December 11, 2012

Robelle adds to history with its horse tale

Robelle Solutions, mostly known as Robelle in our community, has started to unbridle its Suprtool prowess this fall. The company is offering a Suprtool scripting service for the first time. It's a creation and maintenance service which, for $999 for 10 hours of work, helps "extend the life of your current system and keep it in tune with your company's current needs."

Although a lot of Suprtool is running on MPE/iX servers, this is a data extraction and manipulation tool also performs under Linux and HP-UX. These are favored environments for the IMAGE workalike database Eloquence. The most recent HP-UX version of Suprtool, 5.5, now supports 268 fields in an Eloquence database. The company was the first to integrate Eloquence into its product, "opening up new migration options for TurboIMAGE users. The same Suprtool commands that clients are familiar with on MPE now work on HP-UX, so porting of Suprtool tasks are very little work."

RobelleLogosBut there's a good deal of ardor left at Robelle for the use of HP 3000s in a production environment. It's a company which took off at the start of the 1980s, when many of today's biggest MPE vendors were establishing a customer base. The company's founder Bob Green recently talked about the humble beginnings of Robelle. In case you're in possession of one of the older conference giveaways, like the Las Vegas splash towels or a simple desktop document clip, Green's latest story explains a little about why that cartoon horse carries the Qedit logo.

Robelle grew up on a horse farm, Green says, a place where it raised software alongside rural creatures great and small.

Once Robelle started adding employees, it needed a real office, but its first one big enough for a staff opened up in an uncommon place, Green says.

FortLangleyRobelle’s first real office, when we started having employees, was in a rural town of British Columbia called Fort Langley (named for an outpost of the Hudson Bay Company which is now a tourist destination). It wasn’t your traditional business office, as it was located on a horse farm. The farm was on a ridge overlooking the Fraser River and the Golden Ears Provincial Park in the distance.

Robelle Farm 1The office consisted of a tiny chalet with loft and a porch that had the best view on the property. The main house was attached, and built later. As our business grew, we added an HP 3000 server and desks in every possible location, including one in the kitchenette! Because it was on a horse farm, there was always a dog on the porch and a cat warming itself on the top of one of the monitors.

We worked closely together with a lot of energy. Business was growing rapidly, which included lots of travel to users group meetings all over the world.

In the earliest days of the 3000 community's social era, the user group meeting and conference was the greatest place to learn about system management and examine new software and hardware products. As a vendor like Robelle, you'd arrive at these meetings and conferences with giveaways. The Qedit horse and the Suprtool cat carried a lot of the helpful tone of the company in that era.

In spite of that deep MPE-era heritage, Robelle continues to stand with a foot in each field of computer environments. Its website suggests that if migrating your applications doesn't make sense you, the homesteading strategy is a good one. However, Green's also got a paper he delivered at the start of the migration era which advises about transforming TurboIMAGE data for Eloquence, Oracle and other database.

It's a long trail from the Silicon Valley heartlands of the 3000 to a horse farm in rural British Columbia. Green and his company continue to make tracks away from the early 1970s.

"From the age of 19, I had worked at Hewlett-Packard in California in the computer division," Green wrote this year, as the company celebrated 35 years in the community. "HP's computer division was very new and small. The software lab had less than 10 people. I did many interesting jobs as the division grew, including programmer, tech writer, training instructor, and software tech support."

But after more than a decade of programming, Green was a 30-year old programmer working for an HP 3000 site.

It was time to make my move. I had an idea for a very fast text editor designed for HP 3000 programmers, which I called Qedit (for Quick Edit). A year later I got the idea for Suprtool, a very fast extract and sort tool for databases and files. 

That first office was in my apartment. In those days, there was no easily available Internet (and even if there had been, you could not easily connect to an HP 3000 via Internet). But the 3000 did have serial modem ports, so I bought a portable computer terminal (actually just a small box with a keyboard and an acoustic coupler to hold the phone handset, and a connection for a TV monitor.) Connection speed was a blazing 28 characters per second.

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

November 14, 2012

What day is it? Oh, it's THAT day

14thCalIt's November 14 in the US for awhile longer. If the date isn't significant to you anymore, or you never knew why the middle of this month represented a visionary cliff for HP, let us bring you up to speed. HP announced a five-year plan to the HP 3000's end of life on this date. Eleven years ago.

I know, you must be confused. You've probably looked over at the 3000 in your server closet or the office and had a thought. Hey, this machine has already had it's end of life. How can I still be using it? Didn't HP promise dire consequences and risks galore for anybody using that computer after December, 2006? If the maker didn't kill it off, who's in charge of that anyway?

To assist in marking the anniversary of HP's jump off the cliff, we've assembled a short FAQ.

Who was in charge at HP when they made this decision?

Good question, although it doesn't matter much because everybody's moved on. The CEO, Carly Fiorina, wrote a hardcover book and ran for US Senate after leading HP around for six years. She had a "it's growing or it's going" mantra once the company wanted to buy up Compaq. The high-growth march left HP's 3000 plans on the cutting room floor.

Wasn't it some general manager who decided to end HP's 3000 life?

It was, but don't let anybody tell you it was anyone but Winston Prather. On the strength of a promise to preserve the jobs of people in his division, he told the world "it was my call" to chop off the futures of the HP 3000 at Hewlett-Packard. He might have been the first GM in the company's history to kill off his own product line without any involvement from above. Or, there might have been a series of elaborate PowerPoint slides presented to the VPs who had some access to Fiorina. The CEO wasn't fond of giving much authority away. Prather took the credit for the hit, but he wasn't the single shooter. It's tough to imagine a 28-year-old product line with 25,000 servers worldwide, including some inside of HP's own datacenter, being slashed by a general manager who'd held his job for less than two years.

Prather has taken on work outside of product general management at HP. Christine Martino, the marketing manager whose job involved selling 3000s in marketing, has hung on in something you might have heard of called cloud services. The HP Cloud is up against Amazon's, so there's got to be some real deja vu going on there against another Goliath.

The last general manager who tried to grow the 3000 was Harry Sterling, and the last marketing manager to truly try to sell it was Roy Breslawski. His successor told us that putting Oracle 8 onto the 3000 wasn't going to help, because IMAGE was enough, and advertising wasn't part of her job, either. Things didn't get better for new business on the 3000 from there -- unless you count the dot-com boom that created scores of new high-profile customers in retail and catalog sales. You hadn't heard about those? That doesn't come as a surprise. Nordstrom's just turned off their HP 3000 last year.

I heard the 3000 was dead anyway, and the Nov. 14 stuff just killed it. Doesn't it die in 15 years because of its software?

There are a lot of things that will be dying in 2027, but that 3000 isn't one of them. What will happen depends on how much you need a correct calendar year representation in your software. On Jan. 1, 2028, very novel things will happen to the 3000's timekeeping. But it will continue to keep 60 seconds to the minute, 60 minutes to the hour, 365 days to the year. You just will have to get used to the year looking like "1900," even though it's 2028.

So it doesn't have 15 years or so left?

There's some disk drives that won't survive into the start of the next US Presidential campaign. But what we know as the HP 3000 is really MPE/iX and TurboIMAGE. Aside from that odd calendar year, there's nothing else that's broken enough to consider this a mortal wound. Sorry to say it, but the computer whose life HP was eager to begin finishing off is going to outlive some of the people who tried to kill it.

What about that decision to not move MPE/iX to Itanium -- didn't that doom the 3000?

You probably have heard a lot about Itanium from Oracle. HP's spent a lot of money calling Oracle a liar about its Itanium promises. But in 2012, Itanium doesn't look like it would have provided much help for the HP 3000. OpenVMS got an Itanium port by 2005 or so, but pack a lunch and thick hiking shoes while you look for a VMS owner who feels good about their Itanium protection.

Wasn't there an ecosystem HP was worried about in 2001, so they wanted to warn us?

HP certainly did warn everybody about that shaky ecosystem. Except for some of the biggest software vendors who made up the friendly forest of 3000 tools and apps. There was a problem with the 3000's ecosystem at the time. The real trouble began on Nov. 14, when HP took a public sip of the system's growth prospects and yelled out, "This milk's gone sour." The company had lost its taste for the nectar of the cash cow that was tens of thousands of companies paying for support they didn't use.

What's the big deal about all this anyway? Isn't what HP says about a software's future the way it goes?

Let us refer you to WebOS, from just last year, powering the now elusive HP TouchPads. HP's history in predicting the value of software, and ensuring the same, is not exactly spot-on. Just as the company has promoted and invested in software that didn't stand a chance against entrenched competition, it has also let good technology wither to satisfy larger partners who want to operate smaller development staffs. 

So if I have an HP 3000 today, am I running on borrowed time? Whatever happened to that five-year plan?

It became a nine-year plan, with exceptions for customers who still wanted HP to support the 3000. The ecosystem suffered because software companies lost customers who'd lost faith in HP. But a wider array of support providers emerged over those nine years. HP predicted a bubble that would burst. It turned out to be the company's valuation. R&D, the kind of magic that built the 3000's innards, was not a favorite line item in the budgets of HP's CEOs for more than a decade.

Now you're back on years again, so I still don't get it: what keeps that 3000 year machine from running as expected? I heard there was a "sheer volume of application and store data" relying on it.

This is a phenomenon known as the Spectre Temporal Memory Displacement. The 3000 is just a spectre by now, goes the theory. So by the time its calendar runs out of genuine years, it isn't supposed to matter. Except for that "sheer volume" of data, which all will somehow remain crucial and vital. You're supposed to remember at one moment the 3000 is evaporating. At the same time, there's a massive volune of data still important to customers.

Humans are extraordinarily bad at predicting future happiness. It's not a malady that's limited to planning offices in Cupertino, California -- although by the time 2028 arrives, those HP offices will be replaced by already-aging Apple headquarters offices.The only thing keeping the 3000 from running a business in 2028 is a desire from a customer who will pay a wizard to adjust time. Around the year 2000 a product emerged that acted as a Time Machine. Or an HourGlass that you could tip over. 

Never mind 15 years from now. About 15 years ago, companies sold products exactly by those names to adjust HP 3000 dating for Y2K testing. If the same wizards eat their vegatables and exercise and take plenty of naps, there's a fair chance that dating will become an online nirvana in the land of the 3000. One 3000 veteran, Terry Simpkins, suggests that if the MPE CALENDAR base year could be changed from 1900 to 1950, that might do the trick. 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:17 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 01, 2012

November wasn't a-happening for 3000s

EdMcCrackenArticleHP intended for a November of 40 years ago to be the debut month for the HP 3000. But delays swept the 3000's stage entrance more than a year farther into the future. One of the key players during that year was one of the system's best advocates, Ed McCracken.

He was charged with un-selling HP 3000s as his first job in public related to the system. According to Tom Harbron's Thinking Machines, the month of November 1972 was the final month that HP tried to keep that inevitable postponing of the system at bay. The future was obvious by December at Anderson College, where Harbron was leading the push to put a 3000 into the datacenter.

During the period from April to November, 1972, we continued to learn of delays. Cobol and IMAGE were pushed back from December 1972 to June 1973. We also wrote the 1620 simulator during this time, using HP’s new language called System Programming Language or SPL (not to be confused with SPS on the 1620).  SPL was essentially Algol with some machine dependent extensions.

By February of 1973, McCracken "was going about the country, visiting customers, and unselling the 3000," Harbron wrote in his book. At the time McCracken was only the Market Manager for Government, Education, and Medical Markets. Within a few years he became essential to putting the IMAGE database on every 3000. It was a move that most of the community's veterans consider the turning point for your server's survival in the markets of the 1970s.

About 10 years later, McCracken was on his way toward becoming the CEO of Silicon Graphics, but still working in HP as a VP. InterACT, the magazine of the Interex users group, interviewed him about HP's business server strategy in the spring of 1984. McCracken called the earliest days of the 3000 a time when customers were buying a database machine to create their own applications. He was taking note of a shift in the enterprise computing market space that would make outside software companies essential to 3000 success.

According to Chris Edler's Early History of the HP 3000, someone in the HP 3000's birthplace lab had come up with the clarion call that "November is a Happening" to spur on the platoon of engineers.

In the weeks prior to the release of the first HP3000, dozens of the "November is a Happening" posters were placed all over the factory floor. The posters showed an HP3000 going out the shipping dock door, ostensibly to its first customer, the Lawrence Hall of Science at UC Berkeley.

HP installed the machine, turned it on, and discovered -- along with the customer, of course -- that the 3000 could only accommodate one or two users before falling to its knees. It was immediately returned.

IMAGE, the database which would win an award from Datamation when stacked up against other system vendors' software, was not a part of that November failure. It wasn't ready until 1974. The earliest success of the system matched a profile of a customer "looking for a generic database management tool to adapt to his own particular environment," according to the InterACT article. IMAGE literally was the HP 3000 to most of its earliest adopters. It's what led McCracken to bundle the database with the computer -- an unprecedented strategy at the time.

McCrackenMugBut by the '80s McCracken had become the GM of what HP called the Business Computer Group. He saw "the market has changed dramatically in the last four or five years. Now almost every customer is really interested in a complete solution." That meant letting third-party software companies, building applications as well as tools, into the HP 3000 strategy, in addition to software sold by HP.

In that November of 1972, it looked to HP like it would be enough to release an HP 3000 with programming languages and a database management system. A decade later bundling the database and selling the customer a range of HP-written apps and tools wasn't going to satisfy the majority of customers. What's more, the Not Invented Here attitude HP had taken toward partners was supposed to be on the wane.

But new independent software companies could only be lured to the HP 3000 if the vendor had an open architecture, one that relied upon similarities with other vendors'. HP, and the 3000, needed to become less of an island, McCracken said.

I think we used to be somewhat arrogant about our capability to survive as an island in the computer industry. We've come to realize that an open-architecture philosophy is fundamental to a successful strategy.

He went on to explain that HP was changing the architecture of the 3000 to offer a single design for all of its computing platforms. This was PA-RISC, which McCracken explained was "to have one architecture that spans the applications from personal computing to real-time control of machines to commercial machines." That would become HP's Series 100 PC efforts, the RTE real-time platform of the HP 1000, and the HP 3000. Oh, and a commercial role for the HP 9000 -- which had a head start on an architecture similar to other vendors' because it was based upon Unix.

McCracken left HP in 1984 to become CEO of Silicon Graphics, a company whose workstations powered the hottest graphics and lifted SGI to rock-star status. For eight straight years every movie, such as Men in Black, nominated for the Oscar for Achievement in Visual Effects was built on SGI systems. But unlike McCracken's advice for HP, SGI used proprietary MIPS processors and fostered its own ecosystem of software suppliers -- even while basing its OS on the not-quite-similar Unix.

Similarity became so prized at the Hewlett-Packard which McCracken left that 18 years after that Happening November, the company attempted to pry IMAGE loose from the HP 3000 by un-bundling it -- simply to encourage wider-installed database companies to select MPE and the 3000 as a supported platform and kick start sales. What had made the 3000 a winner for the 1970s HP was now being viewed as an island.

Those participating software suppliers of 1984 were not about to let HP cast away such a bundled target market, though. Most of them report that IMAGE made the 3000 as good as it would ever be for a high-value business platform. That's high-value as in one which is capable of lasting through many Novembers. And at some companies of as large as $5 billion yearly revenue, this November continues to be a month with 3000s in place, their month-end cycles still a-happening.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:13 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 29, 2012

My Life with HP, Top to Bottom

Editor's Note: We've invited 3000 veterans to tell their stories of their first HP 3000 encounters, as a way of stocking the 3000 Memoir Project. Some have graced us with full-on accounts, like this one by a manufacturing software pioneer.

By Terry Floyd
The Support Group

Note: I was at first surprised when I counted the number of times I used the word “I” in this article (much less in this very sentence). But then I decided to just let it go and admit that it takes an egoist to attempt to write his own story in the first place.

Forty years ago I was in college taking a FORTRAN IV class on a PDP-11. I went to work for Thermon Manufacturing Company in San Marcos 10 days after graduating from Southwest Texas State University (now Texas State) in May of 1974. I had a major in Computer Information Systems and Quantitative Methods and a minor in Accounting. An application called TRACE, running custom FORTRAN heat-transfer calculation software, had been developed in-house on an HP 1000 (2100A) with core memory and 5 MB of disc.

TerryFloyd
In 1974 with HP 1000
The prior Data Processing Manager, a real pioneer named John Hastings, went to work for Radian in Austin, an early environmental testing company, so I was on my own with the RTE Operating System from the beginning. Somewhat indirectly, I helped figure out how much heat to put on parts of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and into some very large processing plants. Including the nuclear heat-tracing elements, we were actually programming things where lives might be at stake. But mainly, I was hired to “computerize accounting and payroll” which were manual systems.

In 1975 HP came out with a Time Sharing Basic system on RTE with TCS (Terminal Control System) but we ran FORTRAN programs on it, not BASIC. In November of that year I went to a class in Cupertino for something called the IMAGE Database. That may have been the first class HP ever taught on IMAGE (at least for non-employees). There were 10 of us in that class taught by Paul McGillicuddy.

Terry Floyd and Shirt
Floyd in 2003 at the World Wide Wake
The first HP 3000 I ever saw was in 1976 at Futura Press on South Congress Avenue in Austin.  Bill McAfee owned Futura and was a mentor to many of us in Texas. Futura was an HP reseller, and aside from a wonderful printing company, they wrote their own software and some of the first MPE utilities. Interesting people like Morgan Jones hung out around Futura Press in the late 1970's and I can never thank Bill and Anne McAfee enough for the great times.

I had a FORTRAN/IMAGE Payroll system working on RTE by 1976. So that I would really get it right, the CFO, my boss, Kenneth Pitzer, made me do the payroll by hand (no kidding, with a pencil) while developing the code and documentation all by myself. I found out that manual payroll processing for 100 employees took about four days a week (more when I first started) and that Quarter-End and Year-End were special periods of extra torture. Six months of that was all I could stand and fortunately it was enough, because we did go live on my payroll system and never looked back.

I learned a lot when I converted my RTE IMAGE payroll system to the HP 3000; anyone remember the Decimal String Arithmetic Package? It was ASCII math in firmware, precise to 128 digits of accuracy. There were no rounding errors in my FORTRAN payroll system. That payroll system ran at Thermon for about 15 years, long after I had left.

Thermon bought an HP 3000 Series II in mid-1978 and, for just a little bit more money (a special offer from HP), it became a Series III by the time it was delivered two months later. I remember sponsoring a FORTRAN programming class, after working hours at Thermon, and how the local university professor of Computer Science told us that an “Engineering Minicomputer” ran ASCII and that a real business system ran EBCDIC. We showed him different. I remember dialing in at 300 baud on an acoustic coupler from the geodesic dome I had built while in college on the GI Bill. My kids, David and Callie, played HP 3000 games at 300 bps from home when they were 3 years old.

I went to MPE classes in Cupertino and Atlanta and attended the 1978 General Systems Users Group meeting in Denver; that group became Interex and David Packard gave the keynote address. I met a fellow named Orly Larson and another named Alfredo Rego, both of whom liked to talk about databases. I went to IMAGE class again in Houston and worked with Frank Letts and Brad Webb from HP's Houston office throughout 1979. I attended HP classes in Maryland as well.

The main reason we bought an HP 3000 at Thermon was Sandra Kurtzig's MANMAN (Manufacturing Management) MRP software system. The application drove the hardware sale, beating out Univac and IBM. I had called ASK Computer Systems the first time in December of 1975 after reading a 1/8 page ad in Datamation magazine and after learning that MANMAN was priced at $65,000 I spent the next 2 years trying to do it myself thinking that was too much money. After messing around with IMAGE/1000 during 1977 and early 1978, doing A/P manually (this time with an Olivetti 801 “Posting Machine” instead of a pencil) and trying to code that and also thinking about how to write my own Inventory Control software, we decided to buy a software package.

One day the VP of Engineering wanted something on the same day as the VP of Finance and I found out that money talks. Most valuable lesson learned, that. We started the project to acquire a business computer the next day. I was really glad MANMAN was written in FORTRAN with IMAGE (crazy basis for a decision) but it really worked out nicely. MANMAN/3000 became an iconic classic. Birket Foster visited Thermon in 1979 and I hired John Banks before leaving Thermon.

I went to work for ASK Computer Systems in August 1981 and moved from “The Dome” to Houston. We installed over 50 HP 3000 MANMAN systems before I moved on and started my own company, Blanket Solutions, in 1985. From that came a move back to Austin and starting The Support Group in 1994, and the rest is history.

In 1979 my first wife, Nanci, and I went to the 1979 World HP General Systems Users Group meeting in Lyon, France. I still can't believe Thermon approved that, but it's where I met Vladimir Volokh and Bob Green. I remember D. David Brown hitchhiking outside Nice. During all those years, I missed only one of the annual Interex Conferences, in 1984. Together with David Groves, Jane and Tinker Copeland, and Bill McAfee, we hosted the Interex Conference in San Antonio in 1982. A particularly lasting memory is of working with Ron Seybold on the 1994 AllTex RUG Meeting in Lakeway.

I've worked with some great people since I first started programming on HP's RTE and MPE Operating Systems; thousands of people. MANMAN took me to over 350 manufacturing sites in North America where just regular folks were doing the best they could. I think in some small ways I helped them make all those diverse products labeled Made in America. From Greyhound buses to Conner disk drives, from Lowrance fish finders to MagicAire A/C units, from MSI sensors on the space shuttle to Korry's Dreamliner dashboard to Bose speakers and Wave Radios, MANMAN and MPE made things better at over 2500 locations worldwide. Even in 2012, it still does for several hundred companies.

I've spent over 35 years with jobs all related to using the HP 3000: an entire career on one platform. I've seen HP come and go. It ain't over yet. I will only be 77 years old in 2026. My kids will be in their early fifties by then. Time enough to forget about Carly Fiorina. Here's to the future of MPE! May the singularity bring peace and prosperity to everyone associated with HP -- and to you too, Carly.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:18 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 23, 2012

Never Happy, Even With the Advances

The HP 3000 had detractors and opponents from the day of its birth. It was not an HP-style product, this computer, said Bill and Dave. It started out too slow, or crashed, or relied on software so expensive people had to write their own. Later on it got slammed because it used proprietary operating software. It didn't speak in Unix, collaborate with Windows, communicate with computers on standardized LANs. It didn't FTP files like other computers. It didn't have a modern user license. It didn't use low-cost peripherals. It wasn't the Digital VAX, the IBM AS/400, the Compaq ProLiant or even an IBM mainframe.

But for all of its failings, the HP 3000 did as much as Hewlett-Packard's best to keep up. It did even more when the customers' love was allowed into its designs. Its flaws run back to the business managers, MBAs, engineering leaders and finance officers curating the 3000's future. What this business system finally was not results from choices that its customers made, choices led by the computer's creating vendor.

I am thinking about this today as Apple announces a new generation of computers, revamped with things like a Fusion Drive, ranging from its hottest mobile products in iPads to its least sexy systems in desktop iMacs, skinny laptops, and stacking-small Mac Minis. For every one of these improved machines, snarky commentators brayed out the missing benefits during Apple's worldwide introduction of five distinct computers -- six, if you count the stack-and-rack Mini version that companies use as business servers. I don't believe it's fair to call Apple a company selling to consumers alone. Businesses are filled with pocket-sized iPhone computers and tablets -- the kind of devices that the business-focused HP tried and failed to sell.

RonwithSeries1At the end of 90 minutes of Apple's parade of advances, its detractors spewed their opinions. Something everyone has, like a certain body part. No matter what a vendor does to try ries to improve a product, these kinds of gimcrack mavens have their juvenile sport. Not a one of them ever shepherded a product like an A-Class server through battles with finance VPs or focus group disciples or engineering leaders who wanted designs that were only successors. In spite of all of that blathering drool, people will love their new iPads and Mac laptops and the same way your community still reveres the concept -- if not the execution -- of the Series I shown above.

Or how loved its 9x9 3000s -- and then finally lusted after that first A-Class unit that Dave Snow carried under his arm to the front of a hotel meeting room at a conference. (Watch at the 20-second mark; somebody in the room wanted to buy that demo unit right out from under Snow's arm.)

That 3000 didn't run Unix, cost twice as much as a Dell server, and it undercut the value of computers HP had sold just six months earlier. People wanted it, no matter what the know-nothings said about value.

The final class of HP's 3000 design was unfair to anyone who bought a 9x9 in 2000. But it advanced the art of MPE business servers. Customers suffer when they purchase too close to the future. But whether they buy a server on the eve of its futures, or an iPad this spring, they suffer on our behalf. The cost of not advancing the art can be seen in a collapse of a vendor's futures.

Being too close to the future might seem like living too close to the sun. It's bright and warm there because you purchase what's become a hot value. The price has dropped by the time you get there, the momentum of the user base is with you. Apple said today that it's sold 100 million iPads already. You have to go back to the rank of Windows PCs to find a number that big. And nobody has ever done it in just 30 months.

But now those kinds of breakthoughs -- like the HP employees who lined up to form the number 10,000 when that many servers had rolled off 3000 factory lines -- are ended for HP's iron. Stories appear regularly now which wonder if Dell or HP could ever regain their strength. A customer who got burned buying an N-Class just weeks before HP ended its 3000 futures might find some solace in seeing HP stripped of its market cap. It's been three weeks since the stock was above $17. When the 3000 was on the product line and HP was still selling unique environments, the stock was at $70 before it split.

A vendor which leaves its product on the market too long without advances pays a price. And one which updates too fast makes nitwits niggle about timing, too. Perhaps getting it right to please both those who live close to the sun and those who orbit the asteroids is genuinely tough. When the response to advances is measured in millions of sales, however, the niggles seem foolish.

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

October 12, 2012

3000's cells seem simpler to retrained vets

PrisonWalter Murray was a veteran of 10 years' service in HP's language labs when he left the company in 2003. HP's writing was on the wall about all things MPE including the server's languages. Murray took an IT post at the California state prison system. But last month he left the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation for another state agency job. The new work has led Murray into a genuine legacy cellblock: IBM's mainframes, the System Z and MVS.

Murray is a veteran of the 3000 from 1975 onward, but his newest job is in the world of systems which are even more established. "I'm spending a lot of time learning how to do all the things that were so easy in MPE," he said this week. In 25 years at HP,he worked on 3000 graphics software, the HP Toolset manufacturing development suite, 3000 millicode, HP COBOL and the C compiler and libraries at HP’s language labs. During the era when Hewlett-Packard was developing and improving compilers for the 3000, Murray was doing the engineering.

