is good at -- allowing quick retrieval from a master using the master's unique key and allowing quick retrieval from a detail chain using one of the detail's search items. 

However, let’s take a closer look at the parts dataset. It actually looks kind of like this:

PART# <-- unique key item
DESCRIPTION
SHAPE
COLOR
...

What if we want to find all the suppliers that can sell us a "framastat"? A "framastat", you see, is not a part number -- it's a part description. We want to be able to look up parts not only by their part number, but also by their descriptions. The functions supported by our design are:

  • Look up PART by PART#.
  • Look up SUPPLIERS by SUPPLIERS#.
  • Look up PARTs by SUPPLIERS#.
  • Look up SUPPLIERs by PART#.

What we want is the ability to

  • Look up PART by DESCRIPTION.

The sad thing is that the PARTS dataset is a master, and a master dataset supports lookup by ONLY ONE FIELD (the key). We can't make DESCRIPTION the key item, since we want PART# to be the key item; we can't make DESCRIPTION a search item, since PARTS isn't a detail. By making PARTS a master, we got fast lookup by PART# (on the order of 1 or 2 I/Os to do the DBGET), but we forfeited any power to look things up quickly by any other item.

And so, dispirited and dejected, we get drunk and go to bed. And, deep in the night, a dream comes. "Make it a detail!" the voice shouts. "Make it a detail, and then you can have as many paths as you want to."

We awaken elated! This is it! Make PARTS a detail dataset, and then have two search items, PART# and DESCRIPTION. Each search item can have an automatic master dataset hanging off of it, to wit:

Relational-IMAGE Fig 2

What's more, if we ever, say, want to find all the parts of a certain color or shape, we can easily add a new search item to the PARTS dataset. Sure, it may be a bit slower (to get a part we need to first find it in PART#S and then follow the chain to PARTS, two IOs instead of one), and also the uniqueness of part numbers isn't enforced; still, the flexibility advantages are pretty nice.

So, now we can put any number of search items in PARTS. What about SUPPLIERS? What if we want to find a supplier by his name, or city, or any other field? Again, if we use master datasets, we're locked into having only one key item per dataset. Just like we restructured PARTS, we can restructure SUPPLIES, and come up with:

Relational-IMAGE Fig 3Note what we have done in our quest for flexibility. All the real data has been put into detail datasets; every data item which we're likely to retrieve on has an automatic master attached to it.

Believe it or not, this is a relational database.

If this is a relational database, I'm a Hottentot

Surely, you say, there is more to a relational database than just an IMAGE database without any master datasets. Isn't there? Of course, there is. But all the wonderful things you've been hearing about relational databases may have more to do with the features of a specific system that happens to be relational than with the virtues of relational as a whole.

Consider for a moment network databases. IMAGE is one example, in fact an example of a rather restricted kind of network database (having only two levels, master and detail). Let's look at some of the major features of IMAGE:

  • IMAGE supports unique-key MASTERS and non-unique-key DETAILS.
  • IMAGE does HASHING on master dataset records.
  • IMAGE has QUERY, an interactive query language.

Which of these features are actually network database features? In other words, which features would be present in any network database, and which are specific to the IMAGE implementation? Of the three listed above, only the first -- masters and details -- must actually be present in all databases that want to call themselves "network." On the other hand, a network database might very well use B-trees or ISAM as its access method instead of hashing; or, it might not provide an interactive query language. It would still be a network database -- it just wouldn't be IMAGE.

Why is all this relevant? Well, let's say that somebody said "Network databases are bad because they use hashing instead of B-trees." This statement is wrong because the network database model is silent on the question of B-trees vs. hashing. It is incorrect to generalize from the fact that IMAGE happens to use hashing to the theory that all network databases use hashing. If we get into the habit of making such generalizations, we are liable to get very inaccurate ideas about network databases in general or other network implementations in particular.

The same goes for relational databases. The reason that so many people are so keen on relational databases isn't because they have any particularly novel form of data representation (actually, it's much like  a  bunch  of old-fashioned KSAM/ISAM-like files with the possibility of multiple keys); nor is it because of some fancy new access methods (hashing, B-trees, and ISAM are all that relational databases support). Rather, it's because the designers of many of the modern relational databases did a good job in providing people with lots of useful features (ones that might have been just as handy in network databases).

What are relational databases: functionality

The major reason for many of the differences between relational databases and network databases is simple: age. Remember the good old days when people hacked FORTRAN code, spending days or weeks on optimizing out an instruction or two, or saving 1000 bytes of memory (they had only 8K back then) ? Well, those are the days in which many of today's network databases were first designed; maximum effort was placed on making slow hardware run as fast as possible and getting the most out of every byte of disk.

Relational databases, children of the late '70s and early '80s had the benefit of perspective. Their designers saw that much desirable functionality and flexibility was missing in the older systems, and they were willing to include it in relational databases even if it meant some wasted storage and performance slow-down. The bad part of this is that, to some extent, modern relational databases are still hurting from slightly decreased performance; however, this seems to be at most a temporary problem, and the functionality and flexibility advantages are quite great.

For even more IMAGE education, like the advantages of IMAGE over relational databases, and a tour of the flexibility that automatic masters provide, see the remainder of the paper on the Adager website.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:48 PM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 06, 2014

Throwback: Today's Empire of Invent3K

Five years ago today we watched for notice about a fresh 3000 resource on the Web. Invent3K, a public access development server created by HP in 2001, was searching out a new home in November 2009. The vendor shut off Invent3K in November 2008, along with the Jazz website that hosted shareware utilities created by HP and the user community.

Invent3K was an OpenMPE adoption project five years ago. The community probably didn't need a public access development web server by the end of 2009. But replacing HP's withdrawn assets seemed important. Invent3K harkened back to a more hopeful time. 3000 developers were first offered access to MPE accounts on that HP server only about six months before the vendor announced it would end its 3000 programs.

Invent3K was unique in the 3000's history. The server was the first and only place that hosted free, development-use-only subsystem software from HP. Working from an Invent3K account, a developers employed COBOL II, TurboStore, and other HP-branded products while building apps or utilities.

InventFor a time, OpenMPE wanted to sell $99 yearly development accounts on its replacement Invent3K. The community was not accustomed to paying for public access, so sales were slow. OpenMPE was trying to generate revenues for operating things like a Jazz replacement host where contributed tools could be accessed. By that time, much of Jazz had been re-hosted at servers owned by Client Systems and Speedware. Things were not hosted quite the same as on Jazz, though. HP insisted that those two vendors make users click through an End User License Agreement before using the contributed tools re-hosted from Jazz.

Last month, two of the replacement servers for delivering Jazz and Invent3K had online glitches. Speedware's server went offline for a weekend, so its hpmigrations.com website that hosts Jazz delivered only an error. The HP 3000 where Invent3K was headed in 2009 had a small hiccup, too: the 3000-based Empire 3.9 game server lost use of its domain name for awhile in October. Tracy Johnson is the caretaker for the Empire server and its parent -- Invent3K, whose domain name is invent3k.openmpe.com.

But Invent3K is operating today, at least for anyone who had an account established before OpenMPE curtailed its operations. Access is through any terminal emulator with Telnet or VT/Mgr protocol. Once you've configured your terminal emulator, connect to the address invent3k.empire.openmpe.com.

After years of reduced 3000 development -- the result of many systems frozen to maintain stability -- Invent3K is more than a testament to shared effort of the community. It's a solution in search of a problem. Free access to the 3000's subsystem products for development wasn't much of a problem by 2010. Invent3K was devised as a means to deliver new software for MPE. The community was encouraged to help, back in 2001.

Advocates for MPE/iX waited longer than expected for invent3k.openmpe.com to come online. The wait was so lengthy that a dispute over who would control the server arose in the OpenMPE group. Ultimately the original openmpe.org domain was locked up, kept out of the hands of the OpenMPE board members. Allegro Consultants stepped up to donate the openmpe.com domain, which it had purchased long before Invent3K was up for adoption.

