January 28, 2015
Stealing After an Emulator's Magic
In these new days after the end of the Stromasys freeware emulator offers, it's instructive to recall how much magic the product's concept proposed more than 11 years ago. People in 2003 began by wondering who would ever need something like an emulator, with so much pretty-fresh hardware around. Now companies want an emulator so badly they're trying to make a two-user freeware version do the work of HP-branded iron.
Charon for the 3000 was doubted from the beginning. It began to emerge after five full years of HP delays -- the company didn't want to work with any emulator builder, once it became apparent that the MPE/iX internal boot technology would have to be shared.
Eventually Software Resources International, the company that became Stromasys, was approached. After a half-decade of losing 3000 sites to Sun, Microsoft and IBM, HP wanted to encourage a restart of a project. But back in 2003, an emulator looked like a theory at best. Two additional companies were considering or planning products to give 3000 hardware a real future. Hewlett-Packard had told the community no more new 3000s would be built after fall of '03.
By the time that end-of-manufacture was imminent, Computerworld got interested in the emulation outlook for HP 3000s. The newsweekly ran a front page article called Users Unite to Keep MPE Alive. The subheading was "Get HP to agree to plan for emulator to ease e3000 migration," which meant Computerworld's editors misunderstood what homesteaders desired. Not an easier OS migration, but a way to keep using their systems on fresh hardware.
Third parties such as HP's channel partners and consulting firms don't know if there's enough commercial demand to justify the investment [in buying an emulator]. Potential users who are preparing migration plans say they need to know soon whether an emulator is actually coming.
They needed to know soon because staying with MPE and skipping a migration sounded like a good alternative. Just one company could manage to keep the concept alive in the lost years between 2004-2009. SRI had HP heritage (well, Digital brainpower) and a record of helping HP's VMS customers stay with that OS. Looking at how emulation helped, HP had proof that it could help the 3000 community.One customer interviewed by Computerworld called anyone's 3000 emulator vaporware. While people couldn't plan for it, General Chemical's manager of tech operations Jim Haeseker also said "if an emulator were available now, that might be a different story."
At the time people were considering the emulator as a migration plan, but not away from MPE. This was a way to get off of HP's iron and on to something with a real future, even in the forecasts of 2003. The only thing that HP had done to help was talk to OpenMPE and then "agree to permit an emulator that would enable MPE to used on other HP hardware."
But the OpenMPE of 2003 had no firm plan on how to make an emulator a reality. No budgeted project, just companies that could make an emulator part of their plans once it existed. HP said it was in discussions with emulator developers "to understand what resources would be helpful." Only SRI, to become Stromasys, pursued what the community wanted.
We told our readers of our Online Extra at the time
Several sites quoted in the story were skeptical about how much OpenMPE’s most recent focus, an emulator to mimic 3000 hardware, might be able to help them soon. Timing appears to be a major issue in the story’s comments that focused on the prospect of a software-based PA-RISC emulator. Gavin Scott, VP of Allegro Consultants and a potential creator of an emulator to replace HP 3000 hardware, was described as “non-committal” about the project, though Scott’s actual quote just detailed the prospective cost, and commented on the uncertainty about how many customers would buy such a product.
A customer site in Quebec offered a quote that they wouldn’t consider an emulator as a migration plan — unless they were convinced one could be built. And a technical manager of operations at General Chemical called the emulator “vaporware,” but added that if it were available, he might make allowances for it.
We added that we'd thought a more lasting project for OpenMPE would be the access rights to MPE/iX source code, to be used by the members of the organization's virtual lab, with results to be shared among OpenMPE's members. "That's more important than an emulator which competes with used hardware for sales. The heart and soul of the 3000's unique value lies in IMAGE and MPE, not in PA-RISC hardware." We were right, but we wouldn't be today. The newest of HP's iron is now more than 11 years old.
MPE's source code rights would not be released, but an emulator license for MPE arrived in 2004. Here in the light of 2015, it appears that the aging hardware is being kicked to the curb by a few companies in favor of unlicensed use of freeware that was built for enthusiasts or testing.
After the Computerworld piece, we interviewed the chief of a emulator firm, Strobe Data, one that had to mothball its HP 3000 project. Strobe couldn't out-wait HP. "The thing about emulators is that they just get more valuable with time," said Willard West. Now that there's the magic of Charon as a real product, it's become valuable enough to run at any cost. "We just overlooked the license payment" might be offered as an excuse. That argument proves emulation's value to the community. Maybe there's a way back to freeware with limits to protect everybody.
January 14, 2015
(Still) ways to turn back time to save apps
Editor's Note: Nine years ago this week we ran these suggestions on how to get abandoned software to keep running on HP 3000s. It's still good advice while a manager and company is homesteading, or keeping a 3000 alive until a migration is complete.
Some HP 3000s are reduced to a single application these days. But the one program that will never move off the platform, however vital it might be, could see its support disappear on a particular date — with no help available from the creators of the software.
A few utilities can help rescue such applications. These products were popular during the Y2K era, when systems needed their dates moved back and forth to test Year 2000 compatibility. Now that some HP 3000 programs are being orphaned, clock rollback utilities are getting a new mission.
A customer of SpeedEdit, the HP 3000 programmer's tool, had lost the ability to run the program at the start of 2006. Both Allegro Consultants' Stan Sieler and former NewsWire Inside COBOL columnist Shawn Gordon offer products to roll back the 3000's clock. These companies don't sanction using their software to dodge legitimate licensing limits. But if a software vendor has left your building, so to speak, then HourGlass/3000 or TimeWarp/3000 (both reviewed) are worth a try to get things running again.
3000 customer Paul Frohlich of DMX Music in the UK asked how to get his SpeedEdit running once again now that the calendar had rolled over to 2006:
When editing a file SpeedEdit creates a work file to hold the changes: it uses a structured name for the work file. According to the manual “ ... the first character of the [work] file name represents the year the [work] file was created, the letter A indicating 1980, B 1981 etc.” Therefore Z was 2005 and so there is no letter for 2006! SpeedEdit may be trying to use the next character in the ASCII table, which is probably non-numeric, resulting in an invalid MPE file name. A very neat way of making software expire. I suppose the authors didn’t think anyone would be using SpeedEdit in 2006!
Gordon replied with a suggestion to try his product, software that he's taking orders for direct these days:
While we don't sanction this for bypassing a programs legitimate timing out, it sounds like you've gotten in a bind with a product you paid for and the vendor is gone. Our TimeWarp product which was originally created to do Y2K virtual dates would likely allow you to keep working; you can get some information from www.smga3000.com/timewarp_detail.html about the product.
Sieler posted notice of an alternative solution from his company:
A date/time simulator may help, if you don’t mind the rest of SpeedEdit getting the wrong time. (E.g., run SpeedEdit with a date of, say, 1980... giving you another 25 years of bliss :)
HourGlass/3000 is still the most complete and most efficient date/time simulator tool. You could use it with a rule like:
@,@.@,@ speededt.pub.bbs @ delta -20 years
(Means: any job/session name, any user, any account, any logon group, program is speededt.pub.bbs, from any ldev, gets the current date/time minus 20 years)
Sieler went on to add a more obvious option if a programming editor stops running on the 3000: Use Robelle's Qedit. He also outlined another workaround for a program that wants a date which its creators didn't expect to need to serve:
Write a CALENDAR intercept intrinsic (trivial in SPLash!, Pascal, C) that returns a modified year, put it in XL (e.g., SPDEDTXL), and modify (via LINKEDIT) SpeedEdit to load with that XL. If SpeedEdit is a CM program, change the above to: (trivial in SPL), put in an SL that SpeedEdit will use (SL.pub.BBS or whatever), and mark SpeedEdit as LIB=P or LIB=G.
January 13, 2015
Shedding a Heavy Burden of History
On Monday we reported the release of one of the first training videos hosted by computer pro in their 20s, demonstrating equipment from the 1970s. The HP 3000 is shedding the burden of such old iron, just as surely as the video's creator is shedding the equipment used to make the video.
Mark Ranft of Pro3K is making room in his operations in Minnesota by moving out equipment like the HP 7980 tape drive that was the centerpiece of the video. Ranft, who also manages at the company which took over the OpenSkies airline ticketing operations from HP 3000 servers, said his daughter Katie (above) was showing off MPE gear that will soon be out the door at Pro3K.
"We created this video as we soon we will no longer have the capability to create it," Ranft said. "We are downsizing. I will no longer have all this great old equipment."
Three of the tape drives, including a couple which have HP-IB interfaces. Drives so heavy that our reader Tim O'Neill said he had to remove his 7980s from HP racks using a lift table.
Only last month did I dismantle and ship out the last two remaining 9-track tape units from HP, which were the flat-laying vacuum chamber kind. I think they were Model 7980A (as though HP were going to make B and C models.) They were mounted on heavy duty racking rails in HP cabinets. They had not been used in a while, but were retained just in case someone wanted to read a 9-track.
Old iron is moving out, because the MPE/iX services of the future can be performed using drives so lightweight they'd fit in a lunch pail. Drives hosted on ProLiant servers of current era price lists.Ranft said he's moving out his gear including the drives, five HP 3000s of 9x7 and 9x8 vintage, 10 6000-Series disk enclosures, and four Jamaica enclosures including disks.
"We have some DTCs and other cool peripherals, too," he said. "We even run one program that I wrote in BASIC/3000 in 1983 while I was a computer operator at Northern Telecom. This really proves backward compatibility!"
When a community can replace old iron and retain the reliable programs that run financials and more, it's looking forward. More than a salvage job, which is where those vintage devices are headed. Replacement is a rebuild to the future.
December 31, 2014
Top Stories Lead MPE Into New Year
The remains of 2014 are down to just a few hours by now, a year that saw the virtualization of the system take new wings while migrations proceeded at a slower pace. We reported stories about surprising homesteading sites and new players in the community which counts MPE as a significant piece of history — and for some, a platform into 2015 and beyond.
But no story of the past year would be complete without a passage devoted to the passing of the enterprise torch into a smaller Hewlett-Packard. The company that created MPE and the 3000 passed the total management mantle to CEO Meg Whitman in the summer, making her chair of the full entity. A few months later it divided itself along enterprise IT and consumer lines. The year 2014 will be the last when HP stands for a complete representation of the creations of Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard. By this time next year, a spinoff will be vying for attention of the computing marketplace.
And in one stroke of genius, it became 1984 again at Hewlett-Packard. October brought on a new chorus for an old strategy: sell computers to companies, and leave the personal stuff to others. But one of the others selling personal computers and printers usually connected to PCs is a new generation of the company. The CEO of Hewlett-Packard is calling the split-off company HP Inc. But for purposes of mission and growth, you could call it HP Ink. Genius can be simply a powerful force for good or for ill. Definition 3 of the word in Apple's built-in dictionary on my desktop calls genius "a person regarded as exerting a powerful influence over another for good or evil: He sees Adams as the man's evil genius." It's from Latin meaning an attendant spirit present from one's birth, innate ability, or inclination.
The company to be called Hewlett-Packard will concentrate on a business lineup that harkens back to 1984 a year when the LaserJet joined the product line. CEO Meg Whitman said Hewlett-Packard, devoted to enterprise business, and HP Inc. can focus and be nimble. From a 3000 customer's perspective, that focus would have been useful 13 years ago, when the lust for growth demanded that HP buy Compaq and its PC business for $25 billion on the promise of becoming No. 1.
The San Bernadino County school district in California was working on moving its HP 3000s to deep archival mode, but the computers still have years of production work ahead. The latest deadline was to have all the COBOL HP 3000 applications rewritten by December 2015. That has now been extended to 2017
And with the departure date of those two HP 3000s now more than two years away, the school district steps into another decade beyond HP's original plans for the server line. It is the second decade of beyond-end-of-life service for their 3000.
In another market segment, 3M continues to use its HP 3000s in production. What began as the Minnesota Minining & Manufacturing Company is still using HP 3000s. And according to a departing MPE expert Mike Caplin, the multiple N-Class systems will be in service there "for at least several more years."
In both cases, the 3000 is outlasting the deep expertise of managers who kept it vital for their organizations. It's taking a :BYE before a :SHUTDOWN, this longer lifespan of MPE than experts.
Stromasys took its virtualization of enterprise server message to VMworld's annual conference, where the event was pointing at cloud-based Platform As A Service (PaaS) for the years to come. The CHARON virtualization engine that turns an Intel server into a 3000 operates on the bare metal of an Intel i5 processor or faster, working inside a Linux cradle. Plenty of customers who use CHARON host the software in a virtualized Linux environment -- one where VMware provides the hosting for Linux, which then carries CHARON and its power to transform Intel chips, bus and storage into PA-RISC boxes. VMware is commonplace among HP 3000 sites, so management is no extra work.
In Kansas and in Mountain View, Calif., government organizations stepped off 3000s to move onto replacement applications. At the District Court in Topeka, Kansas, the HP 3000 "has outlived its life expectancy, making it essential that we either move on to another system or we go back to paper and pen," according to a statement on the court's website. Converting data was to be the crucial part of the migration — and will be the crucible of every migration to come. Waiting for a migration to do data cleanup is foolish, according to ScreenJet's Alan Yeo. "Yes, sure you don't want to move crap in a migration," said the CEO. "But you probably should have been doing some housekeeping whilst you lived in the place. Blaming the house when you got it dirty doesn't really wash!"
Even before the end of 2014, plenty of IT shops have closed down changes for the calendar year. Many 2015 development budgets have been wrapped up, too. Among those HP 3000 operations which are still considering a strategy for transition, there's only one assured choice for most of who's left. They'll need to replace their application. Not many can rehost it.
There are still HP 3000 shops out there in manufacturing, even online retail, that are facing decisions about how to migrate off the platform. Plenty of shadow-bound 30000 systems are running aspects of major corporations. For many others, a verbal and white-board commitment to a migration is all that can be mustered for now. Tools out there today, as well as available expertise, take a migration from virtual to reality.
In the concept of virtualization, a server is replaced by another which pretends to be just like the original. There's no new HP 3000 in emulation, for example. Just the idea of one. The essence of the HP 3000, its PA-RISC architecture, is replaced using the Charon product: software that mimics the HP hardware. Virtualization engines use software to eliminate hardware.
Some MPE migrations which have been underway for years look like they may be using up virtual man-months, so the IT group is not forced have to adopt a new application. The plan and lengthy project time eliminates any need to go live with changes.
In a virtual migration, the organization knows its intention. Get onto another environment with mission-critical apps. But the work never gets completed, something like a "forthcoming" novel that's expected but unfinished. Virtualized migrating can very well be the reason any 3000 project still has something like a 2017 target date.
What are the key stories from your chapters of the 3000's 2014? Let us know in the comments below.
December 29, 2014
Moving Pictures of HP's Contribution Origins
HP's Origins video, filmed nearly a decade ago, includes this picture of employees celebrating the shipment of the 10,000th HP 3000, sometime in the 1980s.
You can't find it on the Hewlett-Packard website, but a 2005 movie called "Origins" is still online at a YouTube address. The 25-minute film chronicles what made HP such a groundbreaker in the computing industry, and it includes interviews with the company's founders. Bill and Dave didn't appear much on camera, being businessmen of a different era and engineering managers and inventors at heart.
The link here takes the viewer directly to the Contribution segment of the story. While it is history by now -- the company transformed itself to a consumer and commodity goods provider thanks to the me-too of CEOs Carly Fiorina and Mark Hurd -- the film represents ideals that anybody in the business can set for their own career or decisions. Joel Birnbaum, whose HP Labs leadership helped deliver RISC computing for the business marketplace for the first time in 3000, sings his praise for the love of making a product that could make a difference.
But that contribution era passed away once uniformity became the essential feature of enterprise computing. By the middle '90s, HP was busy selling the 3000 as another tool that could handle open systems (read: Unix) computing. In truth, Unix was no more open than any other environment, including Windows. But Unix had some similarities between versions that could be leveraged by large enough software developers. In the videotape at left, HP offered an interview from an unnamed SAP development executive. He said his application suite had been through a test port to MPE/iX, and he believed the software had 99.5 percent code compatibility from Unix to MPE.
That half percent might have presented a technical challenge, of course. It would be thousands of lines of code, considering SAP's footprint. The MPE version of the application never made it into the vendor's price list, however. One specific client may have used SAP on a 3000 via that test port, but it was never offered as a manufacturing solution by its creators. HP's enterprise execs very much wanted an SAP offering for the 3000. That creation would have been as me-too as any product could get. "You could run that on a 3000 instead of a 9000" would've been the HP account rep's message in 1992.
SAP's exec on the video admired the 3000 customer community for its understanding of enterprise applications. But a level of misunderstanding lay at the heart of the SAP organization, whose speaker in the video said the database for HP-UX and MPE was the same. IMAGE, of course, was nothing like Oracle or even Allbase, and the latter had only a thimble's worth of adoption in the 3000 community. IMAGE gave that community its understanding of what enterprise applications should do.Large manufacturers were using MPE and the 3000 in 1992 when the video was filmed, including General Mills. Making a contribution by exploiting innovations of the computer's environment — well, that's high on the list of essential features. MANMAN, MM II and other apps offered such a contribution from the beginning. At some customer sites, they still do.
The segment that wraps up the video includes a photo of HP employees posing in the shape of the numeral 10,000 to celebrate the sale of the 10,000th HP 3000. Guy Kawasaki, one of Apple's founding braintrust, asserts that HP's DNA was in its people, "and you couldn't kill it if you tried." Any 3000 customer who's migration is headed to HP systems will want that to be true, want it as much as HP wanted a me-too SAP for MPE two decades ago.
December 22, 2014
A Quiet December Week's MPE Ripples
The week of Christmas is a quiet one for business and enterprise IT. Sales calls and installations are at a minimum, companies work with skeleton crews, and announcements of news are rare. But nine years ago the week of Christmas was hot with a 3000 development, one that has ripples even today.
In the Christmas week of 2005 — back when HP still worked full shifts over the holidays — the 3000 division released news that HP's support lifespan for MPE would be extended. What had been called a firm and solid date of HP's departure got moved another 24 months into the future. The news was the first unmistakable evidence that the migration forecast from HP was more wishful than accurate.
As it said it would offer basic reactive support services for 3000 systems through at least December of 2008, the vendor confirmed that it would license MPE source code to several third parties. The former put a chill on migration business in the market, sending vendors -- services and software suppliers alike -- looking for non-3000 markets to service. The latter gave the support community a shot of fresh competition over the afterlife beyond the Hewlett-Packard exit.
In one of the more mixed messages to the community, HP said customers should work with the vendor to arrange support until migrations could be finished. The 3000 division also said its license for MPE source was going to "help partners meet the basic support needs of the remaining e3000 customers and partners." It would take another three years, beyond the closing of the MPE lab, for that source code to emerge.
The source license was limited to read-only informational use, mostly to write patches. The extension of HP's profitable support business put a kink in both migration partners' business as well as the very third party support partners the source was supposed to help.
Officially, the word from HP was that "We see that most HP e3000 customers are moving to new HP solutions, and are working closely with HP and our partners during their transitions." But Windows was moving into the spot that HP swept clean by announcing an MPE exit. An extra two years to make a migration didn't bring more ex-3000 shops into HP environments, unless they were running Windows on HP hardware.
At that time, we reported that the extension of HP's support for the 3000 -- a rollback of the "end of life" as the vendor called its exit — had already been on offer for the biggest 3000 customers.
MB Foster, a North American Platinum migration partner, said the offer of extra support was "one of the worst-kept secrets in the marketplace," according to founder Birket Foster. The extension of HP support doesn't change the business model at Speedware, or MB Foster, according to their officials. But offering basic level reactive support won't meet some customers' needs, Foster added.