Murray signed on to enter a different, more complex world of data processing with IBM legacy iron. In the meantime, the 3000 platform is still working in what some might call cells at 33 prisons. About 40 HP 3000s still run at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which includes one A Class at each of the 33 state prisons, an N-Class at the central office, and a handful of test machines.

Another veteran of the 3000 checked in with us to report he's set a flight path for some of the newest computing, after the same length of journey in MPE. Paul Edwards has bought an iPad 3, a tool for heading back into the skies as a pilot at age 71. That iPad, Edwards' first Apple tool, is in his cockpit because it runs an application he needs. Even the BYOD marketplace follows the same attaction as the 3000s do -- it's the software.

It's been four decades since the veteran Edwards filed a flight plan or had to know the way into and out of US air territory. "Forty years later, it's a lot different air space," he said.

Edwards is retraining on the iPad as a user, but he's employing an app that tracks flight plans, airspace maps, fixed base operation providers and more. He's familiar with those elements as a pilot, and the iPad delivers newer technology than the paper-based maps and flight log books from his younger flying days.

He said it's a lot like that for 3000 users who may be training on newer technology: proven concepts like DP management and development, enabled on more prevalent technology. He went on to note a handful of clients in his IT community in Dallas who are making that move, including Club Technology (club billing) and MilesTek (electronics connectivity products).

"They're winding down and converting their stuff to Windows," he said of those companies, places where Edwards has helped with tools like Speedware and Suprtool. In particular, Club Technology was a great advocate for the 3000 technology while the systems were replacing computers the size and scale of those where Murray now works.

While legacy systems seem shackled compared to a 3000, both then and even now, it was the software delivered under MPE that made the difference, Murray said. "The most impressive thing about the 3000 was the bang for the buck, especially in terms of the compilers and IMAGE. We wrote our first online system in COBOL using KSAM, which was brand new, and DEL." He was proving that legacy technology of the mid-'70s had to give way to interactive 3000s. 

The first 3000 on which I programmed was a CX machine located at the HP Fullerton Sales Office, connecting via a 300 baud modem with an acoustic coupler. With that technology, my partner and I ran a number of benchmarks, demonstrated the feasibility of converting our existing applications (mostly COBOL) from a Honeywell system, and started exploring the world of online transaction processing.
Everything older can appear to be chained. But there are those 40-some 3000s still keeping the California prison system running for now. Some shackles, like Murray's new MVS job, have stability to call upon, too.

 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:23 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 28, 2012

3000 Memoir Project: Wins from Easy Use

The 3000 Memoir Project is a living and growing history of your community, told by the server and its software. There are excepts of the book to be published next year, in paper as well as e-book formats. 2013 will mark the genuine 40-year anniversary of the system, while 1974 marks the start of the user group that integrated community pioneers.

We're looking for your stories of the first time you encountered a 3000. Call me at 512-331-0075, or send an email to the NewsWire's offices.

In this installment, the 3000 tells about relative ease of use versus mainframe standard, stories told to, and told by, Paul Edwards -- a former IBM mainframe manager, US veteran, and director of several user groups. By the HP 3000

I was sold on ease of use, and fun. 

PaulEdwards-atSaltLickI like what Paul Edwards and the others said about working with me, versus those entrenched mainframes. See, HP didn’t think of selling me as a big datacenter computer at the start. I was supposed to be a wheel-it-in computer. Some of my early ads showed people “rolling it up to the side of the desk,” Edwards says. My early models, the Series 30s and 40s, even had me built into desks as if I was part of the office furniture, instead of running the office.

That’s because I was a new idea in computers: something that regular office workers could manage, with the help of people like Edwards at HP.

They had a great database they gave me for good in 1976, IMAGE, and one of the fun examples of it used statistics from the NFL. Orly Larson at HP had cooked up the demo of IMAGE, “and every HP sales site had a copy of it. It was just a six-dataset database. But we’d say to the Systems 3 people, ‘let me show you how you can retrieve something, or update databases. They were amazed. It was fun. IBM systems weren’t fun – they were work.”

Edwards says that back in those early days, you couldn’t take fundamentals for granted. Like just writing a file. Me, I did it like a swimmer just jumping in after years of practice, not even thinking about it. “When I came to the 3000, I didn’t have to worry where on a disk I was going to put a file,” he says. “I just wrote out a file. On the IBMs, I had to specify which sector, which disk platter.” He called it one of the most advanced bits of tech that I had when he first started using me.

He says the other magic that made me easy was IMAGE, my strong heart of a database. I even had a built-in QUERY, something that the other computers’ owners had to write themselves. “It was fascinating to me,” Edwards says, “because you could just build an application with QUERY on the fly. You could just send a report out to a printer and show it immediately to the customer. It was the ease of sitting down to the terminals and developing with COBOL and IMAGE. Tools like QUERY, FCOPY for files, they would’ve loved to have had all of those built-in on the mainframes. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.”

Of course, my console was a 50-pound beast, the 2640 or 45. This wasn’t a weight contest, so I could even have little tape drives in those consoles. I also had card readers to help Edwards and his cohorts absorb the IBM mainframe programs into my MPE. HP gave me my own version of RPG — that code still feels funny on my bones — which was a lot like IBM’s RPG, Edwards says. He’d do my updates, in the earliest days, by using 9-track tapes with a new version of MPE. I even had a paper tape reader for early demos, although the tape wasn’t paper — it was really mylar.

Comparing tape to disk was another place where I could shine in stealing IBM’s customers. Edwards worked in Frito-Lay’s manufacturing operations before he joined my family.  “I went from a tape-based operating system to a disk-based one,” he says. “It was light years ahead of the mainframe.”

I had a lot of ardent fans coming on in those days. People would punch out programs on cards from the System 3s, then go to work using the Data Entry Library. It was my first part of my body that had a human name: the DEL/3000. “We’d build the screens quickly, so the customers could come in and review them,” Edwards says. They’d give HP guys T-shirts from my birthplace in California that said, “Series I Has Begun.” Call them out to what they called the factory, back when they actually built me next to the labs, so they could learn something new and sometimes have beer blasts afterward in the parking lots. They they’d go back and cross-train the others at their HP offices. SEs and CEs collaborated.

Eventually Edwards left my Dallas office to go out on his own. A lot of the sharp SEs would do that in the early ‘80s, when he was just getting a fresh start as an indie consultant. He worked with Speedware on projects, taught things like Robelle’s Suprtool. From a time when my 7910 disks, with one fixed and one removable platter, held just 10 Mb, I’ve grown my reach into places like 500Gb disks, and maybe soon, up in that vague and uncharted storehouse for data called the cloud. Edwards tells me that he’s still got a Series 928 of his own at home that he fires up for consults. “Once or twice a year I’ll vacuum out the fuzzies, but other than that, it just runs,” he says. I like that reputation. I’ve held on more than three times as long as Windows XP, another computer body that Edwards says has fierce loyalists. I might get inspired by Paul to go to newer heights. He wants to take his FAA exam to extend his piloting experience, so he might get to fly classics in the Commemorative Air Force like the T-28 trainer — a prop aircraft that’s 20 years older than me. “They’re now looking for younger guys,” Paul says about the CAF, “but not necessarily that much younger.”

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

September 27, 2012

3000 Memoir Project: Jousts with IBM

The 3000 Memoir Project is a living and growing history of your community, told by the server and software that made HP's first business server a landmark, enduring success. We're introducing the Project as an except of the book to be published next year, in paper as well as e-book formats. 2013 will mark the genuine 40-year anniversary of the system, while 1974 marks the start of the user group that integrated the community pioneers.

We're looking for your stories of the first time you encountered a 3000. Call me at 512-331-0075, or send an email to the NewsWire's offices.

In this installment, the 3000 tells us of its days besting the old concepts of IBM. It earns its place as a minicomputer alternative replacing mainframes in the 1970s. It's a set of stories as told to, and told by, Paul Edwards -- a former IBM mainframe manager, US veteran, and director of several user groups. He's still working as a consultant today.

By the HP 3000

My easy magic made mainframes look hard.


Print-ExclusiveI’m not starting at my very beginning, but I sprang to life against mainframes. I’m the HP 3000 and I always have been, even after HP stopped making me in 2003. My operating system — the muscles and organs that have made companies stronger and my life much longer — has been passed down from one generation of computing to the next. My hardware bones have changed in obvious ways, like a youngster growing taller. But even when my muscles and organs were still new, and my bones hadn’t grown, I was still knocking off bigger and older mainframes. It was my time to claim a minicomputer’s place in white-coated DP shops. We didn’t call it IT then. Paul Edwards, who’s only about 30 years older than my 40-year-old spirit, was a lot of help in making my bones against IBM.

Those jousts happened in Dallas with him at my console or his head inside a cabinet. He was coming into my HP realm after four years of working with IBM’s mainframes at Frito-Lay’s headquarters, plus a bit of time tending EDS, he tells me. A mainframe guy coming onto my team. It was kind of like having a new big brother to help you stand up against those bullies of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. IBM spread FUD in the 1970s about using anything but their batch beasts. Edwards and others found my easy magic and showed it off to win me new customers. Lots of them were using System 3s, he said, until they saw me.

Back in those 1970s I was a six-foot tall box, and that didn’t even count the room I needed for my console and disks and tape drives. One of my earliest failure points back then, when HP didn’t even manufacture the drives that I used, was my two fans in the bottom of my cabinets. “They blew air across the circuit boards,” Edwards says, “because those boards were stacked horizontally.” My boards in my Series II era were three feet square. Edwards still talks about saving the removable blue nameplate from that earlier version of me, after I grew up into the better-known Series III. I had a switch panel in those early days, something Edwards used to boot up my MPE.

I should explain a bit about Paul. He was working as an HP SE after those mainframe days of his, coming into HP’s Dallas-area offices in 1976. He says he’s been working on me as well as my forebears for half his life. Considering that he’s 71, that’s unique. There aren’t many Navy pilots from the Vietnam era still working in data processing. He might be the only naval commander who can still command MPE. He’s still consulting with companies who have a hole in their tech know-how, the ones using me in 2012 without experience updating my OS, or even how to restart me.

It’s those restarts where I got to shine against IBM. Edwards says, “We’d ask the IBM guys about their mainframes, ‘What if I go unplug it?’ “ And they’d get a look that told me I was special in the late ‘70s. Those mainframe boys once got hammered by a Texas thunderstorm, Edwards says. I remember the day that storm swept in and a temp receptionist wasn’t looking out the windward window, like they usually did. The IBM boys would power down their systems to avoid a lightning strike that’d kill the power. They didn’t have the early warning that day, though.

When the power died, “I heard this wailing from the IBM guys,” Edwards tells me. “They had to call up specialists from IBM, because the power outage had destroyed their entire file system. They were there for a couple of weeks rebuilding file pointers because they didn’t have a good backup. The tech magic was its reliability and ease of use,” he says. “As far as something you could show the customers, the power fail restarts could be demonstrated. It showed the reliability of the hardware.” But I had an edge in pleasure, too.

Next time: Ease of use, compared to IBM iron

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:16 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 18, 2012

Staying on the road: Job 1 to own a classic

CartalkAs autumn bears down on us this week — it begins on Thursday — I'm struck by changes of more than just seasons. A pair of experts about older engineering are retiring from the radio airwaves here in the US. They'll live on in a virtual format, with older shows full of the same rich information — just a little more aged. The comparisons to the 3000 community seemed apt to me.

Riding on a very old technology this summer, I filled my ears using a bit newer technology, to hear about tech with both innovation and heritage. I rode my bike, tech first envisioned and built in the 19th Century. I listened to a radio show while I pedaled my 13-mile circuit around my hilly neighborhood. It's often an hour that's blessed by the miracle of podcasts, smartphones and Bluetooth transmissions to my earbuds.

But I listen to talk from a show first created for a medium that's over 100 years old. My ears fill with laughter, troubles, innovation and love for technology that's not new. I listen to Car Talk, and I sometimes think about all of you, and what you do and have done.

Car Talk is a top-rated NPR radio show created once a week by two auto-repair garage owners, the brothers Tom and Ray Magliozzi. These fellows are winding down an amazing career of detailed engineering advice and inspired comedy. Known as the Tappet Brothers, they're ending their radio show creation as of the end of September. They've been on the air since the HP 3000 was brand-new.

There are a lot of similarities between a radio show that starts with a bluegrass riff followed by with hard Boston accents, and your community of minicomputer owners.

Of late I've been hearing the 3000 called a minicomputer because I've been talking with MPE experts as old as Tom and Ray. The younger Ray is 63, the older Tom is 75. Your community's founders are from that generation, mostly Boomers, with their elders born pre-War. All of us were taught to mind our elders. A lot of us thumbed our noses at that rule, until we got older ourselves.

There's only one guiding rule on Car Talk: keep a perfectly good car on the road. Technology that's old might have been bypassed unfairly, so it's easy to hear the ardor coming from Tom while praising some cars built in the 1980s and '90s. The important word back there is some cars. Not all. Beloved as the original Volkswagen Beetles are, Click and Clack call them death traps.

It's essential to have florid language ready if you're going to keep your place in radio for 35 years. You also need to tell stories on yourself as well as idiots and innocents who offer up their problems.

Just like my job for the past 28 years, listening to Car Talk always makes me feel important (for remembering) and ignorant. But like so many of you, I can learn. One of my favorite septuagenarians, Vladimir Volokh, took me under his tutelage this year in an advanced course of 3000 technology. He started to call in earnest once I published my first novel -- because like an older car, it needed some tuning up.

Your HP 3000s could use a tune up, some time spent with as much honesty as ardor. They're running on borrowed time, some of them, but they're still on the road. Their disk drives have been spinning, some of them, since the Simpsons was brand-new. Some of them hum with MPE versions that were first designed while the Dallas Cowboys were winning NFL championships. Others have gotten new drives or memory or fresher MPE/iX. But Vladimir says their system's insides can be as clotted as a senior's veins off a diet from the Midwest, all cheesy, creamy and eggy. (Okay, and oh so tasty.)

Some of you are driving Dodge Darts along your roads of computer commerce. That's a car so storied, legendary and disrespected that Chrysler is reviving it. The commercials here during the Olympics gave us a teaser for the Dart II. The folly and glory of that venture reminded me of the Magliozzis' comic instruction, as well as the path for the 3000's remaining journey.

Yeah, it's old tech, all of it: radio, two guys taking phone calls, talking about 30-year-old vehicles. But like a classic and classy computer system, a car is vital to commerce and enjoyment. It's hard to hold a job without a car, but not impossible. It's hard to run a business without owning a computer, but it's becoming more possible. 

Like a Dart that you hear about on the radio, business computers are becoming virtual. Even a classic like a 3000 is going to be virtual one day. That means the essence of its spirited engine, MPE, and its carb of IMAGE will be run someplace other than the circuits, disks and memory in a chunk of iron down the hall in a workplace. It will run in a server farm thousands of miles away from that office, rolling its bits and bytes along what we once called the Information Superhighway.

Click and Clack never see the cars which are the subject of the callers' ire and adoration. Things like the Dart, the Beetle, a Lincoln or a Mercedes are only understood by what the brothers have seen in their own garage, or the talk that good mechanics certainly share about the most frustrating and mysterious machines in their lives. Now the brothers themselves are going virtual. Car Talk will remain on the air, rebroadcasting shows, enough of them that producer Doug Berman figures it will be at least eight years before they have to repeat anything.

Would eight more years of a useful HP 3000 be enough for your company? It would be for most of you. If you're like me or Vladimir, you might dream of seeing your beloved MPE machine run longer, even beyond 2027, another 15 years of service. It's just as possible as seeing a 1971 El Camino rolling down a Texas highway, driven by another 3000 septuagenarian, Paul Edwards. 

Edwards started his 3000 career about the time Click and Clack took their first radio call. Paul's not going any more virtual than Vladimir will this year. With tuning, memory and respect, lots of us want to stay on the road behind the wheel of a classic. If you turn yours off the pavement, I hope it's with a good plan for driving something you love just as much.

Would you like to be a part of the 3000's story of its journey, from the Sixties to infinity and beyond? Call me, or write a little email to the addresses on the back of this page. The 3000 is writing its memoirs, as told to this writer, retold from the ears of others. Tell me your role in keeping it rolling on the road.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:37 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 12, 2012

The Actual Size and Start of the 3000 World

Ask around to discover how large the 3000 world grew to be, or when it all began. You're likely to get a couple of stock answers. The size of the world counting every system ever sold might be reputed to be more than 50,000 servers shipped. Its genesis is regularly quoted at 1972, so this November would mark 40 years of the 3000's lifetime.

That genesis is only correct if you count the 3000s days of gestation. An out-of-print book by one of the longest-termed 3000 veterans, Thomas Harbron, tells a story of a often-patched, crashing computer. In Thinking Machines, Harbron reports that so pot-holed was the 3000's start that the delays gave HP enough time to rename the system the 3000CX, instead of the System/3000. As has been reported all over, the start was so flawed that HP's founder vowed no HP product would ever be announced before it could be demoed.

Harbron shared a section of his book with us that explains why HP needed the lengthy delay. (We'd love to bring Thinking Machines back into e-print, especially as part of the 3000 Memoir Project.)

After all, is it still a 3000 without a database or a business langauge? He says neither IMAGE or COBOL were ready to demonstrate until mid-1973. BASIC and the 3000's unique SPL were the only languages a customer could use to create software for most of 1973. (And creating your own software was the only way an application suite could go into work in the early 1970s on a 3000.) HP limited access to its lab 3000s in 1972 to communication via teletypes.

Harbron also reported that the first 3000 training seminar of two weeks in California was "classes that were mostly taught by Bob Green," the founder of Robelle. Even at the 3000's start, familiar faces of today were there spreading its seeds.

Harbron says in his book that things turned bad in a hurry when some of the other eight customers in that class tried to use that 3000 in December, 1972. This multi-user system couldn't support more than four simultaneous users. Time between crashes had a mean of about two hours, he says.

Every time I logged onto the system... a newer version of the operating system had been installed. In the two weeks I was there, the version number increased by more than 50, meaning there were that many versions in just two weeks. Clearly the developers were frantic. The effect on the people in the class was devastating.

While we were in the class, HP released a schedule for MPE. In it they acknowledged that they would not be able to deliver the full operating system on schedule. They showed an initial release in December with three subsequent releases which would bring MPE up to full specifications by June 1, 1973.

Harbron also notes that HP celebrated the shipment of the 25,000th HP 3000 in 1982. The company took a picture of the 1,000 people in the 3000 division and mailed this postcard to customers. Around that time the personal computer became such a serious alternative to business computing that HP began to sell the 3000 against it, even while it offered a touch-based console PC.

To continue those calculations, doubling that number of ever-shipped 3000s over the next 10 years -- before HP swung to Unix for preferred enterprise sales -- seems realistic. But the decade between 1992-2001 probably only showed give-and-take shipments. Losses of 3000s, some to HP's own efforts, which were then offset by new customers. Harbron published his book in 2000, showing the same kind of optimism we used in sizing up the 3000 market, as he looked back on that 1982 postcard.

The 3000 had become the fifth most popular computer ever made [by 1982]. Today, nearly 30 years after its advent, it is still selling briskly and has probably climbed even higher in the rankings (microcomputers excluded).

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:43 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 06, 2012

Core memories spark a cold start for 3000s

Editor’s Note: Jon Diercks, the author of the only comprehensive MPE/iX administration book, offered us this story of the 3000’s very first year. It was a time of HP retreat from the minicomputer market: HP staff resigning, others unselling a system touted just months earlier as “a happening,” as the slogans of 1972-73 said in HP labs and offices.

Diercks worked at Anderson University in the 1990s alongside Tom Harbron, who’d been the college’s computer department director during 3000’s first months on the market. Diercks said Harbron was heavily involved in early discussions with HP about MPE and IMAGE. 

The institution began as Anderson College, and its very first HP 3000 was one of the earliest models. Diercks said the bragging line in those days was "Anderson College has the first HP 3000 ever installed anywhere between the Rockies and the Appalachians."

Harbron’s report on the 3000’s 1973 is part of Diercks’ 3000 memories, and so he’s contributed the writing as part of our 3000 Memoir Project — in all of its authentic, human and humbling beginnings. It's the first story I've read that details the 3000's retreat. An HP employee who couldn't look his customers in the eye about the 3000, and so resigned. A man whose job was to unsell the 3000s -- and later would bundle the greatest software HP ever wrote, IMAGE, to the Classic hardware, which not long after, fell behind the state of the art.

By Tom Harbron

Reports of problems with the HP 3000 operating system, MPE, continued to be received in the opening weeks of 1973. While it was not encouraging, I had confidence in the basic soundness of the 3000’s design and the integrity of Hewlett-Packard to ultimately deliver what had been promised.

HP’s Phil Oliver called and scheduled a meeting with me for February 6, 1973.  He brought along Bob Stringer, who had replaced Ed Pulsifer as the District Sales Manager; Ed McCracken, who was now HP's Market Manager for Government, Education, and Medical Markets; and Jay Craig, who was a new HP salesman from Indianapolis. McCracken would tell me, years later when he was the 3000 division manager, that the morning in my office was the most difficult day of his career. The people that HP hired were, mostly, an honorable group of people.

On that day in 1973, they had some bad news to deliver. Specifically there were seven points:

1. HP cannot bring the software components of the system up to full specifications before Fall 1973.

2. They are devoting “maximum resources” to correcting the problem.

3. The system will currently support no more than 4-6 simultaneous users.

4. HP will loan an additional 64K bytes of core storage to bring the system up to this 4-6 user level of performance.  (We had ordered the system with 64K bytes of core storage.)

5. IMAGE will be further delayed to January 1974.

6. Because of hardware difficulties, a slower console printer would be provided.

7. They would like us to cancel the contract.  Lacking that, they wish to amend the contract.

It was a tense meeting. McCracken was going about the country, visiting customers, and unselling the 3000. It was hard for everyone. Phil Oliver would return to his office later that day and resign. He told me he couldn’t look his customers in the eye. Ed Pulsifer had already resigned for similar reasons. 

I resisted their pleas to cancel the contract for four fundamental reasons. 

First, I had faith in the basic design of the system. I had run benchmarks that had come in almost exactly where I had predicted from the timings in the ERS. MPE was clearly a better design than nearly anything else then available. The combination was more cost effective than anything else by a factor of two or three. Moreover, I had met many of the people involved with the project and had confidence that they could do the job, given the time and resources.

Second, there really were no viable alternatives on the market at the time. DEC tried long and hard to sell us, but in the end their salesman conceded that the systems DEC had were either too feeble or far too large for our needs; the HP 3000 was a perfect fit. IBM tried hard to sell us on various timesharing patches to their systems, none of which worked well. The only systems available that would do the work were the XDS Sigmas and they cost five times as much as the 3000.

Third, I thought that HP had to make the 3000 succeed if they were to remain a growth company.  At that time, HP had about half of the instrument market and could not significantly expand their market share without anti-trust problems.  Their other market areas, such as microwave, were respectable, but in small markets that were not growing very fast.  

The only way that HP could continue to grow at historic rates was by entering the computer business in a major way. With $25 million already invested in the 3000, they were unlikely to write off that investment and content themselves with their existing markets.  If the 3000 failed, they would have had to immediately start over on another computer project.

Fourth, we had already invested several man-years in application development for the HP 3000 at the time that HP was trying to unsell the system.  It would have been a financial disaster for us to write off all of that work and begin again with a different system.  We really had no option beyond the 3000.

Years later, in a speech before the Users’ Group, McCracken said “I want to thank those of you who had faith that the HP 3000 would succeed at a time when many at HP had profound doubts.”  I’m sure he was thinking of that cold February day he spent in my office.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:55 PM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 29, 2012

What's Overlooked or Lost: Test Disciplines

TestingWhether a 3000 customer is hanging in there for good business reasons, or heading off to another platform, they all need testing skills. Retirements and workforce reductions contribute to the loss of those disciplines. One advantage of making a migration is a refreshed demand for testing. After all, changing environments means measuring the effects of those changes.

During a recent online presentation about migration practices, the scope of that underestimation was revealed. Figure on three times the amount of resource for testing, experts say, as you'd initially budget. About a third of the cost and time to make significant changes of applications or an environment should go into testing. The lucky part of that costly equation is that at least on enterprise systems, you can work to replicate bugs.

PhabletTouchpad interface developers are not so lucky. Give a user an infinite number of ways to touch a screen, swipe it, pinch it or tap it. Then when an app crashes, try to replicate the exact combination of user interface actions. Testing, says Allegro's co-founder Steve Cooper, is much more complex in that world of BYOD apps.

Complex testing is an artifact of the rising art of systems. Where the HP 3000 can guarantee that programs written in 1978 would run in 2008, the 2010 iPads cannot run software built less than two years later. Testing is costly, and remaining in place on a platform like the 3000, for business reasons, reduces the need to do it. When you do go, an HP 3000 expert might be out of their depth in juggling development tools of Java, Ruby or even iOS -- but some of those veterans know testing disciplines better than any recent graduate, offshore, or near-shore programmer.

You have a test which you execute and watch fail before something is fixed, "and then it won't, after it's fixed, and you add that to the regression test suite," Cooper says. "That means you can tell if you ever accidentally introduce that bug back again."

There's a lot to know about testing, and some of the methods don't involve higher technology tools at all. One major 3000 migration at an insurance firm of Fortune 500 size took place because the users' possible interactions were recorded, one screen at a time, using Microsoft Word documents. The magic there was the ability to analyze human behaviors against the potential of each program. That can happen more quickly with someone trained as a programmer-analyst, or a P/A as they were called in the earliest days of the HP 3000.

Analysis skills are not in vogue like creativity skills or the magic of mobile among the tech workforce. Everybody wants to be a creator, and there seems to be no limit to the size of such teams. The number of people involved in creating a program tells a lot about the ability to test it. Cooper estimated that perhaps three people were working on HP's IMAGE team, from what he recalls hearing in the '70s. All of MPE was at first maintained by five people. No more than three developers maintained the 3000's systems language, SPL.

Fewer voices made more robust systems in those legendary times. The accepted wisdom was that three people arguing in a room over how to create a robust program was about the right number. There is certainly a lower number of IT pros who can perform the higher-order thinking of test disciplines. That number will not necessarily improve just because the next systems and programs are more popular. Auditors aren't popular either, but the real money in enterprise computing flows through them and their tests.