As a result of moving a consolidated version of Jazz out of HP's labs, the community now faces good news and bad for the Jazz web resources. The good news is there's plenty of redundancy, with Fresche Legacy (nee Speedware), Client Systems, and OpenMPE's volunteers like Johnson all hosting the programs.

The bad news is there are three sets of programs and command files and UDCs, some overlapping, and some not, among those redundant resources. Every host gets to use their own organizational map, so finding something specific probably requires a visit to all three sites. And some tools aren't on any of the servers, like the bash shell program for MPE/iX. Bash was the focus of the recent Shellshock hack, one that had administrators examining their servers for security vulnerability.

For the time being, the Jazz portals are located at:

OpenMPE Jazz: invent3k.openmpe.com/jazz/

Client Systems Jazz: www.clientsystems.com/jazzmain.html

Fresh Legacy/Speedware Jazz: hpmigrations.com/HPe3000_resources/HP_jazz

There is only one Invent3K, however. One might be enough, considering it's an HP 3000.

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

October 27, 2014

Early 3000 Flights: A New Embattled History

Bill FosterThe world is still full of computer aces who flew in the earliest skies of minicomputers. The HP 3000 has history to share about the dogfights to bring interactive computing to businesses and organizations. The new voice of a pilot of that early age, Bill Foster, tells a fresh story about historic 3000 events. (A tip of the hat here to former OpenMPE director and Allegro support engineer Donna Hofmeister, who spotted Foster's blog.)

Bill Foster was in charge of engineering for the first HP 3000 that became a production-grade computer, the Series II. Foster went on to co-found Stratus Computer. In a blog he's called TeamFoster he tells his compelling story I Remember HP, complete with characters memorable and regrettable, about the earliest times in the Data Systems Division labs in California. Up to now, most of the stories about the 3000's birth have had a more abbreviated telling, or they're summarized in less vivid accounts.

Foster's written 15,000 words on his blog to tell his Hewlett-Packard story, which begins in 1971. In that year the HP 3000 is still more than a year away from its ill-fated debut, so he can chronicle the inner workings of a lab where "The engineers were mostly out of control, particularly the programmers."

HP Journal 1973Foster's story about the earliest days of the 3000 includes accounts of important players such as Barney Oliver, Paul Ely and Ed McCracken. There's even a note about Jim Hewlett, son of HP co-founder Bill Hewlett. A golfer and a nature lover, Hewlett's son got Foster in trouble. As part of the system's revival there was even a face-saving video interview, designed to revive the ruinous reputation of the 3000.

Even while Foster puts himself at the center of the story about the rescue of MPE -- an OS that was too memory-hungry for the first System 3000 computer -- he's generous with praise and details from others in the company. Paul Ely was general manager of the DSD at the time the 3000 project was floundering.

While Paul could be a royal pain in the ass, I do give him credit for saving HP’s computer business. The Alpha project eventually morphed into a computer called the HP 3000. It initially flopped in the marketplace and became a total embarrassment to the company.

While my group was focused on programming languages my cubicle-mate, Ron Matsumoto was in charge of MPE, the monster operating system.  While you might be able to ship the computer without a language like COBOL, it was totally useless without MPE. And MPE was in trouble, big time.

Hewlett was ready to can the entire program. HP had a reputation to maintain, and part of that reputation was that their products were a cut above everyone else’s.  But Paul held his ground with Hewlett -- he told him that the 3000 was basically a very good product, it just needed more time to work out the kinks. Paul saved the 3000 and kept HP in the computer business.

It had been an unqualified failure, that first HP 3000. "We shipped Serial #1 to the Lawrence Hall of Science in nearby Berkeley. A couple of weeks later they shipped it back," Foster writes. "The 3000 could support at most two or three users on a good day -- nowhere near 16 or 32 or whatever they were promised. And MPE was crashing 3 or 4 times a day."

MPE was beefed up all through the period when the hardware part of the project was sidetracked. The software had acquired a taste for a lot more memory than the 128K in the first 3000. That's right, K as in kilobytes. HP launched a business computer with less memory than one meaty Microsoft Word file of today.

The source of MPE's salvation, by Foster's account, was engineer Mike Green, who led the team to re-engineer the OS.

Mike was one of the coolest people in Cupertino, and probably the smartest.  A real laid-back hippie-freak:  long hair, sandals, slow walking, supremely confident.  After a couple of years Mike and I flipped jobs and I became his boss. He decided it was more fun to invent than to manage. 

When the 3000 got into trouble I asked Mike to drop what he was doing and take charge of MPE, the operating system. MPE was the most complex part of the computer and it was a disaster. Because of MPE, customers began shipping their 3000’s back to HP -- that was definitely the wrong direction.

Mike agreed to save MPE, and after a week or two we were ready to present his plan to Ely. Mike stood up in a room full of important people and gave the pitch. It was a great plan, and Mike said we would be out of the woods in about five months.

When he finished his presentation Ely said “are you telling me five months because that’s what I want to hear, or is this really what you think will happen?” 

Mike looked at Paul in a dismissive manner. “I’m saying this because it’s going to happen. Why would I say anything just to please you?” 

For once Ely was speechless. He had no retort.  He had met his match. There was dead silence as we left the room.  And five months later MPE was working.

Once the computer appeared to be a product promising enough to garner orders from customers, Foster needed to sell it to the HP sales force -- which had been burned by the flame-out of the first 3000. He enlisted David Packard to do it.

Dave Packard was the most revered person at HP -- even more respected and certainly more feared than Bill Hewlett. The idea was that Dave Packard and myself, as the Engineering Manager in charge of the 3000, would sit down and have a “fireside chat.” HP had invested in videotape technology as an employee training tool and had a great studio in Palo Alto for filming such a program. It would be partially scripted with Packard asking me the appropriate questions and eventually giving his blessing of the 3000. The tape would be sent to HP offices around the world.

The big man came into the studio, crisply dressed and intimidating as always. I was very nervous -- this guy was not to be messed with. We sat very close together for the TV cameras, his foot almost touching mine.  

The interview went off as scripted. He asked me a bunch of questions about what was wrong with the original 3000 and what we had done to fix it. He ended by telling the audience that he was certain the 3000 Series II was a fine product and would be a big hit in the marketplace.

  When the cameras shut off and the lights dimmed, he grabbed my knee with his big hand, squeezed real hard, leaned over and looked me in the eyes. “Foster, you got me on tape endorsing your computer. The goddammed thing better work!”

Foster's stories fill in some key moments about the 3000's success that have never been written about. He also tips his hat to Bob Green's fine, streamlined History of the HP 3000. Foster's expansive version is full of names and players. There's also Chris Edler's 1995 story of the system's origins, The Strongest Castle: The Rise, Fall and Rise of the HP 3000.

By Foster's reckoning -- and he's honest enough to note changes in HP that sent Hewlett and Packard's ideals by the wayside -- the 3000 made the company relevant in the computer world. "The 3000 went on to be an extremely successful product for HP," he writes. "In many respects it launched them as a legitimate player in the computer industry."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:10 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 23, 2014

TBT: There Used to Be a Lab Around Here

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 4.56.26 PMAbove, the Glendenning Barn Picnic Area, one of the signature elements of Hewlett-Packard's Pruneridge Avenue campus, heartland of HP's 3000 business. It's all been razed to below-ground level, as Apple builds its new intergalactic headquarters on the site.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 4.58.02 PMOne of the lesser-known tunes from the Frank Sinatra songbook is There Used to Be a Ballpark Around Here. The sentiment of the song wraps around the wistful view that something unique is now gone. Apple has posted the greatest quarter of business in the company's history. All through this year, it's been steadily displacing the HP labs where the 3000 and other products were designed and improved.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 4.57.21 PMOne 3000 engineer posted pictures of the current state of the 3000's estate. Only a multi-story mound of earth can be seen where handsome walkways, cooperative parking and stately poplars and pines were once the sentinels around the campus. People called their journeys to this location "a factory visit." One day while I was there on a press briefing, I was shown downstairs to a lower level -- where a manufacturing line was rolling out Series 68 servers.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 4.56.51 PMHP's been cutting back on many things to maintain its profitability. Real estate has been at the head of the list the company no longer needs. You can consider that HP has closed its MPE/iX labs in California, yes. But the labs themselves -- cubicles and miles of network cables and office furniture and meeting rooms named after types of trees like Oak and Maple -- those are all gone now, the home of more than 3000 enterprise computing. It's all been moved away and changed.