While some customers will welcome the potential for more time to migrate, Foster said the HP announcement is introducing some confusion among others. "We had a customer who looked at this and said it would not be enough to make them supportable — but their senior management felt they could take the extra time," Foster said.
The offer has ripples to this day because the migration partners heard the screeching of brakes all through the market on projects. Billings evaporated that would have helped companies still supporting MPE software. It would take another seven years for the migrations to dwindle enough that Speedware announced it was reorganizing as Fresche Legacy, and start embracing transformations for the IBM AS/400 market.
As for the impact on support of 3000s, HP was suggesting that third parties could be part of an HP-branded support offering.
HP it still considers third parties to be a potential part of its own service supply chain for the HP 3000. For the moment, however, the HP support customers get will come from an HP employee or contractor. Third party support actually now takes a step up in a comparison with the just-announced 2007-08 levels of service. Most companies offering support won’t charge as much as HP to deliver mission-critical support.
Third parties never became part of HP's support products. These independent companies found that HP wouldn't leave the field when its clock was supposed to run out. The vendor chose a next-to-Christmas announcement date to de-emphasize its moving of the goalposts.
As for the relative silence from the customer community, it might be the result of making an announcement three days before the Christmas holiday weekend. As for the business planning of the 3000 sites’ budgets, next year's 2006 is already spoken for. All this does is change options for 2007.
It’s too bad this announcement didn’t come when more people were listening, still able to allocate budgets. But HP did more than its last two updates to OpenMPE's requests. In those instances, responses came in the form of postings to mailing lists. This time out there was PR support, and an outreach to business analysts and the mainstream IT press. You’d think the vendor had something to sell here, like goodwill in a holiday season — or another couple of years of support.
November 20, 2014
TBT: When Joy of Tech Was Necessary
The cover above of the SuperGroup Association magazine from January, 1985 came to mind here on ThrowBack Thursday. Fred White passed away this week, and it's been a delightful trek down the lane of memories to recall his gusto about the art of technology.
The cover above shows some of that gusto which is not easy to describe. SuperGroup understood the MPE and IMAGE technology of the '80s as well or better than any magazine of the day. But that 3000 publication edited by D. David Brown had a sense of humor and whimsy about it no other publication has been able to eclipse. (Even on my best day as HP Chronicle editor I was only cooking up editorial cartoons about PA-RISC that somebody else would illustrate, and there have been those Ken-Do strips from the NewsWire. But nothing as savvy as what was staged above.)
The players in the little romp were, from left, White, Adager's Alfredo Rego, and Robelle's Bob Green. The photo was a teaser into a great technical paper about a perceived need to acknowledge that databases needed "uncomfortable Procrustean designs... [using] methodologies associated wth normalizing and relating."
Like the paper that Eugene Volokh wrote in the following year, the technical report put relational databases in their place -- capable of permitting multiple views of data, but with a steep performance price to pay compared to IMAGE/3000. The article was on the vanguard of unmasking the shortcomings of relational databases of that era, as I read it. Also clever and playful, two words not often associated with technical writing. The paper was authored by more than the three in the picture; Allegro's Stan Sieler and Steve Cooper got credits, as did Leslie Keffer de Rego for editing.Two of the actors in that photo represented a database that had to be filled out for length, and one that needed to be chopped short. Procrustes would kill travelers by placing them in "beds of various sizes, and when he lighted on a traveler who was tall, he consigned him to one of his short beds, lopping off so much of him as exceeded the length of the stead; but if his guest were short, a long bed was provided him, and his limbs, by help of a machine, were stretched out to its length."
This kind of super-wizard comedy was essential to the period when White was spreading his wings. He was a consultant to Adager at the time and sometimes graced the speaker lists on that day's then-crowded user group meeting calendar. At one show in Southern California, held in the halls of the converted Queen Mary, I watched White expound on the exactitude of writing files to tape, an amazing talk that ran more than a quarter-hour over its 90 minutes allotted. White had more to say, too, even as the organizers had to turn over the room.
The 1980s of the HP 3000 were a time when the Joy of Tech was necessary to overcome the growing pains of the 3000's success. Users were outstripping the processing power of the CISC-based systems, and the competing databases of the era needed serious integration skills to maintain their value to their owners. That integration had been wired into the 3000 by the IMAGE work of White and others. Experts like him, Rego, and Green not only wielded the know-how, they made complex topics entertaining. In SuperGroup they found a wry editorial staff which knew how to showcase gusto.
November 19, 2014
Fred White, 1924-2014
Courtesy of his long-time collaborator and partner Alfredo Rego, this picture of Fred White was taken in 2004, when Fred was 80 and several years into retirement. The legendary co-creator of IMAGE and the SPL expert in Adager's Labs, White was a Marine Corps veteran. Rego said while offering this portrait, "I took this photo with my Olympus E-1 on October 26, 2004 (just a bit over 10 years ago!) in Cedar City, Utah, where he and Judy lived for a while. Fred invited Judy and me to lunch, and I snapped this image across the table. I loved everything there: The warm light, the delicious food, the stimulating conversation, the young college students rushing about..."
The creator of the heartbeat of the HP 3000, Fred White, passed away on November 18, 2014 at the age of 90. White died peacefully in the presence of his wife Judy and family members, of natural causes. He had relocated to Arizona after retiring from Adager in the year after Y2K. His work in building the essential database for MPE, alongside Jon Bale, was the keystone of the 3000 experience. Rego took note of a key identifier inside the IMAGE internals, one that signified a database was sound and accurate. The flag was FW, or as Rego said in a short tribute to his partner, "%043127, the octal representation of “FW” — the flag for a normal IMAGE/3000 database (and TurboIMAGE, and IMAGE/SQL)."
White's work for the 3000 community came in two stages. The first was his innovations while working for HP, building a network database which won awards until HP stopped selling IMAGE and included it with the HP 3000. (Bundled software would not be considered for prizes like the Datamation award bestowed on IMAGE in 1976.) IMAGE, integrated at a foolproof level with the MPE intrinsics and filesystem, delivered a ready field for a small army of developers to plant applications and tools. Without White's work, the 3000 would have been just a footnote in HP's attempts to enter the computer business.
The second stage of White's gifts to the community began when HP had infuriated him for the last time. Never a fan of large organizations, he left Hewlett-Packard when it became clear the vendor had no interest in enhancing IMAGE. But before he departed HP, White met with Rego when the latter was visiting HP in an effort to learn more about IMAGE from the vendor, in preparation for a forthcoming database manager he'd create. As the legend is told, White decided he'd try to help Rego just to ensure that the creation to be called Adager could emerge a little easier.
"He hoped we would answer his questions," White said in a post-retirement interview. His partner Jon Bale "said that kind of help would be contrary to HP company policy. I said to him, 'Jon, this guy’s going to get this done whether we help him or not. All we’re doing is helping a fellow human. Whatever it takes, Alfredo’s going to do it anyway.' "
"At that point, Jon said it was up to me, but he couldn’t do it because it wasn’t HP company policy. He wished Alfredo the best of luck and left. So I answered his questions, and even told him things he couldn’t possibly have thought of, such as privileged mode intrinsic calling and negative DBOPEN modes, things peculiar to the software rather than the database. We chatted for an hour and a half or so."
The exchange in 1977 pointed toward the door to the Adager segment of White's career. The years between 1980 and 2001 allowed Fred to make up for his reticence inside corporations by becoming the conscience of accuracy and fairness. Innovations for IMAGE finally arrived in the middle 1990s. But White's most saucy moment of advocacy came in Boston when HP was trying to make IMAGE a separate product once again.The battle raged in a conference hall on the scene of the Interex user group meeting in 1990. Unbundling was an HP strategy designed to make it easier to buy an Oracle database for the 3000, reducing the price of the hardware modestly while making room for an add-on product. HP's database would be on a footing with all other offerings, but White and others knew that a 3000 without IMAGE was not the product the community trusted with its loyalties.
It was an era when users offered advocacy in a tone of angst. This sometimes was not the exchange that HP desired to air in public. But it was good for the capability of the system. HP had to watch the international computer press listen to a rumbling roar of revolution from 3000 users. A meeting of the IMAGE Special Interest Group came to be known as your community's Boston Tea Party. Rego recalled the moment of highest revolt.
Fred White (co-author of IMAGE and at the time Senior Scientist at Adager Labs) addressed Bill Murphy (HP’s Director of Marketing) from the floor and complimented Bill on his tie. Fred then explained how stupid it was for HP to unbundle IMAGE. Fred continued by describing the negative effects in products that depended on having IMAGE on the HP 3000. Fred also provided some historic background by relating how Ed McCracken (a previous 3000 General Manager) had made a success of the HP 3000 by bundling IMAGE in the mid '70s. Fred was firm but courteous. No tomatoes (err, tea bags) were thrown. Perhaps the whole “Boston Tea Party” legend started because Fred used the word “stupid” in public, applying it to HP’s management, with no apologies.
The crucial work needed to support a dizzy array of date types was near the apex of White's work at Adager, details scrutinized and attended to during the advent of Y2K. After his retirement, White remained visible in both online communities and at gatherings of the 3000 community's most formidable minds.
His computer career crossed five decades, starting in 1957 when programmer degrees didn’t exist and math experts did the heavy lifting to create file systems, operating environments and applications. In the beginning of his work for HP, he was creating the first file system for the 3000. He was then transferred to another project that grew into the creation of IMAGE.
He came to his HP work from 12 years of positions at Sylvania Electronic Defense Lab, United Technology Center and IBM. White had prepared for his more than 43 years of programming by work and study in forestry, engineering, Japanese, criminology and math. He joined Sylvania two months before Sputnik was launched by the Russians. By 1969 he’d responded to HP’s entreaties and followed some UTC colleagues to HP Cupertino, where he headed up the File System Project for the Omega System, which evolved to MPE.
Never a fan of large organizations, White eventually left HP in 1981 after he had been moved away from IMAGE and onto other projects. He first met Rego when the latter traveled to HP Cupertino to meet the IMAGE creators and learn more about IMAGE and its data structures. White took a post which Rego offered as a consultant to Adager in 1981, and became a senior research engineer for that company in 1989.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the tall, silver-haired programmer cut a notable swath through the HP 3000 community, especially at the annual Interex user group meetings. Always ready to level with HP’s management about what the HP 3000 needed, White’s comments and criticisms in those meetings represented the same unflinching focus required for his SPL programming on the 3000’s internals.
White always wanted to stay busy at his work. In 1946 he worked on Okinawa as a Japanese interpreter for a construction company and applied for a decrease in pay when he thought the company hadn’t given him enough to do. His 19-plus years with Adager made up the biggest single stay in a career in which he said “I quit a lot of jobs. That’s what I’m prone to do when management screws up.”
In his retirement White was active with family members, traveling, hiking and bird watching. The subject of the watches was mostly raptors, he added. "We like our place in Clarkdale (desert plants and critters) with great views of Mingus Mountain and the red rock area of Sedona," he said in 2003. "I like keeping in touch with many of my old friends and enemies on the Internet and mailing lists."
When we asked him about the single biggest mistake HP made with the HP 3000, White was ready with
"at least five I can think of. 1. Not having the development teams being the support teams. 2. Getting in bed with Oracle. 3. Not being aware that there are no relational databases, just relational access to databases. 4. Following the Unix pied piper. 5. Not marketing the HP 3000. For example, they never bothered to tell the world that the computers they used at corporate headquarters were HP 3000s."
As to what kept him so productive for so long, he mentioned his single-language focus on SPL, as well as still being interested in his work. But he also said, "Having a boss who was more interested in quality than quantity." The community poured out good wishes to a special email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, in his final days. One developer who heard of his passing said, "Let's hope that when Fred gets upstairs, his entry permit to Heaven is stamped 'Automatic, Master'."
November 14, 2014
Our World's Greatest Cartoon, Ever
Because it's so crucial, and because Alan Yeo was brilliant in commissioning it. Mark your calendars. (Click it for detail)
November 13, 2014
Thursday Throwback: IMAGE vs. Relational
As a precocious 18-year-old, Eugene Volokh wrote deep technical papers for HP 3000 users who were two or three times his age. While we pointed to the distinctions between IMAGE master and automatic datasets recently, Eugene's dad Vladimir reminded us about a Eugene paper. It was published in the fall of 1986, a time when debate was raging over the genuine value of relational databases.
While the relational database is as certain in our current firmament as the position of any planet, the concept was pushing aside proven technology 28 years ago. IMAGE, created by Fred White and Jon Bale at HP, was not relational. Or was it? Eugene offered the paper below to explore what all the relative fuss was about. Vladimir pointed us to the page on the fine Adager website where the paper lives in its original formatting.
The relationships between master and automatic and detail datasets pointed the way to how IMAGE would remain viable even during the onslaught of relational databases. Soon enough, even Structured Query Language would enter the toolbox of IMAGE. But even in the year this paper emerged, while the 3000 still didn't have a PA-RISC model or MPE/XL to drive it, there was a correlation between relational DBs and IMAGE. Relational databases rely on indexes, "which is what most relational systems use in the same way that IMAGE uses automatic masters," Eugene wrote in his paper presented at COBO Hall in Detroit (above). QUERY/3000 was a relational query language, he added, albeit one less easy to use.
Vladimir admits that very few IT professionals are building IMAGE/SQL databases anymore. "But they do look at them, and they should know what they're looking at," he explained.
Relational Databases Vs. IMAGE:
What The Fuss Is All About
By Eugene Volokh, VESOFT
What are "relational databases" anyway? Are they more powerful than IMAGE? Less powerful? Faster? Slower? Slogans abound, but facts are hard to come by. It seems like HP will finally have its own relational system out for Spectrum (or whatever they call it these days). I hope that this paper will clear up some of the confusion that surrounds relational databases, and will point out the substantive advantages and disadvantages that relational databases have over network systems like IMAGE.
What is a relational database? Let's think for a while about a database design problem.
We want to build a parts requisition system. We have many possible suppliers, and many different parts. Each supplier can sell us several kinds of parts, and each part can be bought from one of several suppliers.
Easy, right? We just have a supplier master, a parts master, and a supplier/parts cross-reference detail:
Now, why did we set things up this way? We could have, for instance, made the SUPPLIER-XREF dataset a master, with a key of SUPPLIERS#+PART#. Or, we could have made all three datasets stand-alone details, with no masters at all. The point is that the proof of a database is in the using. The design we showed -- two masters and a detail -- allows us to very efficiently do the following things:
- Look up supplier information by the unique supplier #.
- Look up parts information by the unique part #.
- For each part, look up all its suppliers (by using the cross-reference detail dataset).
- For each supplier, look up all the parts it sells (by using the cross-reference detail dataset).
This is what IMAGE is good at -- allowing quick retrieval from a master using the master's unique key and allowing quick retrieval from a detail chain using one of the detail's search items.However, let’s take a closer look at the parts dataset. It actually looks kind of like this:
PART# <-- unique key item
What if we want to find all the suppliers that can sell us a "framastat"? A "framastat", you see, is not a part number -- it's a part description. We want to be able to look up parts not only by their part number, but also by their descriptions. The functions supported by our design are:
- Look up PART by PART#.
- Look up SUPPLIERS by SUPPLIERS#.
- Look up PARTs by SUPPLIERS#.
- Look up SUPPLIERs by PART#.
What we want is the ability to
- Look up PART by DESCRIPTION.
The sad thing is that the PARTS dataset is a master, and a master dataset supports lookup by ONLY ONE FIELD (the key). We can't make DESCRIPTION the key item, since we want PART# to be the key item; we can't make DESCRIPTION a search item, since PARTS isn't a detail. By making PARTS a master, we got fast lookup by PART# (on the order of 1 or 2 I/Os to do the DBGET), but we forfeited any power to look things up quickly by any other item.
And so, dispirited and dejected, we get drunk and go to bed. And, deep in the night, a dream comes. "Make it a detail!" the voice shouts. "Make it a detail, and then you can have as many paths as you want to."
We awaken elated! This is it! Make PARTS a detail dataset, and then have two search items, PART# and DESCRIPTION. Each search item can have an automatic master dataset hanging off of it, to wit:
What's more, if we ever, say, want to find all the parts of a certain color or shape, we can easily add a new search item to the PARTS dataset. Sure, it may be a bit slower (to get a part we need to first find it in PART#S and then follow the chain to PARTS, two IOs instead of one), and also the uniqueness of part numbers isn't enforced; still, the flexibility advantages are pretty nice.
So, now we can put any number of search items in PARTS. What about SUPPLIERS? What if we want to find a supplier by his name, or city, or any other field? Again, if we use master datasets, we're locked into having only one key item per dataset. Just like we restructured PARTS, we can restructure SUPPLIES, and come up with:
Believe it or not, this is a relational database.
If this is a relational database, I'm a Hottentot
Surely, you say, there is more to a relational database than just an IMAGE database without any master datasets. Isn't there? Of course, there is. But all the wonderful things you've been hearing about relational databases may have more to do with the features of a specific system that happens to be relational than with the virtues of relational as a whole.
Consider for a moment network databases. IMAGE is one example, in fact an example of a rather restricted kind of network database (having only two levels, master and detail). Let's look at some of the major features of IMAGE:
- IMAGE supports unique-key MASTERS and non-unique-key DETAILS.
- IMAGE does HASHING on master dataset records.
- IMAGE has QUERY, an interactive query language.
Which of these features are actually network database features? In other words, which features would be present in any network database, and which are specific to the IMAGE implementation? Of the three listed above, only the first -- masters and details -- must actually be present in all databases that want to call themselves "network." On the other hand, a network database might very well use B-trees or ISAM as its access method instead of hashing; or, it might not provide an interactive query language. It would still be a network database -- it just wouldn't be IMAGE.
Why is all this relevant? Well, let's say that somebody said "Network databases are bad because they use hashing instead of B-trees." This statement is wrong because the network database model is silent on the question of B-trees vs. hashing. It is incorrect to generalize from the fact that IMAGE happens to use hashing to the theory that all network databases use hashing. If we get into the habit of making such generalizations, we are liable to get very inaccurate ideas about network databases in general or other network implementations in particular.
The same goes for relational databases. The reason that so many people are so keen on relational databases isn't because they have any particularly novel form of data representation (actually, it's much like a bunch of old-fashioned KSAM/ISAM-like files with the possibility of multiple keys); nor is it because of some fancy new access methods (hashing, B-trees, and ISAM are all that relational databases support). Rather, it's because the designers of many of the modern relational databases did a good job in providing people with lots of useful features (ones that might have been just as handy in network databases).
What are relational databases: functionality
The major reason for many of the differences between relational databases and network databases is simple: age. Remember the good old days when people hacked FORTRAN code, spending days or weeks on optimizing out an instruction or two, or saving 1000 bytes of memory (they had only 8K back then) ? Well, those are the days in which many of today's network databases were first designed; maximum effort was placed on making slow hardware run as fast as possible and getting the most out of every byte of disk.
Relational databases, children of the late '70s and early '80s had the benefit of perspective. Their designers saw that much desirable functionality and flexibility was missing in the older systems, and they were willing to include it in relational databases even if it meant some wasted storage and performance slow-down. The bad part of this is that, to some extent, modern relational databases are still hurting from slightly decreased performance; however, this seems to be at most a temporary problem, and the functionality and flexibility advantages are quite great.
For even more IMAGE education, like the advantages of IMAGE over relational databases, and a tour of the flexibility that automatic masters provide, see the remainder of the paper on the Adager website.