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

August 21, 2012

First 3000 steps: chasing HP's Mighty Mouse

MightyMouseCoverTwenty eight years ago today I took my first steps into the world of Hewlett-Packard. I stepped from the workdays of a small town newspaper editor to the monthly quest for news of bits, segments, and mice. When I walked into the Austin office of Wilson Publications, creators of The Chronicle (we didn't dare to use "HP" in the title) I found wood-paneled walls around a desk with no terminal, no keyboard, and no clue about a new HP 3000 coiled and ready to change the system's reach.

The new Series 37 Mighty Mouse was revealed to me and managing editor John Hastings about two weeks after I'd assumed the reporting and writing for that monthly tabloid, just eight issues old at the time. We opened the mail on September 13 to learn of a minicomputer covered by our arch-rival, the Interex user group's InterACT magazine. We'd never seen a Mighty Mouse, and neither had InterACT's Sharon Fisher. But InterACT got a pre-briefing on the first business computer HP ever built that needed no computer room or operators.

Being scooped in your first issue is a humbling way to start a news job. But as a dewy lad of 27, I chalked it up to the lack of newsroom practices at Wilson and began to lift my wings onto the radar of Hewlett-Packard. HP was a company so small at the time that its total quarterly sales were less than today's profits from 2012's last quarter. The $6.4 billion company had a total of five US PR contacts to cover every product in the lineup. It also had several thousand products and more software than it knew how to nurture and improve. But that Mighty Mouse was a shot across the bow of the fleet of personal computers already riding the waves of change. HP said the Series 37, priced at under $20,000 in bare bones, was an alternative to what we called microcomputers.

It can operate in a normal office environment. It looks like a two drawer filing cabinet sitting beside a desk. No air conditioning, special temperature control, or unusual electrical requirements are needed. It can be placed in carpeted rooms. Moreover, it's very quiet; HP claims it makes even less noise than a typewriter.

Longs Drug, I learned by reading my competition, was going to install more than 150 of these Mighty Mice among its hundreds of stores in the Western US. At that time a microcomputer was strictly a device for personal computing, rarely networked with anything. HP wanted businesses to purchase HPWORD, running on the 3000 for office automation, and HP DeskManager for the 3000 to tie workers together with internal mail and document exchange. Thousands of dollars worth of software, piled on top of that $20 grand.

Just outside the door of my paneled office in Texas, we ran a Columbia PC with a 300-baud modem and WordStar, plus PC 2622 software to make that micro behave like an HP terminal. We dialed up to timeshare with a 3000 at Futura Press, where our stories were set and then delivered back to us in galleys which we waxed up and pasted for tabloid layout. It would be another year before we'd even get Compuserve to link us to the rest of the computing world.

Like a lot of businesses, Wilson and The Chronicle relied more on the steel filing cabinets the Mighty Mouse mimicked in size. We had phones and transcription machines, though, and I had the fortune to mess up editing a story which brought me closer to a preeminent community creator. Mistakes, hubris and getting bested will make a perfectionist spend longer hours trying to learn to avoid subsequent embarrassments.

Hewlett-Packard didn't think much of any other environment for its business computing on that August afternoon. Its HP 1000 RTE environment was focused on real-time controller computing. Its HP 9000 Unix servers were workstations serving scientific and research customers, mostly, plus the labs connected to the major manufacturers running HP 3000s. But The Chronicle had me covering it all, from RTE so buried that some customers didn't even know they had one embedded in their systems, to the HP 9000 still running a Unix OS that writers of the day were calling an experiment which needed standards to become significant.

The HP 3000 community was the one I could call upon, literally. I didn't know enough about what we'd call enterprise computer systems to contribute much analysis, but I wanted to earn my keep with interviews and editing. A comprehensive technical paper, printed out on tractor-feed paper, lay in the in-basket, written by Adager's Alfredo Rego. I tore into it with a red pen, thinking I was improving it. But misguided economy of English yanked the paper away from Alfredo's intentions and accuracy. Within six weeks he traveled through Austin and gave the local user group entertainment and enlightenment, all while telling me that leaving good technical work unmarred would have served everyone better.

Alfredo was gracious in his corrections that afternoon, because it seemed important to both of us to get things right from the beginning. Once my ears and cheeks stopped burning I took a closer look at the relations between tech writers and an editor still learning HP 3000 landmarks. HP was fighting hard against the tide of IBM and Compaq micros which were landing in businesses for less than half of what a Mighty Mouse cost. That $20,000 price tag was for a system with 512K of memory and 55 MB of disk. Oh, and "HP's usual 90-day warranty." The cost of support for the system was nowhere to be seen in that InterACT article.

HP dubbed its Mighty Mouse part of "a plan called the Personal Productivity Center that will integrate HP's 3000 and personal computer products." The latter was called HP 150, running a variation of CPM instead of the widely popular MS-DOS. It was a touchscreen computer with little but HP software which could use the touch capabilities. When we got one into the Chronicle offices it was a marvel -- but the KayPro portable micros were where our stories got banged out, doing work that created less noise than the IBM Selectic used when I'd written for that small town paper.

The rich resource I didn't expect on that hot wood-paneled afternoon was the ardor of the 3000's experts, developers and user group leaders. They hadn't been interviewed in newspaper style and were glad to help a cub reporter learn something about MPE/V, enough IMAGE to make his eyes glaze over, and the jungle thicket of peripheral hardware needed to link computers together and get them backed up and printing to dot matrix devices. HP's LaserJet was just out by that summer, but laser printing was a novelty few businesses used at the time.

Series37adThe Series 37 was new, but scarcely as fast as the Series III which HP had released more than six years earlier. HP went for small and less costly rather than improving power; it had its Series 68 powerhouses to do the high-transaction and forest-of-terminals work. But the Series 37 drew a fraction of a 68's electricity and didn't need raised flooring or special cooling or heavy-load wiring. Whether it needed an operator, as HP claimed it did not, depended on how much a business did with it. At the Longs stores, the 37s were confined inside mesh cabinets with just a slot open for backups to the cartridge tape drive. Administration was taken care of at the Walnut Creek data processing HQ.

What made the Mighty Mouse a breakthough was the way that a large company like Longs could rely upon the uniformity of the 3000's environment. A senior tech analyst Tom Combs told InterACT nothing but a 3000 was going to work to serve what'd eventually be hundreds of stores.

Combs explains that it's difficult to find computers small and cheap enough to run in multiple stores that will also run the same software as larger models. Not all IBM computers, for example, use the same operaing system. Personal computer were not considered for the same reason. When different models all run the same software, he maintains, software development and support becomes easier.

And Longs, like so many large customers using this smallest system, had its own software developed for managing its business. Relying on IMAGE everywhere and MPE/V that was backward compatible eventually became the differences which let those Microsoft-based PCs, then Unix, get into the hearts and minds of cost-sensitive businesses. But the IMAGE and MPE distinctions with industry standards didn't matter in 1984. Getting everything from one vendor working together, reliably, was the miracle that filtered down to that magic $20,000 entry price tag.

At SuperGroup Magazine, an article that best explained the system got itself scooped by my own fledgling story of six months earlier. But D. David Brown reviewed the box as a systems manager would, and he understood that HP had sneaked in a big-style computer inside a compact box with the Mighty Mouse.

This toy-like box is really no toy at all. It's a serious, down-to-business mainframe, and at the same time a painless entry point to the HP 3000 world for a small user. The upward growth path is virually unlimited. HP reports that as of April 1985, 2,000 Mighty Mice had been shipped, beating HP's projections by 20 percent. HP has finally gotten the small business user what he really wanted: A genuine HP 3000!

The fall of 1984 was a time of serious transition for both HP's business computing as well as my own journalism. Like a government reporter just moved into a small town, I had to earn the trust of both luminaries like Alfredo as well as the steady attention from officials at HP. It was like the first weeks of covering a county seat in Texas, where the county clerk and the city clerk become your lifeline to news as well as contacts. The 3000 was scampering into the realm of PCs with the Mighty Mouse, as the vendor assumed that a smaller mini or mainframe would satisfy small businesses. 

The Mighty Mouse did satisfy the 3000 customer who wanted affordable models, those with a data processing staff instead of office managers. But orders of magnitude more managers were choosing IBM and Compaq PCs for their offices in the middle '80s. Compaq and ATT, not Hewlett-Packard, got the business for office computing at The Chronicle. We relied on the community's developers, user group leaders, experts and vendors to teach our readers how to automate and administer. Those HP Mighty Mice of 1984 were going to be caught by HP's Spectrum servers in about four years' time -- when I could place a reporter in HP's next press conference which introduced a computer breakthrough that HP wasn't shipping yet.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:32 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 16, 2012

Moving Data in Migrations: the Tools, and Who Uses and Develops Them

Arby's sandwich chain turned off some HP 3000s recently, but moving its data stocked a menu's worth of practices and tools. Based on a report from Paul Edwards, the journey worked smoothest when expertise could be outsourced or tapped.

68-69 Cruise PhotoEdwards described part of the project as a move to Oracle's databases, facilitated by Robelle's Suprtool and Speedware's software. The former supplier has retained its name for 35 years by now. The latter has become Fresche Legacy, but DBMotion as well as AMXW software is still available for data transfers. In the photo at left, the veteran Edwards is in motion himself, flying on a 1968-69 US Navy tour on the USS Hornet. He figures he's been working with 3000s half his life, which would give him enough time in to witness Robelle's entry into the market, as well as the transformation of Infocentre into Speedware, and then to Fresche Legacy.

I'm standing on the right. The two young guys kneeling down are the enlisted operators that ride in the back of the plane. The guy standing on the left is our Crew 13 Aircraft Commander. The aircraft is an S-2E Tracker Carrier Based Anti-Submarine Warfare Navy aircraft. It has a large propeller attached to a 1500hp Wright R1820-82 engine -- one of two on the plane.

Some of the data moves at Arby's went to Oracle, he reports. "They were using Oracle for part of their operations. Using Speedware with Oracle was interesting. Most of that was dumping data with Suprtool or Speedware, then formatting it in the layout they wanted." Suprtool has been guided and developed by Neil Armstrong at Robelle for nearly two decades. He recently marked his 20th year with the vendor, according to the Robelle newsletter.

Arby's also took its payroll application off the 3000, "and it went off to a service bureau. We had the file layouts that bureau wanted, and so it was a lot easier. We just said, 'this field is the one on the HP system, and this field on your layouts is equivalent.' We just matched them all up. We had some where we could say 'forget about that field, we won't need it.' "

But the transition to Oracle, as performed by a team that was supposed to be experienced in the database, was not so easy.

The Oracle contractors "had absolutely no clue about how to do migrations," Edwards said. "They'd never done any before." 

The migration of data from a well-polished, longtime set of 3000 applications is just as crucial as moving code, selecting a replacement app, or testing what's been moved. And it's not as easy as it might seem to find contractors who've done a migration, especially any who know MPE. Plenty of systems from other vendors haven't been worth the time to migrate. The HP 3000, with its lengthy lifespan, often sports apps that are decades old. Almost as entrenched as Armstrong has been at Robelle.

The avid racing cyclist this summer completed 20 years' worth of "helping to make Qedit and Suprtool great products," Robelle reported in its newsletter. 

Neil worked at one of our customers in Ontario, then worked for us in British Colombia, then worked for us in Alberta. At one point Neil moved to Anguilla in the Caribbean to work on Robelle software with Bob Green, our president. Lastly, he moved back to Canada and works on Suprtool and Qedit near Niagara Falls. He is currently our Software Architect, chief systems programmer and a big help for difficult technical support questions.

Armstrong on bikeDuring his time in Anguilla, Armstrong raced in the 2004 John T Memorial Bike Race. The photo at left shows him with Bob Green cheering him on at the finish. Armstrong has been quick to the pedals for as long as I've known him; as a fellow cyclist, he rides at a rate I can only dream about. But his work in Suprtool -- especially in recent years getting it to Linux, and soon to Windows -- must have been as steady and careful as a rider navigating a busy, two-lane, no shoulders road. That's a tool that began its life in the 1970s, when Edwards was still in the Navy Reserve and working at HP as an SE. Imagine what's been changed in Suprtool over those decades to get it to Suprtool Open.

Sometimes great care to advance a product unveils its rewards when it's compared to other migration methods. It helps if you can call on some military precision during critical transits, too. At Arby's, Edwards and the IT staff seemed to be glad Suprtool was on the migration menu.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:30 PM in History, Migration, News Outta HP, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 10, 2012

Community sage tracks HP's historic dream

1995While I'm researching the meaty bits of the 3000 for its autobiography, I found another rich resource in a chat with Birket Foster. Like few other vendors, he's celebrated 35 years this year of 3000 business. Yesterday he pointed me at a few dreamy links of HP concept videos.

These are the fond wishes of companies looking toward the future. The video of 1995 was broadcast to the press and the public during the year 1988, when the NewWave office communication products were just released. Ideals in this video -- which is full of office drama about winning a big contract -- include interactive agents tracking schedules and taking voice commands to create reports, plus presentation tools automated by spoken commands.

Everything was connected in an "all-in" concept using HP's NewWave foundation. The HP 3000 had a NewWave role, providing the data to make reports from a well-connected database. I thought 1995 was lost to dusty VCR collections, but Birket tracked it down via YouTube. Concept videos can be unintentionally comic. You can tell from this one it was written in the era of suspenders, white shirts and ties in the office. That's just about the time of the start of HP's shift-to-Unix campaign. And the HP 3000 and other product names are never used. Unlikely to be named, the 3000 just works.

This just-works ideal still lives in the 3000's heritage. A couple of interviews from industry veterans like Ron Miller of Amerigroup and Paul Edwards referenced that reliability pledge. Both said that when the 3000 just worked, the computer was demonstrating its strongest asset. Compared to the alternatives at the start of 3000 service, the MPE ideals must've seemed as far forward as a 1995 vison which was devised in 1989.

HP has another concept video called Cooltown in the YouTube archives. Cool Town was unveiled in 2000, with a focus on a broader field than just business and enterprise computing. 2000 was the last full year when the HP 3000 had a cogent message delivered by HP about the system's future. "It's not Windows NT or Unix, but it has an essential role," summed up HP's concept about the 3000.

If you search for "concept videos" in YouTube, or just watch the 1995 vison, you'll see suggestions from other vendors' videos. Apple's got a couple including the Knowlege Navigator. The power of smartphones is suggested in both Cool Town and Apple's concepts, although they use PDAs that look a lot more like circa-2000 Palm Treos than the mobile computers Apple pioneered in 2007.

A concept video reminds us of how far a company can reach and dream to encourgage faith in technology futures. Or it proves that some visions didn't have the benefit of real world input. Instead, they're stories and scenarios built out of the labs and marketing focus groups. The HP 3000 is beyond concept videos in all but one place by now. Emulation of HP's MPE/iX hardware, plus a cloud computing potential for such emulators, would make a good concept video. Throw it out four years and no further and you might see hand-computing devices like HP's new business tablet or even smartphones controlling cloud servers, including MPE/iX partitions.

The markets of today need to show respect for individual environments which include things like MPE/iX for the platform to win a part in these fever-dream productions. It's more likely that just as in 1995, specifics of products fall out of the next concept story. Foster believes that cloud computing will continue to move server hardware out of IT datacenters, even more quickly now. "People will buy a server in the sky," he said. "We're at a crucial stage in the marketplace." Sometimes pie-in-the sky visions show a way toward new concepts, too.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 12:40 PM in History, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 03, 2012

Win for HP-UX's Present No Proof of Future

 

3000 Renaissance '95
My 3000 victory announcement of 1995 (click for detail)

 

Over at the headquarters of HP's Business Critical Systems division, the streamers and sighs of relief float in the air this week. A court of California has ruled that Oracle must continue to do business with HP just as it always did. That threat of killing off its database for use on the Itanium systems -- as therefore, HP-UX -- was an empty one if Oracle follows the law and the ruling of a judge.

The HP 3000 had a similar close call more than once in its life. During 1993 and 1994 HP was hammering away at the core of the 3000 customer base. It used R&D managers and GMs to convince leading app vendors they'd be better served by porting to HP-UX. By the spring of '94 Adager organized a Proposition 3000 movement (like the California propositions, all numbered) complete with fine embroidered t-shirts. We wore them to the Interex Computer Management Symposium and lashed at the HP managers on hand.

Soon enough, sense seemed to prevail at HP. A revival of the tech investment began that brought out a better database, moved the system into the open source and Internet world, attracted new customers through the likes of Smith-Gardner ecommerce, and generally swung the sales meter upward. In the middle of this trend we started the NewsWire to spread the word about that year's renaissance.

But HP was a vendor with its own mission. A success in rebooting HP's 3000 business was certified by new sales, right up to the year Hewlett-Packard sounded its swan song for 3000 futures. We had won the battle with HP, but the damage was done with an internal wound. And so goes the same song for Oracle and HP-UX, and probably the future of that operating system inside HP this time. Oracle backs away with this court ruling. But this week's win delivers no proof there's a healthy future for Oracle's HP relationship. You cannot force a company to do business differently, not even if there are tens of thousands of customers who desire the same kind of love they've had for decades.

The story chronicled above comes from the HP Chronicle, a newsmonthly which I helped launch in 1984 to cover all things HP. By the time this story surfaced I'd left the Chronicle to "pursue other interests," as they say about anyone who departs from a company with ideas of his own. I didn't leave with an idea about the NewsWire, but it came to my wife Abby, and then to me. I was still writing a guest column for the Chronicle when the above was printed. We saw a focused information opportunity that nobody wanted, and nobody thought would break even. Plus fresh evidence -- like that HP win this week -- that the 3000 was winning respect inside HP. Enough honor to stop the internal assault on the customer base to switch to Unix. Enough admiration to teach the Unix group how to engage with the Customer First in mind.

From the outlook of HP, however, that renaissance didn't have a future. By the late '90s new IA-64 design was becoming an engineering reality instead of swell PowerPoint slides shown to the big customers running 3000s and 9000s. HP had to decide if it would spend tens of millions of dollars to make MPE/iX ready for the latest chip design. It decided no. Then it recanted. Then the inevitable happened -- inevitable if you realize a Compaq-HP merger swung the ax on the necks of some products.

While the 3000 renaissance was rolling, and even after Y2K got beaten as soundly as Oracle did this week, the future looked bright. Especially when, like Oracle's forced march into HP's Itanium, there was a promise to bring what was by then called Itanium to the 3000 world. But forces high inside HP -- indeed, as high as Larry Ellison and Mark Hurd sit at Oracle -- didn't want a 3000 business around to compete with the newly-purchased, just as devoted, and much larger VAX-VMS lineup.

The 3000 left HP's futures. Just as surely, Oracle will leave the realm of HP-UX and Itanium, and take with it many of the very customers pumping billions in profits into HP. Support profits, mostly, since there's not a lot of new Itanium winning its way into companies. What's more, there's plenty of Itanium getting turned off, so HP's BladeServers with Linux will step in. Many blades will have nothing to do with HP.

Those of you who read me regularly on the subject of HP probably know where this is headed. "Oh, HP made a mistake then. They'll make another now. Investing in HP's Unix doesn't have a lengthy upside." I still believe all that, and I'm not alone. Some vendors are glad, however, that the FUD of Oracle and Itanium is going to have to go underground. But it's not going to go away.

It's good to have customers as well as prospects who are using HP-UX and Itanium, if that's the pulse of your profits model. But do not mistake this HP legal win for a renaissance of Itanium at Oracle. There was a time when that might have happened, but that time was back when there was no Internet, when faxes were the fastest, and when the USA Dream Team was making its basketball Olympic splash. Plenty has changed since Oracle and HP could do billions in business together without so much as a signed napkin. One of the biggest changes is that HP's old CEO, given the bum's rush by the Hewlett-Packard board, is now running an operation aimed at killing off Itanium.

Mark Hurd was such a key hire for Oracle that he had a remarkable clause in his employment agreement. We've learned from reading documents that Hurd had a provision for what might happen when Oracle purchased HP in a takeover. There's no need to go all tinpot-despot while sizing up the Oracle management chiefs. But any company that figured they could buy you up while they hired your former CEO isn't going to let one judge's ruling, plus $4 billion in damages, pull them off their windmill-tilting quest.

The drive-by shooting bystander in targeting Itanium is HP-UX, just hanging out on HP's chips and still outselling Solaris. Not Linux, though. Hewlett-Packard knows the enterprise future is Linux, too. So if you're hip-deep in HP's Unix and reading the 43-page victory announcement from the judge, enjoy it. We announced an HP renaissance about the 3000 in 1995, and it lasted six years until HP had to grow up and grow out of the operating system business. It won't take Hurd and Oracle's uber-meister Larry Ellison that long to get Itanium out of the way, even as they're discovering technical problems with new Oracle database releases for Itanium.

Those are the releases that will be court-ordered to run on what HP will call game-changing Itanium designs. However, we've heard from both inside and outside of HP that this FUD campaign of Oracle's has already landed a mortal blow to the Business Critical Systems group. Not even $4 billion in damages will offset what's going unsold, or return the top tech talent that HP's cut in its latest employment purge. The HP-UX and Itanium writing is still out there, but instead of being on the wall it's now it's in legal briefs waved in appellate courtrooms.

These 43 pages from the judge won't be enough to prove anything but Oracle violated an agreement, one struck under pressure when Mark Hurd lept to a rival overnight. Gaudy mistakes like axing the 3000, or kicking a hornet's nest in firing Hurd, come from a boardroom level at HP. The little people working magic in the labs, and the customers trying to protect investments, are the ones getting stung.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:30 PM in History, Migration, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 01, 2012

Just how good were those good old days?

NewsWire subscribers who receive our email updates have heard that I'm collecting stories about the early 3000's days. I'm working on an autobiography of the 3000, written "as told to" me, by the system. I've fielded phone calls and gotten some nice email stories. Today's was great fun to read and instructive, too. That's because the negative experiences in our lives are remembered clearer than the positive ones. 

What I mean to say is that war stories are more fun to read, chock-a-block with details. Before I offer an excerpt from today's story, I want to make an observation about the 3000's life. It wasn't always the better time we prefer to remember.

Even the president of the Connect user group falls prey to this memory. In his column in the latest user group magazine, Steve Davidek remembered days when HP was packed with people eager to service a 3000 customer. After a disk head crash in 1984, Davidek recounted three HP employees he knew by name who chipped in to resolve the problem. A different time indeed, when Davidek managed just one Series III HP 3000.

Our HP sales rep would visit every month or so just to see how we were doing. Some months he'd even bring a Systems Engineer along to check on things. It was amazing.

Dave Wiseman, who says that "Most of you will know me as the idiot dragging the alligator at the Orlando conference, or maybe as the guy behind Millware," told us a tale of days even earlier in the 3000's life. Buying a system from HP in 1978 meant investing in a terminal to test your application -- before HP would even fill the system order.

One of the first three HP 3000 customers in Southern England, Wiseman was managing at an IBM shop looking for a better system. "I called the HP salesman and asked him in," he says.

What HP never knew is that if the project went well, there was a possibility that they would get on the shortlist for our branch scheme – a machine in every UK branch office. That would be 45 machines when the entire UK installed base of HP 3000s was around 10 at the time.

So the salesman came in and I said that I wanted to buy an HP 3000, to which he replied, “Well I’m not sure about that, as we’ve never done your application before. Why don’t you buy a terminal and an acoustic coupler first and make sure that your application works?"

"Okay," I said. "Where do I buy a coupler from?"

"No idea," he replied “but the 2645A terminal is $5,000."

2645 terminalSo he bought the terminal, and then tested against HP's 3000 in a UK office. "I started dialing into the Winnersh office. (I still have the telephone number and address engraved in my heart). On occasion when I needed answers, I would drive over there and work on their machines."

Wiseman goes on in his early history to praise the improvement that the 3000 delivered to Commercial Union Assurance.

I recall our durability test was to unscrew the feet on the 50MB disc drive and push it until the disc drive bounced off its HP-IB cable. On more than one occasion the cable came out and you could just plug it back in and carry on working. Try that with an IBM and you could expect two days of work to get it restarted.

The IBM guys couldn’t understand how we could run so many users on such a small box, but we were always looking for improved performance -- as we already had the largest HP 3000 around. There were no tools available in those days, so we used tricks like putting a saucer of milk on each disc to see which one curdled first. (Okay, that's not really true. But we did spend a long time just standing there touching the drives lightly just to see what got hot.) We did a full system unload and reload every three months, and unloaded and reloaded most databases at the same time.

Davidek recalls his warm feeling of having ample HP support, but he does recognize it as a bygone emotion. "The customer experience today is probably not ever going to return to those days, but I would love to come close," he writes. "HP is working on this issue, and with a little luck, we may get there."

War stories are useful for more than the warnings about potential pitfalls. Even from 30 years ago, they remind us the good old days were not as good as we remember. They also remind us how our initiative made the bad times manageable. That's a confidence builder in these uncertain career times.

A 3000 manager needed a little luck, all the way back to the beginning. I'd like to hear about your lucky and unlucky days. Call me at 512-331-0075 if you want to chat, or email me. By recalling both the good and the bad, we can chronicle the middle path for that autobiography. 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:13 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 30, 2012

Security patches still floating HP-UX cloud

Hp_enterprise-cloud-servicesMigrating from the HP 3000 can be an act of faith. Once a vendor has closed down a business platform, the alternatives might look less certain to survive -- at least until a manager can survey the security of a replacement host. HP genuinely dimmed the lights on its MPE/iX activity when it stopped creating security patches. Windows XP is still getting these, but Microsoft has said they'll stop patching in 2017.

Apple's starting to join the previous-platform shutdown crew. Its new OS Mountain Lion is blasting across the downloading bandwidth -- the vendor said more than 3 million copies went out in the first four days of release. With every copy of Mountain Lion that's downloaded, or shipped out on new Macs, the older platform of Snow Leopard loses a step in Apple's march. Snow Leopard shipped out in 2009. Some managers are on watch, waiting to see when that leopard will lose its security spots.

HP continues to support two earlier releases of HP-UX with security patches. Two separate breaches were repaired last week. One vulnerability could be exploited remotely to create a Denial of Service (SSRT100878 rev.2). Another patch (SSRT100824 rev.3) addressed vulnerabilities which "could be exploited remotely to execute arbitrary code or elevate privileges." Samba and BIND opened the gates to these hacks. Both have been supported in MPE/iX, but it's been many years since Samaba or BIND had any access to a security patch on the 3000.