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 5.15.43 PMSteve Jobs and Larry Ellison once walked the streets of Palo Alto and bemoaned the changes at Hewlett-Packard, not quite five years ago this fall. Apple, Jobs hoped, would be built to last as long as HP and become the kind of headwater for inspiration and innovation that Hewlett-Packard was. The street that faced that Pruneridge Avenue entrance had Tandem Computer on the facing curb. Tandem, spun off from HP by James Treybig, until HP assimilated it to become its NonStop group. Now the spinning comes anew to this street, soon enough to be the site of a spaceship-sized Apple HQ.

Apple has done all that it can to become the HP of innovation, plus added an ability to capture the lightning in a bottle of excitement about new tech. It's a fulfullment of Jobs' dream to see the company rise up on the ballpark site of HP's enterprise computing labs.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:27 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 21, 2014

Macworlds expire. Apple soars. Not linked.

Screen Shot 2014-10-21 at 3.14.11 AMOne classy way to go out of the conference business: tell your sponsor vendors the next conference won't happen, six months early. Don't take their deposits for show space.

You can file this report under Types of End of Life. The HP 3000 had an alleged end of life. HP announced it about 13 years ago, but that was the vendor's report about its 3000 activities. There can be a demise in classic support structures for a system once it wanes. But those structures, like information and community events, might be wobbly all by themselves. Things do change.

Everything called Macworld has now gone away. There was a print magazine, roaring through the '80s, the '90s, and even until about 10 years ago. Printed publications about computer lines, focused on one vendor, built this industry. IDG owned Macworld, owns PC World, owns Computerworld. Only the last publication still prints news on paper and sends magazines into the mail. Things change. There's this invention called the Internet.

In another post I pointed to the HP publications no longer in print. All of them, except for the Newswire. HP Professional, InterACT, HP Omni. Long ago, SuperGroup, and HP User. Interex Press, HP World. Every one of them exited. The departure for some was the trigger of that HP end of life announcement. Others rolled over when something bigger died: their parent company, or interest in Hewlett-Packard's products. One of the last executive directors of the Interex user group asked a big question: "How do you make a vendor-specific user group relevant in a cross-platform world?" said Chuck Piercey.

HP World 2005


Another way to go out of the show business: tell your partners nothing about the departure, and market as if it's all going fine. This, from a web page less than four weeks before the final, canceled HP World conference -- a page still online on the day before the user group's demise.

IDG's expo division has asked the same stay-relevant question about the 30-year-old Macworld conference. And answered it. The expo is now on hiatus, and unlikely to emerge again. Macworld Expo added a sister expo called iWorld to embrace the rocketing mobile products from Apple. More than one third of Macworld/iWorld exhibitors bought booth spots in a bullpen called the Appalooza. More important, though, was the exodus of tens of thousands of square feet of show space, once purchased by the industry's giants. Adobe. HP. Canon. Microsoft. Little vendors in little booths were not enough to counter big changes in our industry's communication.

Apple reported a record profit yesterday, and its stock is trading at $716 a share (corrected for the 7:1 split of the springtime). Apple announced an end of life of its user show exhibitions four years ago. Macworld Expo never was the same. The vendor got healthier and bigger, so why did the magazine and show founder? Things change. Customers, always the prize for a conference or a magazine, found better ways to learn about owning products. And what to purchase.

Purchasing is not a big part of the HP 3000 experience anymore. Not like it was when there were seven Hewlett-Packard-focused publications, or even where there were just four left in the world. Purchases for HP 3000s involve replacement systems, virtualized alternatives, support, and migration services. Some software makes its way into the commerce chain. But a replacement package for another system is most likely to be a line item on a budget. Training will be on the new platform, in nearly every encounter.

HP's fortunes have been rocky over the last four years, ever since the company cut loose its majordomo Mark Hurd. That decline hasn't affected trade shows for the vendor -- it runs the only genuine meeting it calls HP Discover. The days and nights of Discover are likely to continue for many years. HP sells at that conference and trains customers and its staff. Education isn't the point of a trade show visit anymore. Seeing products and asking questions about them -- that's done over the Web.

The printed publication, the trade conference: these are artifacts of a world where you needed paper and pacing an expo floor to learn the most important things about a computer you love. I attended seven of the last Macworld Expos, including a couple of memorable Steve Jobs speeches about embracing Intel chips, and yes, the iPhone debut. Special mornings, those were, seeing Intel's CEO emerge in a clean room suit onstage. Or watching the faithful crowd seven-deep around the initial iPhone, rotating in a Gorilla Glass case. As it happens, that iPhone debut was a watershed. More than half of Apple's business now comes from mobile products.

The last six mobile rollouts have been press-only by invitation -- and a short list at that. The events were webcast live, with video and audio ever-better on each rollout day. PR has shifted from in-person, or by-phone, to texts and emails and webinars and live demos. You don't need to be someplace to learn a certain amount about a computer. That certain amount is enough for most customers and partners. Enthusiasts want more. In the Apple world, they'll have to go to their laptop screens or iPhones to get it. 

In truth, they're already there. In the HP world, the customers are reading webpages and watching webinars. One of those two vendors, Apple, has its afterburners on full throttle. Hewlett-Packard separated from the 3000's orbit four years ago. HP Enterprise customers will see a new world of a company next year after the vendor's split, but there won't be an HP World again. Not in print, not in an expo hall. Those are legacy means of communication and exchange. The expos hosted community, but newer generations of customers find community on mobile screens. Everything changes, and everything ends.

Here's to you, partner-based expos. You were wondrous fun and a rocket-sled ride while you lasted. The depth of any vendor's ride into the customer's heart will be determined by vessels on other trajectories.

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

October 20, 2014

3000's class time extended for schools

SB County schoolsThe San Bernadino County school district in California has been working on moving its HP 3000s to deep archival mode, but the computers still have years of production work ahead. COBOL and its business prowess is proving more complicated to move to Windows than expected. Dave Evans, Systems Security and Research officer, checked in from the IT department at the district.

We are still running two HP 3000s for our Financial and Payroll services. The latest deadline was to have all the COBOL HP 3000 applications rewritten by December 2015, and then I would shut the HP 3000s down as I walked out the door for the last time. That has now been extended to 2017, and I will be gone before then. 

We are rewriting the COBOL HP 3000 apps into .NET and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) technologies. Ideal says they can support our HP 3000s until 2017.

And with the departure date of those two HP 3000s now more than two years away, the school district steps into another decade beyond HP's original plans for the server line. It is the second decade of beyond-end-of-life service for their 3000.

Evans was checking up on the timeline.

In the original timeline HP published, did HP announce in November 2002 that the HP 3000 was at end of life? That HP 3000 production lines would shut down in 2004, and all HP 3000 support would end 2007?

Very close, but not quite accurate. The 3000's future got its exit notice from Hewlett-Packard in 2001 (almost 13 years ago), and system manufacturing ended in 2003. The first of HP's end of life deadlines was December 2006. Virtually nobody would have figured in 2001 they'd have MPE applications still in service more than a decade after 2006. 

But San Bernadino County is giving lessons on how to extend an investment, even while it finishes a migration. By the time those school district servers go offline -- and they won't be the last in the world by any means -- the 3000 product platform will have been in continuous production service somewhere in the world for 43 years.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:26 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 09, 2014

TBT: A 3000 Newsworthy Birth Day

Inaugural IssueThe first issue of the Newswire ran its black and red ink across 24 pages of an early October issue. Inside, the first FlashPaper late-news insert had been waiting a week for main-issue printing to catch up with mailing plans.