November 06, 2014
Throwback: Today's Empire of Invent3K
Five years ago today we watched for notice about a fresh 3000 resource on the Web. Invent3K, a public access development server created by HP in 2001, was searching out a new home in November 2009. The vendor shut off Invent3K in November 2008, along with the Jazz website that hosted shareware utilities created by HP and the user community.
Invent3K was an OpenMPE adoption project five years ago. The community probably didn't need a public access development web server by the end of 2009. But replacing HP's withdrawn assets seemed important. Invent3K harkened back to a more hopeful time. 3000 developers were first offered access to MPE accounts on that HP server only about six months before the vendor announced it would end its 3000 programs.
Invent3K was unique in the 3000's history. The server was the first and only place that hosted free, development-use-only subsystem software from HP. Working from an Invent3K account, a developers employed COBOL II, TurboStore, and other HP-branded products while building apps or utilities.
For a time, OpenMPE wanted to sell $99 yearly development accounts on its replacement Invent3K. The community was not accustomed to paying for public access, so sales were slow. OpenMPE was trying to generate revenues for operating things like a Jazz replacement host where contributed tools could be accessed. By that time, much of Jazz had been re-hosted at servers owned by Client Systems and Speedware. Things were not hosted quite the same as on Jazz, though. HP insisted that those two vendors make users click through an End User License Agreement before using the contributed tools re-hosted from Jazz.
Last month, two of the replacement servers for delivering Jazz and Invent3K had online glitches. Speedware's server went offline for a weekend, so its hpmigrations.com website that hosts Jazz delivered only an error. The HP 3000 where Invent3K was headed in 2009 had a small hiccup, too: the 3000-based Empire 3.9 game server lost use of its domain name for awhile in October. Tracy Johnson is the caretaker for the Empire server and its parent -- Invent3K, whose domain name is invent3k.openmpe.com.
But Invent3K is operating today, at least for anyone who had an account established before OpenMPE curtailed its operations. Access is through any terminal emulator with Telnet or VT/Mgr protocol. Once you've configured your terminal emulator, connect to the address invent3k.empire.openmpe.com.After years of reduced 3000 development -- the result of many systems frozen to maintain stability -- Invent3K is more than a testament to shared effort of the community. It's a solution in search of a problem. Free access to the 3000's subsystem products for development wasn't much of a problem by 2010. Invent3K was devised as a means to deliver new software for MPE. The community was encouraged to help, back in 2001.
Advocates for MPE/iX waited longer than expected for invent3k.openmpe.com to come online. The wait was so lengthy that a dispute over who would control the server arose in the OpenMPE group. Ultimately the original openmpe.org domain was locked up, kept out of the hands of the OpenMPE board members. Allegro Consultants stepped up to donate the openmpe.com domain, which it had purchased long before Invent3K was up for adoption.
As a result of moving a consolidated version of Jazz out of HP's labs, the community now faces good news and bad for the Jazz web resources. The good news is there's plenty of redundancy, with Fresche Legacy (nee Speedware), Client Systems, and OpenMPE's volunteers like Johnson all hosting the programs.
The bad news is there are three sets of programs and command files and UDCs, some overlapping, and some not, among those redundant resources. Every host gets to use their own organizational map, so finding something specific probably requires a visit to all three sites. And some tools aren't on any of the servers, like the bash shell program for MPE/iX. Bash was the focus of the recent Shellshock hack, one that had administrators examining their servers for security vulnerability.
For the time being, the Jazz portals are located at:
OpenMPE Jazz: invent3k.openmpe.com/jazz/
Client Systems Jazz: www.clientsystems.com/jazzmain.html
Fresh Legacy/Speedware Jazz: hpmigrations.com/HPe3000_resources/HP_jazz
There is only one Invent3K, however. One might be enough, considering it's an HP 3000.
October 27, 2014
Early 3000 Flights: A New Embattled History
The world is still full of computer aces who flew in the earliest skies of minicomputers. The HP 3000 has history to share about the dogfights to bring interactive computing to businesses and organizations. The new voice of a pilot of that early age, Bill Foster, tells a fresh story about historic 3000 events. (A tip of the hat here to former OpenMPE director and Allegro support engineer Donna Hofmeister, who spotted Foster's blog.)
Bill Foster was in charge of engineering for the first HP 3000 that became a production-grade computer, the Series II. Foster went on to co-found Stratus Computer. In a blog he's called TeamFoster he tells his compelling story I Remember HP, complete with characters memorable and regrettable, about the earliest times in the Data Systems Division labs in California. Up to now, most of the stories about the 3000's birth have had a more abbreviated telling, or they're summarized in less vivid accounts.
Foster's written 15,000 words on his blog to tell his Hewlett-Packard story, which begins in 1971. In that year the HP 3000 is still more than a year away from its ill-fated debut, so he can chronicle the inner workings of a lab where "The engineers were mostly out of control, particularly the programmers."
Foster's story about the earliest days of the 3000 includes accounts of important players such as Barney Oliver, Paul Ely and Ed McCracken. There's even a note about Jim Hewlett, son of HP co-founder Bill Hewlett. A golfer and a nature lover, Hewlett's son got Foster in trouble. As part of the system's revival there was even a face-saving video interview, designed to revive the ruinous reputation of the 3000.Even while Foster puts himself at the center of the story about the rescue of MPE -- an OS that was too memory-hungry for the first System 3000 computer -- he's generous with praise and details from others in the company. Paul Ely was general manager of the DSD at the time the 3000 project was floundering.
While Paul could be a royal pain in the ass, I do give him credit for saving HP’s computer business. The Alpha project eventually morphed into a computer called the HP 3000. It initially flopped in the marketplace and became a total embarrassment to the company.
While my group was focused on programming languages my cubicle-mate, Ron Matsumoto was in charge of MPE, the monster operating system. While you might be able to ship the computer without a language like COBOL, it was totally useless without MPE. And MPE was in trouble, big time.
Hewlett was ready to can the entire program. HP had a reputation to maintain, and part of that reputation was that their products were a cut above everyone else’s. But Paul held his ground with Hewlett -- he told him that the 3000 was basically a very good product, it just needed more time to work out the kinks. Paul saved the 3000 and kept HP in the computer business.
It had been an unqualified failure, that first HP 3000. "We shipped Serial #1 to the Lawrence Hall of Science in nearby Berkeley. A couple of weeks later they shipped it back," Foster writes. "The 3000 could support at most two or three users on a good day -- nowhere near 16 or 32 or whatever they were promised. And MPE was crashing 3 or 4 times a day."
MPE was beefed up all through the period when the hardware part of the project was sidetracked. The software had acquired a taste for a lot more memory than the 128K in the first 3000. That's right, K as in kilobytes. HP launched a business computer with less memory than one meaty Microsoft Word file of today.
The source of MPE's salvation, by Foster's account, was engineer Mike Green, who led the team to re-engineer the OS.
Mike was one of the coolest people in Cupertino, and probably the smartest. A real laid-back hippie-freak: long hair, sandals, slow walking, supremely confident. After a couple of years Mike and I flipped jobs and I became his boss. He decided it was more fun to invent than to manage.
When the 3000 got into trouble I asked Mike to drop what he was doing and take charge of MPE, the operating system. MPE was the most complex part of the computer and it was a disaster. Because of MPE, customers began shipping their 3000’s back to HP -- that was definitely the wrong direction.
Mike agreed to save MPE, and after a week or two we were ready to present his plan to Ely. Mike stood up in a room full of important people and gave the pitch. It was a great plan, and Mike said we would be out of the woods in about five months.
When he finished his presentation Ely said “are you telling me five months because that’s what I want to hear, or is this really what you think will happen?”
Mike looked at Paul in a dismissive manner. “I’m saying this because it’s going to happen. Why would I say anything just to please you?”
For once Ely was speechless. He had no retort. He had met his match. There was dead silence as we left the room. And five months later MPE was working.
Once the computer appeared to be a product promising enough to garner orders from customers, Foster needed to sell it to the HP sales force -- which had been burned by the flame-out of the first 3000. He enlisted David Packard to do it.
Dave Packard was the most revered person at HP -- even more respected and certainly more feared than Bill Hewlett. The idea was that Dave Packard and myself, as the Engineering Manager in charge of the 3000, would sit down and have a “fireside chat.” HP had invested in videotape technology as an employee training tool and had a great studio in Palo Alto for filming such a program. It would be partially scripted with Packard asking me the appropriate questions and eventually giving his blessing of the 3000. The tape would be sent to HP offices around the world.
The big man came into the studio, crisply dressed and intimidating as always. I was very nervous -- this guy was not to be messed with. We sat very close together for the TV cameras, his foot almost touching mine.
The interview went off as scripted. He asked me a bunch of questions about what was wrong with the original 3000 and what we had done to fix it. He ended by telling the audience that he was certain the 3000 Series II was a fine product and would be a big hit in the marketplace.
When the cameras shut off and the lights dimmed, he grabbed my knee with his big hand, squeezed real hard, leaned over and looked me in the eyes. “Foster, you got me on tape endorsing your computer. The goddammed thing better work!”
Foster's stories fill in some key moments about the 3000's success that have never been written about. He also tips his hat to Bob Green's fine, streamlined History of the HP 3000. Foster's expansive version is full of names and players. There's also Chris Edler's 1995 story of the system's origins, The Strongest Castle: The Rise, Fall and Rise of the HP 3000.
By Foster's reckoning -- and he's honest enough to note changes in HP that sent Hewlett and Packard's ideals by the wayside -- the 3000 made the company relevant in the computer world. "The 3000 went on to be an extremely successful product for HP," he writes. "In many respects it launched them as a legitimate player in the computer industry."
October 23, 2014
TBT: There Used to Be a Lab Around Here
Above, the Glendenning Barn Picnic Area, one of the signature elements of Hewlett-Packard's Pruneridge Avenue campus, heartland of HP's 3000 business. It's all been razed to below-ground level, as Apple builds its new intergalactic headquarters on the site.
One of the lesser-known tunes from the Frank Sinatra songbook is There Used to Be a Ballpark Around Here. The sentiment of the song wraps around the wistful view that something unique is now gone. Apple has posted the greatest quarter of business in the company's history. All through this year, it's been steadily displacing the HP labs where the 3000 and other products were designed and improved.
One 3000 engineer posted pictures of the current state of the 3000's estate. Only a multi-story mound of earth can be seen where handsome walkways, cooperative parking and stately poplars and pines were once the sentinels around the campus. People called their journeys to this location "a factory visit." One day while I was there on a press briefing, I was shown downstairs to a lower level -- where a manufacturing line was rolling out Series 68 servers.
HP's been cutting back on many things to maintain its profitability. Real estate has been at the head of the list the company no longer needs. You can consider that HP has closed its MPE/iX labs in California, yes. But the labs themselves -- cubicles and miles of network cables and office furniture and meeting rooms named after types of trees like Oak and Maple -- those are all gone now, the home of more than 3000 enterprise computing. It's all been moved away and changed.
Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison once walked the streets of Palo Alto and bemoaned the changes at Hewlett-Packard, not quite five years ago this fall. Apple, Jobs hoped, would be built to last as long as HP and become the kind of headwater for inspiration and innovation that Hewlett-Packard was. The street that faced that Pruneridge Avenue entrance had Tandem Computer on the facing curb. Tandem, spun off from HP by James Treybig, until HP assimilated it to become its NonStop group. Now the spinning comes anew to this street, soon enough to be the site of a spaceship-sized Apple HQ.
Apple has done all that it can to become the HP of innovation, plus added an ability to capture the lightning in a bottle of excitement about new tech. It's a fulfullment of Jobs' dream to see the company rise up on the ballpark site of HP's enterprise computing labs.
October 21, 2014
Macworlds expire. Apple soars. Not linked.
You can file this report under Types of End of Life. The HP 3000 had an alleged end of life. HP announced it about 13 years ago, but that was the vendor's report about its 3000 activities. There can be a demise in classic support structures for a system once it wanes. But those structures, like information and community events, might be wobbly all by themselves. Things do change.
Everything called Macworld has now gone away. There was a print magazine, roaring through the '80s, the '90s, and even until about 10 years ago. Printed publications about computer lines, focused on one vendor, built this industry. IDG owned Macworld, owns PC World, owns Computerworld. Only the last publication still prints news on paper and sends magazines into the mail. Things change. There's this invention called the Internet.
In another post I pointed to the HP publications no longer in print. All of them, except for the Newswire. HP Professional, InterACT, HP Omni. Long ago, SuperGroup, and HP User. Interex Press, HP World. Every one of them exited. The departure for some was the trigger of that HP end of life announcement. Others rolled over when something bigger died: their parent company, or interest in Hewlett-Packard's products. One of the last executive directors of the Interex user group asked a big question: "How do you make a vendor-specific user group relevant in a cross-platform world?" said Chuck Piercey.
Another way to go out of the show business: tell your partners nothing about the departure, and market as if it's all going fine. This, from a web page less than four weeks before the final, canceled HP World conference -- a page still online on the day before the user group's demise.
IDG's expo division has asked the same stay-relevant question about the 30-year-old Macworld conference. And answered it. The expo is now on hiatus, and unlikely to emerge again. Macworld Expo added a sister expo called iWorld to embrace the rocketing mobile products from Apple. More than one third of Macworld/iWorld exhibitors bought booth spots in a bullpen called the Appalooza. More important, though, was the exodus of tens of thousands of square feet of show space, once purchased by the industry's giants. Adobe. HP. Canon. Microsoft. Little vendors in little booths were not enough to counter big changes in our industry's communication.
Apple reported a record profit yesterday, and its stock is trading at $716 a share (corrected for the 7:1 split of the springtime). Apple announced an end of life of its user show exhibitions four years ago. Macworld Expo never was the same. The vendor got healthier and bigger, so why did the magazine and show founder? Things change. Customers, always the prize for a conference or a magazine, found better ways to learn about owning products. And what to purchase.Purchasing is not a big part of the HP 3000 experience anymore. Not like it was when there were seven Hewlett-Packard-focused publications, or even where there were just four left in the world. Purchases for HP 3000s involve replacement systems, virtualized alternatives, support, and migration services. Some software makes its way into the commerce chain. But a replacement package for another system is most likely to be a line item on a budget. Training will be on the new platform, in nearly every encounter.
HP's fortunes have been rocky over the last four years, ever since the company cut loose its majordomo Mark Hurd. That decline hasn't affected trade shows for the vendor -- it runs the only genuine meeting it calls HP Discover. The days and nights of Discover are likely to continue for many years. HP sells at that conference and trains customers and its staff. Education isn't the point of a trade show visit anymore. Seeing products and asking questions about them -- that's done over the Web.
The printed publication, the trade conference: these are artifacts of a world where you needed paper and pacing an expo floor to learn the most important things about a computer you love. I attended seven of the last Macworld Expos, including a couple of memorable Steve Jobs speeches about embracing Intel chips, and yes, the iPhone debut. Special mornings, those were, seeing Intel's CEO emerge in a clean room suit onstage. Or watching the faithful crowd seven-deep around the initial iPhone, rotating in a Gorilla Glass case. As it happens, that iPhone debut was a watershed. More than half of Apple's business now comes from mobile products.
The last six mobile rollouts have been press-only by invitation -- and a short list at that. The events were webcast live, with video and audio ever-better on each rollout day. PR has shifted from in-person, or by-phone, to texts and emails and webinars and live demos. You don't need to be someplace to learn a certain amount about a computer. That certain amount is enough for most customers and partners. Enthusiasts want more. In the Apple world, they'll have to go to their laptop screens or iPhones to get it.
In truth, they're already there. In the HP world, the customers are reading webpages and watching webinars. One of those two vendors, Apple, has its afterburners on full throttle. Hewlett-Packard separated from the 3000's orbit four years ago. HP Enterprise customers will see a new world of a company next year after the vendor's split, but there won't be an HP World again. Not in print, not in an expo hall. Those are legacy means of communication and exchange. The expos hosted community, but newer generations of customers find community on mobile screens. Everything changes, and everything ends.
Here's to you, partner-based expos. You were wondrous fun and a rocket-sled ride while you lasted. The depth of any vendor's ride into the customer's heart will be determined by vessels on other trajectories.
October 20, 2014
3000's class time extended for schools
The San Bernadino County school district in California has been working on moving its HP 3000s to deep archival mode, but the computers still have years of production work ahead. COBOL and its business prowess is proving more complicated to move to Windows than expected. Dave Evans, Systems Security and Research officer, checked in from the IT department at the district.
We are still running two HP 3000s for our Financial and Payroll services. The latest deadline was to have all the COBOL HP 3000 applications rewritten by December 2015, and then I would shut the HP 3000s down as I walked out the door for the last time. That has now been extended to 2017, and I will be gone before then.
We are rewriting the COBOL HP 3000 apps into .NET and Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) technologies. Ideal says they can support our HP 3000s until 2017.
And with the departure date of those two HP 3000s now more than two years away, the school district steps into another decade beyond HP's original plans for the server line. It is the second decade of beyond-end-of-life service for their 3000.Evans was checking up on the timeline.
In the original timeline HP published, did HP announce in November 2002 that the HP 3000 was at end of life? That HP 3000 production lines would shut down in 2004, and all HP 3000 support would end 2007?
Very close, but not quite accurate. The 3000's future got its exit notice from Hewlett-Packard in 2001 (almost 13 years ago), and system manufacturing ended in 2003. The first of HP's end of life deadlines was December 2006. Virtually nobody would have figured in 2001 they'd have MPE applications still in service more than a decade after 2006.
But San Bernadino County is giving lessons on how to extend an investment, even while it finishes a migration. By the time those school district servers go offline -- and they won't be the last in the world by any means -- the 3000 product platform will have been in continuous production service somewhere in the world for 43 years.
October 09, 2014
TBT: A 3000 Newsworthy Birth Day
The first issue of the Newswire ran its black and red ink across 24 pages of an early October issue. Inside, the first FlashPaper late-news insert had been waiting a week for main-issue printing to catch up with mailing plans.
In our ThrowBack to this week of 1995, the first issue of The 3000 Newswire rolled out into the mails. The coverage of the HP 3000 was cheerful enough to encourage a belief that the computer would run forever -- but 19 years of future was far from certain for either the system or the first 3000-only publication. Volume 1 (the year), Issue 1 came out in a 24-page edition, the same page count of the printed issue that just mailed this Fall. At the Newswire's introduction, one user group leader wondered aloud, on a bus ride during the Interex '95 conference in Toronto, "what in the world you'll might be able to find to fill up the news in Issue No. 2."
The last of the competing HP-only publications closed its doors 10 years later, when Interex folded its user group overnight. Interact, HP Professional, SuperGroup, HP Omni and others turned out the lights during that decade.
The Newswire's first mailed issue was carrying the news circulating in mid-August during an Interex conference. For the first time in 10 years, an HP CEO spoke at the Interex event. However, Lew Platt was a current CEO when he spoke to the 3000 faithful. David Packard was a former CEO and board member when he addressed the multitudes at Interex '85 in Washington DC.
Platt said that HP 3000 users had nothing to fear from a future where Unix was in vogue at HP. Earlier in the day, speaking before the full assembly of users, he said HP was going to making new business by taking out older products. At an editor's luncheon we asked him what that mission held for the 3000.
Platt explained his prior comments on cannibalizing HP's business to maintain steady growth. MPE/iX won't be served up in a pot anytime soon. "I don't mean leaving customers high and dry," he said. "HP has worked extremely hard with products like the HP 3000 to make the people who have bought them have a good future. We've put an enormous amount of energy out to make sure we can roll those people forward. I'd say we've done a better job than just about any company in the industry in providing a good growth path for those customers."