The Mac's OS is built out of the girders of such open-sourced, Unix-based tools and software. Now there's a rising current of change flowing through the Apple community around the two latest releases of the OS. Lion and Mountain Lion change so many things that older, more experienced Mac managers find themselves learning new interfaces and administration in a forced march -- all because Apple sees profit in making Macs behave like mobile phones and tablets.

Whatever's been learned about managing a Mac is now being depreciated with each new OS release. That kind of change is only the early stages of what a 3000 manager experienced when HP stopped creating MPE/iX or patching it for security. The Unix customers of Apple (Mac OS managers) and HP have one thing in common: continuous re-learning and patching of their environments. This will stretch an IT pro's skill sets. It can also stretch out a workday into work nights and weekends. Enterprise customers must always hope that their vendor doesn't get too enterprising about the profits from churn. Apple seems to be doubling down on a strategy that churns up security issues: cloud computing.

HP added this level of capability to MPE once during the history of the OS, when it grafted a Posix interface onto MPE/XL in 1992 to create MPE/iX. The Posix namespace provided instant familiarity to adminstrators who knew Unix admin commands and programs. But MPE/iX didn't stop behaving like administrators expected who wanted nothing to do with Posix. They didn't have to trick the 3000 into the polished and proven processes that established reliability and security.

Apple's iCloud is the default file storage location in that 3-million download OS version. The vendor really doesn't believe in things like a desktop for file management anymore. Let the cloud take care of finding things and keeping them up to date. In other words, let Apple's server farm security maintain the sanctity of personal and professional data.

This turn of events was triggered by the sudden fortunes of Apple's computing business. Mobile devices make up more than 75 percent of the largest capitalized company in the world today. With so many ways to carry a computer out of the office, Apple figures a cloud is the only chance to keep documents and personal data up to date. When a business takes off enough to double a stock price, a company will pivot to capture the opportunity.

The situation illustrates the challenges in staying on a fast track of technology. Apple's "doubling-down" on iCloud, according to its CEO. HP is making a bid for this kind of computing, too, but not by pushing all the chips to the center of its enteprise table. Cloudsystem is good for some businesses, but the top reason that 3000 managers cite for avoiding it: security concerns. HP's got a Enterprise Cloud Services-Continuity version that the vendor says "is part of what makes this an 'enterprise' cloud service."

Some of the security freature include Network Intrusion Detection and Prevention (NIDS/NIPS), firewall and VPN monitoring and management, two-factor authenticated access to privileged user accounts, operating system hardening, physical datacenter security (access by key card or biometric palm scanning, video surveillance, and on-site security personnel) and SIEM monitoring.

That last bit of ackronymn soup stands for Security Information and Event Monitoring, real-time analysis of security alerts generated by networks.

Quite a bit like the MPE/iX customers of just five years ago, us managers of Snow Leopard systems haven't got the latest iCloud, update-everywhere powers, the place where we can abandon our regard for file system skills. We are still getting security patches like the ones that HP-UX admins processed last week through HP-UX Software Assistant.

Every vendor will judge when securing older releases -- like Snow Leopard, MPE/iX or HP-UX B.11.11 -- stops making business sense. Trying to estimate that date is as tough as guessing the thoughts behind the inscrutable face of any cat, either leopard or lion. But knowing that end-of-security deadline is on its way is easy to predict. Every OS gets such a day to test the faith of its customers. And the changes a manager must adopt to keep pace with their OS could be so profound that staying current feels like adopting a new set of administration skills.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:52 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 20, 2012

Apache helped 3000s live to serve

In a July of 15 years ago, the HP 3000 was struggling for Web relevance. Since it was built as a general purpose computer, the 3000 and its operating system were expected to deliver any service which a business required. Newer elements of the IT landscape by 1997 included serving up websites, something which Unix and Windows NT competitors were handling nicely.

HP thought it had a solution to a requirement which many customers didn't even acknowledge. The Internet was becoming popular, and serving web pages was a novel means of delivering data. The 3000 had been recently supplied with standards-based email through third parties, most notably 3k Associates. But Web services were still in flux in 1997. The first choice for a third party MPE/iX-ready web server pulled out just before its product could get inserted into 3000 IT.

In the dog days of that summer, I fumed over the initial HP response to Open Market's web exit. "One of the first thoughts this division had about losing its Web server solution amounted to 'we can always let NT do it using the 3000's data.' That idea deserves to fall out from heatstroke, and quickly."

The product segment was so novel that HP had an Internet Product Manager for the 3000 (CSY) division. "We're as disappointed as anyone," Daren Connor said. HP had partnered with a company that decided to drop the product HP had ported to MPE/iX. Open Market left the 3000 with a sour aftertaste to two years of negotiations and engineering. Two years was a long period to fall behind in the Web derby while the Internet bloomed.

HP appears to be as surprised as anyone. CSY's spring promotion directly preceded Open Market's notice to HP that it was dropping the software which HP just placed in customers' hands. While HP is the primary support contact for the product, it relies on Open Market to resolve more complex support issues. CSY also looks to Open Market to engineer enhancements to the product.

There was an open solution waiting for the 3000's Internet dilemma. HP had not pinned its enterprise hopes on web services. Sun was stealing that march, but open source software would arrive to bridge the gap. Apache rode in on the steed of a savvy customer who ported it for free. HP eventually hired Mark Bixby to port the 3000 into a future where it was called the e3000. It just took one more feint at a commercial server that didn't plug into the 3000.

The open-source Apache had open hosting options, however. You could easily install it on a cast-off PC or a low-powered Unix workstation -- computers which didn't hold high-rent corporate data stores like the 3000 did. The 3000 could run Apache, once its port was completed. But HP was believing in other platforms as general purpose tools. As sexy as Internet services looked, by sprucing up the 3000's aging attire, 1997 customers wanted to clothe lesser systems with those togs.

Connor said he has been contacting the customers who have been waiting for the Secure Web Server. He also has an idea that many HP 3000 sites who are serious about using the Web with their 3000s are willing to let the server reside on another platform integrated with the HP 3000. 

"It was pretty clear to me that the majority of folks out there who were doing more than playing around with the Web were heading toward a front-end box being their Web server and incorporating the 3000 as a back-end server database," Connor said.

Open Market was important because it worked in the 3000's Posix namespace -- the most standardized element of a server that was just gaining credibility as an open system.

It felt important during that July to keep any more 3000 computing tasks from eroding into the waves of Windows NT. The 3000 was hosting some websites as a result of a third-party product, QWEBS. That MPE-only software sold for under $500, but its abilities were a subset of a Posix-based server.

QWEBS, built by K-12 app vendor QSS, was the only commercially-supported Web server for HP 3000s. Commercial support became an essential in those early days of Web services. Apache had a great reputation but needed vendors to adopt and adapt it for traditional support levels. One server based on Apache, Stronghold, was carrying then-new SSL security. Alas, Stronghold only ran on Unix.

HP recovered well by the time the '97 HP World conference convened a month later in Chicago. General manager Harry Sterling announced a deal to bring the Netscape FastTrack web server to MPE, sometime in 1998. The vendor demoed FastTrack by summer of '98. But the momentum of serving websites through commodity hosts like PCs was too great to resist. FastTrack never got an MPE foothold either at Netscape or in the 3000's community.

Netscape had a 90 percent share of browsers at the time, but any customers savvy enough to integrate their 3000s closely with web services were choosing Apache/iX, ported by a systems administrator in a California community college enterprise. More than six months before FastTrack was even expected for release, Mark Bixby was rolling out a 1.3 beta version of Apache that ran on all of HP's enterprise platforms. It lacked security features HP promised for FastTrack, however.

HP's job was to add that security. Given one more year, HP would embrace Apache as its official 3000 webserver. The computer had just celebrated its 25th birthday. We wanted HP to "create a resource working for the company that won't decide Web server business isn't lucrative enough. Secure web servers can be important at first, and lucrative later. Excuse-me offers of leveraging other platforms don't help CSY's future -- and it doesn't help CSY's customers much, either."

Bixby became that 3000 resource once he joined the labs in HP's Internet and Interoperability 3000 unit. Bixby built that first Apache on his 3000 because "we had all of our student data on the 3000, and the Internet was getting more popular." To acknowledge and recall a time when the Internet wasn't like electricity in our lives, you'd have to admit the 3000 has been working throughout major changes in computing. Open Market and FastTrack weren't firm enough or fast enough to strike what may have been a good spark for new 3000s -- during an era when HP was genuinely trying to sell them.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:48 AM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 19, 2012

3000 vendor links, many lost in history

Early this year I started to explore the vitality of links on the hp3000links.com website. After four passes through a pop-up list that's larger than a paperback cover, I bring you to the final 15 suggested connections to 3000 vendors. This is a resource that's without an adminstrator for its content, seeking a volunteer or vendor's resource to maintain its links. After more than 100 searches of its biggest list, I have a summary in the wings about this Web resource, launched about 15 years ago.

1997 was a different time for Web interfaces, and so a vast list of vendors appears on a single pop-up click at the site. These final T-Z links run from TAG Business Computing through the Wick Hill Group. There are only three relevant links on that slice of the list by now.

Other reports on the fate of vendors appeared on this blog covering A-G, H-O, and P-S companies. After a recent talk with volunteer Olav Kappert about the project, I figured it was time to wrap up this safari, and sum up. Among this last group, Taurus Software not only remains vibrant and in business, but still sells software for HP 3000s. Its Bridgeware Bundle was launched last summer, a package of hardware and software that moves data between 3000s and other hosts. Both migrators and homesteaders have uses for Bridgeware.

VEsoft still serves over 1,600 HP 3000 sites with its MPEX and Security/3000 and VEAudit/3000 software. VEsoft's never had a robust Web presence, but that hasn't held the company back. "As the vendor of your software we do this unusual thing -- we visit the customer," says founder Vladimir Volokh. The 3000links pointer to VEsoft refers to the phone of Dan Howard, one of the better-known VEsoft distributors.

(To link to a rollicking website which flows from the Volokhs, visit the Volokh Conspiracy: articles and discussions led by Eugene Volokh, his brother Sasha, and a mighty crew of blog contributors. Politics and law rule that roost.)

Hp3000linkstotal 

The last bit of this T-Z vendor list is not totally bereft of value. Need a C compiler for your HP 3000? The Internet Agency still sells the CCS compiler and the Trax debugger. It also offers ADBC and ADBC-UX, "Java-based API's that provide direct real-time access to TurboIMAGE and Eloquence databases from client applications, without the overhead of ODBC."

However, other 3000-free links include:

• Telamon, now pointing at a "technology deployment partner."
• Tidal Software, a job management vendor that now reverts to Cisco’s website
• TJ Systems, which mentions no 3000 or MPE links
• Unison, another job manager vendor which reverts to the Tivoli IBM page
• Wick Hill, a UK firm which still offers consultancy and resells products -- but none mentioned involve MPE/iX.

Finally there's WRQ, which refers to the website of Attachmate, WRQ's owner after a 2005 merger. If you click on products at Attachmate, you can find the Reflection software, Windows-based products that were once the most widely-installed packages for 3000s.

Completely dead links: TAG Software, Telemarshal, URCA Solutions, Vaske Computer Solutions and Whisper Technology. If you're compelled to do searches on these companies, you might as well be using Google to start.

A great deal of time -- indeed, a generation in computing years -- has passed since hp3000links started its good work. By now the pop-ups that it uses are banned by default in the most modern of browsers, Google Chrome. There might be a last-resort mission that would spark using this site, but telling your every desire to Google's search engine looks like a swifter pursuit. There are resources online that will track most of what's related to the 3000 on the Web. More than anything, the current hp3000links.com pop-up (click above graphic for details) is a catalog of what was once vibrant in 3000 vending.

Even up at the quiet and stable OpenMPE website, a list of application vendor contact data was updated in 2011. The OpenMPE link at hp3000links.com is out of date.

If you're scoring at home, that's 15 vendor links this time, with only Taurus, the Internet Agency and WRQ leading to vendors which know the HP 3000. Over our four journeys, more than half of this epitaph of 110 HP 3000 vendor connections leads a browser astray. Back in January, I supposed there was a means to inform or update the site's caretakers about changes -- but a suggestions box on today's site is missing a "submit" button.

In my view, I'll submit that this website has become a history project. Ther site sports still another massive pop-up menu to track documentation and articles, plus one for some software products by name; many point to HP websites no longer in operation. James Byrne, whose server at Harte & Lyne is hosting the site, said that HP3000links.com has a limited lifespan remaining -- the web address has only been renewed through November 1. 

Its pop-up menus are now crammed with blind alleys. The concept of a portal for all things 3000 was once a viable mission. It might remain so, if enough volunteers' help could extract the validated addresses, then concoct a simple, modern interface. Google is not the final answer to this kind of information challenge. But without more help, these link to these links will expire in a little more than 90 days.

The companies and the software and advice which they point to -- about half the time -- have a much longer lifespan. So long as a vendor still speaks MPE, there's some value in tracking them. After all, one of the most prominent links at the site which still operates points at the classic "Why Migrate?" article written by AICS founder Wirt Atmar. Wirt often pointed at less-obvious but logical strategies, such as in his 2002 advisory.

I do not believe that staying on the HP 3000 indefinitely to be a particularly risky strategy. If your code and business procedures work well today, they will work just as well tomorrow, a week from today, or 20 years from now. In great contrast, migration may be the riskiest thing you can do. 

The real trick to operating obsoleted hardware and an OS is to buy multiple spare equipment. This equipment is going to become startlingly cheap in the next few years, so keep your eyes open for it. In your free time, configure these spare systems to be identical to your production boxes.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:58 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (1)

July 12, 2012

Robelle opens demos, expands MPE futures

JumperTen years ago this summer, the 3000 community was riding the angry rapids of change. Bedrock technology for mission-critical systems was being pounded by HP's waves of the future: Business servers on Windows and Unix were moving forward in HP's plans. MPE/iX was not.

In a few months' time, the community would gather in LA and face off with HP for the first time since that announcement. During the weeks leading to that annual HP World conference , some vendors were spreading the word that the 3000's days were not being numbered -- not by HP, at least. Robelle issued a press release that established the company's course for the post-HP era of the 3000. CEO and founder Bob Green set the lifespan of 3000 relevance at "a long time."

I started on the HP 3000 before the first system was shipped from HP, and I plan to be there long after the last 3000 is shipped. The 3000 and the people who know and support it will be around for a long time. Robelle along with other committed friends of the HP 3000 like The 3000 Newswire will continue to act as hubs for 3000 information.

While Robelle has remained steadfast, there's more to the company's mission than protecting 3000 investments by homesteaders. This month, demo copies of SuprtoolOpen -- the cross-platform Suprtool which now runs natively on Red Hat Linux -- are available at Robelle for downloading. The company's also extended its MPE futures with successful testing of Suprtool on the Stromasys HPA/3000 emulator. Development is looking to expand the 3000 lifespan at the same time that it will bridge any migration onto Linux.

Robelle hasn't been shy about telling the community the 3000's life is as long as a customer needs. It was among the first companies anywhere to say they'd be supporting 3000 shops beyond 2015. Those messages started appearing in Robelle's ads and website far back in the previous decade. It might have seemed like bravado at the time.

Needing migration support for Suprtool beyond HP's Unix -- that might have seemed fruitless, too. In the summer of 2002 the proprietary operating systems ruled the enterprise roost: Windows from Microsoft, HP-UX from Hewlett-Packard, AIX from IBM, Solaris from Sun. Linux was an entertaining project of an OS, rather than an enterprise tool. A lot has changed in 10 years time. Now HP's announced a project to put its proprietary Unix features into Red Hat. That's what Project Odyssey amounts to, in a nutshell. In what might take even longer, HP says it's moving HP-UX onto a commodity chip, Intel's Xeon.

Suprtool/Open was a long project for Robelle's Neil Armstrong to undertake. The company followed the needs of its customers in timing the development, testing and full release of its software for data management, extraction and transfer. But Robelle's always taken the long view toward the shortest path to data and migration support. Even in 2002, Green knew the community would be making its moves over a decade and more, slowly and carefully.

Migrate at your own pace… step by step. We all know that the cost to change IT systems is high, especially when switching from a known reliable platform like MPE to a new platform of unknown quality. But these days you do not need everything in your shop on one platform. Suprtool from Robelle is already widely used to help integrate HP systems with Windows, Linux, Sun, and IBM systems by sharing data. One of our customers uses Suprtool to distribute their data from the 3000 to a nationwide network of HP-UX boxes, and then bring new data back to the 3000 for integration.

As for that emulator support, Robelle's moved quickly. Back in January, the company had a release of Suprtool ready for use on the Charon HPA/3000 virtualized 3000 solution. At the same time that this emulator was first emerging from beta testing, Green's team was complimentary of this expansion of 3000 futures.

We have installed and been testing our products and made them available on a test virtual server. So far the test has been relatively issue free. We did bring the system down once with a large and fast read, but Stromasys had the issue fixed over a weekend.

So far the response to issues has been fantastic, and follow up from Stromasys has been very attentive! It is fascinating to know that this all works on an Intel box.

As 2012 began Robelle was both polishing up its first SuprtoolOpen as well as testing and trying out certain functionality on the emulator, "especially those things that drive IO and or memory." That's a demo of another kind. It is proving that its 2002 life-of-the-3000 statement includes both support for migrations (to targets such as Marxmeier's Eloquence database) as well as the technical resources to ride the latest wave of enterprise designs: virtualization.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:00 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 20, 2012

Blogging marks history, reports on legacy

Interex 92 programSeven years ago this week, the 3000 NewsWire's blog opened for business. During that week of June that I consider historic, I reported on the Sun initiative to make its operating system an open source item. Seven years later, Sun's Solaris software (hawked by Oracle and former HP CEO Mark Hurd) is pushing Hewlett-Packard into a no-win situation with HP-UX. (We were also looking at customer uptake on HP-UX as a migration target. Trailing Windows, even then.) Back in 2005, the prospects for Solaris looked like a lipsticked pig, as one recently-fired Oracle executive said of the OS and hardware. Given seven years, pulling Oracle's futures out of HP-UX, OpenVMS and NonStop (via Itanium) will cost HP $4 billion in profits through 2020, according to the HP lawsuit against Oracle.

Seven years ago during that summer, Interex entered its last throes of existence by closing its offices and websites virtually overnight. An organization with three decades of activity and service on the books never created a history of itself. That's an omission that Bill Hassell, the former Interex board member and HP-UX expert, noted for us today. Wikipedia believes the former user group has been only a European-MidEast-African (EMEA) venture.

Looking around the Web one day, I typed in "hp interex" to see what showed up. Wikipedia defines Interex as EMEA-HP. Wow -- 30 years of history undocumented, at least at Wikipedia. Have you got any references and history for Interex? I started attending with the San Jose HP 1000 conference in 1980 or 1981. There’s a lot of misinformation about the beginnings of EMEA.  

I made a comment one time in Wikipedia to clarify a term used in serial port communication, but I got critiqued for not having references ('net or paper) for most of my comment. The HP 3000 and the 1000 seem somewhat well-covered, but the history and legacy of Interex seems lost to the Internet.

Not lost, perhaps. But since there's no Interex archives online, you have to piece together the history of the group from accounts such as ours in the NewsWire -- starting with the '05 meltdown and working backwards. We have stories of the user group on the Internet that date back to 1996. Summertime used to be an important meeting point for your community, thanks to that user group. Its legacy is online, but scattered.

Someone with patience to pursue our archives will find a lot of history across the Internet about Interex. Even farther back in the electronic ether you might locate stories like the one about Hurricane Andrew chasing off much of the Interex '92 attendees in New Orleans -- including CEO Lew Platt. The refugees who held on were treated to a user group party tossed together in the New Orleans Hilton ballroom, where complimentary hurricanes were available for every table of attendee.

Hassell provided the improvised entertainment that I recall, doing a medley of songs to a karoke back-beat, sporting a stunner of an all-white suit. Not only was he the user group's go-to liasion for HP-UX (still being at HP), this volunteer also pitched in during a desperate hour at the year's largest conference. Interex (the show) revenues always paid up the tab for the rest of the user group's operations throughout the year.

That financed things like the Special Interest Groups (SIGs), the area of Interex where the finest advocacy and technical exchange took place at meetings like Interex. In '96 I interviewed Tony Furnivall, who was the then-current chairman of SIG-MPE. The operating system had sprouted its own SIG to put a face on a software environment.

Any group of people who get together with a common interest can legitimately regard that common interest as a special interest, in small letters. So no, I don't think that the presence of SIG-MPE is a sign that MPE needs special advocacy. On the other hand, as the group develops cares and concerns, the SIG becomes a good way of clarifying those issues, and working with HP to resolve them.

Advocacy is an important aspect of the SIG's activities, but it is not the only one! The sharing of information and other experiences is just as important. Human beings are social animals, and it is important not to underestimate the need for simple association with others who share the same interests and problems. Despite the ease with which we can communicate electronically, face-to-face encounters are still important for our human needs.

I like to think that one of the greatest benefits of SIG-MPE involvement is that it humanizes the platform -- we can see the people who create or use the product, and realize that they too are people.

Regional User Groups (RUGs) were more popular with the Interex management and board members, especially leading up to the HP exit announcement from the 3000. This push toward a mirror image of the international group, pared down to regional size, was a step that helped marginalize the user group in my view. People began to embrace ideas and concepts as their common denominator, not the part of a country where they lived. The Internet and the Web changed all that, and while Interex posted a great deal of advice and instruction online, it was wiped out in a single business bankruptcy. We're lucky to have a community left behind like Hassell, who cares and wants to help chronicle the life of Interex.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:00 PM in History, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 04, 2012

Pigs fly in Classic 3000 storage skies

Terry Simpkins was looking for a piece of HP storage history recently. Simpkins once worked for the fabled HP disk division in Boise, Idaho. Now he's managing the IT empire for Measurement Specialties, a manufacturer with more than a dozen HP 3000s churning in China and elsewhere. Simpkins heard a phrase that culled up a memory of a circuit board with an insider's message about accomplishing the impossible with an HP 3000.

A friend made the comment, "when pigs fly" during a discussion and for some reason, this memory popped into my mind. I was at HP's Disc Memory Division in Boise when the HP7933/5 was designed and introduced in the early 1980s.

The story goes (and is attested to by several of my co-workers at the time) that a manager, upon hearing of the plans to make the disc pack removable, proclaimed this plan would work, "When Pigs Fly"! Hence there is etched into one of the PC Boards of the 7933/5 drives a little pig with wings. I've decided that I'd like to have one of these boards to go with some of my other "conversation pieces." I had (and disassembled) several of these drives over the years, and have no idea why I didn't keep one of these boards. But I didn't.

HP 3000 users are a sentimental lot. It wasn't long before Simpkins got what he needed from the community. There's more out there for collectors -- or gad, anyone who's still got a Classic 3000 tucked away in a garage.

Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies in Maryland came through with a 7933/5 drive. "I gave my last 7933 disk to Terry Simpkins of Measurement Specialties last week," Edminster reports. "He drove all the way up here to Frederick from the Hampton/Norfolk area to pick it up."

Technically the 7933 was the 'fixed' pack drive, but you could swap packs by popping the shroud and clicking the chamber release latch with a screw driver, or strong fingers. Don't ask how I know this.

For anyone else that's interested, I'm consolidating my offsite storage (and doing a proper inventory in the process), so if anybody has need for parts/systems from that Classic era, drop me a line.  

I have a number of systems and spare boards for: Micro/XEs, Series 42, and even an old Series 30 with 8-inch floppy and what at least used to be a bootable copy of MPE/V on 8-inch diskettes for it! It took 10 floppies to boot, if I recall correctly. Let me know what you're looking for, and I'll see what I can dig out. Regardless, I can post an inventory of things that are looking for a good home when I'm done sorting it all out.

I gotta move this stuff to make room for some 918s and 989s that I've recently acquired.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:27 AM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 01, 2012

Community volunteers to extend EMPIRE

Empire-players-1963-B-300x241One of the original role-playing games for computers gained a home on the HP 3000 during the era of text-based interactive gaming. Reed College in Portland hosted the first board-game version of Empire (at left), giving the game a Pacific Northwest home that would lead it to the HP 3000. In 1971 Empire first emerged from Unix systems, created by Peter Langsdon at Harvard. It resurfaced under the name Civilization on an HP 2000 minicomputer at Evergreen State College, where an HP 3000 would soon arrive.

Powered-by-e3000When that HP 2000 was retired, the source code to Civilization was lost -- but Ben Norton wrote a new version of the game for MPE, EMPIRE Classic, in 1984. Built in BASIC/3000, EMPIRE became the 3000's best-known game, in part because it was included in the 3000's Contributed Software Library.

EmpireWhile Civilization was having a graphical life on personal computers like the Amiga, EMPIRE on the 3000 is text-only, using prompts and replies designed to build eco­nomic and polit­i­cal entities, with mil­i­tary actions included. That's right, we mean present-day: the game remains in use today, nearly 30 years after it was first launched for MPE. Tracy Johnson, a volunteer with the OpenMPE advocacy group, sent along the story of how EMPIRE has gained a web address -- so now anyone in the world can join a multi-player game.

By Tracy Johnson

For about a dozen years in various incarnations, starting with an old HP 3000 922RX and later on a 957, IT management at my company Meaurement Specialties undertook a small, fun-time project: to enable some of the old Interex Contributed Software Library games written for the HP 3000 to run on the web. Notably, the game of Empire and a few others. The website needed something to hang its hat on, so the name EMPIRE was chosen to encompass everything at the site.

We also got in contact with one of the original contributors of Empire, Ben Norton, who started making enhancements to the game after 20 years.  Another programmer eventually picked up the mantle, and improvements to the game are still being made to this day.

Eventually, someone in upper management asked what our EMPIRE machine was being used for.

So all good things must come to an end, but it was arranged to port the game (and its website) over to the INVENT3K server.  By coming off an old 957 on MPE/iX 6.5 onto INVENT3K's four-processor 969 on MPE/iX 7.5, the move became a positive upgrade.  

The former host machine had no domain name. This made it rather difficult to promote the game, because any time you referenced website in an email -- http:// followed by an IP address -- all the heuristic spam blockers marked it as spam. Now it has a domain name, and you can put empire.openmpe.com into your Reflection, Minisoft, or QCTerm configuration.  Meaning of course I can now reference the website as http://empire.openmpe.com, and not get this the message treated as spam.