In our ThrowBack to this week of 1995, the first issue of The 3000 Newswire rolled out into the mails. The coverage of the HP 3000 was cheerful enough to encourage a belief that the computer would run forever -- but 19 years of future was far from certain for either the system or the first 3000-only publication. Volume 1 (the year), Issue 1 came out in a 24-page edition, the same page count of the printed issue that just mailed this Fall. At the Newswire's introduction, one user group leader wondered aloud, on a bus ride during the Interex '95 conference in Toronto, "what in the world you'll might be able to find to fill up the news in Issue No. 2."

The last of the competing HP-only publications closed its doors 10 years later, when Interex folded its user group overnight. Interact, HP Professional, SuperGroup, HP Omni and others turned out the lights during that decade.

The Newswire's first mailed issue was carrying the news circulating in mid-August during an Interex conference. For the first time in 10 years, an HP CEO spoke at the Interex event. However, Lew Platt was a current CEO when he spoke to the 3000 faithful. David Packard was a former CEO and board member when he addressed the multitudes at Interex '85 in Washington DC.

Platt said that HP 3000 users had nothing to fear from a future where Unix was in vogue at HP. Earlier in the day, speaking before the full assembly of users, he said HP was going to making new business by taking out older products. At an editor's luncheon we asked him what that mission held for the 3000.

Platt explained his prior comments on cannibalizing HP's business to maintain steady growth. MPE/iX won't be served up in a pot anytime soon. "I don't mean leaving customers high and dry," he said. "HP has worked extremely hard with products like the HP 3000 to make the people who have bought them have a good future. We've put an enormous amount of energy out to make sure we can roll those people forward. I'd say we've done a better job than just about any company in the industry in providing a good growth path for those customers."

The CEO went on to explain how cannibalization would work. HP would take a product, such as a printer, that was doing perfectly well and may still be a leadership printer in the market -- and bringing in a new one before it's reached its end of life. If you substitute "business server" for "printer" in that plan, you can see how a computer that was doing perfectly well might see a new computer brought in before the end of its life. In that issue, the Newswire story noted that the project we'd learn to call Itanium six years later was going undercover, so that new product wouldn't lock up existing server business for a year before it would ship.

HP was calling the joint effort with Intel the Tahoe architecture, and Platt would be retired from his job before anything shipped.

Sixteen more stories made up the news in that October of 19 years ago. The Series 9x9 line had an 8-user model introduced for just under $50,000. It was the era when a 3000's price was set by the number of its concurrent users. A 40-user 939 sold for $30,000 more, despite having no extra horsepower. User-limited licensing, which HP maintained for the 3000 while Windows was free of limits, would continue for the next six years.

An Interex survey said that three-fourths of 3000 customers were ready to reinvest in the line, but the article focused on the better value of the server in the users' estimation. HP's Unix servers were compared to the 3000.

The story atop Page One addressed the limits of those user-based licenses, and how a requested MPE improvement would help. SIGMPE's Tony Furnivall said that "if you could have multiple, independent job queues, the same algorithms ight be used to limit the number of active sessions." Any 8-user 3000s that were replaced with 800-user systems would be subject to more costly software licenses from third party firms. User-based licensing was prevalent, if not popular, in the 3000 world of October 1995.

On the first three inside pages were a story about the country's oldest pastime, a pointer to a then-new World Wide Web that included a Newswire page, and a full-page HP ad that said, "You want open systems computing. You don't want to move mountains of critical data to a new platform." Hewlett-Packard would hold that view for about six more years. The next 13 have made up the Migration Era, with a Newswire printed across every one of those years. The Newswire has been published more than twice as long during those migrations as all the years before HP announced the end of its 3000 plans.

Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles baseball all-star, was breaking a record for consequitive games played that began 13 years earlier. "We're here in your hands this month because of the legendary, Ripken-esque performance of the 3000 deserves more attention," an editorial crowed.

A PC and printer executive at HP got the job as chief of all computer business. It was the second additional layer of management inserted between the CEO and the 3000 group. Rick Belluzzo was 41, commanding a $20 billion sector, and didn't have a specific job title. Olivier Helleboid was 3000 General Manager three levels down.

Windows 95 was launched at that Interex show in Toronto with a mountaineer rappelling down the CN Tower, stopping halfway and "using Win95 from a wireless laptop. It was all too much for Birket Foster, president of HP 3000 channel partner M.B. Foster Associates and a supplier of Windows products."

"It's all a media event," Foster said. "Is the average user going to do that? It's all way too much hype for what's being delivered." A survey showed no manager had installed Win95 company-wide yet. 

HP's managers shed their coats and ties at a roundtable en masse, after customers pointed out that IBM's officials dressed casual on the conference's expo floor. A technical article detailed the relief that PatchManager/iX delivered for MPE patch installs. New 3000 integrators were announced for manufacturing and FileNet workflow document services; the latter had six companies listed in the US.

One of those in-between HP managers said the company "now sees the 3000 as something sold to new customers mostly as an engine for specific applications, like manufacturing or healthcare systems." Porting applications from other systems would be made easier with the first C++ for MPE, the freeware GNU C++ suite, bootstrapped by ORBiT Software's Mark Klein. The GNU package made possible a host of open system tools within two years. "HP is helping to distribute GNU C++ form its HP 3000-based World Wide Web server on the Internet," the story added.

Ultimately, the Web server software HP shipped for MPE/iX was ported from Apache source code from the open systems world. HP told its DeskManager office communications users to expect enhancements first on HP's Unix systems. Helleboid, forecasting HP's final act in the 3000 world years later, said in the first Q&A that HP would collaborate with arch-rivals IBM, Digital and Sun to create "a complete environment for Unix applications."

Helleboid also said that the 3000's Customer First strategy would be presented to other HP computer groups such as its Unix group. "Customers are looking for this kind of relationship," he said in a forecast of using 3000 ideas to improve replacement business models.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:49 PM in History, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 07, 2014

HP decides to break up the brand

HP Enterprise Corp. StrategyAnd in one stroke of genius, it's become 1984 again at Hewlett-Packard. Yesterday brought on a new chorus for an old strategy: sell computers to companies, and leave the personal stuff to others. Except that one of the others selling personal computers, plus the printers usually connected to PCs, is another generation of the company. The CEO of Hewlett-Packard is calling the split-off company HP Inc. But for purposes of mission and growth, you could call it HP Ink.

AnalysisTo be clear, that's a broad definition we used up there to define that stroke of genius. Brilliance is something else, but genius can be just a powerful force for good or for ill. Definition 3 of the word in Apple's built-in dictionary on my desktop calls genius "a person regarded as exerting a powerful influence over another for good or evil: He sees Adams as the man's evil genius." It's from Latin meaning an attendant spirit present from one's birth, innate ability, or inclination.

What's become the nature of Hewlett-Packard, its innate ability? The company was founded on one ability and then had a second grafted onto its first success. It's been 30 years now since 1984, when the vendor which invented MPE and the 3000 has been inventing products for consumers. The LaserJet opened the door for a torrent of ink and toner to sweep around traditional technology innovations. Before there was a need for a battalion of printing devices and a phalanx of personal devices, the old HP logo represented business and scientific computing. Plus a world-leading instruments business whose profile was an icon for what HP was known for best.

HP's been down this path before, splitting off those instruments into Agilent in 1999. A few months later Carly Fiorina won the approval of then-ink czar Dick Hackborn, placing her in the CEO's seat. Yesterday's announcement of splitting the company into two complementary entities returns the Hewlett-Packard name to enterprise computing. But it seems the core values of the only major IT vendor named after its founders won't rebound into favor. Not on the strength of just splitting off high-cost, high volume ink and PC business. HP needs to impress people with what it builds again. Not just what it can aggregate and integrate.