The CEO went on to explain how cannibalization would work. HP would take a product, such as a printer, that was doing perfectly well and may still be a leadership printer in the market -- and bringing in a new one before it's reached its end of life. If you substitute "business server" for "printer" in that plan, you can see how a computer that was doing perfectly well might see a new computer brought in before the end of its life. In that issue, the Newswire story noted that the project we'd learn to call Itanium six years later was going undercover, so that new product wouldn't lock up existing server business for a year before it would ship.
HP was calling the joint effort with Intel the Tahoe architecture, and Platt would be retired from his job before anything shipped.Sixteen more stories made up the news in that October of 19 years ago. The Series 9x9 line had an 8-user model introduced for just under $50,000. It was the era when a 3000's price was set by the number of its concurrent users. A 40-user 939 sold for $30,000 more, despite having no extra horsepower. User-limited licensing, which HP maintained for the 3000 while Windows was free of limits, would continue for the next six years.
An Interex survey said that three-fourths of 3000 customers were ready to reinvest in the line, but the article focused on the better value of the server in the users' estimation. HP's Unix servers were compared to the 3000.
The story atop Page One addressed the limits of those user-based licenses, and how a requested MPE improvement would help. SIGMPE's Tony Furnivall said that "if you could have multiple, independent job queues, the same algorithms ight be used to limit the number of active sessions." Any 8-user 3000s that were replaced with 800-user systems would be subject to more costly software licenses from third party firms. User-based licensing was prevalent, if not popular, in the 3000 world of October 1995.
On the first three inside pages were a story about the country's oldest pastime, a pointer to a then-new World Wide Web that included a Newswire page, and a full-page HP ad that said, "You want open systems computing. You don't want to move mountains of critical data to a new platform." Hewlett-Packard would hold that view for about six more years. The next 13 have made up the Migration Era, with a Newswire printed across every one of those years. The Newswire has been published more than twice as long during those migrations as all the years before HP announced the end of its 3000 plans.
Cal Ripken, Baltimore Orioles baseball all-star, was breaking a record for consequitive games played that began 13 years earlier. "We're here in your hands this month because of the legendary, Ripken-esque performance of the 3000 deserves more attention," an editorial crowed.
A PC and printer executive at HP got the job as chief of all computer business. It was the second additional layer of management inserted between the CEO and the 3000 group. Rick Belluzzo was 41, commanding a $20 billion sector, and didn't have a specific job title. Olivier Helleboid was 3000 General Manager three levels down.
Windows 95 was launched at that Interex show in Toronto with a mountaineer rappelling down the CN Tower, stopping halfway and "using Win95 from a wireless laptop. It was all too much for Birket Foster, president of HP 3000 channel partner M.B. Foster Associates and a supplier of Windows products."
"It's all a media event," Foster said. "Is the average user going to do that? It's all way too much hype for what's being delivered." A survey showed no manager had installed Win95 company-wide yet.
HP's managers shed their coats and ties at a roundtable en masse, after customers pointed out that IBM's officials dressed casual on the conference's expo floor. A technical article detailed the relief that PatchManager/iX delivered for MPE patch installs. New 3000 integrators were announced for manufacturing and FileNet workflow document services; the latter had six companies listed in the US.
One of those in-between HP managers said the company "now sees the 3000 as something sold to new customers mostly as an engine for specific applications, like manufacturing or healthcare systems." Porting applications from other systems would be made easier with the first C++ for MPE, the freeware GNU C++ suite, bootstrapped by ORBiT Software's Mark Klein. The GNU package made possible a host of open system tools within two years. "HP is helping to distribute GNU C++ form its HP 3000-based World Wide Web server on the Internet," the story added.
Ultimately, the Web server software HP shipped for MPE/iX was ported from Apache source code from the open systems world. HP told its DeskManager office communications users to expect enhancements first on HP's Unix systems. Helleboid, forecasting HP's final act in the 3000 world years later, said in the first Q&A that HP would collaborate with arch-rivals IBM, Digital and Sun to create "a complete environment for Unix applications."
Helleboid also said that the 3000's Customer First strategy would be presented to other HP computer groups such as its Unix group. "Customers are looking for this kind of relationship," he said in a forecast of using 3000 ideas to improve replacement business models.
October 07, 2014
HP decides to break up the brand
And in one stroke of genius, it's become 1984 again at Hewlett-Packard. Yesterday brought on a new chorus for an old strategy: sell computers to companies, and leave the personal stuff to others. Except that one of the others selling personal computers, plus the printers usually connected to PCs, is another generation of the company. The CEO of Hewlett-Packard is calling the split-off company HP Inc. But for purposes of mission and growth, you could call it HP Ink.
To be clear, that's a broad definition we used up there to define that stroke of genius. Brilliance is something else, but genius can be just a powerful force for good or for ill. Definition 3 of the word in Apple's built-in dictionary on my desktop calls genius "a person regarded as exerting a powerful influence over another for good or evil: He sees Adams as the man's evil genius." It's from Latin meaning an attendant spirit present from one's birth, innate ability, or inclination.
What's become the nature of Hewlett-Packard, its innate ability? The company was founded on one ability and then had a second grafted onto its first success. It's been 30 years now since 1984, when the vendor which invented MPE and the 3000 has been inventing products for consumers. The LaserJet opened the door for a torrent of ink and toner to sweep around traditional technology innovations. Before there was a need for a battalion of printing devices and a phalanx of personal devices, the old HP logo represented business and scientific computing. Plus a world-leading instruments business whose profile was an icon for what HP was known for best.
HP's been down this path before, splitting off those instruments into Agilent in 1999. A few months later Carly Fiorina won the approval of then-ink czar Dick Hackborn, placing her in the CEO's seat. Yesterday's announcement of splitting the company into two complementary entities returns the Hewlett-Packard name to enterprise computing. But it seems the core values of the only major IT vendor named after its founders won't rebound into favor. Not on the strength of just splitting off high-cost, high volume ink and PC business. HP needs to impress people with what it builds again. Not just what it can aggregate and integrate.
A few notes we took away from that announcement:
- HP says it aims to be two Fortune 50 companies after breakup, but more nimble and focused
- "The brand is no longer an issue," say HP executives, and breaking up the brand will create equal-sized businesses.
- An extra 5,000 layoffs come along with the split-up. The running total is now 55,000 on the clock that started in 2011.
- HP likes its own idea; prior chairman Ralph Whitworth called it a "Brilliant value-enhancing move at the perfect time in the turnaround."
- CEO Meg Whitman says HP's turnaround made the breakup possible.
- Its stock traded more than five times its usual daily shares on breakup news, and picked up almost 5 percent in share value. HPQ also gave away all of that gain, and more, the very next day.
That's how it goes in the commodity computing market: easy come, say the customers, and easy go. It might be why Whitman is helping the brand called Hewlett-Packard break away from the commodity business.Some analysts have noted the current board chair and CEO of today's un-split entity, the one still called HP, will take charge of the enterprise arm of the company's future. This, they reckon, is where the real innovation and action will take place. The part of the company that pulled Hewlett-Packard into the consumer reseller model, then swallowed up the second-place PC provider in Compaq 12 years ago, has been set free to float at the whims of a roiling market. HP Inc will have to compete without a dynamic mobile product line, and so we can wish the new-ish part of the vendor godspeed and good luck. They'll need it against the likes of Apple and Samsung, or even Lenovo and Lexmark.
HP's story last year was that the company was better together, after hearing seven years of calling for a split up. High volume, low profit business was suited to a market of 1999, but once mobile devices and the Web changed the game for data processing, PCs and printers just wanted different resources than servers and software demanded. Now CEO Meg Whitman says Hewlett-Packard and HP Inc. can focus and be nimble. From a 3000 customer's perspective, that focus would have been more useful 13 years ago, when growth demanded HP buy Compaq for $25 billion on the promise of becoming No. 1.
Being No. 1 didn't last long enough to pay the bills incurred to do so many things at once. Now Whitman says that three years of turnaround action has taught the company how to do more than one thing at a time. There's plenty to do. Maybe the first thing is to choose a new color to represent its oldest business. She said HP blue to going with the multi-colored ink of HP Inc.
Hewlett-Packard didn't need multiple colors to succeed on that 1984 day it added printers to its product line. But it was a company wrapped in a handsome slipcase of collegial traditions, still working to win its way to the front of enteprise IT selections. Canon and Hewlett-Packard collaborated to sell a laser printer to anyone, not just the customers buying HP's specialized business servers. Before long, the trails it blazed in consumer sales gave it an opening for its color ink, which at one point contributed 55 percent of the company profits. That's the consumables bringing home the bacon, not the nearly-disposable printing devices.
During the era when the 3000 was given its last several years of HP life -- first five, then seven, and finally nine -- IBM was happy to point out the passion for printing at HP. One thunderbolt of an IBM sales rep called the company Inky at a HP user group meeting speech in Houston. Those were the days when everyone in 3000 territory was looking at a new future. About three fourths of the business machines became computers without Hewlett-Packard on their badges. Still, the fungible nature of enterprise computing -- that ease of replacement that HP preached against MPE -- also turned out to be true for its own Unix business line. Somehow, the same Windows that would be suitable for 3000 shops was also a good-enough migration target for HP-UX customers.
Unix had its day, and Linux was the new wave and not channeled through a single vendor. HP invited comparisons. Now its customers can compare companies, starting next fall. Do business with HP Inc. and use Windows and probably Linux on HP's iron. Or choose a company that says it's now focused on the new style of computing: cloud services, big data, security and mobility. The company does not mean to suggest there's no place for in-house servers. But it's focused on those four areas, with a mention of software during yesterday's 45-minute presentation and Q&A.
Our readers will remember software. In MPE and IMAGE they got fine-tuned and refreshed software each year, although in some years the refreshes were faint. By the middle of the 1990s Hewlett-Packard had to embrace Windows to remain on planning short lists. Now the Hewlett-Packard Enterprise has to attract and retain ever-mobile business on the strength of in-house innovations. Because if you want industry-standard commodity computing, HP Inc. is ready to take that business. It will soon be loose from the legacy of Hewlett-Packard.
October 03, 2014
Wearable computing, cloud IT: not news
By Ron Seybold
Ever since the start of summer, there's been plenty of ThrowBack Thursday pieces available to run. Always with a photo, they seem to get highest readership among our customers.
One throwback piece that’s headed to my recycle bin today is a 1991 press release from Park Engineering. In that springtime, the Spokane company made its news by announcing in a press release, “First ‘Wearable’ Computer Brings Desktop Computing Power to Mobile Workers.” The CompCap weighed a full pound, and you were instructed to wear it on your head. A hardhat version was self-contained, while another to wear around your head or as a hatband needed electronics built into a belt or vest.
What a marvel. What news, this device that had a virtual miniature display called the Private Eye, floating a few feet in front of the user. (Hope they weren’t driving a forklift at the time.) Starting at $1,500 and running up to $3,000 each, the CompCaps had their own OS, perhaps as unique as MPE/XL. Just without the thousands of apps that drove HP’s 3000 sales during year.
It would be news if a CompCap has ever been built, let alone sold. But it’s possible that an HP 3000 manufactured the same year could be running a company’s manufacturing today. It would be a 9x7 and well into antiquity. That would be news too, but of the amazing and astounding variety. That 9x7 is out there somewhere, proving there’s a need for a virtual 3000, the MPE/iX machine that’s not built by HP. Because the age of the iron is not the age of MPE.In these times, the news I can ferret out follows that kind of theme: this is no longer sold, that app hasn’t been updated since the Bush administration, (either one of them) or some other company is taking the plunge into Linux or Windows. It’s rare news when a customer who formerly used a 3000 takes their computing to HP-UX, because there's no news of Hewlett-Packard selling new sites on that enterprise system, either. I don’t miss many chances to point this out, and every Hewlett-Packard financial report gives me fresh news about that ill fortune.
But what is no longer true, or running, or fresh, is also news. It’s just harder for it to be of genuine use. I avoid the Mopac highway here in Austin at every chance because it’s no longer running faster than a crawl during its makeover. But I’d rather hear about a great alternative. From the little news that the Stromasys experts have time to share — they’re out there installing the virtual system with explicit care — CHARON might be that alternate highway for MPE apps.
We’ve promised to chronicle the tricks and practices of the migrating 3000 user here, too. It’s been tricky to do this when that exodus is so far along. Much of the migration activity remains in assessments that people running those 9x7s should be doing. Once again, it’s a story with negative activity, until it’s not and common wisdom prevails. Because the common wisdom says you ought to buy some different boxes to replace the ones HP doesn’t make anymore, running an OS that’s stable but frozen in time.
Except that the investment in different boxes starts to look like a strategy matched to big customers who will serve smaller companies. We’ve run a blog story with news of a new HP Cloud kingpin on staff, a fellow who brought along software which controls a customer’s use of Amazon Web Services. Only a few hundred companies ever bought the kingpin's open source marvel. At least that marvel is certain to run better than the CompCap.
Now HP’s got something new, but it’s not really that fresh, because it hasn’t done the R&D on this offering either. There’s a new range of HP permitting NIH in this latest news, because those servers controlled up in AWS might not be HP’s brand. Nobody seems to care anymore, so long as apps run and the data is secure.
In a time when the news chronicles the alternatives to everything HP’s built its computer strategy around — those specialized servers, hand-crafted environments — news comes from the customer community. Some of them with good stories talk, but a lot more sit in archival mode about their 3000 experiences and knowledge. We balance that by reaching into our archives, more than 2,500 blog articles and another 10 years’ more of printed and Online Extra stories. Nothing new, but its utility is so much more proven.
The best news is that the value of the server remains there. Large companies have bought up major software providers like Cognos and ground-breakers like Stromasys. We chose to skip calling this the HP 3000 Newswire, because we didn’t want any one vendor to have a say in our mission or strategies. But we’re not calling ourselves the Archival NewsWire, either. A good share of what’s out there is running MPE in archival mode. In the fullness of a time, they’ll be off HP’s iron. I’ll be on Social Security benefits before those companies switch off whatever propels those archived apps and they migrate their data. Not retired from writing stories, though. Whenever I stop writing, that will be news.
October 02, 2014
TBT: A Race to Engineering Discipline
October was a month to remember from an engineering era that Hewlett-Packard would rather forget. The era was the cycle of what independent contractors called Destructive Testing, the repeated, broad-spectrum hammering on the new MPE/XL operating system that was going to power the first PA-RISC Series 900 HP 3000. HP paid these experts to break what it had built.
The computer rolled out in the early fall of 1987, a full year after its Unix counterpart. It was just 12 months earlier that HP's tech czar Joel Birnbaum swore that PA-RISC would emerge from a swamp of too-sweet project management.
More than 1,000 engineers would eventually work on pulling MPE/XL and its Reduced Instruction Set Computing steed 900 Series out of a ditch. During 1985 and through much of 1986, status reports about the development of this faster 3000 were encouraging. No show-stoppers there, not with so much pressure on horsepower improvements. The Series 70 was released in 1985, a stop-gap server that ran faster than the Series 64. But not fast enough at plenty of major HP customers, the group called the Red Accounts.
Those lab updates were being sweetened because a replacement for the Series 64 and 70 was overdue. HP had already scrapped the 3000's update plans for HP Vision, broadening the replacement project to call it HP Spectrum. This was design to be used in all HP servers, working through an HP-invented RISC chip architecture. The twinkle in Birnbaum's eye while he was in IBM, RISC was going to be a business success. HP hired him away to deliver on the RISC promise.
But by October 1986 at a conference whose theme was Focus on the Future, the 900 Series was undeliverable as addressed. Birnbaum had to deliver the news to pressmen, reporters assembled in a conference room. We circled him, standing and taking notes, quizzing Birnbaum as he said the horsepower would arrive. More important was stability. Birnbaum explained patiently that interfaces between MPE software modules were not working as forecast. Not yet.
This didn't appear to be a man accustomed to explaining delays to the public, especially critics from the press. But he uttered a phrase that afternoon in Detroit at Interex '86 that seemed to close down the probing questions. We wanted to know, after all, could anyone believe that the vanguard Series 930 server would appear after more than two years of reboots and delays?To begin with, there would be bona fide accounting and reporting on genuine advances in software development, Birnbaum said. And to address this problem, Birnbaum added in a rising voice, HP would display a matter of computer science taking its regular course.
This problem, this issue, will yield to engineering discipline.
And he spoke that sentence as a vow, in a tone with some anger. You had to believe in engineering discipline, if you were to write stories about computing. It was easy enough to believe in the 32-bit computing that MPE/XL was aiming at, since it represented HP's entry in the cutting-edge design of the day. At that same Interex '86, DEC rented a set of rooms in the hotel across the street from the downtown Renaissance of the HP show. Its Vax servers were already running there in 32-bit mode. DEC even tried to offer an IMAGE-workalike on the servers in the display rooms. One of the accounts was even named REGO, a nod to Adager's founder Alfredo.
"Digital Has It Now," was the theme of the competition's campaign that October. Big two-page ads in Byte and Computerworld, printed on silver ink backgrounds and massive white letters on top, assured the markets they didn't have to wait for anyone's discipline if they bought DEC. There was lots of hubris back then, as now. Cullinet ran one ad that used a headline it only made sense to switch to their application suite, since it was the only one built for use in the '80s and '90s.
By the fall of 1987, the Series 930 was squeezed out to a handful of sites including Northern Telecom, as evidence that Birnbaum's discipline had yielded 32 bits of success. But few of those 930s ever booted up in production. Just like the original HP 3000 had buckled under the demands of MPE, the 1.0 release of MPE/XL drove the RISC hardware to regular halts. The problem lay not in the hardware, but in the software which had not been destructively tested.
It took another year for the first, genuinely effective 900 Series HP 3000 to ship. The Series 950 might not have been the first horse out of HP's RISC 3000 gate. But it could promise at least 10 percent more horsepower than the biggest Series 70 running MPE. It was the work of those independent engineers -- many of them former HP employees, developers and SEs -- that let MPE/XL get free of its starting gates.
September 25, 2014
TBT: Early winter's taste visits Interex '94
It stunned nearly everybody, but the final day of the annual Interex user conference, 20 years ago this week, did not herald the start of Fall. That season might have filled pages on everybody's calendar, but the skies over Denver were filled with snowflakes on Sept. 21. Thousands of HP 3000 customers had to scurry through soggy streets in a month where leaves were supposed to be falling.
Everything happened at an Interex, eventually. Robelle's Neil Armstrong wrote about it in the What's Up Doc newsletter the vendor produced that year.
Welcome to Winterex 1994.
Once again the weather attempted to upstage various announcements and goings on at the Interex Conference. This year it snowed on the Wednesday afternoon of the Denver conference. The "snow" storm, however, was nothing compared to hurricane Andrew which hit New Orleans during Interex '92.
This year's conference was certainly a hit with a lot of the people I talked to. The last Interex I attended was in Boston in 1990, which became known as the Great Unbundling of TurboImage Debate. Interex '94 was a pleasant contrast with HP's new product announcements, the bundling of ARPA services and a general positive tone regarding the future of the HP 3000. The HP booth was a beehive of activity with Client-Server demonstrations and huge printers on display.
Armstrong went on to say that his favorite view at the show was seeing a camera connected to an HP 9000 workstation, one that delivered a live pictures of people passing by the box. "The fun part was moving from side to side quickly and watching the CPU graph go up," he added.
This was the year when the pushback started to ruffle the Unix juggernaut that had promised open systems for so long. Windows was still a year away from being desktop-useful. But that didn't keep the technical leadership from creating a Unix Hater's Handbook.While MPE was clicking off its 20th straight year of serving business computing needs, system managers who wanted to find fault with HP's favored OS could buy that above book and feel vindicated.