Porting the game and website was rather easy. The original site used Orbit+/iX disk to disk backups (courtesy of Orbit), and it was simply FTP'd to the new machine and then restored.  Additional assistance was provided by Keven Miller at 3kRanger to make the website fit in with the regular INVENT3K website. INVENT3K's website now has a button that links to EMPIRE. Both sites are hosted on the same machine where the games are running.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:08 AM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 22, 2012

A 3000 plucked barren of IMAGE never flew

"Options offering a lower-priced version of the Series 920 server, without database software, are available on the July HP price list."

With those words, HP went to war on the wings of a bundled database. IMAGE was not only the heart of the 3000's value. IMAGE had become the rocket fuel of the 3000, a constant in a formula that produced better transaction values than anything offered by Hewlett-Packard. Or elsewhere in the industry.

PluckedBut HP didn't know how to sell it. You can read as much at hpmuseum.net, where a July Channels newsletter about the "confusion" over 3000 pricing was being cleared up. Sort of. "Our objective is to price the HP 3000 systems at a price/performance advantage for transaction processing over our HP 9000 family." Fair enough. But then "We anticipate that much of the confusion regarding price/performance may have been caused by the higher prices of the HP 3000 version of a PA-RISC processor."

Except there was no such version. The same chip was used in both 3000 and 9000 server. HP had just locked the 3000's software to the higher prices. There was a version of prices that was higher, to be sure. So HP looked around for what it could clip from the 3000 value. It tried IMAGE for a month or so, until its partners and customers revolted in public, in the lap of the industry press.

Unbundling databases became the norm for the classic business computing vendors, even through the HP 250 Business minicomputer included a version of IMAGE when HP brought it out in 1979. A good thing, too, for current business computer users who are planning or deploying a move away from the 3000. The HP 250 gave wings to Michael Marxmeier and his Eloquence database, starting in 1987. It's the only drop-in replacement for the 3000's IMAGE, using its TurboIMAGE compatibility mode. Eloquence is also getting a turbocharged full-text search ability this summer. The open beta test program for 8.20 just started; full release is in July.

In a summer more than 20 years ago, one thing that seemed fast to IMAGE users was HP's move to strip it out of the 3000's value. By August of 1990 IMAGE had been part of every HP 3000 sale for 14 years. This was the period that built the MPE application base. Companies invested in applications that used IMAGE underneath, or they bought tools that relied on IMAGE to roll their own apps. Languages like COBOL, Speedware and Powerhouse called IMAGE directly through intrinsics. Or developers used software that improved upon this common coin of a database, such as Suprtool and Adager.

In spite of customer devotion, at the Boston Interex show of 1990 HP felt heat beyond the summertime swelter of New England. Vendors and consultants and members of Special Interest Groups organized passionate meetings at the show around the HP unbundling scheme. They rose up to lash HP in a public forum, complaining bitterly in front of a host of reporters from national IT weeklies like Computerworld and InformationWeek.

HP lost face at the meeting while its top enterprise management tried to defend the business re-arrangement. IMAGE remained an included part of the 3000. A bonus from this revolt -- some called it the Boston Tea Party -- was extra investment in the SQL interface for IMAGE. The database went from being called TurboIMAGE to IMAGE/SQL over the next two years. That SQL capability delivered opportunity for Open DataBase Connectivity middleware between IMAGE and outside tools on desktops and elsewhere. MB Foster's ODBCLink became part of the 3000's bundle in an simplified SE version.

This year Foster is hosting a three-day conference on the newest querying tool for Eloquence. July 25-27 will deliver training for developers and application architects on the latest enhancements for the database that's more than two decades mature and still improving. Even though HP won't be making IMAGE any better, there's 25 years of development on Eloquence so far. Marxmeier has shipped upgrades to Eloquence every year since before HP shuttered its MPE labs. He made a sound case for flying toward technology advances on Linux, Windows and even HP-UX -- the places that Eloquence operates.

Eloquence keeps evolving. Even for 3000 emulator users, there’s a good question to be answered. There might be some workarounds to implement some of the technology changes like PCI and encryption -- but does it make sense? Can you afford to miss all those changes that the outside world might be demanding from your business and your application?

We want to show the value that makes sense for applications. What’s important about this full text indexing in Eloquence 8.20 is that it will look like Google, where you it gets you a million results within a fraction of a millisecond. Eloquence was always designed to support IMAGE applications. Our original customers used IMAGE, too. Eloquence is a second- or third-generation IMAGE, I believe.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:53 PM in History, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 21, 2012

HP runs ahead and behind, then and now

The iconic entity called Interex emerged this month 28 years ago. HP had announced it would catch up to 32-bit computing with Spectrum. And the vendor whose sales still didn't exceed $7 billion said in 1984 that touchscreens were the most intuitive interface. Being ahead and behind all at once is a sign that you're still developing, making leadership while you catch up your customers

RandomAccessInteract84Hewlett-Packard used the 1980s in your community to push out new ideas. Touch-based personal computing hit the market in the HP 150, one of the Series 100 PCs that transformed the International Association of Hewlett-Packard Computer Users. Before HP cast its seeds of PC innovation, Interex didn't exist. In a May column from executive director Bill Crow in InterACT magazine, the user group renamed itself "to define the association's independence" from HP.

Although that user group has been in the grave more than six years, its members' insights haven't evaporated. An era of ink on paper (click above for detail) has preserved milestones like HP running more than 25 years ahead of the industry with touchscreens. It's easy to forget your community was reaching for a breakthrough office experience even while it was dragging along chips devised a decade earlier.

Ed McCracken, a GM of HP's Business Development Group, announced in early '84 the seven basic principles guiding HP's "office automation strategy:

1. The workstation is the most important component, followed by the distributed data processing system (DDS)
2. All workstations will be personal computers
3. The touchscreen is the most intuitive interface
4. Workstations will not tie directly to mainframes but to an intermediate DDS
5. A pragmatic approach to open architecture is required
6. High quality is essential
7. There must be an intuitive integration linking managers' workstations, secretarial workstations, and the other components of the system.

Number 3 is the most striking of the guides offered by McCracken, the man who drove the genius of bundling the rising DDS of the 3000 with a crack database. But in '84 HP was already considering IMAGE a database that needed a successor. The vendor was following in IBM's wake, right down to a new partnership with a small company built by an IBM ex-pat. Interex also recognized that Alfredo Rego -- "the man behind Adager" -- was on par HP's CEO, John Young. Both gave 1984 user conference speeches, but Rego recognized that IMAGE was to remain the force behind the 3000's success.

It wasn't going to come through a new processor family -- although the Spectrum project's 32 bits were critically overdue. Like today, software mattered more than hardware like Itanium. Oracle's database, built upon the same IBM roots, will determine the fate of the last remaining OS that HP ever built with its own R&D. Databases are lynchpins.

HP saw as much when it partnered with Esvel Inc. The firm founded by Kapali Eswaran, one of the founding members of the IBM System R relational DB product, would develop "scalable database architecture for HP." The next product turned out to be Allbase, but HP already wanted a common database among its real-time, scientific (HP-UX) and office systems.

Like then, the vendor's reaching for some commonality with its Itanium futures. Last year Intel was announcing new underwear for the chip the industry forgot, promising that Xeon architecture would share base elements with Itanium. HP wants to have it both ways -- a market in a the commodity space along with the power of software built on proprietary hardware. You've still got that kind of power in your MPE-IMAGE world. Because Oracle's got HP by the scruff of its enterprise neck, the software still calls the plays. But now HP doesn't control the database -- to the point of seeing customers define themselves as Oracle shops. Oracle's not leaving HP computing. It's departing the computing most profitable to HP.

Esvel was the first step that HP took toward embracing an industry standard for its enterprise business. Back in 1984 the little company had already delivered the seeds of DB2 to IBM. HP was chasing Big Blue in every field but instruments back then. The vendor which created the HP 3000 believed in a pragmatic approach to open architecture: standards were less important than reliable value. In less than seven years HP didn't believe that anymore, driving the Open Enterprise with open systems.

Allbase earned a few footholds in the Open Enterprise, but IMAGE ruled the 3000's roost. Just like Oracle does today, HP's database had become the common coin of computers for HP business. You couldn't switch over billions of records without a lot of magic in 1984. Hewlett-Packard had the right idea about touch interfaces, but the wrong technology and message. This May the message is in the hands of the software providers, not the hardware makers. HP used have R&D enough to be both, which is what still makes the 3000 value durable beyond all accepted wisdom. 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:45 AM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 09, 2012

Which bits produce the 3000's stall in 2028?

Vw-egoUpdate: We advise you to read our following day's report about HPCALENDAR and the CALENDAR intrinsic, for a complete view of the future viability of MPE. Also, the first entry in this series, including advice on what to expect from a 3000 running during 2028.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, we will return to the 3000's roadblock in 2028 one last time. We can wrap up our CALENDAR intrinsic discussion with an explanation of the reason for its hold on the 3000's far future. But it might be useful to consider that 2028 is not so far away that engineers aren't already conceiving its technology. When you merge VW and 2028, you can get an image like the one above.

Before the future, though, there's always history. When MPE was created in 1970, it started as a project called Omega. The miracle of this engineering was its use of 32-bit computing, still a novelty at the time. But when HP canceled Omega in favor of a 16-bit 3000 -- a management choice that prompted black armbands among HP staff -- it sealed the server into a 57-year period of service.

That's because, we were reminded by MPEX co-creator Vladimir Volokh, 16-bit 3000s left only enough intrinsic room for 127 years of accurate dates. The intrinsic CALENDAR, written for the eldest MPE Segmented Library (SL), uses only 7 bits to describe which year is in effect. That delivers a maximum number of 127 years which you can express, and MPE was built with 1900 as its base for dates.

From HP's Intrinsics Manual:

CALENDAR
date

16-bit unsigned integer
(assigned functional return)
Returns the calendar date in the following format:
Bits Value/Meaning
7:9
Day of year
0:7
Year since 1900

HP only allotted 7 bits to describe the year for MPE. Who'd expect that the OS would have a lifespan of more than 50 years? Someone who figured newer and better tools would take over by then. It's commonplace to believe in the equivalent of flying cars -- Volkswagen's 2028 model concepts (shown above) are online in the company's German video and Flash site. Maybe cars will fly in some places, maybe not in others. Oh, for one extra bit. But HP ordered 16 extra, just too late to influence the heart of MPE.

Working in the realm of the original 16-bit MPE intrinsics, "You cannot make less than 9 bits for the date of the year," Vladimir said. "That would be less than 365 days. So that leaves us 7 bits to express the year."

The vintage-'90s HPCALENDAR, reaching into the new elbow room of 32 bits, can use as many as 23 bits for the year. That intrinsic will cover 8 million years, even more. HPCALENDAR is available in Native Mode MPE, and it remains the best choice for any new work done on a 3000's applications.

But MPE's existing intrinsics provide the barrier here: the oldest are in Segmented Library (SL) -- and the newer HPCALENDAR is in Native Library (NL). And the only companies with any chance of adjusting the 3000's dates into 2028 and beyond are those which have insight into MPE/iX source. Then there's knowing what to do with it. They must get into the MPE source and recompile it to use HPCALENDAR.

For complete reference, here's the manual page for HPCALENDAR:

NM callable only.

This intrinsic returns the date in the supported
date type code 4 listed in the table, 
“Supported Date Formats.”
Syntax

I32

   date := HPCALENDAR;

Operation Notes

Where date is the 32-bit unsigned integer
(assigned functional return). This returns the
calendar date in the following format:

Bits Value/Meaning

23:9 Day of year

0:23 Year since 1900

Dates don't vex MPEX, Vladimir reminded us. It can do operations with DATE. "If you have MPEX, and who doesn’t," he says, "DATETOCALENDAR is a function in MPEX."

Vladimir also talks, on his return from consulting trips to 3000 sites, about the level of 3000 knowledge he sees in even long-time users. Management relies on the HP guys to tell them what’s up, and the HP guys don’t know.

"There are all kinds of excuses not to know what you’re doing," he says. He tells of his philosophy about learning. You draw a circle to represent what you know. "Inside the circle is what you know, outside is what you don’t know. You go along the circumference. Only by going along there can you see what you don’t know. So you learn, and you draw a bigger circle, a bigger circumference. The more you know, the more you know what you don’t know."

In converse, consider the smallest circle of knowledge, just a point. Vladimir adds, "When you know nothing, you think you know everything."

No one knows who will be working in the years near 2028 on HP 3000s. But in an era where Amiga computer games can be played on iPhones -- and companies now earn money for such a creation -- it's easy to say we don't know who will break this 2028 barrier. And they might be driving a car called a Volkswagen, and using a computer called the 3000, and neither will resemble what we know today, more than 15 years away.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:16 PM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 08, 2012

Taking the Console at Your History

In a community that spans decades of IT, history is around every corner of memory and experience. This year the HP 3000 marks its 40th birthday, a milestone that prompts examination and recollection in everyone. (Not to mention an HP 3000 biography I am working on. Your stories are most welcome.) A veteran of the system is offering parts of that history, as well as a small monument to a simpler time for this computer.

S III Console-webDave Wiseman has a few HP 3000 items he wants to donate to a good home, including a Series III console. The hardware at right (click for detail) drove the CPU cycles that were first establishing the 3000 as a business-critical platform. Being a Series III, it harkens back to the times when third-party software of any sort was a novelty, plus the need to understand the iron underneath at a level which younger IT pros can only imagine -- when they take the time to do so.

Wiseman splashed into my notice at a user group conference in the early '90s in Nashville, where he toted around an inflatable alligator as an icebreaker stunt. Awhile later he helped to found the ScreenJet experience with his partner Alan Yeo. By now he's moved on to other technical and sales work, but he owns a serious collection of these markers of 3000 history. In a storage closet here in my office, hung over a clothes rod, rest a handsome set of HP-branded ties he shipped me five years ago. Some of us wore such things with pride at these conferences. Wiseman would like to ship you his historic console for a tiny fraction of the hardware's original cost.

"Do you know who might be interested in these?" he asks. "I want don't want money for the items – just shipping costs."

SIIIMemorabilia-webThe full array of the memorabilia above includes multiple editions of the VEsoft Thoughts and Discourses on HP 3000 Software, which include papers by Robelle's Bob Green -- plus Robelle's own HP 3000 Evolution, collecting other papers and some NewsWire articles. Even more fun is the DVD of Chris Gauthier's Growing Up with the HP 3000 short film, the Seldom Met User Group (SMUG) guidebooks, and some of those HP-branded giveaways we knew from the era when alligators followed software vendors.

Wiseman will ship it all for $40 to the US or France, or 25 Euros. "The console has protective plastic still on it," he says, "so this is new, unused item! I have a second console -- and I intend to wire it up by my bed so I can press 0003006 and then Start/Enable, to boot myself in the mornings!"

You can contact Wiseman to get your history at [email protected].

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:49 AM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 30, 2012

3000's use in 2028: bug, or feature?

The CALENDAR intrinsic that blocks HP 3000 use in 2028 has been described as a bug. On the first day of that year, dates will not be represented accurately. Some in your community consider that New Year's Day, less than 16 years from now, as the 3000's final barrier. But it depends on how you look at it -- as a veteran, or a voyager.

VladimirNov2010A voyager sees CALENDAR as a deadline for departure. This is a part of MPE that was designed in the 1970s, a period when HP had just scrapped a 32-bit release of the 3000's first OS. And just like the Y2K date design, HP engineers never figured their server's OS had any shot of working by the 21st Century -- let alone 2027. But VEsoft's Vladimir Volokh says, "It's difficult to predict anything, especially the future." An IT pro who's planning to depart the 3000 believes CALENDAR is a bug, but that's not how Vladimir sees it.

"This is not a bug, really," he said. "It's a limitation. The end of 2027 date was as far away as infinity when MPE was created." This is a man who defines the term veteran, the kind of professionals who had to work inside 4K memory spaces to build 3000 programs. Limited and expensive resources like memory and disc were supposed to be extended with newer computers. "Every analyst told us a computer would live five years, at most," Vladimir said.

But as a veteran, you've now come to see the day when MPE's lifespan is reaching eight times that prediction. The veteran who chooses to see CALENDAR as a limitation can refer to HP's own lab response. Engineers during the '90s built HPCALENDAR to start extending the 3000's date limits.

The HP 3000's date intrinsics will outlast those in Unix, so long as a program uses HPCALENDAR. HP advised its 3000 customers in 2008 to begin using it on HP 3000s. HPCALENDAR harks back to version 5.5 of MPE/iX. Its power lies in the 3000 for use by programmers who want accurate dates beyond 2038 (the limit in Unix) for application files.

Lifting the limits in application date handling -- that's one level of engineering skill. Extending the operating system limits beyond the 16-bit CALENDAR is a task with a greater challenge. It doesn't mean that it cannot be done. What matters is how healthy the 3000's best experts will be in 10 years or so. Vladimir says he'll be younger than 90 by then. Almost everyone in today's community will be even younger. And isn't 70 the new 60? It will matter when the 3000 needs the last set of bits to move from 16 to 32.

There's a old joke about software shortcomings being called features, rather than a bugs. Veterans learn to call them limitations and look for ways to overcome these aging designs. Everything is aging, even something as omnipresent at Windows XP. (Microsoft wants to end the life of that OS, used on more than 90 million computers, by 2014. Good luck with that.) XP is dying, the 3000 is dying. Well yes, says Vladimir. He tells his hundreds of customers who he visits, "We are all dying. But slowly."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 12:59 PM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 26, 2012

IBM's experiment begat 3000's first SQL stab

A reader asked, after enjoying our summary of the 3000's 1984 springtime, whether the computer's Allbase database really arrived off another's vendor's lab shelf. The database never caught on, although HP sold it right up to the final month of 2009 you could order MPE software from HP. Some of the reason that SQL indexing instead took root via IMAGE might be the pedigree of Allbase. IBM built its bones in the same year that the 3000 became a computer that could be used -- instead of one to be returned and rebuilt.

Allbase started its life as RSS, a derivative of IBM's experimental System R. The System R experiment was launched in IBM's San Jose Research Lab the same year as the 3000's successful general release, 1974. System R begat SQL, influenced by E.F. Codd's 1970 ACM paper on relational models. (Click on the System R summary below for details.)

System R reportSystem R began its life as a database system built as a research project. "System R was a seminal project," says the article on Wikipedia. "It was a precursor of SQL. It was also the first system to demonstrate that a relational database management system could provide good transaction processing performance. Design decisions in System R, as well as some fundamental algorithm choices (such as the dynamic programming algorithm used in query optimization), influenced many later relational systems."

Allbase got its chance on the 3000's iron because another internal project was hitting the skids inside HP's software labs. The HPIMAGE project, the first relational database for MPE, was being built to run on the 3000's new RISC hardware as part of the Spectrum project announced in '84. Over at Allegro, Stan Sieler says that co-founder Steve Cooper "recalls HPIMAGE being an unreleased Pascal-based, not-quite-compatible verison of IMAGE for MPE XL ... one that was unreleased because it wasn't compatible enough."

And HPIMAGE never could match the speed of IMAGE/3000 or its successor TurboIMAGE. Bob Green of Robelle remembers HPIMAGE as software that, like the original 3000s, didn't survive in alpha field testing. The Spectrum project included software -- because the 3000's genuine engine was its database, tightly tied to the environment.
The new relational HPIMAGE database was cancelled much later in the project, after a brief encounter with end-users. I don't remember much about HPIMAGE, except that a lot of work went into it and it didn't succeed as hoped. TurboIMAGE ended up as the database of choice on the Spectrum [3000s].

However, HP still had customers who wanted relational indexes for their 3000 data -- and the fast-indexing Omnidex was not going to sell at those customers, because it didn't have the HP brand on it. Enter Allbase -- a database that HP first rolled out to Unix sites -- but caught on at just a few 3000 sites.

These middle '80s were days of debate about database structures. Alfredo Rego spoke at a 1985 user conference about the advantages in performance that IMAGE enjoyed over SQL architectures. Ten years later the veterans of IBM held a symposium to commemorate System R. They claimed Allbase as one of their own.

At a 1995 SQL Reunion: People, Projects, and Politics, Donald Slutz laid bare the bones of Allbase.

I originally thought that this twentieth anniversary [event] should be the twentieth anniversary of some particular event that occurred on some day. The day I was going to pick was the day that the project got named System R. It was full-fledged by then; then this chart that I had up here existed. Once there was a System R, all these names fell out: RDS, RSS.

Eventually, the RSS part of it, we delivered that on VM in nine months, starting with an empty office in Campbell. And then there was an MVS version a few months later.

Roger Bamford: You mean the RSS equivalent.

Slutz: Right.

C. Mohan: That HP bought, right?

Slutz: HP bought that, and that became ALLBASE. So we made a contract with HP in early 1984, and then things changed a lot and a number of us left -- six or so, and then another seven or eight -- and HP picked it up with ALLBASE.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:36 PM in History | Permalink | Comments (1)

April 24, 2012

Writing Down a Life with the HP 3000

I'm celebrating my birthday today, marking how many of my 55 years have included the HP 3000. More than half my life has been devoted to telling stories about this server, but it's a period only two thirds the size of the computer's lifespan. I'm lucky to be living in the 3000's era, and I use the present tense of "to live" to indicate a life with a future.

SavethePoppies28 years ago today I was polishing up a feature story about saving the red poppies in Georgetown, Texas for the Williamson County Sun. It was a spirited plea to extend the life of something beautiful. I covered the schools, the festivals, the joyous idle time of life in a small town of 4,500 in 1984. It was work from the first half of my life that prepared me for the next half. You might be feeling the same way, like Craig Proctor bringing his programmer-analyst experience to the next phase of his career, beyond the HP 3000.

In April of 1984 your community was awaiting the future eagerly after a reset. The year's Interex conference had just wrapped up a few weeks earlier, a meeting where HP announced that it was scapping the Vision project to modernize the HP 3000 -- a computer just 10 years old at the time. Vision was HP's plan to turn a 16-bit environment into the 32-bit richness already on offer from Digital and IBM. HP was supposed to deliver a new IMAGE database as part of the program, something based on the ascent of SQL. In a few years HP  brought SQL into the 3000 community with Allbase, a product purchased from a third party. Allbase stuck with customers like crushed poppy leaves in the wind.

HP's work during 1984 started the march to RISC computing, the architecture that lives on beyond the iron in the HPA/3000 emulator from Stromasys. Everything we do in life prepares us in some way for what follows, if we connect the dots. I'm about to start a project to help celebrate the dots of the 3000's life. A biography of the HP 3000 is on my menu for this fall, the 40th anniversary of HP's 3000 rollout. I want your stories to spark the 3000's history, so we can see where our lives are leading us.

At the Sun I polished my skills of community reporting, the ones that would serve me while I chronicled the 3000's community lifestyle. I'd already written government news, sports and arts coverage for five communities at another newspaper, plus editorials and obituaries at still another. The Sun's newsroom crackled with the thunder of a half-dozen IBM Selectrics on deadline, reporters sculpting stories by hammering at keyboards to drive the type-balls across rolled paper.

Schools generated some of the most profound passion among 12,000 homes where we were delivered twice a week. The work in education represented the future, hope, and sometimes anger over short-sighted plans and misspent money. It was good practice for the passion of the 3000 community, already full of personalities and problems with meeting the future.

This book that will tell your HP 3000's past includes a future, too. Shaped by the spirit that will fill its early pages, we'll look forward at the Life Beyond the Iron: a virtualized 3000 that will be running after MPE's 55th birthday. At that point at the end of 2027, the CALENDAR bug will arrive like Y2K hit the community. There will be a solution available to keep the 3000 alive. VEsoft's Vladimir Volokh says, "I will only be 90, so I will create one by then." We're all defying age while we expire, adding chapters to our biographies. In the Spring of 1984 your community was eager for Spectrum, the Book Two of the 3000's life. I am eager to hear your stories and gather pictures, too. Together we can polish a vision of the years to come.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:58 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 13, 2012

HP's 3000 managers, generally, find futures beyond the designs of HP

Prather cease to beI had an afternoon this week that felt like a ride in a time machine. I was turning the pages of a glossy user group magazine, devoted to HP server products. The HP 3000 was even mentioned in its opening pages. And there on an introductory page, right after an HP print ad, was an HP general manager who was bidding his customers farewell, moving out of a division.

But I only had to blink to notice the differences. The magazine was The Connection, 36 pages plus its covers devoted to the world of NonStop servers, the ones you might know as Tandems. The print ad was not devoted to HP iron, but to time software for the NonStop's OS. And that general manager, you may have guessed, was Winston Prather, saying farewell to another of his server customer bases.

Six men have been general managers of HP's 3000 business since the middle 1980s, but Prather is the only one who's remained at HP. Some of the rest have retired to private practices (Rich Sevcik, now an ardent evangelist in the classic sense of that word; Harry Sterling, enjoying a life in real estate) or have simply left HP for the next chapter of their business lives. Dave Wilde, the last fellow to hold the job, even was welcomed at last fall's HP 3000 Reunion. That was a conference which another of the ex-GMs expressed an interest in and best wishes toward: Glenn Osaka left HP before Prather even took his job, and is now working at Juniper Networks.

Networks hold the next opportunity for Prather, an executive best known for the "it was my decision" to end the 3000's futures at HP. This time he's left the NonStop group in the hands of an engineer who's tackling his first GM job at HP. That's the exact position Prather assumed in 1999 -- before he and others at the vendor gave your storied server the paddling it never deserved.

In his farewell Connection column where he passed on leadership of another Business Critical Systems unit, this one to Ric Lewis, Prather bubbled with familiar platform enthusiasm as he headed back to engineering management. With "mixed feelings" he wrote about enjoying his days in the NonStop family.

As NonStop customers and partners, you know that NonStop has been providing unique value for over 35 years. The products have evolved to keep up with the times: modern hardware, open standards and development environments. As I move on to the next stage of my career, let me leave you with a few thoughts. NonStop is truly a special business. You can see it in the products. You can see it in the dedication of the employees. And mostly you can see it in the statements that you, our customers and partners, make about how you depend on NonStop.

Prather FarewellThe customers' dependence on an HP product was not an element in his 3000 decision -- unless he was counting the number of customers. Prather, unlike the community's most-admired 3000 GM Sterling, is moving out of general manager work into HP's Networking unit, one of the few places where HP's still showing profitability growth. He's now Global VP of Engineering there, a management assignment not entirely unlike the R&D Manager job that he toiled at under Sterling in the 3000 division.