A few notes we took away from that announcement:

  • HP says it aims to be two Fortune 50 companies after breakup, but more nimble and focused
  • "The brand is no longer an issue," say HP executives, and breaking up the brand will create equal-sized businesses.
  • An extra 5,000 layoffs come along with the split-up. The running total is now 55,000 on the clock that started in 2011.
  • HP likes its own idea; prior chairman Ralph Whitworth called it a "Brilliant value-enhancing move at the perfect time in the turnaround."
  • CEO Meg Whitman says HP's turnaround made the breakup possible.
  • Its stock traded more than five times its usual daily shares on breakup news, and picked up almost 5 percent in share value. HPQ also gave away all of that gain, and more, the very next day.

That's how it goes in the commodity computing market: easy come, say the customers, and easy go. It might be why Whitman is helping the brand called Hewlett-Packard break away from the commodity business.

Some analysts have noted the current board chair and CEO of today's un-split entity, the one still called HP, will take charge of the enterprise arm of the company's future. This, they reckon, is where the real innovation and action will take place. The part of the company that pulled Hewlett-Packard into the consumer reseller model, then swallowed up the second-place PC provider in Compaq 12 years ago, has been set free to float at the whims of a roiling market. HP Inc will have to compete without a dynamic mobile product line, and so we can wish the new-ish part of the vendor godspeed and good luck. They'll need it against the likes of Apple and Samsung, or even Lenovo and Lexmark.

HP's story last year was that the company was better together, after hearing seven years of calling for a split up. High volume, low profit business was suited to a market of 1999, but once mobile devices and the Web changed the game for data processing, PCs and printers just wanted different resources than servers and software demanded. Now CEO Meg Whitman says Hewlett-Packard and HP Inc. can focus and be nimble. From a 3000 customer's perspective, that focus would have been more useful 13 years ago, when growth demanded HP buy Compaq for $25 billion on the promise of becoming No. 1.

Being No. 1 didn't last long enough to pay the bills incurred to do so many things at once. Now Whitman says that three years of turnaround action has taught the company how to do more than one thing at a time. There's plenty to do. Maybe the first thing is to choose a new color to represent its oldest business. She said HP blue to going with the multi-colored ink of HP Inc.

Hewlett-Packard didn't need multiple colors to succeed on that 1984 day it added printers to its product line. But it was a company wrapped in a handsome slipcase of collegial traditions, still working to win its way to the front of enteprise IT selections. Canon and Hewlett-Packard collaborated to sell a laser printer to anyone, not just the customers buying HP's specialized business servers. Before long, the trails it blazed in consumer sales gave it an opening for its color ink, which at one point contributed 55 percent of the company profits. That's the consumables bringing home the bacon, not the nearly-disposable printing devices.

During the era when the 3000 was given its last several years of HP life -- first five, then seven, and finally nine -- IBM was happy to point out the passion for printing at HP. One thunderbolt of an IBM sales rep called the company Inky at a HP user group meeting speech in Houston. Those were the days when everyone in 3000 territory was looking at a new future. About three fourths of the business machines became computers without Hewlett-Packard on their badges. Still, the fungible nature of enterprise computing -- that ease of replacement that HP preached against MPE -- also turned out to be true for its own Unix business line. Somehow, the same Windows that would be suitable for 3000 shops was also a good-enough migration target for HP-UX customers.

Unix had its day, and Linux was the new wave and not channeled through a single vendor. HP invited comparisons. Now its customers can compare companies, starting next fall. Do business with HP Inc. and use Windows and probably Linux on HP's iron. Or choose a company that says it's now focused on the new style of computing: cloud services, big data, security and mobility. The company does not mean to suggest there's no place for in-house servers. But it's focused on those four areas, with a mention of software during yesterday's 45-minute presentation and Q&A.

Our readers will remember software. In MPE and IMAGE they got fine-tuned and refreshed software each year, although in some years the refreshes were faint. By the middle of the 1990s Hewlett-Packard had to embrace Windows to remain on planning short lists. Now the Hewlett-Packard Enterprise has to attract and retain ever-mobile business on the strength of in-house innovations. Because if you want industry-standard commodity computing, HP Inc. is ready to take that business. It will soon be loose from the legacy of Hewlett-Packard.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:55 PM in History, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 03, 2014

Wearable computing, cloud IT: not news

By Ron Seybold

Ever since the start of summer, there's been plenty of ThrowBack Thursday pieces available to run. Always with a photo, they seem to get highest readership among our customers.

Print-ExclusiveOne throwback piece that’s headed to my recycle bin today is a 1991 press release from Park Engineering. In that springtime, the Spokane company made its news by announcing in a press release, “First ‘Wearable’ Computer Brings Desktop Computing Power to Mobile Workers.” The CompCap weighed a full pound, and you were instructed to wear it on your head. A hardhat version was self-contained, while another to wear around your head or as a hatband needed electronics built into a belt or vest. 

What a marvel. What news, this device that had a virtual miniature display called the Private Eye, floating a few feet in front of the user. (Hope they weren’t driving a forklift at the time.) Starting at $1,500 and running up to $3,000 each, the CompCaps had their own OS, perhaps as unique as MPE/XL. Just without the thousands of apps that drove HP’s 3000 sales during year.

Editorial-IconIt would be news if a CompCap has ever been built, let alone sold. But it’s possible that an HP 3000 manufactured the same year could be running a company’s manufacturing today. It would be a 9x7 and well into antiquity. That would be news too, but of the amazing and astounding variety. That 9x7 is out there somewhere, proving there’s a need for a virtual 3000, the MPE/iX machine that’s not built by HP. Because the age of the iron is not the age of MPE.

In these times, the news I can ferret out follows that kind of theme: this is no longer sold, that app hasn’t been updated since the Bush administration, (either one of them) or some other company is taking the plunge into Linux or Windows. It’s rare news when a customer who formerly used a 3000 takes their computing to HP-UX, because there's no news of Hewlett-Packard selling new sites on that enterprise system, either. I don’t miss many chances to point this out, and every Hewlett-Packard financial report gives me fresh news about that ill fortune.

But what is no longer true, or running, or fresh, is also news. It’s just harder for it to be of genuine use. I avoid the Mopac highway here in Austin at every chance because it’s no longer running faster than a crawl during its makeover. But I’d rather hear about a great alternative. From the little news that the Stromasys experts have time to share — they’re out there installing the virtual system with explicit care — CHARON might be that alternate highway for MPE apps.

We’ve promised to chronicle the tricks and practices of the migrating 3000 user here, too. It’s been tricky to do this when that exodus is so far along. Much of the migration activity remains in assessments that people running those 9x7s should be doing. Once again, it’s a story with negative activity, until it’s not and common wisdom prevails. Because the common wisdom says you ought to buy some different boxes to replace the ones HP doesn’t make anymore, running an OS that’s stable but frozen in time.

Except that the investment in different boxes starts to look like a strategy matched to big customers who will serve smaller companies. We’ve run a blog story with news of a new HP Cloud kingpin on staff, a fellow who brought along software which controls a customer’s use of Amazon Web Services. Only a few hundred companies ever bought the kingpin's open source marvel. At least that marvel is certain to run better than the CompCap.

Now HP’s got something new, but it’s not really that fresh, because it hasn’t done the R&D on this offering either. There’s a new range of HP permitting NIH in this latest news, because those servers controlled up in AWS might not be HP’s brand. Nobody seems to care anymore, so long as apps run and the data is secure.

In a time when the news chronicles the alternatives to everything HP’s built its computer strategy around — those specialized servers, hand-crafted environments — news comes from the customer community. Some of them with good stories talk, but a lot more sit in archival mode about their 3000 experiences and knowledge. We balance that by reaching into our archives, more than 2,500 blog articles and another 10 years’ more of printed and Online Extra stories. Nothing new, but its utility is so much more proven.