From a book review by Paul Gobes in Robelle's newsletter, commenting on how an online mailing list's posts were turned into a book.
That list has been cleverly edited into a systematic attack in book form. It is often cruel and sarcastic but it is difficult not to empathize with the frustration that many of the users have endured. Some of the chapter subheadings will give you a good idea where the book is heading.
Unix - The world's first computer virus
Welcome New User! - Like Russian roulette with six bullets loaded
Documentation? - What documentation?
Snoozenet - I post, therefore I am
Terminal Insanity - Curses! foiled again!
The X-Windows Disaster - How to make a 50-MIPS workstation run like a PC
csh, pipes, and find - Power tools for power fools
Security - Oh, I'm sorry, sir, go ahead, I didn't realize you were root
The File System - Sure it corrupts your files, but look how fast it is!
You can still read MPE managers' favorite book of the fall of '94, online. IDG Books printed copies, and one of the early reviewers of the material returned to it, six years ago, to reconsider the accuracy of the gripes and wisecracks. It was invective, far ahead of its time considering how much we hear today. The book was sold with a Unix Barf Bag.
While the snow fell on Interex, HP was putting TurboIMAGE on ice. David Greer warned customers to get in their request to upgrade from TurboIMAGE to IMAGE/SQL. The latter was new and making its way into "about a twelfth of the customer base at a time."
"Unfortunately, you must ask HP to add IMAGE/SQL to your support contract; it is not the default. And you only get one chance! It will be easy to miss out on IMAGE/SQL and all future IMAGE enhancements. The following statement by Jim Sartain, HP SQL Program Manager, appeared on the Internet."
When support contracts are up for renewal, customers are given the option of upgrading from TurboIMAGE to IMAGE/SQL. The product support cost is from $10 to $325 per month depending on the MPE/iX user level and whether the customer is on basic line or response line.
Customers who decline this offer will continue to receive a functionally stable version of TurboIMAGE (no future enhancements). Should the customer want to upgrade to IMAGE/SQL in the future they must purchase the upgrade and pay for IMAGE/SQL support.
"Better warn purchasing today. If you don't ask for IMAGE/SQL now, asking for it later will be expensive."
September 11, 2014
TBT: The things that we miss this season
This is the time of the year when we got to know each other better -- or for the first time. August and even September hosted annual conferences from Interex, yearly meetings that were an oasis of handshakes among the dusty flats of telephone calls or emails. We'd gather up a badge like one of these in my collection. I come from Depression-Era hoarders, so too much of this kind of thing still lingers on the shelves of my office.
Look, there's the trademark ribbon, colored to let an exhibitor know who was coming down an expo aisle. Often red for the press, because we were supposed to be the megaphones to the countless customers who couldn't come to chilly San Francisco (four times, on my tour of duty) glittery hot Las Vegas (where a waterpark hosted the signature party), or even the gritty streets of Detroit (scene of thefts from the expo floor, among other indignities. We pulled up to Cobo Hall there to see banners for Just Say No to Crack Day, with a phalanx of school busses parked outside. You can't make this stuff up.)
On my first annual conference trek, we took an artisanal booth to the basement expo hall of the Washington DC Hilton. This was an Interex with an HP founder as keynoter, but David Packard wasn't CEO at the time. He had worked in Washington as US Deputy Secretary of Defense while the 3000 was being created, a good post for someone who'd launched the most famous test instrument maker in the free world. (Yes, that's what we called it during the Cold War.) The HP Chronicle where first I edited 3000 stories had never taken a booth to a show before that week in September, and so we had one built out of 2x4s, birch panels, hinges and black carpet, so heavy it required a fork lift just to get it onto the concrete floor. That was the year we learned about the pro-grade booths you could check as luggage, instead of ship as trucked freight like a coffin.
Hey, there's a set of classic computer platform ID stickers, along the bottom of that '89 nametag. HP was calling its PC the Vectra at the time, another example of the company learning its way in the marketing lanes. You wore these to identify each other in a crowd, so you could talk about, say, the Series 100 HP Portable line. If somebody didn't have your sticker, you could move on. It was all about the conversations -- um, sort of in-person Facebook post or Twitter feed. Except what you said couldn't be repeated to 100 million people in the next minute.
There were ways to stand out, if you were inventive. Not necessarily like the buttons (Always Online! was the new 3000 News/Wire) or even the handsome pins (see one attached to the red ribbon of the HP World '96 badge.) You might have little wooden shoes pinned to a ribbon, so people would come by your Holland House software booth and pick up a pair for themselves. People gave away things at these events from glow in the dark yo-yos to chair massages to Polaroid snapshots that you posed for wearing headbands, flashing a peace sign in front of a '60s VW Bus.
The show in '96 was notable for being the first that didn't bear the user group's name (Interex had struck a deal to call its event HP World) and being the only conference with a football-field-sized publicity stunt. We'd just finished our first year of publication and decided to sponsor the lunch that was served to volunteers putting up the World's Largest Poster on an Anaheim high school field. The booster club served the lunch to the 3000 faithful; some took away a souvenir sunburn from walking on the white panels in Southern California's August.
There are still trade shows in HP's marketplace, but all of them are run by HP with user group help and speakers. The trade is in secrets as well as techniques and sales strategies. It's been nearly a decade, though, since a hurricane postponed a show -- and that wasn't the only annual meeting to face the wrath of a storm. That's what you risk when you meet in August and September, and your moveable feasts include stops along the Gulf of Mexico.That gator-bearing badge from 1992 marks the first time an HP CEO attended an Interex where I shook hands and took notes. Unfortunately, that event was in New Orleans and directly in the path of Hurricane Andrew. Lew Platt was the CEO and among the majority of people who evacuated from the city while the storm approached. While hotel employees were taping up massive glass windows with industrial tape to keep them from shattering in the rising winds, Platt was doing his best to make it into his limo for a date with a waiting jet. He was stopped repeatedly on the way to that car by customers just wanting a moment, much to the dismay of his traveling partner already in the limo. Nobody could tell Lew where to go, though.
It was tough work, hosting these things, and the details were massive. Interex had a pair of conference marvels who sold and organized everything put the track of presentations, tightly sculpted by user group volunteers. But even things like Mellennium (sic) could make their way onto a show badge -- or in the case of the Toronto conference where we launched the NewsWire to everyone's surprise (including our own), ferries to take a very hungry crowd to the included supper on the island airbase just off the city's lakeshore. The boats were so crowded that few could see the fireboats along the way, chartered by Interex, to shoot off water salutes to guide our way. It may have been the only conference supper ever to be catered on an island. Down the street from the expo hall, Microsoft had hired an acrobat to rappel down the side of CN Tower to help launch Windows 95.
Along the way, I was lucky enough to shake hands and write during 20 annual North American user group shows whose setting was among these months. It all ended for us Interex members in a finale of 2004, as the group couldn't make it onto the shoreline of another yearly conference to put it into the black for the rest of the year. The next year Interex canceled its show, while Encompass and HP tried to collaborate to debut the HP Technology Conference in New Orleans. 2005 held even worse luck than 1992, though, because Katrina ripped apart the Big Easy, pushing this replacement event into Orlando one month later.
Now the annual North American conferences for users and the user groups are held in more certain climates, even while the future of enterprise computing is far less assured for HP customers than it was in these be-ribboned times. Those who still operate with HP-UX and VMS have got some thinking to do about their future platforms, but weathering the show forecast is a no-brainer. HP Discover is held in Las Vegas in June, where the only question is how soon will it get to 100 degrees. OpenVMS Boot Camp gets reborn at the end of this month in New England. There might be rain, there might not. But an event to scatter a conference is as unlikely as finding another one devoted solely to the needs of HP-crafted enterprise OS technologies.
September 09, 2014
Remaining on Watch for HP Innovation
Earlier today Apple unveiled the descriptions and benefits of wearing a full functioning computer for the first time. Well, maybe not for the very first time. But for the first time in the modern era of computing, anyway. The Apple Watch defines the Tim Cook era at the company, and it will still need some tuning up through several generations. But this time around, the watch that breaks ground by riding on wrists won't need a stylus -- just an iPhone.
The instance of this is called the Apple Watch -- say goodbye to any new product lines being started with an "i" for now. A watch is not an enterprise computing tool, some will argue. But that was said about the iPhone, too -- a device that turned out to be a portable computer of breakthrough size. HP 3000 acolyte Wirt Atmar wrote a famous newsgroup post about the first iPhones, being like "beautiful cruise ships where the bathrooms don't work."
The Apple Watch, of course, won't be anywhere close to perfect on first release Early Next Year. People forget that the iPhone was a work in progress though most of its first year. That's a better track record than the HP 3000 had at first shipment, late in 1972. That system that's survived 40 years in a useful form -- 1974 marks the year when MPE and HP iron finally had an acceptible match -- got returned to HP in many instances.
The elder members of our 3000 community will recall the HP-01, a wristwatch that wanted to be a calculator at the same time. Nobody had considered wearing a calculator, and nobody had asked for a wearable one, either. But HP felt compelled to innovate out of its calculator genius factory in Corvallis, Oregon, and so a short-lived product, designed to satisfy engineers, made its way into HP lore in 1977.
"All of the integrated circuits and three discrete components for the oscillator are combined in a hybrid circuit on a five-layer ceramic substrate," said the article in the HP Journal, the every other month paper publication where engineers read about innovations, and the more technical customer was steered to see how Hewlett-Packard could deploy superior design. The problem was that it was 1977, and the company was sailing too far afield from its customers' desires with the HP-01. 1977 was a year when HP had scrabbled to come up with a Series II of the HP3000, a device more important to anyone who wanted to leave IBM batch computing behind and get more interactive. People who bought calculators had no concept of mobile computing. Even a luggable computer was still six years away.
But the HP-01 did accomplish one benefit for the HP customer, who even then was a consumer, of business products. It showed the company was ardent about the need to innovate. The HP Journal is long gone, and the heartbeat of the company feels like it runs through personal computers and miniaturization of internal parts that make more of a difference to manufacturing and product margins. Apple built an S1 processor that's "miniaturizing an entire computer system onto a single chip" to make the Apple Watch a reality, something like HP's five-layer hybrid circuit substrate of 1977.
Apple's had its share of innovative flops, too -- but the most recent one was from 2001, the PowerMac G4 cube. A breakthrough like this S1 that Apple claims is an industry first. HP's innovations these days are not getting the kind of uptake that you'll see from the Watch next year. Nobody tells a story about computer promise like Apple, right down to calling parts of its team "horological experts," and saying it with a straight face. In contrast, HP's Moonshot and the like are important to very large customers, but the small business innovation has been limited to fan-cooling technology. Not sexy enough to earn its own video with a spacey soundtrack.
Why care? One reason might be that HP's working to convince the world, its customers, and its investors that innovation is still embedded in its DNA. It takes more than slapping the word "Invent" under the logo. Innovation is hailed by the markets, not the engineers who designed it. Everything is a consumer product by now, since we're consuming computing as if it were a wristwatch.In the months before Steve Jobs died, he showered the HP Way and its products with praise while planning the future for Apple. He wanted Apple to leave a legacy in the industry the way that Hewlett-Packard had done, spinning off other companies and making their essential technology indispensible. Apple would do well to become what Hewlett-Packard was at its best.
Are more of those days out in HP's future? Is the ongoing turnaround a way to salvage the HP Unix and OpenVMS applications and enterprises that are going to left behind? Or are they going to become as obsolete as the HP-01, because any company needs to leave products behind? You can't set your watch to the moment when that question will be answered. Not even a device like Apple's, one that's haptic, made in gold as well as stainless steel, and lets you send an image of your beating heart to your loved one, cannot mind the time on that development.
September 04, 2014
TBT: Practical transition help via HP's files
10 years ago, at the final HP World conference, Hewlett-Packard was working with the Interex user group to educate 3000 users. The lesson in that 2004 conference room carried an HP direction: look away from that MPE/iX system you're managing, the vendor said, and face the transition which is upon you now.
And in that conference room in Atlanta, HP presented a snapshot to prove the customers wouldn't have to face that transition alone.
The meeting was nearly three years after HP laid out its plans for ceasing to build and support the 3000. Some migration was under way at last, but many companies were holding out for a better set of tools and options. HP's 3000 division manager Dave Wilde was glad to share the breadth of the partner community with the conference goers. The slide above is a Throwback, on this Thursday, to an era when MPE and 3000 vendors were considered partners in HP's strategy toward a fresh mission-critical future.
The companies along the top line of this screen of suppliers (click for a larger view) have dwindled to just one by the same name and with the same mission. These were HP's Platinum Migration partners. MB Foster remains on duty -- in the same place, even manning the phones at 800-ANSWERS as it has for decades -- to help transitions succeed, starting with assessment and moving toward implementations. Speedware has become Fresche Legacy, and now focuses on IBM customers and their AS/400 futures. MBS and Lund Performance Solutions are no longer in the transition-migration business.
Many of these companies are still in business, and some are still helping 3000 owners remain in business as well. ScreenJet still sells the tools and supplies the savvy needed to maintain and update legacy interfaces, as well as bring marvels of the past like Transact into the new century. Eloquence sells databases that stand in smoothly for IMAGE/SQL on non-3000 platforms. Robelle continues to sell its Suprtool database manager and its Qedit development tool. Suprtool works on Linux systems by now. Sure, this snapshot is a marketing tool, but it's also a kind of active-duty unit picture of when those who served were standing at attention. It was a lively brigade, your community, even years after HP announced its exit.
There are other partners who've done work on transitions -- either away from HP, or away from the 3000 -- who are not on this slide. Some of them had been in the market for more than a decade at the time, but they didn't fit into HP's picture of the future. You can find some represented on this blog, and in the pages of the Newswire's printed issues. Where is Pivital Solutions on this slide, for example, a company that was authorized to sell new 3000s as recently as just one year earlier?
HP probably needed more than one slide, even in 2004.From large companies swallowed up by even larger players -- Cognos, WRQ -- to shirt-pocket-protector sized consultancies, there's been a lot of transition away from this market, as evidenced by the players on this slide from a decade ago. Smaller and less engaged, pointed at other enterprise businesses, some even gone dark or into the retirement phase of their existence -- these have been the transitions. This kind of snapshot of partners never would have fit on even two PowerPoint slides in 1994, ten years before that final HP World. Today the busy, significant actors in the 3000's play would not crowd one slide, not from the ones among the company pictured above.
If you do business with any of these companies above, and that business concerns an HP 3000, consider yourself a fortunate and savvy selector of partners here in 2014. We'd like to hear from you about your vendor's devotion to the MPE Way, whether that's a way to continue to help you away from the server, or a way to keep it vital in your enterprise.
August 28, 2014
TBT: Days of HP's elite software outlook
At the end of August of 1983, Hewlett-Packard mailed out a 92-page brochure that showed HP 3000 owners where to get the software they didn't want to create themselves. The Hewlett-Packard Business Software Guide covered the options for both the HP 3000 and the just-launching HP 250. The latter was a system that would sit on a large desktop, run software written for its BASIC operating system, and receive just six pages of specific notice out of the 90-plus in the HP sales guide.
What's interesting about this document -- apart from the fact that nearly all those photos have people in them -- is that HP's own programming development software and application tools are listed first in these pages. And in that order, too; owners of a system in 1983 seemed more likely to need software to create the bespoke applications so common in a system of 31 years ago. Applications from HP were always pushed before anything without the Hewlett-Packard brand.
But as I paged a bit deeper into this Throwback Thursday treasure, I found the genuine vitality that sold 10,000 of these minicomputers in less than 10 years' time: Third-party software, both in tools and in applications. HP made a distinction in this giveaway document for these programs, which they called HP PLUS software. A product could be Listed, or Referenced. But to get more information on either one of them, HP expected you to purchase a catalog with a lot more detail.
Not only was it an era without a Web, but these were the days when you'd pay for paper just to have a complete list of things you might purchase. The biggest issue was "will this run on my system?" That, and whether it really existed.The HP software in this Guide surely existed, and everything that HP listed as a PLUS product had a great chance of being available for purchase. Bulwarks like HP DeskManager were installed at thousands of terminals inside HP itself, and the minicomputer offerings were still supposed to be better for an office than something running off -- gad -- a Personal Computer.
The Listed products "Must meet certain Hewlett-Packard qualifying standards to be listed in either the Technical or Business version of the HP Software Directory." Meanwhile, the Referenced software products "have been further qualified by being rated very good to excellent by users in at least six different organizations." If you could assemble six customers who'd rate your software for HP, your MPE product had a chance of making it into this free brochure.
August 1983 software from third parties that was referenced included the many flavors of MCBA financial applications, programs that were often customized as soon as they were added to a Value Added Reseller's price list. MCBA was really a suggested serving. Cognos didn't exist yet, but its applications were represented at Quasar Corporation offerings such as DOLLAR-FLOW ($FLOW$). "Budgeting, pro-forma projections, financial analysis, ad hoc spread sheet (two words!) reports, and performance reporting" were the treasures of $FLOW$.
Specialized apps such as Finished Goods Inventory--83 were simply Listed, cataloged with nothing more than the name of the company (DeCarlo, Paternite & Assoc. Inc.) and a telephone number. You'd find a program, ask your HP Customer Engineer if he knew anything about it, then call the software vendor. That's how DP departments rolled three decades ago, when the computer was making its bones growing up in the business markets. You went to a computer user group meeting to ask about these things among your colleagues, too.
A more detailed catalog, the New HP PLUS Software Directory, was also available that fall. Within a year it was two full volumes of software across all HP system platforms, although the vast majority of it was written for MPE. It was updated twice a year. This HP directory also gained a notoriety for being something of a wish book.
Companies would supply detailed descriptions of their software to HP, which would dutifully report it to the 3000 customers who'd bought the directory. Vendors said -- while telling stories at spots like SIG-BAR in the conferences everyone attended to keep up -- they'd write something up just to see if they'd get a call. If there was real interest, then software would go from Proposed to In-development. There was no community-wide reviewing service like an Amazon while shopping for packages which might sell for $10,000 or more. Some people felt lucky they had a resource with guidance. Precious few minicomputer apps were reviewed in the likes of Computerworld, Datamation, or Byte.
Of course, those last two publications are not being manufactured anymore. Unlike the HP 3000, they don't enjoy a virtualized reincarnation, either. Only the 3000 is doing as much current work as Computerworld.
August 22, 2014
30 years ago, 1984 seemed like news
I've been writing about my own experiences of the year 1984, since this has been the week that marks my 30th anniversary of my technical journalism career. It was the era of personal 1200 baud modems manufactured by US Robotics, now owned by PowerHouse's parent company Unicom Global. It was a time when HP's PC, the Touchscreen 150, operated using a variant of CPM -- the alternative to MS-DOS that lost like Betamax lost to VHS. It was a year when HP's worldwide software engineering manager Marc Hoff announced that 1,783 new products would enter HP's price list on April 1, products ranging from less-expensive software to "application-experienced CEs" called CSRs.
HP's new PICS phone support centers in California and Georgia each operated from 8 AM to 6 PM, giving the customers a whole 13 hours a day of call-in "toll-free" support in the US. It was an era when toll-free mattered, too, and to save money in your DP shop (we didn't call it IT) you could read a column on how to make your own RS-232 cables for the HP 3000, based on instructions from the Black Box Catalog. The HP 3000 could output graphics to magnetic tape, files that could be passed to a service bureau to create 35mm slides for your Kodak Carousel projector for those important boardroom meetings. But there are stories that 3000 community members have shared about that year, too. Here's a sample of some.