Olivier Helleboid, the GM who helmed the 3000 group as we started the 3000 NewsWire, has gone on to become VP of Product Management at Intuit. His encouragement gave us the green light to launch the publication. Sure, that era of mid-90s -- and even before, in the simplicity of the '80s -- might be adequately summed up in the language Prather chose while leaving yet another HP server group. This latest one, he says, can outlive his tenure because it has modern hardware, open standards and development environments. With the notable exception of living beyond his career aspirations, that all sounds familiar.

When Prather cut off the 3000, its PA-RISC hardware -- when unhobbled by management's OS decisions -- was as fast as any other server HP sold; Itanium didn't even have a worthy system to ship. The 3000 was struggling toward adopting modern backplane tech, projects that languished as Prather led the 3000 lab. Y2K was too much stress for those labs, and the new PCI-based servers were as seriously late as the first PA-RISC 3000s were in the '80s. Very little sold as new systems in the years around Y2K. Sales were stymied by the "its coming soon" drumbeats about the N and A Classes. Back in the '80s on the cusp of new RISC tech, the 3000 had management champions to pull the engineering oxcart out of the ditch. No champions could be found at the very end of the '90s. Marching in place with his proscribed headcount was Prather's path into a declining future.

It was his future vision that killed HP's business. In those days MPE, which had been turned toward its Unix features under Osaka's watch, had the same then-current calibre of open standards that NonStop enjoys today. As a GM Prather's predecessor Sterling made sure the division was devoted to the Internet; it captured its first set of open source tools. Development of partner apps had drawn to a standstill after one year of Prather's decisions, something that was due to marketing responses, product delivery and commodity competition. At that point Prather told us that as a GM it wasn't his job to sell 3000s -- just to deliver the right server to the customer from HP's many choices. Later that year he ended HP's 3000 life.

Now that HP is losing ground in such unique server markets, the GM who tolled HP's death knell for its 3000 unit has moved into a commodity unit, Networking. He's rid of the decisions about what to build next, because a higher level of manager will approve the calls that were his to make for the 3000 business. Being tied to a proprietary environment business is becoming a burden for career growth, where execs are measured by revenue increases and rising partner counts. Prather has gotten himself paroled from HP's proprietary jail.

It took a 3000 manager to sum up the last five years of Prather's career, a summary that invoked HP 3000 work on Prather's watch. Connect President Steve Davidek, who we interviewed in a 2010 Q&A, thanks "Winston for his support while at the NonStop Enterprise Division." Davidek said the move "is great news for Winston."

I first met Winston while I was giving the World Wide Advocacy Survey results to HP. Winston was still managing the HP 3000 division at the time. The survey results showed HP that, again, they loved their 3000s but the HP contracts were still a pain.

There was a lot more HP pain to come for Prather's customers and partners. He drank deep from HP's proposals for Unix, predicting at an Interex meeting in February, 2002 that more than 80 percent of the customers would be migrated within a few years. Instead, HP lost two of every three departing customers to other vendors. But HP had an enterprise unit to streamline after buying up Compaq's DEC business. Prather got his bosses to approve the elimination of a unit that was shipping current technology, bearing standards support and boasting a partner network more than 30 years old.

Those components are not enough to survive in HP when your leadership dedicated to the vendor, rather than the customer. Five other men found a circuit beyond HP's changing ways. It's telling to see that only Prather stays plugged in today.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:19 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 02, 2012

OpenMPE still open for some downloading

April is the time of year when a new OpenMPE board of directors was being seated, at least from 2002 to 2009. The count of volunteers listed as board members stands at three as of today. Birket Foster, Tony Tibbenham and Alan Tibbetts make up the tightest group in the 10 years that OpenMPE has been at work. This month marks the end of the second year of stasis for a volunteer group that's still serving up bits which are relevant to homesteading HP 3000 users.

The chairman Foster told us that there's still work to do on licenses for any software which will operate under the Stromasys HPA/3000 emulator. "We ran that emulator project in conjunction with HP," he said in February. Hewlett-Packard came up with the only paid-license project for an enterprise OS running on an emulator, sparked by board direction from OpenMPE. With that HPA/3000 now being shown off in sales calls this spring, it's easy to forget the whole concept wouldn't have existed without an OS license for an emulator.

There's still an Invent3K public access development server online, thanks to the volunteer efforts of the group, as well as supporters like the Support Group Inc. There are proceedings available on that server which contain papers that could help train a replacement generation of managers at homestead sites.

On more everyday matters, the OpenMPE website still hosts some code and scripts useful to a 3000 manager. Scripts by the ever-helpful ex-CSY guru Jeff Vance, Donna Hoffmeister, and others are online today. It's part of the Jazz project on OpenMPE, but the open source dreams of the group are being realized in another web outpost.

OpenMPE began as a push to get the source code for the operating system deeded to the customers who'd be using the 3000 for an unlimited future. Over a five-year period, OpenMPE began to turn toward sparking an emulator with licensing and policy requests to HP. Hewlett-Packard never got the open source religion for MPE, but over at the MPE-OpenSource.org site, software that can help is available for downloads, too.

Brian Edminster, who stocks and curates that website, sees a connection between the emulator and the needs of a 3000 community which is making a transition. Even 3000 sites which have definite plans to migrate could find an role for the emulator to play.

"For migrations that are really replacements rather than just re-hosting," Edminster said, "it could well be a lot cheaper to keep a emulated instance of the application at time of conversion -- rather than try to mothball a server, and hope it'll come up okay later."

 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:36 PM in History, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 30, 2012

Ordering a Hamburger, HP-Style

BurgerThis Friday might be a day of heavy lifting for your IT department, with it being the final week of March as well as the end of the first quarter. Even though that HP 3000 will be running reports, it's good to have some oversight ready. You might be eating lunch at your desk -- or supper, if anything needs attention. Maybe something as simple as a hamburger.

But a classic style to HP hamburger ordering -- one that might be as old as the eldest 3000 in your shop -- could leave you dizzy. Not long ago, your community shared this gem. One manager said "I remember telling my HP Sales rep that you needed a PhD to read the configuration manual. The sales rep took the manual from my hand to explain to me how wrong I was. After a 30-minute tutorial, the rep decided it was best if he could call me from his office with the answer."

On a day when you might need a smile from satire, the Hamburger Guide follows after the jump. As the late, great Warren Zevon advised, "Enjoy every sandwich."

By Stephen Harrison and Noel Magee

This is the story of a different kind. No melting CPUs, no screaming disc drives, just the kind of psychological torture that scars a man for life.

I had a nine o'clock meeting with my sales rep. I needed to buy an entire Series 70, the works. He said it'd take about an hour. Three hours later, we'd barely got the datacomm hardware down on paper, so he invited me downstairs for lunch.

This was my first experience in an HP cafeteria. Above the service counter was a menu which began

MMU's (Main Menu Units)
0001A Burger. Includes sesame-seed bun.
Must order condiments 00110A separately.
001 Deletes seeds.
002 Expands burger to two patties.
00020A Double Cheeseburger, preconfigured.
Includes cheese, bun condiments.
001 Add-on bacon.
002 Delete second patty.
003 Replaces second patty with extra cheese.
00021A Burger Upgrade to Double Cheeseburger.
001 From Single Burger.
002 From Double Burger.
003 Return credit for bun.
00220A Burger Bundle.
Includes 00010A, 00210A and 00310A.
001 Substitute root beer 00311A for cola 00310A.

 My eyes glazed over. I asked for a burger and a root beer. The waitress looked at me like I was an alien.

"How would you like to order that, sir?"

"Quickly, if possible. Can't I just order a sandwich and a drink?"

"No, Sir. All our service is menu driven. Now what would you like?" I scanned the menu.

"How big is the 00010 burger?"

"The patty is rated at eight bites."

"Well, how about the rest of it?"

"I don't have the specs on that, Sir, but I think it's a bit more."

"Eight bites is too small. Give me the Double Burger Upgrade."

My sales rep interrupted. "No, you want the Single Burger option 002 'expands burger to two patties.' The Double Burger Upgrade would give you two burgers."

"But you could get return credit on the extra bun," the waitress chimed in, trying to be helpful, "although it isn't documented."

I looked around to see if anybody was staring at me. There was a couple in line behind us. I recognized one of them, a guy who nearly mowed me down in the parking lot with his cherry-red '62 Vette. He was talking to some woman who was waving her arms around and looking very excited.

"What if... we marketed the bacon cheeseburger with the vegetable option and without the burger and cheese? It'd be a BLT!"

The woman charged off in the direction of the telephone, running steeplechases over tables and chairs. My waitress tried to get my attention again. "Have you decided, sir?"

"Yeah, give me the Double Burger--excuse me, I mean the 00020A with the option 001. I want everything on it." She put me down for the Condiment Expansion Kit, which included mayonnaise, mustard and pickles with an option to substitute relish.

"Ketchup?" I hated to ask. "I want ketchup on that, too." "That's not a condiment, Sir, it's a Tomato Product." My sales rep butted in again. "That's not a supported configuration." "What now?" I kept my voice steady. "Too juicy. The bun can't handle it." "Look. Forget the ketchup, just put some lettuce and tomatoes on it."

The waitress backed away from the counter. "I'm sorry, sir, but that's not supported either. The bun can take it but the burger won't fit in the box." The sales rep defended himself. "Just not at first release." "It is being beta-tested, sir," added the waitress.

I checked the overhead screen. Fries, number 000210A, option 110. French followed by option 120, English. "What the hell are English Fries?" I turned to the sales rep. "Chips they call them. We sell a lot of them."

I gave up. "OK, OK just give me a plain vanilla Burger Bundle." This confused the waitress profoundly. "Sir, Vanilla as an option is configured only for series 00450 Milkshakes." My sales rep chuckled. "No, Ma'am, he just wants a standard 00220A off the shelf." I wondered how long it had been on the shelf. I didn't ask.

"Very good, sir." The waitress breathed a sigh of relief. "Your meal is now on order. Now how would you like it supported?" "Supported?" She directed me to the green shaded area at the bottom of the menu, and I began a litany with my sales rep that I'll never forget.

"Implementation assistance?"

"You get a waiter."

"Implementation analysis?"

"You tell him how hungry you are and he tells you what to eat."

"Response Center Support?"

"He brings it to your table."

"Extended materials?"

"You get refills."

I shoved some money at the waitress and told her to take it. She gave me my check on three sheets of green-bar paper. I studied it on my way to the table, and decided it'd pass as an emergency napkin.

Table? My sales rep had been bright enough to order us a table. He hadn't been bright enough to check on a delivery date. The table waiter, slouching in his corner surveyed the crowded room, looked at me and said, "Two weeks. But I can get you a standalone chair by the window right away."

I handed him the tray. A woman rushed up to me with two small cups of chili and sauerkraut for the hot dog somebody else had ordered. The room began to grow dim, my eyesight faded....

I woke up clutching the water-glass at my bedside table. It was 5 a.m., four hours till my meeting with HP. I had had a vision; I did what it told me to do. I dialed my office, and I called in sick.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:49 AM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 14, 2012

Marking History with a Link to 3000 Futures

BirketReunionOn the 35th anniversary of MB Foster’s entry to your market this spring, we wanted to ask its founder Birket Foster about how your group grew experience and connections. The old warning that braced conversations in the 1970s was “don't trust anyone over 30.” It's probably flipped over for the advice to 3000 customers today, since the over-30s have the best set of resources and reminders of how to move into a confident future. Much of his research is gathered in classic style, in person, wearing conference badges like the one shown at right.

Foster's MB Foster Associates was one of the first to deliver an alternative information stream for 3000 solutions, creating a catalog of MPE applications and tools. That one was a good enough idea to prompt HP to copy the catalog concept in those days when a thick book of HP and third-party apps was part of a 3000 manager's toolset. Foster moved right on to the next solution, whether it was selling millions of dollars of 3000 connectivity software, or building an ODBC engine robust enough for HP to ship inside MPE/iX, or becoming one of the first Migration partners after HP made its 2001 exit announcement. Lately the company has added a Windows scheduler and even more database access through its UDA Link lineup.

How did you enter this community back in those very different days of 1977?

    I'm just out of undergraduate school and I'm in charge of getting the next computing jobs for a team of us. I decide I'm should start a company to do this, so I talk to my law professor and he says he could give me part of my grade for my second year law class for just opening a company. I took the theory and turned it into practice. At the time I'd taken income tax law. I could deduct the $400 worth of textbooks and reference books I'd purchased to build a random number generator that would support benchmarking software -- written in COBOL and platform-neutral -- we were building.

Platform-neutral suggests a lot of server vendors, right?

    In addition to HP, I'd worked on Burroughs, IBM, DEC and even a Xerox Sigma system. So I'd written things in FORTRAN, BASIC, assembler and COBOL. When people would put a problem in front of me, I had to pull a team together to solve it. In the 1977 ecosystem there were a lot of different languages available. Every manufacturer had its own proprietary stuff. I had an assignment to train government DP staff to use terminals instead of punching card decks.

    Terminals were just terminals, grey screens. Lots of line printers around. I liked terminals with big memories, so you could actually scroll back a lot of pages. At that time the default terminal memory had two pages in it. Disk space was really expensive then: 120MB was $60,000.

    People had service bureaus. I worked with one for one of my customers. The reason we were there was because the 3000 was so expensive. Now the reason people are looking at cloud, the new service bureaus, is because the people are so expensive.

PCs were not an accepted part of business server strategy when you started. How did you get in on the start of that?

Print-ExclusiveWe've been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time a number of times over 35 years. We were helping customers out with some pretty big problems, like integrating PCs with their 3000s. We sold millions of dollars of WRQ's Reflection that way. This helped automate processes that went between the 3000 and the desktops. That led to us working with David Dummer, using his DataExpress, to move that product into working on spreadsheet formats. We sold DataExpress starting in 1985, and by 1989 we made him an offer and ended up owning the product, with David working on it from an office in Seattle. DataExpress gave us worldwide customers, which was another thing we'd been working on.

At least once a year you travel to Texas to visit customers and colleagues. What's that about, since MB Foster's Southern Ontario HQ is so far away?

    When I started in this market it was before the Internet. You couldn't look anything up. You had to know somebody, get ahold of them and find out what they were doing. I had a huge advantage because I traveled a lot starting in 1979. I got exposed to the Quiz report writer in the earliest days, before it became Quiz. I sold [Cognos'] Quiz before Quick and QTP existed. I got to see people all over my district of Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma and New Mexico. I met people as a result of coming out to speak at regional users groups. People didn't feel the need to call each other. They just got together once a month to talk about a topic. I did the initial deal for [MANMAN creators] ASK Computing. As a result of that, at one point 25 percent of all HP 3000s were using Quiz as a report writer.

But those reports remained on the HP 3000. How did they make the transition to being PC tools accessed easily by end users?

    We did some work inside the 3000 to do what we were calling Host Initiated File Transfer. We worked with Doug Walker of WRQ to have the PCs put themselves in receive mode to get handed a file, mostly spreadsheets at the time. We'd figured out how to download things to PCs by 1989, so I was teaching classes in Reflection. We were helping people put PCs on a desk instead of a terminal.

    As more PCs showed up, people wanted these 3000 numbers in a spreadsheet so the finance people could look up stuff. Although DataExpress ended up with 33 formats it supported for data extraction, in the beginning it was things like Lotus 1-2-3, VisiCalc and Word Perfect mail-merge files. Now that the product is UDA Link, we've just added MySQL, Postgres, Cache, Ingres and Progress databases, plus those already supported.

How about the MB Foster database work with HP on IMAGE?

    We got a contract with HP from 1996-2006 to supply the ODBC middleware for IMAGE/SQL, included software people remember as ODBCLink/SE. It was supposed to be called ODBCLink Jr. but somebody in HP marketing decided that wasn't a good idea, so they changed it to Special Edition.

    In 1999 we got involved in a project for a Large Midwestern-Based Insurance Company. Our job was to connect 80 HP 3000s with 8,000 Windows servers. We had to write code called XA Compliant Two-Phase commit to do this. It gave us a lot of experience in cross-database access and understanding deeply how SQL Server worked. We could melt down Microsoft's OS before our middleware driver would fail. It gave us experience in cross-platform databases, the next stage in the 3000's life.

And that would be HP's plans to exit this 3000 market?

    HP announced in 2001 that the 3000 would fade to black in a mere five years. Ha-ha-ha. It made it to 2010 before it went away at HP.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:38 AM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 05, 2012

Telnet opens 3000s with a key cut long ago

Print-ExclusiveEngineering from the past permits us to take the future for granted. In your community the connections between past and present run strong, ties which are now lashed tight by the links of the Web. Programming from long ago stands a chance of tying tomorrow’s computers with the 3000s put into service on a distant yesterday. This technology lay under-appreciated for years — which makes it a lot like the 3000’s design.
   
Once the executives and sales wizards and marketing mavens grab their tablets and go into your offices, they’ll want to use their iPads to work with information residing in safety on the HP 3000. This year the conduit for the connection is telnet, a protocol given the pshaw in the '90s when nobody could see a tablet anywhere but Star Trek episodes.
   
I remember telnet gaining traction in feature lists for connectivity software from WRQ and Minisoft. The access method got strongest praise from Wirt Atmar at AICS Research. His engineers were building their own 3000 terminal emulator, QCTerm, and the NS/VT mysteries were not the primary path for data through that free software. (It hasn't been tested on Windows 7, but the software runs on XP -- which is still running 46 percent of the world's Windows PCs.)

The engineering choice of Telnet at AICS rose up in the face of enabling access to the oldest of 3000 programs. A wide majority of MPE applications used block mode in the '90s to exchange data with terminals and desktop clients, largely because telnet was deemed too slow. Atmar, however, took exception to the accepted wisdom about telnet. The protocol was a standard and vendor-neutral, something NS/VT would never be — and network speeds and bandwidth were on the rise. QCTerm even used an Advanced Telnet setting to take full advantage of a faster network whenever and wherever available.
   
Now the world’s networks pulse at a common rate we couldn’t conceive just 15 years ago. No, the block mode interfaces written in the 1980s are not going to transmit data this year to mobile tablets. A more extensive project needs to pass that protocol to the latest of the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) computers. But in the meantime the 3000 can prove itself worthy of a spot in the IT future, so long as it can link some of its programs to a tablet. Telnet never got much respect from the developer ranks of your community in the era of the terminal emulator. But now telnet feels like a piece of 3000 engineering which is finally no longer ahead of its time.
   
Once networking standards swept through the industry, the gamble that HP took to break open 3000 connections became essential. This was catch-up engineering that followed the magic of PA-RISC emulation. There’s other fundamental technology that’s been built or ported to make the 3000 a web-capable database host. The miracle that paves the way into tomorrow is that there is any Perl, or telnet, available for an environment first launched 40 years ago. In a fall when America still hadn’t felt the pulse of disco, a computer took its first steps on a path that would lead to tablets.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:20 PM in History, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (2)

February 29, 2012

A Rare Birthday for Eugene Today

He was once the youngest official member of the 3000 community. And he still has the rare distinction of not being in his 50s or 60s while knowing MPE. Eugene Volokh celebrates his 44th birthday today, and the co-creator of MPEX must wait every four years to celebrate on his real day of birth: He was born on Feb. 29 in the Ukraine.

150px-Eugene_VolokhAlthough he's not the youngest community member (that rank goes to The Support Group's president David Floyd, a decade younger) Eugene probably ranks as the best-known outside our humble neighborhood. After he built and then improved MPEX, VEAudit/3000 and Security/3000 with his father Vladimir at VEsoft, Eugene earned a law degree as he went on to clerk for US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor -- en route to his current place in the public eye as go-to man for all questions concerning intellectual property on the Web and Internet, as well as First and Second Amendment issues across all media. He's appeared on TV, been quoted in the likes of the Wall Street Journal, plus penned columns for that publication, the New York Times, as well as Harvard, Yale and Georgetown law reviews. You can also hear him on National Public Radio. When I last heard Eugene's voice, he was commenting in the middle of a This American Life broadcast in 2010. He's a professor of Constitutional law at UCLA, and the father of two sons of his own by now. Online, he makes appearances on The Volokh Conspiracy blog he founded with brother Sasha (also a law professor, at Emory University).

In the 3000 world, Eugene's star burned with distinction when he was only a teenager. I first met him in Orlando at the annual Interex conference in 1988, when he held court at a dinner at the tender age of 20. I was a lad of 31 and listened to him wax on subjects surrounding security -- a natural topic for someone who presented the paper Burn Before Reading, which remains a vital text even more 25 years after it was written. The paper's inception matches with mine in the community -- we both entered in 1984. But Eugene, one of those first-name-only 3000 personalities like Alfredo or Birket (Rego and Foster, if you're just coming to this world), was always way ahead of me in 3000 lore and learning.

ThoughtsAndDiscoursesBurn Before Reading is part of a collection of Eugene's Thoughts and Discourses on HP 3000 Software, published by VEsoft long before indie publishing was so much in vogue. (We've got copies of the 4th Edition of book here at the NewsWire we can share, if you don't have one in your library. Email me.) The book even had the foresight to include advertisements from other members of the 3000 indie software vendor ranks. His father reminded me this month that the Russian tradition of Samizdat was a self-publishing adventure born out of the need to escape USSR censorship. These Russians created an enterprise out of the opportunities America and HP provided in the 1970s, when they emigrated.

Eugene got that early start as a voice for the HP 3000 building software, but his career included a temporary job in Hewlett-Packard's MPE labs at age 14. According to his Wikipedia page

At age 12, he began working as a computer programmer. Three years later, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Math and Computer Science from UCLA. As a junior at UCLA, he earned $480 a week as a programmer for 20th Century Fox. During this period, his achievements were featured in an episode of OMNI: The New Frontier.

His father Vladimir remains an icon of the 3000 community who's still on the go in the US, traveling to visit some of the 1,700 VEsoft customers to consult on securing and exploiting the powers of MPE. The Volokh gift is for languages -- Vladimir speaks five, and Sasha once gave a paper in two languages at a conference, before and then after lunch. I expect that this entry will be eagerly proofed and then corrected by Vladimir, just as he's provided insight and corrections for the next edition of my new novel Viral Times. It's a sure bet that Thoughts and Discourses will remain a useful tool at least as long as Viral Times stays in print. (I've got copies of Viral Times I can ship, too -- but that's an offer unrelated to the 3000's history.)

At 37,000 words, a single Q&A article from Eugene -- not included in the book -- called Winning at MPE is about half as big as your average novel. The papers in Thoughts and Discourses, as well as Winning, are included on each product tape that VEsoft ships. But if you're not a customer, you can read them on the Adager website. They're great training on the nuances of this computer you're probably relying upon, nearly three decades after they were written. Happy Birthday, young man. Long may your exacting and entertaining words wave.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:46 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 17, 2012

Virtual futures await for early 3000 readers

ViralTimesAd-RGBNewsWire Editorial

    A dream delayed is better than a dream denied. It's a natural element of being human to look into the future, a skill your community has polished over the last decade. Across the same period I've done polishing of my own on a dream that looked denied, but has escaped its delays.

    It's Viral Times, the novel I began to write in earnest once HP stopped writing its futures for the 3000. This month the book is a reality in printed and ebook versions, available at Amazon.com and signed from my Writer's Workshop website, workshopwriter.com. I think of Viral Times as my 3000 emulator. It's a project devised from a sense of necessity, given up for lost at least once, but revived and delivered after a surprising amount of challenges in its creation.

   I'd also like to believe my novel has fans waiting in their seats to experience its magic. Not a bestseller's number of readers, partly because a wide-scale release is no more likely than the prospects for the Stromasys Charon HPA/3000 to reverse the trends of 3000 ownership. But you don't need to be a bestseller to tell a good story with meaning for the future. On the other hand, if you don't tell a good story, there's only a slim chance to become a bestseller. Of small books and modest software projects come enduring classics, if we're patient and lucky.

    There's been plenty of time to practice patience with the emulator. It was first discussed in the fall of 2002, the same time I started my training as a writer of fiction with classes at the Austin Writer's League. The concepts of both these ventures have changed a great deal, just like the fields where they're appearing. The '02 emulator was heading for a specialized hardware design that could mimic PA-RISC processors. Software would be essential, but at one point the leading vendor was looking for PA-RISC chips to be placed in a PC-slot card.

    Viral Times started off in a very different place, too. This story of a star reporter who's disgraced and must redeem himself and recover love in a pandemic opened in 2044. I thought I needed that much elbow room in the future to show a society locked down into virtualized life, even virtualized love to avoid disease. It now starts in 2020. By the time it went into release this month, my shorthand for the tale was "It's a story in a future closer than you think."

   In the emulator's tale, the marketplace believed it needed a 3000 replacement right away to stem the departure of customers from the platform. Anything that would arrive later than HP's exit would be meaningless. The reality of the 3000's future was a more interesting story.  It turned out to be a tale of preserving MPE, not the hardware and software we've come to call the HP 3000.

   Nothing was ever going to reverse the outflow of 3000 customers from this community. Too much change took place as a result of the dot-com Web boom to give vendor-locked computing much of a growth path. For business computing, an open model fed by many allied independent players is the only way to grow. Within the last four years, this kind of virtualized community, working with open specifications, is spinning the story of the future of computing. And storytelling, too. The changes don't signal the end of other kinds of computing, though — not any more than the rise of ebooks means the demise of paperbacks.

    Even through Viral Times will enjoy a long life as an ebook — it will never go out of print — it's also getting a loving debut as a story printed with ink on paper. I've published it using everything the 3000 community has given me the chance to polish: deadlines and printer double-checks, research and feedback (we call that last one "workshopping" in the fiction business). We used to call such books "self-published," a lot like the 3000 market used to call most of its products "third-party."

    But independence from strategies of the past is driving both books and computers. Looking to the future provides the great spark of "what if." HP once enjoyed the same phrase when it first introduced a touchscreen computer, a 9-inch marvel of the MS-DOS heyday, too far ahead of its time.

    Viral Times needed eight years of planning and work (and another half-dozen of dreaming) to become a book I can sign and send to readers. There's the ebook version to download to an e-reader like an Amazon or Apple tablet, yes — but just try signing that one. The act of a human hand pushing ink across paper is one of those pleasures we continue to enjoy. I enjoyed signing at a little release party here in Austin. People enjoyed seeing a writer at work, jotting down personal messages above a signature.