The best news is that the value of the server remains there. Large companies have bought up major software providers like Cognos and ground-breakers like Stromasys. We chose to skip calling this the HP 3000 Newswire, because we didn’t want any one vendor to have a say in our mission or strategies. But we’re not calling ourselves the Archival NewsWire, either. A good share of what’s out there is running MPE in archival mode. In the fullness of a time, they’ll be off HP’s iron. I’ll be on Social Security benefits before those companies switch off whatever propels those archived apps and they migrate their data. Not retired from writing stories, though. Whenever I stop writing, that will be news.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:30 AM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 02, 2014

TBT: A Race to Engineering Discipline

WhatIfHorsesA two-page ad, many months after the reckoning of the prior fall, asked the business community to imagine More Raw Horsepower from a system called the HP 3000 Series 930.

October was a month to remember from an engineering era that Hewlett-Packard would rather forget. The era was the cycle of what independent contractors called Destructive Testing, the repeated, broad-spectrum hammering on the new MPE/XL operating system that was going to power the first PA-RISC Series 900 HP 3000. HP paid these experts to break what it had built.

The computer rolled out in the early fall of 1987, a full year after its Unix counterpart. It was just 12 months earlier that HP's tech czar Joel Birnbaum swore that PA-RISC would emerge from a swamp of too-sweet project management.

More than 1,000 engineers would eventually work on pulling MPE/XL and its Reduced Instruction Set Computing steed 900 Series out of a ditch. During 1985 and through much of 1986, status reports about the development of this faster 3000 were encouraging. No show-stoppers there, not with so much pressure on horsepower improvements. The Series 70 was released in 1985, a stop-gap server that ran faster than the Series 64. But not fast enough at plenty of major HP customers, the group called the Red Accounts.

Series 930 SuperminiThose lab updates were being sweetened because a replacement for the Series 64 and 70 was overdue. HP had already scrapped the 3000's update plans for HP Vision, broadening the replacement project to call it HP Spectrum. This was design to be used in all HP servers, working through an HP-invented RISC chip architecture. The twinkle in Birnbaum's eye while he was in IBM, RISC was going to be a business success. HP hired him away to deliver on the RISC promise.

But by October 1986 at a conference whose theme was Focus on the Future, the 900 Series was undeliverable as addressed. Birnbaum had to deliver the news to pressmen, reporters assembled in a conference room. We circled him, standing and taking notes, quizzing Birnbaum as he said the horsepower would arrive. More important was stability. Birnbaum explained patiently that interfaces between MPE software modules were not working as forecast. Not yet.

This didn't appear to be a man accustomed to explaining delays to the public, especially critics from the press. But he uttered a phrase that afternoon in Detroit at Interex '86 that seemed to close down the probing questions. We wanted to know, after all, could anyone believe that the vanguard Series 930 server would appear after more than two years of reboots and delays?

To begin with, there would be bona fide accounting and reporting on genuine advances in software development, Birnbaum said. And to address this problem, Birnbaum added in a rising voice, HP would display a matter of computer science taking its regular course.

This problem, this issue, will yield to engineering discipline.

And he spoke that sentence as a vow, in a tone with some anger. You had to believe in engineering discipline, if you were to write stories about computing. It was easy enough to believe in the 32-bit computing that MPE/XL was aiming at, since it represented HP's entry in the cutting-edge design of the day. At that same Interex '86, DEC rented a set of rooms in the hotel across the street from the downtown Renaissance of the HP show. Its Vax servers were already running there in 32-bit mode. DEC even tried to offer an IMAGE-workalike on the servers in the display rooms. One of the accounts was even named REGO, a nod to Adager's founder Alfredo.

"Digital Has It Now," was the theme of the competition's campaign that October. Big two-page ads in Byte and Computerworld, printed on silver ink backgrounds and massive white letters on top, assured the markets they didn't have to wait for anyone's discipline if they bought DEC. There was lots of hubris back then, as now. Cullinet ran one ad that used a headline it only made sense to switch to their application suite, since it was the only one built for use in the '80s and '90s.

By the fall of 1987, the Series 930 was squeezed out to a handful of sites including Northern Telecom, as evidence that Birnbaum's discipline had yielded 32 bits of success. But few of those 930s ever booted up in production. Just like the original HP 3000 had buckled under the demands of MPE, the 1.0 release of MPE/XL drove the RISC hardware to regular halts. The problem lay not in the hardware, but in the software which had not been destructively tested.

It took another year for the first, genuinely effective 900 Series HP 3000 to ship. The Series 950 might not have been the first horse out of HP's RISC 3000 gate. But it could promise at least 10 percent more horsepower than the biggest Series 70 running MPE. It was the work of those independent engineers -- many of them former HP employees, developers and SEs -- that let MPE/XL get free of its starting gates.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:20 AM in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 25, 2014

TBT: Early winter's taste visits Interex '94

Uhh-coverIt stunned nearly everybody, but the final day of the annual Interex user conference, 20 years ago this week, did not herald the start of Fall. That season might have filled pages on everybody's calendar, but the skies over Denver were filled with snowflakes on Sept. 21. Thousands of HP 3000 customers had to scurry through soggy streets in a month where leaves were supposed to be falling.

Everything happened at an Interex, eventually. Robelle's Neil Armstrong wrote about it in the What's Up Doc newsletter the vendor produced that year.

Welcome to Winterex 1994.

Once again the weather attempted to upstage various announcements and goings on at the Interex Conference. This year it snowed on the Wednesday afternoon of the Denver conference. The "snow" storm, however, was nothing compared to hurricane Andrew which hit New Orleans during Interex '92.

This year's conference was certainly a hit with a lot of the people I talked to. The last Interex I attended was in Boston in 1990, which became known as the Great Unbundling of TurboImage Debate. Interex '94 was a pleasant contrast with HP's new product announcements, the bundling of ARPA services and a general positive tone regarding the future of the HP 3000. The HP booth was a beehive of activity with Client-Server demonstrations and huge printers on display.

Armstrong went on to say that his favorite view at the show was seeing a camera connected to an HP 9000 workstation, one that delivered a live pictures of people passing by the box. "The fun part was moving from side to side quickly and watching the CPU graph go up," he added.

This was the year when the pushback started to ruffle the Unix juggernaut that had promised open systems for so long. Windows was still a year away from being desktop-useful. But that didn't keep the technical leadership from creating a Unix Hater's Handbook.

While MPE was clicking off its 20th straight year of serving business computing needs, system managers who wanted to find fault with HP's favored OS could buy that above book and feel vindicated.

From a book review by Paul Gobes in Robelle's newsletter, commenting on how an online mailing list's posts were turned into a book.

That list has been cleverly edited into a systematic attack in book form. It is often cruel and sarcastic but it is difficult not to empathize with the frustration that many of the users have endured. Some of the chapter subheadings will give you a good idea where the book is heading.

Unix - The world's first computer virus
Welcome New User! - Like Russian roulette with six bullets loaded 
Documentation? - What documentation?
Snoozenet - I post, therefore I am
Terminal Insanity - Curses! foiled again! 
The X-Windows Disaster - How to make a 50-MIPS workstation run like a PC
csh, pipes, and find - Power tools for power fools 
Security - Oh, I'm sorry, sir, go ahead, I didn't realize you were root 
The File System - Sure it corrupts your files, but look how fast it is!

You can still read MPE managers' favorite book of the fall of '94, online. IDG Books printed copies, and one of the early reviewers of the material returned to it, six years ago, to reconsider the accuracy of the gripes and wisecracks. It was invective, far ahead of its time considering how much we hear today. The book was sold with a Unix Barf Bag.

While the snow fell on Interex, HP was putting TurboIMAGE on ice. David Greer warned customers to get in their request to upgrade from TurboIMAGE to IMAGE/SQL. The latter was new and making its way into "about a twelfth of the customer base at a time."

"Unfortunately, you must ask HP to add IMAGE/SQL to your support contract; it is not the default.  And you only get one chance!  It will be easy to miss out on IMAGE/SQL and all future IMAGE enhancements. The following statement by Jim Sartain, HP SQL Program Manager, appeared on the Internet."