Alan Yeo, ScreenJet founder - In 1984 I had just gone freelance for a contract paying “Great Money” and spent the whole year on a Huge Transact Project. Actually it was the rescue of a Huge Transact Project, one that had taken two elapsed and probably 25 man-years and at that point was about 10 percent working. A couple of us were brought in on contract to turn it around. We did, and we used to joke that we were like a couple of Samurai Coders brought in to Slash and Burn all before us. (I think Richard Chamberlin may have just starred in the hit TV epic Samurai at that time.)
We were working on a Series 70, configured as the biggest 3000 in our region of the UK (apart from the one at HP itself). We used to have lots of HP SEs in and out to visit -- not because it was broken but just to show it to other customers. That was the year we started hearing rumors of PA-RISC and the new “Spectrum” HP 3000s. It unfortunately took a few more years for them to hit the streets.
I have lots of good memories of HP SEs from that time. HP employed some of the best people, and a lot of them were a great mix between Hardware Engineers, Software Engineers and Application Engineers. Great people to work with who sort of espoused the HP Way, and really made you want to be associated with HP. Where did they go wrong?
Brian Edminster, Applied Technologies founder -- As you've said, bespoke software was the meat and potatoes of the early 3000 market. I still believe that a custom software application package can be warranted -- as long as it gives your business a competitive edge. The trick is to make sure the edge is large enough to justify the expense of having something that's not Commercial Off the Shelf.Doug Greenup, Minisoft founder -- In 1984 Minisoft was just one year old. We had just begun marketing our first product, a word processor for the HP 3000 known as Miniword. At that time a lot of HP 3000s only did 2400 baud, so typeahead was pretty important. Users were losing characters because they typed too fast. Typeahead helped to solve that problem. Because the HP 3000 did not have typeahead we had to manufacture a little box that sat between the HP3000 and the terminal we called a “SoftBox.” One of our best moments was when we were able to get 9600 baud on a serial connection.
Also at that time we were timesharing on an HP 3000 Series III with another company called Western Data. The spinoff of that company became Walker, Richer and Quinn, the makers of Reflection. Marty Quinn came into my office one day complaining that he couldn't develop from home. He had this piece of hardware called an IBM PC. I remember laughing at the thought of making this IBM PC look like an HP2622 block mode terminal. Marty went on to develop PC2622 which became Reflection.
Denys Beauchemin, MIS manager, backup vendor, developer and Interex chairman -- By 1984 I had been working on the HP 3000 for over seven years. I was at Northern Telecom in Montreal with a pair of Series 70. The Spectrum project was announced by HP at the same time as the cancellation of the Vision project, and the Series 70 got an upgrade to keep it viable for a few more years waiting for Spectrum.
Donna (Garverick) Hofmeister, SIGSYSMAN chair, Longs Drug developer/analyst, OpenMPE board director -- By 1984 I was two years out of college and working for the Army, tracking equipment readiness on a 3000. It was replaced by a Series 70, just about as soon as the 70s came out, too. We were very proud of that system, because at time of delivery we were told it was the biggest 70 ever made.
Over the years we pushed that box pretty hard. It was very much a case of “if you build [the application] they will come.” We gave weapon system managers on-line access to their data -- something they had never had. And when we started graphing the trend data -- oh boy! You'd think we had built a better mouse trap! I was particularly fond of the DSG/3000 decision support graphics application. By the time the Army and I parted ways, I think we had a grand 6GB of disc attached to the system.
Chris Bartram, 3k Associates founder, NewsWire Webmaster - In 1984 I had just taken a fulltime system programming job on the 3000 after deciding to give up on college for a while. My work there inspired me to start 3k a few years later in 1987. That was the year when I bought my first 3000, a 3000/37 Mighty Mouse which cost me about $10,000.
Gilles Schipper, founder of third party support firm GSA, NewsWire columnist -1984 was one year after I left HP and started out on my own. At that time, MPE/VE was starting to be out in full force after HP had just announced the 42 (as well as the 48 and 68). Shortly thereafter, as regular contributor to The Chronicle, I wrote an article entitled “The HP3000 Series 41?” in which I suggested that lots of HP 3000 users were being shortchanged by HP with the Series 40 to 42 “upgrade kit,” because it did not include the necessary CPU board replacement that actually made the upgrade complete.
Guy Smith, Chronicle columnist and founder of Silicon Support Strategies - Wow, where the hell was I in 1984? I was running a couple of boxes at Canaveral Air Force Station at that time. 16-bits and many megabytes of RAM were considered serious hardware (which my laptop that I'm writing with mocks, smugly superior with its two 64-bit CPUs and 8GB of fast RAM).
Important at that point in time was the growing number and sophistication of HP Users Groups. The Florida Users Group was particularly vibrant and was a great feeding ground for young and hungry bitheads like me. They were small, intimate and high powered, allowing me to meet and discuss HP 3000 innards with the likes of David Greer, Vladimir Volokh and other gurus. Interex later became the locus, but regional groups were the launching pads for most of us in 1984. NASA at Kennedy Space Center and neighboring Cape Canaveral Air Force Station had many HP 3000s. I know the concentration of machines and talent there influenced FLORUG.
Jeff Vance, HP developer for MPE, community liaison -- In 1984 I was working in the MPE XL (really named HPE at the time) lab. It was the year that Spectrum (which became PA-RISC) won the battle over the Vision architecture, and we re-wrote much of the low-level OS to Spectrum, while simply porting the higher level code.
The “HPE Cookbook,” written by the late Chris Mayo, was “published” May 15, 1984. The table of contents shows: Development Environment Map, CookMOM - How to Build “Hi Mom,” CookHPE, Useful Directories, User Information, Spooling, Customizing Makefiles for HPE, and RDB - The Remote Debugger.
August 21, 2014
TBT 1984: The Days of Beauty and Wonder
When I arrived in the HP 3000 world, three decades ago this week, spreading the word about DP was supposed to be an attractive effort. We brought the workmanlike, newsprint-with-staples Chronicle into a marketplace where the leader was a slick-papered, four-color magazine bound like a book and produced as if it were a high-end design assignment.
In a Throwback Thursday covering the week my career started, the covers of Interact look like concept art. Much of what was inside was black and white with line drawings at best. But the outsides and even the big ads on the inside told the story of presentation in '84 style: focus on the beauty of the concept, and tout the details of the wonders of features. And some advertisers reached for the same level of art in their messages. Adager's ads often ran with little except a picture of the tape that carried the software, set in a mountain landscape or like the above, converted to a globe.
How else but with high concept could you make a full page of copy about a terminal that only worked with HP 3000s? There was a story in the HP ad, well-written, but like almost every other page of the user group's magazine, it was bereft of images of people.
The DP workers in these ads look flummoxed and beaten much of the time, because they don't have the invention of the year that will making using their 3000 the value it was promised to be. Some of the magic of the day included HP's Dictionary/3000, designed to eliminate the tedious writing of COBOL Identification Divisions. A cartoon depicts those who still perform this task as cave dwellers. Meanwhile, the wonders of fourth generation languages were touted as if these would soon become as universal as anything such as COBOL. Technically that would have made things like these 4GLs third generation languages. One of the things that made COBOL universal was that everybody knew it and you could find it running anywhere.
The abiding element in all of the messages from 1984's advertising was this: because you know how tech works, we know the decision lies with you. Years ago, the HP enterprise user group of our modern day began to separate the tech-steeped customer from the ones who knew business and partnerships and budgets. The geek customers were dubbed technologists. It would have been a compliment 30 years ago, because the days of magic were always amid our steps into the future. Magic about things we take for granted, like understanding that germs cause disease or that mother's milk builds smarter humans.
It was a year when knowing would get you promoted, and I grappled with all there was to learn. Some of the mystery would always elude me; the power of IBM's System Network Architecture had to be explained to me years after TCP/IP made SNA an afterthought. I never learned what the readers already knew and practiced. But like the wafer artwork that graced the front cover below, grabbing their technical wisdom and replicating it, one month at a time on tabloid newsprint, was enough to complete the circuits between what one DP manager knew and another desired. Especially when, like the best of the chipmaking, those circuits that we built ran faster than the competition. In the good months, with luck, you could see the advantages of speed.
August 20, 2014
Small office — but a modest, social market
The building in Austin, Texas wasn't even devoted to the newspaper entirely. Off in the northern side, the single-story offices housed a insurance company and an optician. The beginnings of the HP Chronicle matched the position of the HP 3000 in 1984. It was not the most significant tenant in the Hewlett-Packard building of products. It was never the biggest earner on the HP ledger. It was just the most social office of the HP structure. People built events and associations around it.
HP closed out its fiscal 1984 a couple months after I arrived in the offices of the Chronicle. We were so cautious that we didn't even include "HP" in the publication name at first, because we were not welcomed at that year's Interex user group conference. I heard about the argument on the show floor, where it was plain we'd started a publication to compete with the user group. They'd cashed the check, said the publisher John Wilson. They had to let us in. But seeing that resistance, nobody was going to make us change our name in that kind of environment. Leave the HP off the front page.
It never occured to us to make a big story out of the annual HP numbers which were reported in mid-November. HP wasn't a sexy stock (trading in the mid $40s, with good profits) and its board of directors was full of technical expertise and HP management experience. John Young, the company's CEO on the August day I began, was not the chairman. That job was in the hands of one of the company founders, David Packard. His partner Bill Hewlett was vice-chairman. HP management moves didn't involve mergers or acquisitions as the splashy plays of today. The photo of the HP Touchscreen connected to a 3000 at left was one of just four in the annual report with a person in it. This was still a company that knew how to connect with customers, but struggled to sell its story about people.
There was a full range of things which the 1984 Hewlett-Packard was not. One of them was an adept player at being in a partnership. The Not Invented Here syndrome was in full throat on the day I arrived and looked at the PC 2622 box atop that PC monitor. Walker, Richer & Quinn was selling an alternative to HP's hardware. Within a few years HP would be launching a product to compete with WRQ, Advancelink. Because HP believed that every dollar, from supplies to support, had its best chance to help the company if it were on the HP ledger.
Computer-related sales made up the biggest share of the $6.1 billion that HP posted 30 years ago, but test and measurement systems were not far behind. $3.2 billion for computers, $2.2 billion for test gear. The latter was the best-known product for the company, as the Silicon Valley's hardware engineers were likely to have HP measurement products in their development labs. Test and Measurement was also more profitable than computers. Used in hospitals, medical labs, research facilities -- this was the business that started the company, and it was still the major driver in profitability, with strong sales.
Test and measurement was also completely outside my beat, thank goodness. But that didn't mean I only had the HP 3000 to learn. The Chronicle covered HP 1000 real-time systems and HP 9000 engineering computers, but mostly because our California competitors at Interex did so. The serious ad revenue came from the most social side of HP's $3.2 billion: business computers, charting the lives of companies and their employees. But even a chart off an HP business computer had a radical distinction from today. It used six pens to make its appearance.I didn't have to write much about HP plotters, but they were a marvel to watch whenever we'd get one into our offices for a test run. The HP ThinkJet printers were less than a year old at HP at the time, and the LaserJet was announced in the same summer as the 3000's Office Computer. I didn't know it at the time -- maybe nobody outside of HP was aware -- but the year 1984 was the moment of watershed for HP's computing product futures. Printers which had graphics capability of a plotter and were faster than dot-matrix devices were the hottest product in offices other than PCs. In the years that followed, HP would hew ever harder to the course of ink-jet and LaserJet model: using commodity resellers and little in-person contact with customers.
We didn't run a column devoted to printers. We ran one on managing company staff, written by Dr. E.R. Simmons, who'd founded a fourth generation language firm called Protos. E.R. was also a psychologist. HP 3000 customers were often called analysts, meaning they had to understand the way people worked as well as how to code up a program. E.R. column was the easiest for everyone to understand. Including me.
Writing about HP's LaserJets that year would have had nothing to do with its big office computers, or even its engineering line. HP EasyChart ran off a 3000, yes, and it output to no devices but plotters that year. Same thing for the more advanced HP graphics apps, HP EasyDraw and DSG/3000. They all used data from IMAGE, but the LaserJet was too new to work with anything except Personal Computers at first. HP sold 10 million of these printers, which retailed for about $3,000 each, in 10 years time. The company had never created anything that sold so much, so quickly. But it never had a popular consumer product before, either.
The LaserJet, of course, had no conferences. No user group formed around it, and it only gained a Special Interest Group late in the '80s -- and even then, people wondered why. The HP 3000 had dozens of Regional User Group meetings, often with some kind of meal or multi-day agenda. I went to my first at the Florida RUG's December conference, feeling fully unprepared to talk in person about business computing without the aid of taped notes to decipher afterward. This was my first field work with the people who knew and loved MPE. They turned out to be some of the most generous and patient pros I'd interviewed in journalism. They knew they needed to explain a lot to me. They seemed to be eager to tell their stories.
But I came in at an odd moment for the 3000 community. Interex produced the biggest conference of the year, one named after the user group. In August of 1984 we were six months past HP's admission that its Vision architecture was going to be scrapped. Something named Spectrum was taking its place, but the next conference -- the best place to find and interview dozens of people in one place -- would not be held for another full year. I was used to in-person reporting and writing. Everything would need to happen over the phone. Fax wouldn't become popular for another year. Compuserve had nothing on it about HP products.
FLORUG, and then the Southern California SCRUG, would have to serve, to put me in front of experts and learn the personalities starting in December. We all read papers -- published in thick volumes after a conference -- or publications, or HP's technical bulletins, to learn about new tech and case studies and field reports. Computerworld was useful, but the HP 3000 drew scant notice in there.
HP's entire product line fought for space in any general computing interest newspaper. There were still several dozen makers of minicomputers and personal computers to write about. This specialization was the whole reason the Chronicle existed -- all HP news, on every page. Specialization was also the reason I got to enter the technical field. This was a community, and I'd shown success at community journalism in the three years before I went to work in that single-story set of rooms on Research Boulevard.
August 19, 2014
What Changed Over 30 Years: Bespoke
I arrived here in the community of my career when gas was $1.15 a gallon in the US, the Dow was at 1,200, a new truck sold for $8,995, the Cold War Olympics featured no Soviet atheletes in LA, and Stevie Wonder had a top hit on the record charts. Because there were still records being sold for pop hits, along with cassettes. Nary a CD could be bought. The Mac was brand new and still didn't sport a hard drive. Those fellows to the right were right in style with warm-up suits that you're likely to see in a senior's happy hour cafeteria line today.
There were thousands of applications in the Hewlett-Packard software catalog of 1984. It wasn't a new idea to collate and curate them, either. MB Foster had one of the first compendiums of HP 3000 software, several years before it occured to HP to offer products the vendor did not make (or buy up, then sell back). But in the month when I entered this market, during that August you were at least as likely to find custom, bespoke software running a corporation as any Commercial Off The Shelf package.
People built what they needed. The bespoken software was often created with the help of fourth generation langauges, so Speedware and Cognos' Powerhouse were big players during 1984. Not the biggest of the 3000 vendors, in terms of customer size. Unless you counted several thousand MANMAN sites, all running the Quiz reporting tools that ASK Computer included with the MRP package. Back in those says, Enterprise Resource Planning hadn't been conceived.
Because so much of the community's software was customized, being well-versed in IMAGE/3000 -- not yet TurboIMAGE, let alone IMAGE/SQL -- was a key skill. Mastery of the database was more attainable if you had a database management utility. Adager was most widely installed, with Bradmark just getting off the ground in 1984. I nearly crashed my reputation with Adager and co-founder Alfredo Rego, less than a month after I began my career in the community.
The problem was a lack of MPE and IMAGE experience. Since I didn't understand the technology first-hand, I felt compelled to contribute to the effort of the HP Chronicle. Not by writing an article, but instead closely red-pen editing the writing of Rego. I didn't know yet that anything he shared with a publication -- his technical treatise was a big win for us at the HP Chronicle -- had already been polished and optimized. A writer well-steeped in mastery of his subject can insist an article be published with no changes. In the publishing business, stet means to ignore a change. I'd have been helped if someone had grabbed my inked-up printout of Rego's paper and marked "stet all changes" on the front. He had a legitimate beef.
Instead, we ran it and then I got to enjoy a rare thrill -- having my corrections corrected by the author, live in front of a local user group audience. Writers forming the troika of big independent vendors -- Bob Green at Robelle, Eugene Volokh at VEsoft, and Rego -- certainly had earned stet-all-changes. Their software became crucial in managing a 3000 that was gasping for new horsepower. Creating and maintaining customized software was a popular way to get the most out of the six-figure HP 3000s, already at the end of the line at the top but still more than two years away from getting a refresh.One accounting software package was in place that was basically a template for its resellers to customize for customers. Meanwhile there was talk in our offices about the new Account Management Support, a Systems Engineer (SE) and Customer Support Representative (SCR) tandem for supporting HP 3000s. An SE would visit your site once a month; nothing new about that in 1984. But HP would be sending a CSR for each of your applications. The 3000 community always knew that HP wanted to be onsite to talk about optimization and resolve management operations issues. The CSRs were all about making sure that the HP applications were satisfactory -- and edging out the third-party alternatives.
But so much of what was running neither HP or third-party. It was custom-crafted. And that year could get a new level of support, via phone in the US out of Santa Clara, Calif. and from Atlanta.
In my offices, the 3000 was limited to an amber terminal emulator screen, representing time on a system down at Futura Press, where the newspaper was printed monthly. We never saw any SEs unless we were at a conference -- where they gave talks. We never installed an HP 3000.
It was an era where PCs were on the rise, but not being much trusted in the Data Processing departments. The financial forces started to carry the day with PCs and MS-DOS, but the established MIS sector analysts figured that PCs would saturate the market quickly enough. One $400,000 study reported "Early PC peak forecasted," where SRI International predicted PC growth tapering off after 1986. "Average annual growth will be only 5.4 percent in the 1986-1990 period."
Customization -- the bespoke nature of database designs -- was supposed to be holding back more PC growth. "Some companies find that the file structures within their corporate databse do not lend themselves to easy access by PCs." Personal computers were supposed to work unconnected to the databases like IMAGE, the experts figured. Then software like Data Express arrived to change all of that connectivity between PC spreadsheets and minicomputer databases. IMAGE could use what Lotus 1-2-3 wrought/
IMAGE adjustments, management and optimization were so popular that we had a pristine copy of the IMAGE/3000 Handbook in our office -- though it was more for my education than any operational use. The book was 330 generous sized pages, plus index, written by Bob Green, David Greer, Alfredo Rego, Fred White, and Dennis and Amy Heidner. "The book sold itself," said Green, "and since the price was $50 each and we paid for the printing, our editor Marguirete Russell had a nice extra income for the next few years."
August 18, 2014
This Is Where I Came In
It's the third week of August, but it's 30 years ago. I wear my wide tie and my oxfords to an office in Austin's northwest tech territory and start to write and learn about the HP 3000. I'm 27, father of a boy not yet two, a community news reporter with a new community to creep into -- because that's how it's done when you don't know anyone or much of anything. You ask a lot of questions and try to understand the answers.
The office is ribbed with wood paneling and mini-blinds and sports an IBM-PC knockoff, a Columbia. It's got an amber display and no hard drive. A box with the manual for Walker, Richer & Quinn's PC2622 software is on top of that monitor. It's connected for something called time-sharing, and it also connects to something called Compuserve. I watch my boss dial up on a phone with a modem -- I knew about those from using an Apple II at home -- and read the news. None of it's about HP, though. That's our story to tell.