   Your community's emulator needed futuristic changes in its strategy to become a reality, too. Virtualization grew stronger, like a chapter revised and edited, until it became a keystone to extending computing into any budget or set of human resources. The IT datacenter with a troop of white coats has become virtualized, so ethereal it's called the cloud. We used to work with service bureaus because the computers were so expensive. Now we use the cloud because people are so expensive.

   And yet we can't dream of a time when we don't need people to manage computing, not any more than I could dream of a story where love wasn't the most important part of staying healthy in a future filled with danger. What I didn't see coming, but wished for, was virtualizing the publishing field. People tell stories that can be read without a wall of paper to prove their worth. Self-publishing, the old vanity press, has become indie publishing thanks to e-reader technology people slagged — just like emulation — for many years.

    What both the Stromasys emulator and my Viral Times need now are reviews. People need to try out the future to see how it fits them and report back. Take a ride on the indie express, and see if there's joy for you in its future.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:50 AM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 01, 2012

Links last longer in latest survey for 3000

What's NewWe continue to move through the state of links on the hp3000links.com site, a way of checking up on the web pointers presented at that longtime 3000 community resource. The P-S group of pulldown links on the busy main page has a higher share of valid links than any we've surveyed so far. It may just be the luck of the alphabet, but this group seems to spell stability better than the rest.

First the dead ends, 11 of them. Premiersoft has nobody home at the URL of the same name; the company sold OSCAR, the Online Services Catalog and Application Repository to let HP 3000s host enterprise-wide server objects. (Object tech may have been too many steps ahead of an MPE market sweating out Y2K in 1999.) Retriever Interactive is gone along with its DataAid/3000 for data lookup and manipulation, which was even integrated with Suprtool. Also dead are Riva Systems (referencing exegesys.com, which now points to a French casino machine website); SeraSoft's link, though the company was migrating 3000 sites as of 2010; Software Licensing Corp.; Software Research Northwest, gently retired by founder Wayne Holt, who published the first PA-RISC hardback; Software and Management Consultants; Spentech; Starvision; Symple Systems, and SolutionStore 3000.

We know a lot about that last one. SolutionStore was a 3000 NewsWire project during the late 1990s, our effort to sell and report vendor listings for the 3000 community. In a way it was a precursor to the vendor list of hp3000links.com. A web administrator melted down while he took down the site with no warning. Such madness happens, but it was a serious gaffe to us at the time.

But then there are a dozen survivors, most thriving, some surviving. Pro 3K still leads you to consultant Mark Ranft, tending to servers and also managing the world's biggest fleet of N-Class servers at Navitaire. Productive Software Systems, Quest, Quintessential School Systems, Rich Corn's RAC Consulting, Robelle, Speedware, Solution-Soft, and STR Software, the last still supporting FAX/3000. Syllogize offers support for HP 3000s. Synowledge supports MANMAN, according to the IT Services page on its website, through six offices. There's even a valid link to Shawn Gordon's S.M. Gordon and Associates webpage, listing 3000 software of advancing age.

Gordon, one of our hardest-working reviewers, has gone into the Linux business long ago, founding theKompany.com. (Products include Kobol, to take the place of COBOL for customers entering the Linux world.) Quadax is on the hp3000links list because it sold billing apps for healthcare, but the company migrated all clients off the 3000 more than two years ago. Summit Systems still sells credit union solutions, but not for the 3000 any longer. It's all Unix over in the Oregon company, the former turnkey app provider to 3000 owners.

Toting up for this list, we get 12 valid web links to 3000 vendors, 11 fully deceased, and two which lead to places where 3000 is spoken no longer. There's much more that can be done to sort through some of those survivors; we know a website falls short of vetting a company for active 3000 work. But considering that the hp3000links.com resources were built more than a decade ago, and last updated in the spring of 2010,  a little under 50 percent is a respectable survival rate.

We'll look at the final 15 entries in this snapshot of 3000 Vendors and Consultants next week. Time moves at a more casual pace in your community, so we don't expect any more deaths in the family over the next seven days.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:49 PM in History, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 16, 2012

Picturing your community's future history

January is the month of last year that ScreenJet's Alan Yeo began to envision the first HP3000 Reunion, enjoyed by the community last September. It takes many months to bring together this kind of event as a grassroots organized effort. But that kind of patience is not a problem when it's hosted by IT pros seasoned enough to endure old-as-dirt mainframe and minicomputer management.

UNIVAC9030After the historic reunion was in the air, Yeo shared a picture of one such beast, a Sperry Univac 90/30, "their version of the IBM 360. (Click the picture at left to enlarge.) The two dials on the right were also used to dial in the register address to which code should start to be loaded on boot, however I think it was a long binary number indicated by the two rows of lights along the front."

2012 marks the 40th anniversary of the System 3000 as an HP product. The official rollout date is this fall. Bob Green, who attended the Reunion, helped to sponsor it and brought memories of working on the first 3000 documentation team, said the motto for the 3000's intro was "November is a Happening." How '70s it all was during that era.

Syntronic_ComputerWe've put our set of pictures online from the Reunion, a set you can browse as a Flickr photostream. I hope our community has got another Reunion in its tank for this 40th year. After all, there's seed money for the next event already banked, plus organization in place to process tickets. The venue couldn't have been more appropriate, too. On this US holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr., let's all celebrate another kind of freedom -- from the likes of the 360, that Sperry beast, or even HP's predecessors to the 3000 (as shared with that photo above from Terri Glendon Lanza, an ASK/MANMAN pro who won the signed poster of the night.)

Yeo reported on the trials and challenges of getting his Sperry to serve computing needs before the 3000.
Yes we ran MRP -- well when we had finished writing it.

 

I was lucky; I joined the company the week the Sperry was delivered, and everybody else was too busy keeping the old computer system running. It was just handed over to me and I was told go figure out to use it. About three months later when attention switched to doing something with it, I found I was the expert rather than the junior programmer.

My first task was to make the Relational Database useable. Yes it was called a Relational Database. However there was no mechanism to read data in a logical sequence. You could for example go in on a key of customer or part number but there was no mechanism to get the next logical record in ascending/descending sequence. So I implemented indexing in external ISAM files and trapped every database write/delete/update with a routine that updated the indexes. Programs were then modified to call a subroutine I wrote that used the indexes and retrieved the data from the database.

Ah, the days when you always had to roll your own. If I had realized what I was doing was writing a precursor to SQL, I could have written ORACLE at least a decade earlier than it appeared. Ah, the opportunities we missed.

I always remember Roy Brown bemoaning that back in the 70's, to get production and accounting people off his back requesting ad-hoc data analysis, he had written on a mainframe this dynamic grid based program. It had a set of simple arithmetic statements that could be associated with cells on the grid, into which the accountants could type or load numbers and then calculate the results. Yes he had written a spreadsheet (without knowing it) and was most surprised when the PCs came along and spreadsheets were one of the first killer apps.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:09 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 11, 2012

HP's 3000 software practice once wide open

HPWebOSOver the past month, HP has released the source code for WebOS into the open source community (or at least announced its plan to do so). It's been called a watershed event for open source -- the first commercial mobile OS ever nudged onto the homebrew free software shelves. But software was once a passion at HP that invited much more design from users than software gets today. Instead of rising on the energy of volunteers after its lifespan, software once grew up on the power of the user experience. The HP 3000 used a different model than the built-inside, respond to the outside modification requests. One of its best examples was the creation of Transact, a reporting and language solution still working at some sites today.

TransactCOBOLDavid Dummer created Transact, software that became a part of HP's Rapid family of products. In that era of advanced productivity for programming, Rapid was Hewlett-Packard's entry. But HP bought Transact and Rapid from Dummer, a deal which gave him the rights to re-create it based on direct input from users. When this project rippled through HP 30 years ago, those users in a classroom were programmers who worked with many languages. "It was like having 35 design engineers in the room," said one ex-HP developer who shaped the product.

Over 16 days of meetings, these programmers discussed each feature in Transact. Dummer wouldn't take lunch, but go off and code up "some of the more simple changes" and bring them back to the users in the class. After-lunch and then overnight coding and tests produced a period "when the product was completely re-invented, and now feature rich enough to support most best practices that we all used to code by hand."

We're not talking about an era of worldwide networks or change management repositories. (HP once operated a repository for the 3000 version of GNU C++ source, hosted on the Invent3k public development server. That was 27 years after Transact grew its robust features in a 16-day open development cycle.) Thanks to the open input on design, the dynamic data handling in Transact was built well enough that it served on 3000s for decades. Dummer went on to create DataExpress, the founding product for MB Foster's UDA Central. He wrapped up his 3000 career consulting on the 34-server Washington state community college migration to HP-UX. Besides using open input to create Transact, Dummer developed technology to move Transact apps to Unix or Linux.

And you can make a case for the length of the lifespan of Transact  -- software that's going onward into Unix and Linux -- resulting from the open design that happened in that classroom.

In 2003 ScreenJet's Alan Yeo brought Dummer out of semi-retirement to work on migration solutions for Transact. As Dummer told us in 2010, he developed a library of Transact functions written in a system development language and callable from a COBOL host program.

These functions manage the Transact stack handling and data access and map the results back into the static COBOL working storage. "As development proceeded it became apparent that to migrate Transact this library was going to have to do most of heavy work and that COBOL would provide the shell and procedural logic," Dummer said.

Now ScreenJet has a complete replacement for Transact, TransAction, that provides a dictionary and compiler to produce the host code to drive the function library. Transact users like those Washington colleges can move applications to Unix or Linux and continue to develop and maintain in the Transact language. 

Dummer was fortunate enough to have been given free reign to enhance the original Transact as he was shown by users, employing his own development methods until a production release. That's old-school open source. What a pleasure to know that an HP 3000 product has benefitted from HP keeping an open mind about software -- three decades before WebOS gained its open source wings.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:52 PM in History, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 29, 2011

3000 team awaits one last strike, next year

NewsWire Editorial

By Ron Seybold

Scary and sad things can happen deep in the night. I learned that in Switzerland and again in Texas, both sets of news that arrived deep in the fall of seasons 10 years apart. But for each bad report, there’s the prospect of better news for a season to come.

Print-ExclusiveThe first scary news arrived on a pay phone in a rail station. It was in a November night beyond 9 Central European Time, back in the days when Daylight Savings ended by October. I’d already thrilled to getting the news that the Yankees lost a World Series in a Game 7. That’s the kind of news that can cut both ways, but it would take me another decade to learn that lesson.

The news on that Swiss night was that HP wasn’t going to build any more HP 3000s in 24 months, that they believed everybody ought to get off the platform. That Unix was the best solution, or Windows, anything but what you knew, built your business around, slathered all over your future, your training and career. It was damp and cold on that railway platform hearing that news. My boy Nick and I were on our way uptown to Lausanne and dinner. The report from my partner Abby Lentz sapped my appetite. I did my best to explain to my son things were changing for my business, but it would be okay. Sometimes there are things you just have to say and wait for them to become true.

At no time that night did I ever believe there would be another decade of work on the HP 3000 for my family. Ten more years seemed impossible on that night, in that month, anytime over the next few years. It seemed as impossible as being unable to get one last called strike in a World Series, twice, 10 years later. That happened far into a dark and cold night, too. Past midnight in a cold, damp ballpark in St. Louis.

But for every leading home run that my Texas Rangers could hit in an epic Game 6, their opponents the home team Cardinals could avoid that last strike my guys needed to win their first Series, ever. Not even the extra innings “Roy Hobbs homer” from straight-edge hero Josh Hamilton, swung out over a sports hernia that required surgery, could power the Rangers into the champagne and champions’ ball caps. So in 11 innings, they — or sometimes we 40-year-fans of baseball, we say “we” — lost that chance to win.

But just like the HP 3000 community, those Rangers have not lost all chance ever to stay in the game.

In sports, after we lose we like to say, “There’s always next year.” Here in Texas we believe it about the Rangers, turned into champion-caliber players by the legend Nolan Ryan, now an owner. And in my house we believe it about the HP 3000, too. There will be a very interesting next year, a 2012 with an emulator that puts 3000 hardware onto speedy PCs makes its debut. It’s the kind of news that’s sparking sort of a “hot stove league” among people still using HP 3000s. Hot Stove is the time before the season starts, the in-between after a Series and before Opening Day. A million different questions and scenarios and combinations get kicked around, and it’s called Hot Stove because it’s cold almost everyplace people care about baseball.

Except in Texas in mid-November while I wrote, as the clock and calendar ticked over into November 14, it’s 70 degrees and the windows are wide open, even at 2 AM. Things are not what they used to be in our world. Summer brought 5 inches of rain here. Up north the blizzards were followed by floods. Sometimes doing this job means working until it’s already mid-morning in Europe. Like all of the 3000 veterans and experts who told me moving, fabulous November 14 stories, I’m just putting one verb in front of one noun, like they’ve put one consulting gig in front of one temporary contract. We’re all trying to stay active while we’re in the batter’s box, waiting on whatever pitch we will see next.

People still care about the HP 3000, even if they’ve left it behind for something mandated by management or dictated by datacenter needs. Phrases like “the machine I hold so dear” and “it’s still right at my side” are what flow from tales of how you’ve grown over the years. They’ve been hard years, in some places for some people, and they’ve also gotten people involved with new passions and lessons. Experts of 30 years of MPE say they’ve learned new tech like Ruby on Rails or open source security, and found it fun. My partner Abby, still dreaming up NewsWire concepts as publisher, gave birth to a yoga practice that’s produced two DVDs. Me, I learned to write and teach fiction, the drama of journalism grown richer, written to move the soul without excuses and no rebuttals. I always wanted to do that, and HP spurred me dig in and learn. The world I knew was changing, like yours. I had to add another dimension to my writing game.

It’s a lot like what those Rangers of mine face during these darker and cold off-season months. Josh’s hernia will heal, the young team will rest up after 178 games and come back with a new dimension: being just one last strike away from winning the last game of the season. And when spring arrives and weather warms to the desert we’ve come to expect in Texas, there will be a fresh chance to win. Like the new season for the 3000, building upon its community and its deep IT experience, and now with a new dimension of virtualized hardware and source code licensed to top support shops and developers.

When you’re only one strike away, you’re close, as close as I am to finishing that first novel of mine. Whether it’s playing with words, or balls and strikes, or the magic of computers built out of just bits on a disk, the next season, story or release brings more hope. After 16 years of playing on this newsletter’s field of dreams our sponsors and readers helped us build, Abby and I can be glad this stove remains hot, while we get another swing at our joyful pastimes. We’ll see you here in print again in February, when it will be time to start to play ball, buy an ebook of mine, and boot up a fresher future.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:52 AM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 21, 2011

Oracle Harm to 3000s & HP, Past and Present

Oracle has become a loud competitor to HP in the migration alternative game. HP took an hour's webcast this month to assert that the Oracle-Sun-Solaris action is mostly heat without much light to lead the way. But the database has certainly gained HP's attention now that ousted HP CEO Mark Hurd is leading the Sun attack. If some stories are to be believed, however, the current fracas is a long way removed from Oracle's blows against the HP 3000's futures.

At one point HP was eager to keep its 3000 customers buying Hewlett-Packard enterprise solutions. And by 2001, the story goes, Oracle wanted a clear path to selling Oracle hosted on HP's Unix servers. HP was going to cut something out of its merged product line with Compaq. The 9000s were never on the block, but there was the HP 3000, sporting tens of thousands of systems, nearly all of them running an IMAGE SQL database.

So here goes: HP didn't kill the HP 3000, Oracle did. Oracle made HP a deal they couldn't refuse. Stop selling competing database software, and Oracle would partner to sell HP-UX systems as Oracle servers.  Since MPE/iX is tightly coupled to IMAGE/SQL, this translated to the end of the HP 3000. The smoking gun was supposedly this: As part of HP's announcement on discontinuing the HP 3000, it included the end-of-life for Allbase/SQL on both MPE and HP-UX.

EllisonThe theory has some credibility. In 2001 there was a lot of growth potential for Oracle-plus-HP-UX. Oracle had grown up plenty in the decade before that fateful date (when its CEO Larry Ellison, left, was a tender 47 years old.) In 1991 his juggernaut was pretty much out of the game, even with 20,000 customers, because it was scraping the bottom of its cash barrel. Some reports said Oracle creditors were ready to call in their 1991 notes. Those 20,000 sites arrived in the fold because Oracle got ruthless about sales and promises and vaporware delivery. $80 million in cash from Nippon Steel in exchange for a piece of the Oracle Japan arm helped Oracle back from the brink, too. Then there was a forced restatement of sales all the way back to the company's first quarter as a public company. Booking nonexistent products and stretching future contracts as current revenues, it was all the kind of behavior old-school sales reps would chuckle about today -- a day when Oracle wants to rock the 2011 boat, charging that HP is paying Intel to prop up the Itanium product line.

The old-school files here in our office include InformationWeek and Computerworld stories about how Oracle came back from the brink in 1992-93. Oracle users frustrated by wait for DBMS, tools said a story by Jean Bozman. She was a reporter in those days before becoming an IDG analyst, one who figured the world still had more than 25,000 active 3000 systems running, two full years after HP dropped its axe on its 3000 unit.

Over at InformationWeek, the "hungry to profits" company was struggling to deliver Oracle 7 (the latest version is 11, with 12 in the wings). A list of that year's Oracle Business Alliance Program members didn't include HP, even though by then Hewlett-Packard's strategy was in total thrall with Unix. Oracle still was the leader in Unix databases in that era, selling just a bit more than half of Unix RDBMS installations. Sybase was jousting at Oracle with a preannoucement of Version 10 of its database, which one newsletter said was "an announcement, if it's possible, with even more hot air than Oracle's Version 7."

Meanwhile, there was no hot air in the IMAGE of that period. HP was being led by the nose by its customers to keep IMAGE an integrated part of the 3000 solution. Hewlett-Packard wanted to separate IMAGE from the 3000 and make the database an add-on. A revolt at the Interex user group conference of 1990 ensued. Even though the users carried the day -- and Jim Sartain became a business-savvy IMAGE R&D manager afterward -- the IMAGE standard bearers look see this as the start of the decline of HP's attention to IMAGE, business-wise.

Oracle couldn't be bothered with current 3000 R&D from that point onward. Jennie Hou was yoked to the HP's thankless task of getting Oracle resources devoted to MPE/iX -- because HP hoped Oracle would attract customers in the 3000 arena. Oracle just didn't eager to attract any off of the 3000 platform, maybe because developing for MPE wasn't the Unix business Oracle had used to get off the mat. Or maybe Oracle saw the folly -- which it first told me in 1985 -- of competing with a bundled solution like IMAGE. While the rest of the industry was deploying Oracle 8, that release was out of reach for the 3000 user. We wrote in 1997:

It only took one Oracle sales rep in California to get the 3000 customer base worried about the future of the database on MPE/iX. One rep's comment to a 3000 customer circulated through the Internet, asserting that Oracle was only going to support its database through version 7.2.3 for the HP 3000. This led to a fair bit of piling on, as people wondered what the purported pullout meant for the HP 3000 and why anybody would want to get serious about using Oracle instead of IMAGE anyway.

HP and Oracle went to work on damage control almost immediately. The two allies whipped up a quick update on their plans for the HP 3000. The sale's rep's comments were based on a partial truth: Oracle is still not willing to commit to a list of supported platforms for Release 8. Despite what some might see in the tea leaves of whether the 3000 is mentioned on Oracle's Web page roll call, no one using any platform knows for certain when they're getting an Oracle 8 -- not just yet.

Oracle 8 on the HP 3000? One year later, HP had committed its own engineers to just getting a fresher Oracle 7 onto the platform.

CSY has engineers working on the port of Oracle 7.3.4 according to Jennie Hou, the manager of the HP 3000-Oracle relationship. “The porting resources are still engaged in 7.3.4,” she said, which HP expects to be available to 3000 customers within calendar 1998. Version 7.3.2.31 is currently shipping for both MPE/iX 5.0 and 5.5 HP 3000s. There has been no announcement of an Oracle 8 port from CSY yet, “because customer needs are being met by Oracle 7,” Hou said. Oracle-based applications are ready for the HP 3000 in manufacturing, financials and human resources, and Oracle plays a part in data warehousing solutions for MPE/iX.

An Allbase pullout as a smoking gun would be hard to point at HP's 3000 history. The database had its fans among some 3000 sites, but it seemed to be more of a "other option" item on the HP pricelist. More than 95 percent of the 3000's sites were running IMAGE/SQL and still do. That's one reason that Eloquence has done so well as a database migration replacement for 3000 sites: it behaves just as IMAGE does with 3000 programs that are moved to HP-UX or Windows platforms.

3000 users watched a lot of one-sided pursuit of Oracle affections during that decade leading to the pullout. By the fall of '98 it was obvious HP 3000 customers didn't want to fork over tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars for a database instead of IMAGE. Winston Prather announced the end of Oracle futures on MPE/iX at the HP World conference -- one year before taking over as 3000 GM which led to, well, the end of HP's futures altogether for the 3000.

“The current plan is that there is no plan to port Oracle8,” Prather said at the 1998 forums. “The real fundamental issue: Oracle’s position is that, ‘We’ve worked really hard with you to bring it to the platform and done joint marketing programs, and it’s not working.’ Oracle is looking at it and going, ‘Why am I doing this?’ They haven’t come close to recouping their investment. Their current feeling right now is that there’s not enough business on the 3000.”

Customers using Oracle say the database runs faster on HP 3000s than on HP 9000s, something that HP might want to use in making a case for additional development resources. Prather noted that customer adoption has been slight in the face of a more cost-effective 3000 database: IMAGE/SQL.

“It’s very expensive to implement an Oracle solution relative to a TurboIMAGE solution or even an Allbase solution,” Prather said. “The bottom line is that 3000 customers like TurboIMAGE. They don’t want to leave TurboIMAGE. Our application providers don’t want to move to Oracle, because they like TurboIMAGE."

It's not like HP wasn't trying to sell the database. In 1996 it offered Oracle's 7.2.3 version to 3000 sites at prices starting under $1,200 per seat with an eight-seat minimum. For the first time, you could get a small 3000 into Oracle for just under 10,000. The price per-seat increased based on HP's CPU tiers of the day -- that under-$1,200 price was only available for the lowest 3000 tier. Price was a barrier vs. an included database, and then there was migration.

The HP pricing doesn't alleviate the roadblocks of data migration and increased management demands. Taurus Software's Forklift migration tool, which uses a graphical interface to map IMAGE datasets to Oracle tables by way of the Taurus Warehouse utility, was the start of moving data as easily as any tool on other platforms. Forklift gave managers a visual aid to get IMAGE data into Oracle databases.

Within five years Oracle wouldn't have IMAGE to dodge around anymore while it sold HP's systems. Wht good did that do in the long run? By this month, Oracle doesn't even want those HP Unix systems to exist. Its charge of paying Intel to keep Itanium alive is pretty blustery with hot-air, even by Oracle's standards. HP doesn't make Itanium anymore, even though its engineers retain a role in processor design. Itanium is an Intel product by now, and if HP is chipping in extra dollars to keep development going, that's in HP's best interest to keep selling its Unix servers.

We find it interesting to see how Oracle has crept back from the "Itanium is dead, and Intel isn't saying" hot air of this spring. Intel came back with an opposing gust that might have knocked long-time yachtsman Larry Ellison off the "attack Intel" tack that's part of his warpath on HP. Oracle can't hurt the 3000 anymore, can it? That depends on how you think of the Integrity servers as 3000 migration replacements. This Oracle war is creating distractions for HP's Integrity sales.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:50 AM in History, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 18, 2011

Last Words from First Users on HP's Pullout

All this week we've been marking a tenth anniversary of HP's ill-fated decision to pull out of the 3000 community. There have been other things happening besides the remembrances. But there's little happening in the community today that has not been altered -- for better or worse -- by the Hewlett-Packard choice. We also have a package of pullout stories coming in our November print issue, along with photos from the community's first HP3000 Reunion. But we'll wrap up our Pullout Week with stories from two key community members. Jeff Kell started and maintains the HP3000-L mailing list at utc.edu, where 3000 discussions and tech tips started in the early 90s -- and remain online today. Kell was also a SIG leader while volunteering for the Interex user group.

Then there's John Wolff, an initial board member of OpenMPE who first joined HP in 1968, and then became an HP customer in 1974, and started using the 3000 in the system's Classic days -- and so has felt some of the deepest disappointment. But he still watches the company for signs of hope.

Jeff Kell: As of the mid-1990s, essentially all of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga's business applications were all legacy applications on the HP 3000, having evolved from the initial roots of the student/admissions/grades/records system developed in the mid-to-late 1970s. One was a third-party Library application added in the 1980s, but still HP 3000-based. At our peak, we hosted five production HP 3000s in our server room covering administrative, academic, and library services.

Academic usage migrated first to IBM, and later Sun-Solaris/Unix, but business applications remained intact. Traditional "internet" applications (e-mail, file transfers, Gopher and later WWW, etc) grew on Solaris and later Linux.

An initial investigation into a third-party student system led to an attempted "migration" in 1997, based on a large-ish HP-9000 quad-processor system with a sizeable disk array. Dissatisfaction with the software (relative to the 3000 legacy applications) led to a delay in implementation of all but the student financial aid and accounts receivable systems. At that time we began to "fortify the foundation" of the long-term viability of the 3000 platform. We were well into MPE/iX and the Posix environment, and there appeared to be some real solidarity given these capabilities (the lack of "Internet readiness" was often used to criticize the platform).

The 2001 announcement was a knife in the back of our long-term planning and objectives, from which we never fully recovered. The original Library application (3000-based) was moved to Linux/Oracle (where it remains to date). The partial third-party student implementation on the HP 9000 was moved to Linux/Oracle -- where it too remains to date.

The remainder of the third-party student implementation was restarted anew in 2008, with additional funding/staffing/support, but implemented on Linux/Oracle (where it remains to date). Other subsidiary university business applications have been moved to Linux or Windows environments, or outsourced to hosted or cloud services, where they remain to date.

Parts of our identity management system, as well as some percentage of student records which did not survive the automated migration, remain on our HP3000; but the system is essentially running "read-only" as of this year.

We do still have a number of HP's printers. But we have never since seriously considered them as a business, instructional, or even personal computing platform anymore. Caveat emptor.

John Wolff: My HP Systems Engineer at Laaco, Ltd. was visiting us a couple of weeks before the official announcement and gave some strong hints about what was coming. So the actual announcement was not so much a shock, but rather a validation of a great disappointment.