When support contracts are up for renewal, customers are given the option of upgrading from TurboIMAGE to IMAGE/SQL. The product support cost is from $10 to $325 per month depending on the MPE/iX user level and whether the customer is on basic line or response line.

Customers who decline this offer will continue to receive a functionally stable version of TurboIMAGE (no future enhancements). Should the customer want to upgrade to IMAGE/SQL in the future they must purchase the upgrade and pay for IMAGE/SQL support.

"Better warn purchasing today. If you don't ask for IMAGE/SQL now, asking for it later will be expensive."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:49 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 11, 2014

TBT: The things that we miss this season

Show badgesAppropriately enough, part of my well-worn collection of identity theft for ThrowBack Thursday rests in a leather briefcase, another bygone icon of trade show seasons.

This is the time of the year when we got to know each other better -- or for the first time. August and even September hosted annual conferences from Interex, yearly meetings that were an oasis of handshakes among the dusty flats of telephone calls or emails. We'd gather up a badge like one of these in my collection. I come from Depression-Era hoarders, so too much of this kind of thing still lingers on the shelves of my office.

Look, there's the trademark ribbon, colored to let an exhibitor know who was coming down an expo aisle. Often red for the press, because we were supposed to be the megaphones to the countless customers who couldn't come to chilly San Francisco (four times, on my tour of duty) glittery hot Las Vegas (where a waterpark hosted the signature party), or even the gritty streets of Detroit (scene of thefts from the expo floor, among other indignities. We pulled up to Cobo Hall there to see banners for Just Say No to Crack Day, with a phalanx of school busses parked outside. You can't make this stuff up.)

On my first annual conference trek, we took an artisanal booth to the basement expo hall of the Washington DC Hilton. This was an Interex with an HP founder as keynoter, but David Packard wasn't CEO at the time. He had worked in Washington as US Deputy Secretary of Defense while the 3000 was being created, a good post for someone who'd launched the most famous test instrument maker in the free world. (Yes, that's what we called it during the Cold War.) The HP Chronicle where first I edited 3000 stories had never taken a booth to a show before that week in September, and so we had one built out of 2x4s, birch panels, hinges and black carpet, so heavy it required a fork lift just to get it onto the concrete floor. That was the year we learned about the pro-grade booths you could check as luggage, instead of ship as trucked freight like a coffin.

Hey, there's a set of classic computer platform ID stickers, along the bottom of that '89 nametag. HP was calling its PC the Vectra at the time, another example of the company learning its way in the marketing lanes. You wore these to identify each other in a crowd, so you could talk about, say, the Series 100 HP Portable line. If somebody didn't have your sticker, you could move on. It was all about the conversations -- um, sort of in-person Facebook post or Twitter feed. Except what you said couldn't be repeated to 100 million people in the next minute.

There were ways to stand out, if you were inventive. Not necessarily like the buttons (Always Online! was the new 3000 News/Wire) or even the handsome pins (see one attached to the red ribbon of the HP World '96 badge.) You might have little wooden shoes pinned to a ribbon, so people would come by your Holland House software booth and pick up a pair for themselves. People gave away things at these events from glow in the dark yo-yos to chair massages to Polaroid snapshots that you posed for wearing headbands, flashing a peace sign in front of a '60s VW Bus.

PosterLargeThe show in '96 was notable for being the first that didn't bear the user group's name (Interex had struck a deal to call its event HP World) and being the only conference with a football-field-sized publicity stunt. We'd just finished our first year of publication and decided to sponsor the lunch that was served to volunteers putting up the World's Largest Poster on an Anaheim high school field. The booster club served the lunch to the 3000 faithful; some took away a souvenir sunburn from walking on the white panels in Southern California's August.

There are still trade shows in HP's marketplace, but all of them are run by HP with user group help and speakers. The trade is in secrets as well as techniques and sales strategies. It's been nearly a decade, though, since a hurricane postponed a show -- and that wasn't the only annual meeting to face the wrath of a storm. That's what you risk when you meet in August and September, and your moveable feasts include stops along the Gulf of Mexico.

That gator-bearing badge from 1992 marks the first time an HP CEO attended an Interex where I shook hands and took notes. Unfortunately, that event was in New Orleans and directly in the path of Hurricane Andrew. Lew Platt was the CEO and among the majority of people who evacuated from the city while the storm approached. While hotel employees were taping up massive glass windows with industrial tape to keep them from shattering in the rising winds, Platt was doing his best to make it into his limo for a date with a waiting jet. He was stopped repeatedly on the way to that car by customers just wanting a moment, much to the dismay of his traveling partner already in the limo. Nobody could tell Lew where to go, though.

It was tough work, hosting these things, and the details were massive. Interex had a pair of conference marvels who sold and organized everything put the track of presentations, tightly sculpted by user group volunteers. But even things like Mellennium (sic) could make their way onto a show badge -- or in the case of the Toronto conference where we launched the NewsWire to everyone's surprise (including our own), ferries to take a very hungry crowd to the included supper on the island airbase just off the city's lakeshore. The boats were so crowded that few could see the fireboats along the way, chartered by Interex, to shoot off water salutes to guide our way. It may have been the only conference supper ever to be catered on an island. Down the street from the expo hall, Microsoft had hired an acrobat to rappel down the side of CN Tower to help launch Windows 95.

Along the way, I was lucky enough to shake hands and write during 20 annual North American user group shows whose setting was among these months. It all ended for us Interex members in a finale of 2004, as the group couldn't make it onto the shoreline of another yearly conference to put it into the black for the rest of the year. The next year Interex canceled its show, while Encompass and HP tried to collaborate to debut the HP Technology Conference in New Orleans. 2005 held even worse luck than 1992, though, because Katrina ripped apart the Big Easy, pushing this replacement event into Orlando one month later.

Now the annual North American conferences for users and the user groups are held in more certain climates, even while the future of enterprise computing is far less assured for HP customers than it was in these be-ribboned times. Those who still operate with HP-UX and VMS have got some thinking to do about their future platforms, but weathering the show forecast is a no-brainer. HP Discover is held in Las Vegas in June, where the only question is how soon will it get to 100 degrees. OpenVMS Boot Camp gets reborn at the end of this month in New England. There might be rain, there might not. But an event to scatter a conference is as unlikely as finding another one devoted solely to the needs of HP-crafted enterprise OS technologies.  

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

September 09, 2014

Remaining on Watch for HP Innovation

Apple WatchEarlier today Apple unveiled the descriptions and benefits of wearing a full functioning computer for the first time. Well, maybe not for the very first time. But for the first time in the modern era of computing, anyway. The Apple Watch defines the Tim Cook era at the company, and it will still need some tuning up through several generations. But this time around, the watch that breaks ground by riding on wrists won't need a stylus -- just an iPhone.

The instance of this is called the Apple Watch -- say goodbye to any new product lines being started with an "i" for now. A watch is not an enterprise computing tool, some will argue. But that was said about the iPhone, too -- a device that turned out to be a portable computer of breakthrough size. HP 3000 acolyte Wirt Atmar wrote a famous newsgroup post about the first iPhones, being like "beautiful cruise ships where the bathrooms don't work."

The Apple Watch, of course, won't be anywhere close to perfect on first release Early Next Year. People forget that the iPhone was a work in progress though most of its first year. That's a better track record than the HP 3000 had at first shipment, late in 1972. That system that's survived 40 years in a useful form -- 1974 marks the year when MPE and HP iron finally had an acceptible match -- got returned to HP in many instances.

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.55.43 PMThe elder members of our 3000 community will recall the HP-01, a wristwatch that wanted to be a calculator at the same time. Nobody had considered wearing a calculator, and nobody had asked for a wearable one, either. But HP felt compelled to innovate out of its calculator genius factory in Corvallis, Oregon, and so a short-lived product, designed to satisfy engineers, made its way into HP lore in 1977.