Inside my editor's office there's a telephone transcription machine for recorded interviews, plus a Kaypro II portable. It weighs 28 pounds and has a screen that's nine inches across. Imagine two Samsung Galaxy phones side by side, and that's about it. There are two books on the shelf, both printed by Hewlett-Packard. One is a catalog of third-party software and specialized hardware, all written in something called MPE V for a computer people are wild about, the HP 3000. The other book is a listing of the phone number of everyone in HP's Bay Area campuses. HP is not yet selling $7 billion of gear, support or software in 1984 -- and that includes medical and measurement systems that are so much better known than its computer products.
In my first week of a career writing about HP, one of the first things that I learn is that we've been scooped. The latest HP 3000, a real ground-breaker, is already in the pages of Interact magazine. The user group Interex has won again, because being physically near those HP Bay Area offices makes a difference. There's nobody on our staff or theirs who wrote news for newspapers, though, not until this week. It's the only chance we've got to learn something first: Get on that phone, son.Thirty years ago the market that became the community I called home had a minicomputer product being sold in a mainframe mindset. HP sold office computers for interactive computing, just like DEC, Wang, Control Data, Honeywell, Burroughs, Univac, Datapoint, and yeah, some company called IBM. I'd heard of IBM. I knew nothing about the rest of the BUNCH, and I thought they were kidding about a company called Wang. (In the years to come, our publishing company created an unfortunately-named tabloid called Wang in the News.)
We got scooped on the release of the Series 37, which HP called the Office Computer because it was the first minicomputer it sold that didn't need special cooling or a raised floor. It operated on carpet, and that was a big deal for something people called the Mighty Mouse. It had the the first 3000 on a chip; a CMOS gate array; could have as much as 8 MB of memory and the same performance as a Series III, according to Stan Sieler's genealogy of that era. The Series III cost four times as much. That 8 MB is smaller than some of the individual podcast files I created 25 years later.
But I'm getting ahead of myself, like I usually do. I came into that office with 24 credit hours of computer science and a passion for the field. I was an enthusiast, as they used to call people who like computers for the concept of what they'd do, not just what they could help you learn. I only had a journalism degree to hang up on my paneled office wall. Plus that telephone and a notepad and a recorder. I needed the recorder, because I was drinking out of a fire hose of information for the first six months of these 30 years.
People were at the heart of the work, though. Not just the machines, but creative people with personality and a penchant for gathering and being social. These were business computing analysts, and the best way for them to share what they knew and learn was to read and meet in person. They held meetings at least once a month around the world. They were generous with what they knew. It seemed lots of them wanted to teach.
These days there are Throwback Thursdays online in social media like Facebook. Us baby boomers share pictures of our younger days. But I'm going to take more than just this coming Thursday to throw you back into 1984 and the place where I came in, looking for a way to tell stories that 3000 people would hear for the first time. Being first was important. But I'd soon learn that being accurate was even more important, more essential to my readers and my new community than being accurate when someone was on trial, or critically injured, or breaking a record or hearts on a sporting field. It certainly felt that way to the people who shared their stories with me. It also felt that way to me, the first time I messed up in public as I came in, then got schooled in person about how inaccurate my editing was in 1984.
August 12, 2014
Where a Roadmap Can Lead You
In preparation for its upcoming VMS Boot Camp, Hewlett-Packard has removed some elements of its roadmap for the operating environment. What's disappeared are no small thing: dates.
As the system neared its change of life at HP, customers of the HP 3000 saw their roadmap get less certain about its estimated time of arrivals. At the end of the vendor's interest in selling and creating more systems, an elaborate PowerPoint slide showed multiple levels of servers. The roadmap actually got a cloud creeping in from the right hand margin.
Okay, that was 13 years ago this very month in Chicago. But it was not the last HP World conference -- that would be one decade ago, this month -- not any more than next month's Boot Camp for VMS enthusiasts and customers will be the last. But there have been times when VMS had promises from HP's management of another decade of service. Here's the before, and the after.
Very few products last for lifetimes. Knowing when they're going, and how soon to make plans for replacement, is serious business for an IT manager.
During an August in 2001 when the future looked certain and solid for some customers, a PowerPoint slide told more than could be easily read in Chicago for HP 3000 customers. For the record, the slide below delivered everything promised up until 2003. The PA-8800 never made an entry into the N-Class.
That would be known, in the roadmap parlance, as a PA-8xxx. The PA-8yyy (8900) never made it into a 3000, either.
Roadmaps might be an old tradition, but they're moments to establish and renew trust in a partner. Specific, and follow-through, make that possible. Some VMS customers are already underway with their migration assessments.
August 11, 2014
Classic lines push homestead tech designs
Sometime this week I expect to be updated on the latest restructure at Stromasys. That's the company that has created a 3000 hardware-virtualization product installed in more sites than we first thought. They hold their cards close to the vest at Stromasys, especially about new installs. But we keep running into MPE support vendors who mention they have emulator-using clients. These companies are reticent about reporting on emulation.
3000 people have dreamed about emulators ever since 2002. And for the next eight years, people figured emulation wouldn’t matter by the time HP approved MPE emulator licensing. Better not tell that to the customers who have plans to go deep into the second decade of the 21st century with their 3000. Emulation was rolling by 2012 for the 3000. Within a couple of years between now and 2023, that technology could be well polished for MPE. Enough to stop using HP's 3000 hardware, boxes that will be at least 20 years old by that time. Most of them are at least 15 years old right now.
A great deal of time has passed since the 9x9 3000s had their coming-out, but much has changed that we couldn't predict back then. Come with me to the magical year of 1997. We had little idea what we'd see in just 10 years' time.
It’s 1997. (Humor me a minute, and turn back the year.) You're here? Okay, think about what we don’t have yet. Google. BluRay. DVDs, for that matter. Hybrid cars. Portable MP3 players of any kind. PayPal. Amazon turning a profit. YouTube. eBay was so new it was called AuctionWeb. Thumb drives. Digital TV. Viagra. Caller ID. Smartphones, warmed baby wipes, online banking, Facebook and Twitter. Blade servers, cloud computing, Linux, virtualization — the list of technologies and designs we didn’t have 17 years ago is vast.
We don’t even have to talk about clouds, tablet computers or 3D TVs. Now, roll ahead to 2023. In that year, there will still an HP 3000 running a factory in Oklahoma. That’s the plan for Ametek’s Chandler Engineering unit. By that year MPE will be 50 years old, COBOL more than 75. And what will keep those two technologies viable? Well, probably technology that we don’t even have out of design now, nine years ahead of that shutdown date. People have been throwing rocks at old stuff for years, but it hangs on if it’s built well.Four years ago I took a train ride from New York toward Chicago on the Lakeshore Limited. Just like Cary Grant rode that same line with Eva Marie Saint in the year I was born, in North by Northwest. The train remains the best value to get a night’s worth of sleep and end up 800 miles west of where you started. C'mon, railroads? Passenger service with berths went on lines, as it were, in the 19th century. How could it remain viable 150 years later? Like the HP 3000, the values that propel such elder technologies are efficiency and entropy. Railroads still call their carriages rolling stock, because you can roll freight three times farther on a train than a truck for the same expense.
The HP 3000 hardware, virtualized or not, still preserves business rules because Hewlett-Packard built the boxes like armored cars. The investment was so great back in those '90s that people expected it to last more than a decade between upgrades. The downside to switching to newer technology? The stuff we haven’t invented yet might not stick around. Perhaps the Oracle database will still be in widespread use in 2023. That’s the software where Ametek is taking its migration, using a plan developed by people who probably won’t be at the company is 2023.
That Ametek date was so far out that I wondered if it was a typo in an email. (Oh, we had email in 1997. But it wasn’t considered grandpa’s technology back then, the way the young turks think of email today. but now even grandpa's tech reputation has changed. So much noise on Twitter and Facebook. A personal email, from a known colleague -- you open that one first.) So when you plan your transition to tomorrow — whether it’s your personal retirement, or parking that armored car of a computer — don’t sell the future short. Go ahead and be independent to get the work finished on your timetable. But if you're going, now would be a good time to start. It will take until 2016, at best, if you began assessments today.
August 07, 2014
Who's got our history, and our future?
Migration takes on many problems and tries to solve them. A vendor stops supporting the server. Investing in a vendor's current product by migrating makes that go away. Applications slide into disrepair, and nobody knows how to re-develop them. Ah, that's a different sort of problem, one that demands a change in people, rather than products.
Yesterday we heard a story of a company in Ohio, running a 3000, whose IT manager planned to retire rather than migrate. Telling top management about your retirement plans is not mandatory. Frankly, having an option to retire is a special situation in our modern era. Figuring that you could be replaced, along with all of your in-company experience and know-how about things like COBOL, is far from certain. Legacy systems still run much of the world, but the people who built and tend to them are growing older, out of the workforce.
It's a glorious thing, knowing that your server's environment was first crafted four decades ago. Some of the brightest players from that era are still around, though not much active. Fred White built IMAGE, alongside Jon Bale at HP. Neither are at work today. Fred's now 90, as of April.
In another example of a seasoned 3000 expert, Ken Nutsford's LinkedIn account reports that he celebrates 45 years at Computometric Systems, the development company he founded with his wife Jeanette. In a Throwback Thursday entry, here they are, 10 years ago and now, still together. Not all of us wear so well, but they've retired enough to have travelled the world over, several times, on cruise ships. That's what more than 40 years will earn you.
It's been a decade since there's been a HP World conference like the one pictured at left, hosted by the Nutsfords, complete with a hospitality buffet as well as a board of trivia (below, click for detail) technical details that just a tiny set of experts might know. The number of people who know the operating system and the hardware at hand at that level has been on the decline. Not just in the MPE world, but throughout the computer industry.
BusinessWeek recently ran an article titled, "Who'll keep your 50 year old software running?" Even though the Nutsfords retired from leading SIGCOBOL in 2004, there's plenty of COBOL around. But not anywhere near enough people to maintain it, although companies continue to try.
The baby boomers that brought us the computer revolution, developing the products and programs we now rely on, are retiring. But many companies are still using programs written in such software languages as COBOL and Fortran that were considered “cutting edge” 50 years ago. Indeed, the trade publication Computerworld has reported that more than half of the companies they surveyed are still developing new COBOL programs
"Staffing is the first thing to go these days," said Birket Foster in a Webinar briefing this week. His MB Foster company is still doing migrations, including moving a Unix customer off the Progress database and onto SQL Server. Progress is a youngster compared to COBOL and IMAGE. Some people decide to migrate because of the migration of their most expert people.The BusinessWeek article didn't supply easy answers to the brain-drain dilemma that every company seems to face. The firms that put computers into their business processes during the last 35 years -- that's just about every company -- are working with new staff by now, or watching their tech foundation head out to the pleasure cruise life.
The article notes that up to one-half of all COBOL and Fortran programmers are at least 50 years old. Younger developers arrive with experience in newer languages. There's a gap to cross between what's operational and what's state-of-the-art. "Smart companies have recruitment and succession plans, of course," the business magazine said. "What they don’t have is access to an adequate supply of workers with the technical expertise they need."
The staffing issues complicate the timing of migrations. How long can you depend on legacy software while you get a replacement up and tested, something the younger set of developers can understand? A migration takes at least 18 months, Foster says. He adds that getting started on the assessment is pretty much a do-it-now item. August is a month that hosted HP World conferences for a good business reason: this is the time of the year when companies are planning their IT budgets for the year to come.
July 31, 2014
TBT: Java's promise spun 3000s into style
Just about 15 years ago from this ThrowBack Thursday, the HP 3000 was having its high moment of renaissance at Hewlett-Packard. The computer was going to make its stretch into the world of a Java-based interface for applications, in an era when Java was considered stylish. A new Java library was going to be patched into the operating environment, and the 3000 division was about to enjoy its fourth straight summertime with the same general manager, something we'd not seen in many years.
Harry Sterling pushed at the heartstrings of the customers during his tenure leading the division, and in 1999 he threw out the stops to make the HP World conference update on the 3000 memorable. The 3000 was always in style, Sterling maintained, just like the classics of yo-yos (a popular late '90s show giveaway) and tuxedos. Sterling managed to pull off a combination of the two at what amounted to a State of the Product address.
His hour-long talk was built around the theme of "The HP 3000: Always in Style," and featured a video of customer interviews comparing the system to classic dances such as the tango and the waltz. The general manager finished his talk spinning a yo-yo from his hand.
“Just like this yo-yo and just like my tux are always in style, so is the 3000,” Sterling said. The white-hot dot com boom was on, and Sterling felt the yearning from customers to feel the heat.
"You are seeing a new mindset at HP, doing the things that will make it possible for us all to be a pivotal player in Chapter Two of the Internet. Many of you are saying it’s about time — and I agree.”It was the last such speech he'd give. He retired from HP and his position later that year, handing over leadership of the group to Winston Prather. Y2K came and went, and the tuxedo-flashing era came and went, too. At the time of Sterling's talk, HP shared details of a GUI plan it called Visage, figuring that legacy-looking apps were not helping the 3000 hold and win customers. Mike Yawn, the CSY engineer who lead the Java project for the 3000, outlined elements of using Java to build GUIs for existing 3000 applications, as well as creating interfaces from scratch for new apps.
Technology refreshes like integrated Java were not moving as fast as HP's top management changes; commodity computing was cemented in the CEO's office by the march of Windows into business readiness. Visage never made it out of HP's labs, while faster 3000s using a new IO bus remained on the runway of the labs too long, in hindsight. But for a week in San Francisco, while Hewlett-Packard celebrated its 60th company anniversary, the view of the 3000's future was stylish to the max.
July 30, 2014
Find :HELP for what you don't know exists
Last week we presented a reprise of advice about using the VSTORE command while making backups. It's good practice; you can read about the details of why and a little bit of how-to in articles here, and also here.
But since VSTORE is an MPE command, our article elicited a friendly call from Vesoft's Vladimir Volokh. He was able to make me see that a great deal of what drives MPE/iX and MPE's powers can remain hidden -- the attribute we ascribed to VSTORE. "Hidden, to some managers running HP 3000s, is the VSTORE command of MPE/iX to employ in system backup verification." We even have a category here on the blog called Hidden Value. It's been one of our features since our first issue, almost 19 years ago.
Finding help for commands is a straightforward search, if those commands are related to the commands you know. But how deep are the relationships that are charted by the MPE help system? To put it another way, it's not easy to go looking for something that you don't know is there. Take VSTORE, for example. HP's HELP files include a VSTORE command entry. But you'll only find that command if you know it's there in the operating environment. The "related commands" part of the entry of STORE, identifying the existence of VSTORE, is at the very bottom of the file.
Vladimir said, "Yes, at the bottom. And nobody reads to the bottom." He's also of the belief that fewer people than ever are reading anything today. I agree, but I'd add we're failing in our habits to read in the long form, all the way beyond a few paragraphs. The Millennial Generation even has an acronymn for this poor habit: TLDR, for Too Long, Didn't Read. It's a byproduct of life in the Web era.
But finding help on VSTORE is also a matter of a search across the Web, where you'll find archived manuals on the 5.0 MPE/iX where it was last documented. There's where the Web connects us better than ever. What's more, the power of the Internet now gives us the means to ask Vladimir about MPE's commands and the MPEX improvements. Vladimir reads and uses email from his personal email address. It's not a new outlet, but it's a place to ask for help that you don't know exists. That's because like his product MPEX, Vladimir's help can be conceptual.Hold down the right-most or left-most mouse button and you'll see contextual help in plenty of applications. MPE commands don't have this feature, and while they don't seem to need it, conceptual help is missing, too. There's :HELP for many subjects, but conceptual help involves skipping over those TLDR habits.
Our original article about VSTORE used the command in context with a primer on when to create a System Load Tape. Do a VSTORE when you make an SLT, said Vladimir as well as our ally Brian Edminster. Creating context is high-order programming, something we can do more easily with our wetware than with software. It's about seeing relationships, connecting the dots.
"You can't ask for help for something you don't know exists," is how Vladimir posed the problem of contextual help in the MPE interface. Go to the %HELP of MPEX and you'll get related commands right away. For example, typing %HELP STORE will allows you to choose from the following topics:
1. %MPEXSTORE, MPEX command
2. MPE's :RESTORE help text
3. MPE's :STORE help text
4. MPE's :VSTORE help text
5. STORED, a file attribute variable
In comparison, you might not be aware of VSTORE's relationship to backups by using HP's :HELP files.
How did we learn about those %HELP options? The Internet led us to a 19-year-old technical paper written by Paul Taffel while he was in the Vesoft stables. The paper, hosted at Gainsborough Software, details the improvements to MPEX as a result of integrating the (then-new) Posix interface of MPE. Two-thirds of the way through an article of 2,800 lines, there's that %HELP information. (There's even a little joke about typing %HELP SENTENCE, and another about %HELP DELI in MPEX.)
It's all out there, somewhere, these opportunities to learn what you even don't know exists, but need to know. And you'd want to learn about efficient and effective use of MPE because? Well, because an HP 3000 might be a key part of your datacenter longer than expected -- and your best expert has already typed his final :BYE. In that 19-year-old article, Taffel expressed Vesoft's ideal about questions from the community.
We at VESOFT really encourage you to contact us with your favorite "I'd like to do this but I can't" problem. MPEX has evolved largely as a result of the continued suggestions of our many thousands of users, and we hope to continue this process as long as you continue to come up with new problems.
After that message, there's a contact phone number for Vesoft, the one that still reaches the company's offices, unchanged after decades. But there's also current email to follow by this year for contextual help, by dropping a note into Vladimir's inbox. Your reply might include a call, a sample of MPE help that's so well hidden you don't know you need it.
July 28, 2014
Taking a :BYE before a :SHUTDOWN
HP 3000 systems have been supporting manufacturing for almost as long as the server has been sold. ASK Computer Systems made MANMAN in the 1970s, working from a loaned system in a startup team's kitchen. MANMAN's still around, working today.
It might not be MANMAN working at 3M, but the Minnesota Minining & Manufacturing Company is still using HP 3000s. And according to a departing MPE expert at 3M, the multiple N-Class systems will be in service there "for at least several more years."
Mike Caplin is taking his leave of 3000 IT, though. Earlier this month he posted a farewell message to the 3000-L listserve community. He explained that he loved working with the computer, so much so that he bet on a healthy career future a decade-and-a-half ago. That was the time just before HP began to change its mind about low-growth product lines with loyal owners.
We love the part of Caplin's message where he gambled on his expertise and spent the last 15 years staying employed, instead of running from the 3000. We've been doing something similar here. This summer is the 13th we're writing and publishing since HP announced its end-date with the 3000 business. It can be sporting to try to figure who'll be the last to turn out the lights, but there's a good chance we won't be working anymore when it happens to MPE.
Tomorrow, I’ll type BYE for the last time. Actually, I’ll just X out of a Reflection screen and let the N-Class that I’m always logged in to log me out.
I started on a Series II in 1976 and thought I died and went to heaven after working on Burroughs and Univac equipment. The machine always ran; no downtime, easy online development, and those great manuals that actually made sense and had samples of code. I still have the orange pocket guide for the Series II.
I found this list about the same time that getting help from HP became a hit or miss. I always got a usable answer after posting a question, usually in under an hour. So the purpose of this is to say goodbye, but also to say thank you for all of the help over the years.
I was in a headhunter’s office about 15 years ago and he told me that I needed to get away from the 3000 because I’d never be able to make a living until I was ready to retire. I told him that he may be right, but that I was counting on knowing enough to be able to stay employed and that I intended to outlast MPE. I guess I got lucky and won that argument.