In my opinion, 2001 was a watershed year for HP, as it began a lost decade of bad management and poor decisions. The company is still struggling with a bad Board of Directors and the seemingly endless consequences that flow from that. The agonizing studies and public review of strategic questions over a period of months, like the Personal Systems Group spin-off and the TouchPad/webOS debacle, illustrate this far better than anything I could ever say. There is nothing more destructive to a business model for employees, customers and suppliers than failures of decisiveness, of commitment and exectuion.

I began my career with HP straight out of college in 1968, when HP was widely recognized as one of the best managed companies in America. Imagine how it was to transition from a proud six-year employee into a satisfied customer for 30 years. I felt like I knew a secret: That HP was a terrific vendor with great products and strong support that was making my efforts on behalf of our company a success.

My company was primarily in the business of owning and operating private clubs when I started with Laaco in 1974. We developed a custom club system on HP 9830s, which we used until 1986.  Beginning in 1982 we started developing a new system on a Classic HP 3000/44 and started using it for production some 25 years ago. Our custom application continued to grow with continuous enhancements over the years, while the hardware was upgraded seamlessly to a Series 48, Series 58, Series 70 and finally to a PA-RISC Series 928.

Meanwhile, we reduced our exposure in the club industry from four clubs down to two as the company began moving into a different industry, self storage. Although we still have the two remaining clubs, there is little growth in that business, so we did not have to expand to faster hardware. But we did continue with our custom development, which is primarily written in Transact. I believe we hold the record (by far) for the longest use of the same platform in the private club industry, where it is typical to switch to a new system every five years, if not sooner.

Now, as I mark 37 years with our company and assess our club system strategically in relation to our corporate direction and a dominant role in the self storage sector, I find that it is time to make plans for the future. My programmer is almost 72 years old and has been with us for 29 years (another record). It does not seem realistic to go looking for another Transact programmer within the shrinking HP 3000 ecosystem. Consequently and with reluctance, we have begun evaluating a replacement system from the traditional club software offerings that run on Windows. This conversion will probably take place next summer and demote the HP 3000 to archival duty.

Finally, with the benefit of hindsight, I must say that selecting the HP 3000 30 years ago was a great decision that paid off as both a development and production platform, in spite of recent HP mistakes. I have no regrets regarding the decisions that I had control over; I can only wish that those decisions beyond my control could have been otherwise.

In 2001, I began to watch this once-great company start a decline over a period of 10 years into one of the worst-managed companies in America. I am left to wonder when HP will hit bottom and recover its sense of identity and direction. We all continue to watch hopefully.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:16 AM in History, Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 17, 2011

Some couldn't believe the pullout at first

Some of the members of the 3000 community had no reason to believe HP would pull out of the 3000 business. In this week that marks the 10th anniversary of that exit, community members are sharing their stories of where they were when they heard -- how much they felt they could believe -- and what's become of their careers since then.

Brian Edminster: I was subcontracting at a company that specializes in supporting medical information systems (primarily Amisys, but others as well). This was a new contract at the time, and came after a multi-year gig doing a Y2K conversion on a large legacy Retail Management system.
   
I almost didn’t believe the news — there were too many other big changes happening in the world — and HP management had recently redoubled their support of the platform, so I just couldn’t believe it at first. I guess I was still expecting the New HP to act like the Old HP.

My consulting practice has been stable, with slow but steady growth. I’d say that my career has taken directions that I’d not have been able to anticipate, just a few years before. I’d not have gotten into open source software on the platform if the ecosystem of commercial software hadn’t started drying up. I wouldn’t have been able to justify going to the last Greater Houston RUG meeting to present a paper, and I wouldn’t have started building a website to act as a central repository for free and open source software for the 3000 (www.MPE-OpenSource.org).

Robert Holtz: I was working away on the COBOL and FORTRAN programs that were the heart of the Computer-Aided Dispatch and Mobile Data Terminal programming that ran on the three HP N-Class 3000's our Phoenix Police Department had upgraded to -- just earlier that year.

Being a city government function, the Phoenix Police is still present; however, the three HP N-Class machines have been gone for about a year, having been surplused in conjunction with city policy. I moved from the CAD/MDC programming support team to a system admin team on a Unisys MCP platform where I am struggling to support our Records Management System (like going from night to day). Our CAD and MDC support functions moved to a completely different platform almost two years ago and is supported by a completely different team now.

Christian Lheureux: I was sitting at my desk at Appic, sorting through HP3000-L newsgroup postings. I learned that the HP 3000 was going to be terminated from an HP internal source that I could absolutely not quote due to an ongoing NDA. In fact, I had been informally tipped much, much earlier that this was going to happen, but I simply could not believe it !

If you were there 10 years ago, you probably remember that some emotions ran quite wild, and that certainly includes mine. After a while (weeks, months), I remember having a big sigh and realizing that, in the aftermath of the Compaq takeover, HP would not keep 2 proprietary platforms and that, between a 71,000-unit installed base (HP 3000) and a 700,000-plus-unit installed base (VMS), the choice was quite obvious. To this day, VMS still exists. They even recently introduced a new release.

The company I worked for that the time still exists as a software publisher. We went bankrupt in late 2005 and the company was finally liquidated 1 year later. I probably sold the last four new HP 3000s in France, on Oct. 31st, 2003. I did my last significant MPE assignments in 2004. After that, my HP3000/MPE activity rapidly became marginal. When our company went bankrupt, I was immediately made redundant. Therefore I have absolutely no idea of what happened to the systems I had in the datacenter -- well computer room. They probably ended up in a garbage dump, much like an unneeded refrigerator that burns too much energy. 

I later did some HP-UX work, then became a sales exec, then went back to pre-sales, which I still do today. I've been part and parcel of the HP ecosystem for all my adult life, HP user as a student, then HP employee, then HP consultant, then HP partner. My HP-UX skill level never rivaled my MPE knowledge, not even close, not even by a long shot. And, perhaps more important, the fun I had doing HP-UX stuff never came close to the fun I had doing MPE things like debug/dumpreading, executable code troubleshooting, performance measurement, developing tools that I needed for other assignments, writing stuff, "educating" customers, etc.

There used to be two documents that I wrote on the OpenMPE website while I served on the board. One was the DAT compatibility matrix, and the second one was the HP(e)3000 line-up, sorted by software tier, complete with performance indicators. I have absolutely no idea whether those documents still exist and if they are available anywhere. My best guess would be that,10 years after, no one cares.

That's history being made. Things come and go.

John K., AOL: I was sitting at my desk in AOL's Reston Technical Center in Reston, VA, when I heard the news.  I was the manager of the Access Wardialer Lab, which filled a little over 1,100 sq. ft. of raised floor with racks containing  hundreds of test and measurement PCs connected to three DS-3 lines providing telephone lines.

We had one HP 3000, and it collected, stored, and analyzed access wardialer data from hundreds of PCs which called every AOL dialup number multiple times every night to test the dialup network and hammer the AOL Windows client. The HP 3000 produced a number of reports, charts and emails every day, with virtually all of AOL's senior executives and management on the distribution lists of those emails.  It also hosted a web site for retrieval of reports, processed wardialer data, Windows "debugview" logs, and other analytics. I'm told that the HP 3000 was turned off and stored for somewhere between 12 and 18 months, and then converted to an HP 9000 (AOL had many, many, many HP 9000s).

AOL's dialup usage took a nose dive in 2004, and in late 2004, my group was disbanded (layoff).  Since then, AOL has split off from Time Warner.  The AOL Reston Technical Center where I worked no longer exists.  I was invited to, and attended AOL's 25th Anniversary Celebration in Dulles, Virginia, on May 24th, 2010, and it was great seeing so many of my former co-workers, most of whom have moved on to other jobs in the various tech industries.  While a manager at AOL, I also coded in SPLASH, SPL, BASIC, and BUSINESS BASIC, and I created both terminal-based and web-based applications.

Today I'm the Software Engineering Manager for an Internet Services Provider which also provides hosting, co-lo, and VoIP telephone services.  I still code, but now I code primarily in PHP and SQL, and the company's Enterprise Information System (EIS) is of my design. I also wrote all of EIS's core code.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 12:16 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 16, 2011

Things change, some 3000s remain the same

When we polled more than 30 customers of the HP 3000, we were surprised how many still employed their systems a decade after HP left the field. Some are using the same servers which ran on the day HP predicted the demise of the ecosystem, 10 years ago this week. Others have relegated their systems to archival duty. We heard from a few that've turned off 3000s completely since 2001.

At the Catawba Valley Medical Center in Hickory, NC, Jim Dellinger said the center's 3000 has been decommissioned quite awhile. "The HP 3000 was discontinued here in 2004," he said, "and hardware services moved from LAB (my niche) to IT.  I'm sure there are no HP 3000 servers there."

Dave Powell, whose report on his 2001-2011 3000 experience appears in our November print issue, told the world more than six weeks ago that his company in the fabrics industry is moving off the 3000. "MMfab has decided to migrate," he said. "Buy a (gasp) package. Toss the system I've been working on for 30 years." But still run a 3000 in archive more for the next 1-3 years, once the real implementation work starts at MMfab -- and gets completed.

CatsBut for every report of a departed  3000, we heard two that were remaining on duty. At least for the next several years. Connie Sellitto, who had about two weeks to solve the problem of "wireframing" her 3000's app architecture for a migration in March, checked back in to say it will be several more months until anything based on .NET is running the US Cat Fanciers Association.

"I was working as Programmer/Analyst at the US Cat Fanciers' Association (CFA) on our third HP 3000, a Series 937 RX, when HP announced its end-of-life," she said. "This really scared a lot of people, but I kept telling them we had third party hardware and software support, and not to worry. The company directors at the time decided to leverage the 350-plus programs with a migration to an HP 9000 -- and we in fact secured a used system, only to have them reverse their decision and opt instead for a newer A400 3000.
 
"The new HP 3000 remained in use in the New Jersey office until July of this year, at which time it was transported intact to CFA's new location in Alliance, Ohio. Plans were to (really, this time) migrate off the MPE platform entirely, with a complete rewrite on a .NET SQL-based system.  This project, originally underestimated to take 3 months, is still in the development stages, and although I've moved to a new job, the 3000 is still going strong. It continues to run the business-critical operations for CFA."

The CFA migration has meant outside consulting pay for Sellitto, all while she works at Hillary Software serving the HP 3000 customer base in her new job. "Over seven months after leaving CFA, I am still assisting in a consulting capacity, because the new staff and IT admins know little or nothing about the HP 3000. Since the nature of the business (pedigree cat registry) does not lend itself to off-the-shelf programming, the new system has to be designed from the ground up. Together with the CFA staff, we are in the final stages of data mapping — as our history is our business and must be preserved, along with all the specialized business rules that make CFA a unique service provider.
 
"And the estimated time to finally shut down this venerable 'legacy' system? My personal guesstimate is another 3-4 months. My only desire is that the data be secure and that all business practices be enabled. Long live the HP 3000!"

Peter Eggars: I was off with friends celebrating my 49th birthday. By that day I had too much time, too much money, had lost much of my obsession with computer technology, and lost my faith in HP. I had been told over a year before that it was coming, and didn't hear about the official announcement until much later. It wasn't until I had a long afternoon discussion with Wirt Atmar that I comprehended the importance of the day, and the missed opportunity to have done anything about it.

In hindsight, the spirit that allowed the HP 3000 to grow and thrive in an IT environment that was dominated by IBM (it has 80 percent of both hardware and software market shares) was lost with the embrace of the new IBM, as well as Microsoft, who were able to take shady business practices that monopolize a market to new lows.

The HP 3000/MPE could have evolved into the premiere Rapid Application Development platform for small- to enterprise-class business applications using a Linux kernel and drivers, one of the GUIs, and an open source database. Integration with Open Office (now Libre), would have been icing on the cake. I think there was a good chance HP could have beaten Oracle, had HP started down that track in the late 1990s. But I have to admit now that Wirt Atmar was right -- 2001 was the last possible year that could have been successful.

Gilles Schipper: Unfortunately, I can’t recall where I was. I do remember first hearing an inkling of it from Wirt — and, coming from him, even though it was not confirmed, I knew it would turn out to be true, as of course it was.

Despite all these 10 years that have passed, my company GSA still has enough customers that I perform HP 3000 System Administration and support duties, staying reasonably occupied and earning a living -— although, of course, not to the same degree as 10 years ago.

What I miss a lot is the annual Interex conventions that afforded the means to revisit with old friends such a you. Even a few years back, a couple of GHRUG meetings in Houston were terrific. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the recent Mountain View get-together at the Computer Museum. Hopefully another opportunity or excuse for another conference/meeting/get-together will arise in the future.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:28 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 15, 2011

Now in an 11th year of post-HP: user reports

We're continuing with the community's first-person testifying about HP's November 14 pullout from the 3000 market 10 years ago. Today is the first day of the 11th year of the rest of your life, because HP's never going to go back on its decision to cease making, enhancing or, in most cases, supporting the HP 3000.

But we've heard from users who hoped otherwise. Many did in the first few years after 2001, because it was hard to believe from the beginning. At least difficult for users and suppliers who knew so many satisfied 3000 owners, or were making a good living off an ecosystem HP proclaimed as mortally wounded.

Why look backward at an event nobody will ever change or recant? You can get hope from the new ground which some of the users have attained. And you'll see how to manage such a sudden change of strategic direction from a supplier, though some of these stories. Plus you can believe that it can happen to any product controlled by a single-vendor. We asked: 1. Where were you when you heard the news, and what became of the 3000 you were using, and 2. What's become of your career and company over the last 10 years.

Bill Towe: I remember attending the HP World shows for 1999 and 2000 when HP announced it was opening its arms to the HP 3000 and would continue the line, and the future seemed safe. Then barely a year later, I was attending an HP Channel Partner conference in Las Vegas when I heard a rumor that the HP 3000 was back on the chopping block. I couldn’t believe it, because only months before, CEO Carly Fiorina had informed the HP 3000 collective that we would see the MPE systems line for years to come.

During that Conference, I learned  the HP 3000 was finished and would start a phase-out of equipment process followed by the End-of-support death march. I was simply shocked. My company, BlueLine Services, was only two years old at the time and 95 percent of our business was MPE system sales and support. We spent the next few years holding out hope that HP would continue to postpone or completely reverse their decision to end the HP3000 line.

"BlueLine Services still provides software and hardware support for customers using HP 3000 and HP 9000 systems. After the announcement ten years ago, we became certified to sell the HP-UX line of equipment as well as the MPE line, until they ceased manufacturing the MPE systems. We begrudgingly had to move forward with the latest offerings from HP since we were an HP-Only reseller at the time. 

"Over the years, it has become more and more difficult to be an HP-Only reseller.  Since that fateful day, we have become an HP, IBM, Dell, Compellent, Cisco, VMWare and HDS reseller, as well as provider of managed services and cloud Computing Services, coupled with hardware and software support for MPE, HP-UX, and Windows OS. Since the dissolution of the HP 3000, my company has diversified to the point that HP no longer has the lion’s share of what we provide our customers. I still find it difficult to believe that the same manufacturer that created the greatest hardware and software system ever produced, also ended it and so unceremoniously. Sad."

Chris Bartram, 3k.com: When I heard, I was working a long-term consulting contract managing HP 3000s and several datacenters for the US government. My company 3k Associates still exists and its HP 3000s are still humming, although only one of threee stays powered on these days.

My job that pays the bills these days has nothing to do with HP 3000s -- and thankfully, very little to do with HP at all.

Craig Lalley: I was working from home for Lund Performance Solutions at the time. The demise of the HP3000 was greatly overshadowed by the events of Sept 11th, for me. Sept 11th had a huge impact on the economy, as well as my personal economics.

I guess was expecting HP’s decision. HP’s actions were much louder than HP words. I believe HP had decided to end the HP 3000 several years before. The sad part is they could not admit it. I still have a love for MPE. I believed there still was a place for a proprietary OS in the business marketplace. Sadly HP did not feel the same way.

My biggest disappointment is the loss of the HP 3000 user groups and the community they inspired. Sadder still is the loss of some major community members. I must add that I enjoy the HP 3000 “e-community” of friends I have met and worked with over the years. The community still consists of some very special and highly talented people.

My greatest hope for future of MPE is not OpenMPE anymore, but Stromasys and the HP 3000 emulator, Charon HPA/3000. To date, I know of only two major bugs/issues, and performance is the next objective. I hope the hidden HP 3000 homesteaders will find a way to see a demo of Charon HPA-3000, I am sure they won’t be disappointed.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:42 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 14, 2011

One Decade Later, You Survived HP's Pullout

MigrationcartoonSo here we are, 10 years to the day since HP announced it would not be participating in the future of the HP 3000 anymore. It's still Nov. 14 in most places where the NewsWire's blog is being read, so here's a history that nobody's been dying to tell. It's about customers of a company that thought it was killing off a computer line. Instead, it killed off a lot of its customers, in the sense that thousands of them though HP was dead on arrival in the IT futures department after Nov. 14. There were careers and companies killed, too. But we've never called it the End of Life for the HP 3000. It's always been the end of HP's life with the 3000. By this year I think of it as a pullout, an act that signals a loss of will and faith, forgetting why you got into a relationship in the first place. HP had given up on a group that I was glad to dub "homesteaders." Everybody was one, until they could manage a migration, after all.

The shock and outrage on that Black Wednesday was astounding at the time, because HP didn't whisper a word about the customers who could never leave a efficient, vital platform. The first HP message was filled with warm concern about getting everyone onto the right computer as soon as possible. As if the bolts and boards of the 25,000 systems working worldwide were about to go toxic or something. HP couldn't even pin down when the closing date would for the 3000 division, CSY, then headed by Winston Prather.

From a CSY perspective and a support perspective, it’s business as usual for the next two years. It’s time for customers start their planning to move to a platform that will serve their businesses better in the future. HP recommends that customers begin transitioning off the HP 3000 to alternate HP platforms.

Customers were not surprised at the news, Prather said, "and they really appreciated HP being able to tell them what we see as the future role of the platform." Prather said these top-tier customers of late 2001 "already have a multi-OS strategy, so they’ve been evolving their applications over time. It is a stake in the ground, but the CIOs I talked to were appreciative of hearing what the future holds."

As proven by the reactions of the next two years, Prather had only talked to companies who could afford to migrate -- and were grateful for an infusion of truth from HP after years of everything else.

For the last week I've been asking the community members to tell about where they were on that star-crossed day that they heard the news — plus what's become of their careers, companies and the computers running on Nov. 14. We've got a massive feature coming in our November print edition, which went to press at 5:30 this morning.

The outpouring of memories and updates and resolve for the future has been profound and prolific. But this has always been a group that knew how to say what they meant, and how they felt. "I'd say we've all been a pretty good human chain holding the 3000 Community together," said Jack Connor, who just departed the OpenMPE board. He was kind enough to note that the stories and articles here "do a lot to make us aware that there's indeed life after HP, and a pretty full one so far." Considering the promise of an emulator and the state of virtualization today, the last decade could have unspooled a better future than what HP delivered.

Some of us had a little advance notice, and some said they saw the move coming before HP announced its exit. My preview involved a phone booth, a cassette recorder with a suction-cup phone pickup, and an Internet Cafe. That's how long ago this all happened. Somehow to a lot of you, it feels like it was only a moment ago.

We leave the first word in the storytelling here on our blog to Alan Yeo, who commissioned a pair of iconic editorial cartoons to express the feelings of customers who didn't get a heads-up, but felt blindsided. Some were even resellers, who learned about the pullout at the same time as their customers.

Yeo wrote us this morning about his "second Black Wednesday," noting a British event that seems as much a cock-up as dropping a profitable platform and its customers at great loss to the little guy. He advised we read up on Wikipedia about that other Wednesday in the UK when £27 billion was spent while a speculator made $1 billion.

On the "Second Black Wednesday" of Nov. 14, I was waiting for America to come on-line and find out if what I had been told a week earlier was coming was true or not. Unfortunately it was.

What became of the HP 3000 we were using at the time? It's still running and still used for development. When you're developing migration software to replicate HP 3000 software, there is no better place to test than under MPE.

My strange observation is how different the last 10 years could have been, if HP had acted differently. Sitting on my desk this week, 10 years after HP announced the end, is a little blue box with a silver-blocked Stomasys logo on it. Inside is a USB stick that will hopefully this week allow a brand-new Intel i7 server that is just being installed here to boot up as an HP 3000 running MPE.

Ten years on, and there is still a potential market for an emulator? We have had a decade where it appears at every turn HP took the wrong path.

Whilst a few people may have been disappointed, most people would have slowly moved and been more than happy if: Instead of announcing the EOL for the HP 3000 — because upgrading MPE to IA64 was too expensive — HP had decided that they would support MPE running in 32-bit on Itanium, or even in a VM under HP-UX on Itanium. Remember even today, most "modern" server applications are still running in 32-bit mode on 64-bit architecture. HP might have sold quite a few more Itanium Servers and certainly would have kept a lot more customers. And there are a lot of vendors around the world that would have had a completely different decade.

Even though they decided to EOL the HP 3000, it then appeared they did their best to frustrate the third-party ecosystem which they indicated was expected to carry the load. The couple of extensions to their end of support dates, well, those damaged both the third party support vendors and the migration vendors — as the need for users to make any decisions was pushed out. Which is probably why there may be enough users still around to make an emulator viable. The Chinese curse goes, "May you live in Interesting Times." And the last decade has certainly been interesting.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:43 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 01, 2011

Listen for the sounds of a post-HP season

In less than 10 minutes of our latest podcast, we're connecting the dots on Steve Jobs, his reverence for HP, the company's PC reverse-march, and how much Hewlett-Packard lost while it exited the 3000 market. It all points to a chilly off-season while HP  works to get back onto the field of enterprise computing, carrying its PCs, and take another run -- like the Texas Rangers -- at the Number 1 spot.

FurcalHitPost-HP? For awhile, anyway. On this first day of its 2012 Fiscal Year, HP is working away from a year when it couldn't seem to get a strike when it needed it, either off the bat of CEO Leo or from the arms of its TouchPad. Maybe it's time that we stop looking back at what HP didn't do a decade ago -- like stick to a profitable, small HP 3000 business. Or stay out of a slim-margin dogpile like the PC business. Or remain focused on enterprise computing. As they say in baseball -- especially here in Texas -- there's always next year.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:50 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP, Podcasts | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 31, 2011

After one strike away, to return another day

One Strike AwayHere in Texas we're learning that there's no crying in baseball, except for in the World Series. Our Texas Rangers were only one strike away from winning the world championship -- not once but twice -- but we saw our heroes of 50 years' efforts fall out of the trophy column. A final effort at that strike (above) let the St. Louis Cardinals bang out a hit to erase a "Roy Hobbs homer" from Josh Hamilton that might have won that Series. It was a Series so epic that it sparked TV ratings unmatched since the Red Sox won their first title in 86 years. The penultimate loss in that Game 6 took 11 innings to complete. A 7 PM game ended nearly at midnight.

It builds character to continue to love something that falls short of ultimate success often. In the computer markets this kind of product gets shuttled to the museum instead of trotted out for another sales cycle. Success gets determined by business managers who can always go about building a new team of products. In baseball, the losing players lace up cleats and swing the bats again after a requeim for the death of this year's dream. Heartrates at my house got worn out Thursday night, the game nearly won when those two almost-champion moments came, and then went. This is the second straight year Texas has lost the Series. It's been nearly 20 years since a baseball team lost consequetive World Series. We will see what becomes of the Rangers in about 22 weeks, when a fresh season dawns. They're already calling this Series historic.

EpicenterIn your community of 3000 users, today is an important day in your history. Eight years ago this afternoon, the last official sale of a new HP 3000 was accepted by Hewlett-Packard. In memory of that milestone, thousands of community members, industry icons and gurus, and HP engineers and managers threw local parties to mourn and remember the glory of a great HP product. The computer continued to be a product for years afterward, but not a product which HP built new any longer.

ScreenJet's Alan Yeo organized, through inspiration and outreach, what was called the World Wide Wake. As a celebration of a passing, the day was a success that might rouse the dead. As a predictor of the obituary of the HP 3000, the images of glasses hoisted and gallows pictures, the event was something else. It served as another marker of the slower timeframe that a computer known as a mainframe can employ for a lifespan.

We've created a Flickr photostream from the Wake pictures that were sent to Yeo's website back in 2003. He was kind enough to leave these memories in our keeping. They represent that one last strike that the computer failed to get on HP. But like those Rangers, there's always next year to buy new HP 3000 hardware. An emulator has given the HP 3000 a set of new seasons for many years to come.

Virtualized hardware took more than eight years to arrive in this marketplace, but it will deliver for many more years to replace the 3000s HP no longer builds or sells. There's not an obvious baseball comparison to what a virtualizer does, but maybe a rejuvenation of a late-game pitching staff, or a robust farm team system to grow new talents, will suffice. As a Rangers fan I expect to see both next year, just as I expect to see HP 3000s grown from fast and cheap PC hardware from Stromasys.

It's past closing time in Europe and the East of the US, even very dark in the 3000's heartland of California Across the International Date Line in Bangalore, India, where a few HP lab engineers toiled until the end of 2008, it's already Nov. 1. All Saints Day, we used to call the date back when I was a boy in Catholic school. Some community members probably think the 3000's survival in any number through 2011 is a miracle.

There are many saints who could claim some credit for the survival of 10,000 to 20,000 HP 3000s. There are also many systems that have been switched off, scrapped or dropped into deep storage over those eight years. The HP 3000 system populace could only decline from its census numbers of 2003. However, it's easy to assert that more 3000s will be running after today — and into the Tenth Anniversary of The Afterlife — than Hewlett-Packard or its partners ever could predict.

A good share of the populace is running because migration was no two-year matter, or even four-year project at some sites. In these companies the HP 3000 is earmarked for a decommission, sometime in the future, near or far. The Afterlife is a land which is rich in the unknown. We cannot know for certain who's still running, who's making migration progress, and who has put their IT futures in limbo. For some customers, they live in the Afterlife because there's no place else to go.

Until now, when an emulator will give a new option to the companies who need to put the same proven players of MPE and IMAGE on the field. It's good to congratulate Unix and Windows on a victory over HP's executive strike zone, so very small in 2001. While the neighborhood kids' voices echo through my open windows tonight in Texas, however, I hear an echo of heritage and tradition of trick-or-treating for sweets. A new future is not right for everybody. This October, the 3000 homesteader can say of new systems the same thing us Rangers fans say in hope: "We'll get 'em next year."

 

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