HP-01"All of the integrated circuits and three discrete components for the oscillator are combined in a hybrid circuit on a five-layer ceramic substrate," said the article in the HP Journal, the every other month paper publication where engineers read about innovations, and the more technical customer was steered to see how Hewlett-Packard could deploy superior design. The problem was that it was 1977, and the company was sailing too far afield from its customers' desires with the HP-01. 1977 was a year when HP had scrabbled to come up with a Series II of the HP3000, a device more important to anyone who wanted to leave IBM batch computing behind and get more interactive. People who bought calculators had no concept of mobile computing. Even a luggable computer was still six years away.

HP-01 closeupBut the HP-01 did accomplish one benefit for the HP customer, who even then was a consumer, of business products. It showed the company was ardent about the need to innovate. The HP Journal is long gone, and the heartbeat of the company feels like it runs through personal computers and miniaturization of internal parts that make more of a difference to manufacturing and product margins. Apple built an S1 processor that's "miniaturizing an entire computer system onto a single chip" to make the Apple Watch a reality, something like HP's five-layer hybrid circuit substrate of 1977.

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 5.35.45 PMApple's had its share of innovative flops, too -- but the most recent one was from 2001, the PowerMac G4 cube. A breakthrough like this S1 that Apple claims is an industry first. HP's innovations these days are not getting the kind of uptake that you'll see from the Watch next year. Nobody tells a story about computer promise like Apple, right down to calling parts of its team "horological experts," and saying it with a straight face. In contrast, HP's Moonshot and the like are important to very large customers, but the small business innovation has been limited to fan-cooling technology. Not sexy enough to earn its own video with a spacey soundtrack.

Why care? One reason might be that HP's working to convince the world, its customers, and its investors that innovation is still embedded in its DNA. It takes more than slapping the word "Invent" under the logo. Innovation is hailed by the markets, not the engineers who designed it. Everything is a consumer product by now, since we're consuming computing as if it were a wristwatch.

In the months before Steve Jobs died, he showered the HP Way and its products with praise while planning the future for Apple. He wanted Apple to leave a legacy in the industry the way that Hewlett-Packard had done, spinning off other companies and making their essential technology indispensible. Apple would do well to become what Hewlett-Packard was at its best.

Are more of those days out in HP's future? Is the ongoing turnaround a way to salvage the HP Unix and OpenVMS applications and enterprises that are going to left behind? Or are they going to become as obsolete as the HP-01, because any company needs to leave products behind? You can't set your watch to the moment when that question will be answered. Not even a device like Apple's, one that's haptic, made in gold as well as stainless steel, and lets you send an image of your beating heart to your loved one, cannot mind the time on that development.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:55 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 04, 2014

TBT: Practical transition help via HP's files

2004 HPWworld Transition PartnersA 2004 slide of partner logos from an HP presentation.

10 years ago, at the final HP World conference, Hewlett-Packard was working with the Interex user group to educate 3000 users. The lesson in that 2004 conference room carried an HP direction: look away from that MPE/iX system you're managing, the vendor said, and face the transition which is upon you now.

And in that conference room in Atlanta, HP presented a snapshot to prove the customers wouldn't have to face that transition alone.

The meeting was nearly three years after HP laid out its plans for ceasing to build and support the 3000. Some migration was under way at last, but many companies were holding out for a better set of tools and options. HP's 3000 division manager Dave Wilde was glad to share the breadth of the partner community with the conference goers. The slide above is a Throwback, on this Thursday, to an era when MPE and 3000 vendors were considered partners in HP's strategy toward a fresh mission-critical future.

The companies along the top line of this screen of suppliers (click for a larger view) have dwindled to just one by the same name and with the same mission. These were HP's Platinum Migration partners. MB Foster remains on duty -- in the same place, even manning the phones at 800-ANSWERS as it has for decades -- to help transitions succeed, starting with assessment and moving toward implementations. Speedware has become Fresche Legacy, and now focuses on IBM customers and their AS/400 futures. MBS and Lund Performance Solutions are no longer in the transition-migration business.

Many of these companies are still in business, and some are still helping 3000 owners remain in business as well. ScreenJet still sells the tools and supplies the savvy needed to maintain and update legacy interfaces, as well as bring marvels of the past like Transact into the new century. Eloquence sells databases that stand in smoothly for IMAGE/SQL on non-3000 platforms. Robelle continues to sell its Suprtool database manager and its Qedit development tool. Suprtool works on Linux systems by now. Sure, this snapshot is a marketing tool, but it's also a kind of active-duty unit picture of when those who served were standing at attention. It was a lively brigade, your community, even years after HP announced its exit.

There are other partners who've done work on transitions -- either away from HP, or away from the 3000 -- who are not on this slide. Some of them had been in the market for more than a decade at the time, but they didn't fit into HP's picture of the future. You can find some represented on this blog, and in the pages of the Newswire's printed issues. Where is Pivital Solutions on this slide, for example, a company that was authorized to sell new 3000s as recently as just one year earlier?

HP probably needed more than one slide, even in 2004.

From large companies swallowed up by even larger players -- Cognos, WRQ -- to shirt-pocket-protector sized consultancies, there's been a lot of transition away from this market, as evidenced by the players on this slide from a decade ago. Smaller and less engaged, pointed at other enterprise businesses, some even gone dark or into the retirement phase of their existence -- these have been the transitions. This kind of snapshot of partners never would have fit on even two PowerPoint slides in 1994, ten years before that final HP World. Today the busy, significant actors in the 3000's play would not crowd one slide, not from the ones among the company pictured above. 

If you do business with any of these companies above, and that business concerns an HP 3000, consider yourself a fortunate and savvy selector of partners here in 2014. We'd like to hear from you about your vendor's devotion to the MPE Way, whether that's a way to continue to help you away from the server, or a way to keep it vital in your enterprise.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:24 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 28, 2014

TBT: Days of HP's elite software outlook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 22, 2014

30 years ago, 1984 seemed like news

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

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

AnaheimProcCover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 21, 2014

TBT 1984: The Days of Beauty and Wonder

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

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

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

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

Powerhouse Universal 1984

 

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

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

Interact wafer cover 1984

 

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

August 20, 2014

Small office — but a modest, social market

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 19, 2014

What Changed Over 30 Years: Bespoke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 18, 2014

This Is Where I Came In

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 12, 2014

Where a Roadmap Can Lead You

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

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

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

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

OpenVMS Rolling Map

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

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

HP 3000 Roadmap 2001 Chicago

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

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

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

August 11, 2014

Classic lines push homestead tech designs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 07, 2014

Who's got our history, and our future?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 31, 2014

TBT: Java's promise spun 3000s into style

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 30, 2014

Find :HELP for what you don't know exists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 28, 2014

Taking a :BYE before a :SHUTDOWN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 22, 2014

A Week When HP Gave OpenMPE the Floor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 17, 2014

TBT: When users posterized HP's strategy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 16, 2014

Kell carries key account of 3000 revival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 10, 2014

TBT: The month fem-power first led HP

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 26, 2014

3000 sages threwback stories on Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 25, 2014

What level of technology defines a legacy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 09, 2014

Heirs to the 3000 Family's Fortune

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Volokh empire adds another heir

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

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

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

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

Fathers pass 3000s to next generation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 06, 2014

A Long Time in Passing

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 02, 2014

Looking Up, from a Vision to a Spectrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 29, 2014

They knew what they had before it was gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 19, 2014

PowerHouse users launch enhancement run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 08, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 01, 2014

3000 mailing list notes becoming fainter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 29, 2014

Foolproof Purges on the HP 3000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 02, 2014

Newest paper-based issue signals Spring

By Ron Seybold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 24, 2014

40 years from a kitchen-size 3000 to 3.4GHz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House: Correct.

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

House: But it was free time.

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

House: No, we used you to debug.

Browne: Pardon me?

House: You were our debuggers.

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

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

Browne: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

March 21, 2014

Shadows of IT Leaders, at HP and Apple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 17, 2014

Breaching the Future by Rolling Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 26, 2014

Comparing Historic 3000 Horsepower Costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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