So that devoted MPE user has typed his last BYE. But MPE -- at least in some transitional mission at 3M -- has outlasted his days with the server. The community is still full of people who will make their exits before their HP 3000s do. Terry Floyd of the Support Group has said that at some manufacturing sites, there's a good chance the expertise will retire before the hardware does a shutdown. The marvel is to be able to go into retirement operating the same flavor of enterprise server as when you performed your first COLDSTART.
July 22, 2014
A Week When HP Gave OpenMPE the Floor
3000 community members at HP's facility for the OpenMPE meeting that replaced the scrubbed HP World 2005. From left, Walt McCullough, HP's Craig Fairchild and Mike Paivinen, Birket Foster (standing) and Stan Sieler.
It was a Maple floor, to be exact, in the Maple Room of the HP campus that's now long-demolished. On this day in 2005, in the wake of a washout of the user group Interex and its conference, the OpenMPE board met with HP to earn a space for an all-day meeting. HP extended use of its Maple Room -- where many a product briefing for the 3000 line had been held -- to the advocacy group that had fought for more time and better programs for migration and homesteading users.
In what feels like a long time ago, given all else that has changed, Interex closed its doors during this week in 2005 owing $4 million to companies small and large. The unpaid debts ranged from individuals owed as little as $8.30 on the unserved part of a yearly membership, to HP World booth sponsors who paid $17,000 for a space that the group could not mount in San Francisco. Then there were the hotels, which lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid room reservation guarantees. At five creditors to a page, the list of people and companies which the user group owed ran to more than 2,000 sheets. The file at the Santa Clara courthouse felt thick in my hands.
There was little money left at the end, too. The Interex checking account held $5,198.40, and a money market fund had $14,271.64 — neither of which was enough to satisfy the total unpaid compensation for an outside sales rep ($65,604 in unpaid commissions) or executive director Ron Evans (who had to forego his last paycheck of $8,225).
That OpenMPE meeting in August, in place of the Interex show, was notable in way that Interex could never manage. 3000 managers and owners could attend via phone and the web, using meeting software that let them ask questions and see slides while they could hear presentations.Webinars were not uncommon by 2005 for the 3000 community, but this web and phone conference poked further into the realm of interaction by adding the meeting software with the ability to raise your hand for a question, chat between attendees, and more. That same flavor of software, updated for our current decade, is on display at the MB Foster Wednesday Webinars of this year. (The latest is set for August 6.)
HP was gracious enough to provide a lunch for those who attended in person on that August day in 2005. The event was proof of the communication that OpenMPE sparked through its work up to 2008, when the 3000 labs and MPE experts closed off their doors and timesheets.
The meeting of nine years ago included a promise from HP's division managers that it would enable a time-honored tradition of a hobbyist's license for operating systems. It was supposed to give the 3000 community a way to teach itself and experiment with MPE for non-commercial research and education. But HP's method of licensing MPE/iX to the programmers and students of the environment was supposed to use the proposed emulator license, an agreement that required an emulator to surface for HP 3000 hardware.
Alas, the first emulator to surface for the 3000 arrived in 2012, a few years after HP stopped issuing new MPE/iX licenses. There's no hobbyist license per se today from HP. The freeware version of the CHARON emulator makes its users promise they've already got a valid 3000 license, since they've got to enter a HPSUSAN number to get started. A true hobbyist license requires no other OS-hardware license. OpenVMS has a hobbyist license, but that was begun by Digital.
As far as 2005's user group meetings went, the OpenMPE seminar was the only one to follow its proposed schedule. HP said that anybody who'd paid to attend the Interex show could shift their paid registration to the first-ever HP Technology Forum. That event was to be held in New Orleans in the thick of hurricane season. And a whopper emerged, Katrina, which wrecked the city so badly that HP's September show was moved to Orlando.
July 17, 2014
TBT: When users posterized HP's strategy
The Orange County Register captured this picture of the football-field sized poster that users assembled to call notice to the 3000 at the annual Interex show. We offer it in our collection of ThrowBack Thursday photos. Click on it for detail.
Recent news about a decline in the health of community guru Jeff Kell sparked a link to another 3000 icon: Wirt Atmar. The founder of AICS Research shared some medical conditions with Kell, but Wirt was never at a loss for gusto and panache. Twenty-eight years ago he started a print job in July, one that wouldn't be complete until the following month, when HP World convened in Anaheim. The 1996 show was held not too far from a high school football field -- one where ardent users of the 3000 wanted to make publicity for their beloved MPE server.
Thousands of panels rolled out of Wirt's HP DesignJet plotter, driven by an HP 3000 at his Las Cruces, New Mexico headquarters, each making up a small section of the World's Largest Poster. HP had set the record for largest poster just a few months earlier, with a basketball court's worth of 8x11 sheets, placed carefully to make a giant picture of Mickey Mouse. Wirt and his league of extraordinary advocates took on another element while they aimed at a bigger poster, by far. This World's Largest Poster was to be assembled outdoors, in the Santa Ana winds of Southern California.
All morning on that summer day the winds continued to climb, testing the resolve of a growing number of volunteers. Panels would spring up in the breeze, which seemed to flow from every possible direction. Atmar, whose company had printed the thousands of panels over a six week period and who had driven the poster in a U-Haul truck from New Mexico, stood alongside the poster's edge and gave instruction on holding it in place, using gutter-width roofing nails pressed into the turf.
But by 11 AM, no more nails were on hand, and the question was on everyone's lips -- where are they? The winds climbed with the sun in the sky, and volunteers were forced to use shoes and poster tubes to hold the panels in place. As a section would rise up, dedicated customers would call out,"It's coming up!" and then race to tack it in place, an organic version of a fault-tolerant system.
The document of about 36,000 square feet was somehow kept in place on the high school football field. The work of printing began in July. When Wirt was finally able to point across the field, at the completed poster, he breathed a sigh of relief and good natured fatigue. He quipped that after printing the four-foot rolls of paper needed for the poster, loading them into a van for the trip to California represented “the summer corporate fitness program for AICS Research.”Atmar, who died in 2009, was never at a loss for words about the 3000's potential and its fate. He touted the former with the zeal of a preacher and bemoaned the latter like a man saddled with in-laws who came to visit and never left. Like community leaders, he could make a sound case for the fact that Hewlett-Packard didn't understand what a gem it'd built in MPE and the 3000. The Poster Project was meant to remind CEO Lew Platt and the vice president of the computing group Wim Roelandts that the company already had customers who were avid about using a computer that had nothing to do with Unix.
At that point in HP's history of the 3000, computers had to at least integrate with Unix. The company had bet its enterprise future on Windows NT up to that point, but corporations were flocking to what was called an open systems environment instead. In truth, Unix was no more open than any other operating system, once each vendor finished called it something like Solaris, or AIX, or HP-UX, and ever more brands. At least MPE was plainly a specific environment.
But Atmar and his cohorts remembered that the 3000 was a general purpose computer, as first conceived. Demonstrating that the 3000 could produce artwork, and at a grand scale, was one aim of the Poster. The publicity stunt was covered by the Long Beach Press Telegram and the Orange County Register, among others. I rode in the Bell Ranger helicopter to take an aerial shot, but the Register's remains the throwback picture of record.
In an account of the event, Wirt was eager to point out all of the friends and allies who'd made the day possible.
A fair number of the people who participated in the poster can be recognized (primarily by their clothing). Alfredo Rego is walking across the top of the middle football player's helmet. Ken Paul, Ken Sletten and Jon Diercks are all at the base of the group of people in line with the "u" in the word, "Butt." Rene Woc is seen walking directly above the shoe of the rightmost football player. And Jeanette Nutsford appears just below the knuckles of the middle player.
July 16, 2014
Kell carries key account of 3000 revival
We've come to learn that community icon Jeff Kell is battling a serious illness. While I wish this keystone of MPE wisdom a quick recovery, and the best wishes to his wife, I'd like to share some insights he relayed about the transition from Classic 3000s to the ultimate edition of the server he's worked on and cared for most of his career at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
I'd asked Kell to explain what the HP CEO during that transition era, John Young, might have been talking about while the CEO told Computerworld in 1985 about the strategy of RISC. As the clipping from Computerworld to the left shows, Young was a lot less than clear about what RISC would do for HP's long-term computing plans. A comment in the second paragraph of the clipping -- about networking, one of Kell's most ardent studies -- made me want to reach out to him earlier this summer. Young's conflation of "9000 series terminals emulated the 3000 architecture in some ways, but not really completely" was something Kell could clear up.
I'm not aware of any similarities [Young noted] between 3000/9000 Series except after adoption of RISC, and they used the same processors/hardware. They may have shared some peripheral hardware earlier, but certainly had little in common until RISC. The 3000/9000 had practically nothing in common prior to that other than perhaps HP-IB peripherals.
Network-wise, the 9000-series was following the ARPA/Ethernet track, while the 3000 initially started down the IEEE/OSI architecture. Ethernet was only accepted by the 3000 as an afterthought, it was a checkbox on the NMCONFIG dialogue if you wanted to allow it, and it defaulted to OFF.
So unless Young was talking post-RISC (timeframe is wrong), I'm not sure how he would compare 3000/9000 lines at all. The initial RISC 3000s were in the last half of the 1980s. If I recall correctly, my "migration training" to the "new" 3000s was at the Atlanta response center around 1985 (or a little later) and we were expecting a 930. We ended up with a 950 (since the 930 sucked so badly.) But I do recall many of the details.
"At that time," he said, "we had stretched our Series-IIIs to the limit. HP had "loaned" us a 42 and 48 to "tie us over" until delivery of Spectrum. We had the week at the migration center in Atlanta and spent most of it doing switch stubs for our extensive set of SPL support routines. We finally got a 950 and never looked back, but we had several engineers scratching their heads in the process. We were doing some really peculiar stuff."
Those were "interesting times" indeed. I think at the time we had a Series III with 64 terminals attached (production), a Series III-R (development), a Series 40 or 42 (Library), an academic 44/48, a leftover Series III (academic), and that loaner pair of 42/48 (or 52/58?) to tie us over until Spectrum. We were long overdue for an upgrade, but no hardware was available yet to satisfy the need.
The 3000's direction on networking was most disturbing, taking the OSI standard model in the midst of our evolving Sun/Solaris Internet computers. We had 3000s on our LAN that could only talk to other 3000s on our LAN... while the rest of the server room was on the Internet. It was laughable.
It would be another decade before Posix came to MPE, and it started to play well with the other kids on the block. But unfortunately, a decade too late.
HP executives were taken up with the "Unix" movement... and the 9000s dominated their focus. The 3000s were just along for the ride. And looking back today, that wasn't such a great bet either.
Kell is a classic example of a chapter of living history -- and the lessons we learn from it -- that should be cherished by the community. After nearly 40 years, the decommissioned 3000s at his UTC shop were picked up for recycling. "We're now officially 3000 history," he said, "with nothing left on site."
July 10, 2014
TBT: The month fem-power first led HP
You only have to go back 15 years to find a Throwback Thursday photo that captured watershed change for the HP 3000's creators. Carly Fiorina was named as HP's sixth CEO on a Monday in July, the start of the finale for a company's business way which created Hewlett-Packard-designed products as its biggest business.
Fiorina was all of 44 years old when she took a chair that had always been held by men over the first 60 years of HP's existence. In a BusinessWeek story that marked her ascent, the woman who'd become known only as Carly explained that she'd talked Dick Hackborn into staying on HP's board of directors. Telling readers that "Carly Fiorina has a silver tongue and an iron will," reporter Peter Burrows relayed Carly's own admission of feminine business power. The CEO-to-be said she was interviewed in a Chicago airport club restaurant.
"You can't tell me there's a better person for the job,'' she told Hackborn as the Gaslight's waitresses, clad in skimpy uniforms and fishnet stockings, made their rounds. Over the course of three hours, Hackborn agreed [to helm the board]. ''And no, I did not put on fishnet stockings,'' Fiorina says with a laugh. ''Don't even go there.''
At the time of her ascent, the business media had pegged Carly as the most powerful woman in business, with Oprah running number 2. “She is quite simply the ideal candidate to leverage HP’s core strengths in the rapidly changing information-systems industry and to lead this great company well into the new millennium,” said board member Sam Ginn, who led the search committee. It was a move that would lead the staid company into new eras of panache.
HP’s board said it was pushing for the company’s first outside CEO to lead the company in its new e-services push. Heading up AT&T spinoff Lucent’s $20 billion Global Service Provider division, Fiorina was named America’s Most Powerful Businesswoman in 1998 by Fortune magazine. Her selfies with pop stars came later.Six years later, HP was shucking off a CEO who'd brought exactly what the board thought HP needed -- commodity products to sell alongside high-profit enterprise computing systems. The Compaq merger she pushed, adding PCs to the top of HP's sales results, meant the end of some HP product lines that overlapped with Digital servers that Compaq was selling, such as the OpenVMS-MPE collision.
Within one year of Fiorina's ouster, Burrows had written Backfire, his history of the Carly era at HP. Interviewed on PBS, Burrows gave his take on why the sizzle of a CEO -- who hired pop star Gwen Stefani to headline a tradeshow beside her -- didn't satisfy.
I think she is a very polarizing figure. Initially people almost always, you know, sort of think the world of her and are sort swept away with her charisma and her good ideas and her passion. But I think that over time, a lot of people at HP particularly I know, lost faith when it became clear that her ideas just weren’t working.
Fundamentally, HP was a great printer company and a very average to poor computer company. She went out and did a merger that doubled the size of the poor business, and now they’re stuck in a lousy — a very challenging PC industry.
She got that deal done against all odds, and sort of against the market’s wisdom. Investors hated the deal. They took 17 percent out of the stock immediately when it was announced.
June 26, 2014
3000 sages threwback stories on Thursday
Two weeks ago in the modest London pub Dirty Dick's, a few dozen veterans and sages of the 3000 system had their personal version of a Throwback Thursday. This is the day of the week when Facebook and Twitter users put out a piece of their personal history, usually in the form of a picture from days long past.
If pressed for a piece of June Throwback Thursday material, I might reach for our very first blog post. Nine years ago this month we kicked off our coverage of new, every-workday reporting. My first story was a tribute to a just-fallen comrade in the 3000 community. Bruce Toback died in that month the Newswire's blog was born. As I said in that first blog article -- "A Bright Light Winks Out" was already a throwback, before the term gained its current coin -- Toback was extraordinary, the kind of person that makes the 3000 community unique. He lived with a firm grip on life's handrail of humor. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 48. As part of a gentle and generous Toback memorial, David Greer hosts pictures of Bruce like the one above. Many of these were taken as Toback became important to the Robelle Qedit for Windows project.
The passing of a special life is a good reason to celebrate what remains for all of us. That's probably what motivated those London veterans to gather at Dirty Dick's Pub this month to toss off stories and toss back drinks. Bob Green of Robelle (pictured here in a throwback picture in the spring of 2001, when he was working from his Anguilla island headquarters) shared some pub photos and a brief report about this month's Throwback Thursday for your community.
“It was great to catch up with 3000 colleagues from around the world: Steve Cooper, Dave Wiseman, Brian Duncombe, Kim Leeper, Brad Tashenberg, the Nutsfords and many more (about 20 in all). We exchanged notes on the current state of the machine -- especially the new emulator -- and discovered what each of us was doing. [Editor's Note: Duncombe (above) had made this trip in a record 48-hour-complete turnaround, from Canada to the UK and back. The intensity still burns bright for some of your community members.]
Green noted, while posting photos of Cooper and Leeper in conversation, or the sweet couples' photo (below) of Jeanette and Ken Nutsford, "An amazing number of people are still doing the same thing: helping customers with their IT concerns. But in reality, most of the time was spent swapping war stories from the past, which was great fun.
"Here are some photos from the party. Everyone is older, but perhaps you will remember some of them." This photo of the Nutsfords, ever the COBOL and HP Rapid standards-bearers, is something of a coup. The couple retired from the world of the 3000 to set off an epic career of cruise line travels, so catching them for a picture requires some foresight. They are circling the globe in a lifestyle that shows there's another, more rewarding kind of migration awaiting the luckiest of us.
June 25, 2014
What level of technology defines a legacy?
Even alternatives to the HP 3000 can be rooted in legacy strategy. This week Oracle bought Micros, a purchase that's the second-largest in Oracle history. Only buying Sun has cost Oracle more, to this point in the company's legacy. The twist in the story is that Micros sells a legacy solution: software and hardware for the restaurant, hospitality and retail sectors. HP 3000s still serve a few of those outlets, such as duty-free shops in airports.
Micros "has been focused on helping the world’s leading brands in our target markets since we were founded in 1977," said its CEO. The Oracle president who's taking on this old-school business is Mark Hurd, an executive who calls to mind other aspects of legacy. Oracle's got a legacy to bear since it's a business solution that's been running companies for more than two decades. Now the analysts are saying Oracle will need to acquire more of these customers. Demand for installing Oracle is slowing, they say.
In the meantime, some of the HP marketplace is reaching for ways to link with Oracle's legacy. There's a lot of data in those legacy databases. PowerHouse users, invigorated by the prospects of new ownership, are reaching to find connection advice for Oracle. That's one legacy technology embracing another.
Legacy is an epithet that's thrown at anything older. It's not about one technology being better than another. Legacy's genuine definition involves utility and expectations.
It's easy to overlook that like Oracle, Unix comes in for this legacy treatment by now. Judging only by the calendar, it's not surprising to see the legacy tag on an environment that was just finding its way in the summer of 1985, while HP was still busy cooking up a RISC revolution that changed the 3000's future. Like the 3000's '70s ideal of interactive computing -- instead of batch operations -- running a business system with Unix in the 1980s was considered a long shot.
An article from a 1985 Computerworld, published the week that HP 3000 volunteer users were manning the Washington DC Interex meet, considered commercial Unix use something to defend. Like some HP 3000 companies of our modern day, these Unix pioneers were struggling to find experienced staff. Unix was unproven, and so bereft of expertise. At least MPE has proven its worth by now.In the pages of that 1985 issue, Charles Babcock reported on Unix-for-business testimony.
NEW YORK -- Two large users of AT&T Unix operating systems in commercial settings told attendees at the Unix Expo conference that they think they have made the right choice. Both said, however, that they have had difficulty building a professional staff experienced in Unix.
The HP 3000 still ran on MPE V in that month. Apple's Steve Jobs had just resigned from the company he founded. Legacy was leagues away from a label for Unix, or even Apple in that year. It was so far back that Oracle wondered why they'd ever need to build a version of its database for HP 3000s. IMAGE was too dominant, especially for a database bundled with a business server. The 3000, even in just its second decade of use, was already becoming a legacy.
That's legacy as in a definition from Brian Edminster of Applied Technologies. The curator of open source solutions, and caretaker of a 3000 system for World Duty Free Group, shared this.
A Legacy System is one that's been implemented for a while and is still in use for a very important reason: Even if it's not pretty -- It works.
A Legacy System is easy to identify in nearly any organization: It's the one that is constructed with tools that aren't 'bleeding edge.'
June 09, 2014
Heirs to the 3000 Family's Fortune
It was about this time nine years ago that the Newswire's blog began, and one of our first few items in that season was a personal one. Squirreled away in an email update we once called the Online Extra, we noted a happy event in the Volokh family. Eugene -- now a tenured law professor, had become a father once more -- making his dad Vladimir a grandfather again.
Now the family has another milestone. Vladimir reports that younger son Sasha, also a law professor, has earned tenure at Emory University in Atlanta. Two tenured law professors as sons, and each of them had their HP 3000 experience, chronicled in publications.
Sasha was first depicted in the DC Daily, a daily newsletter that Interex published during the 1985 DC user conference, in a pictorial called Kids at the Konference. "While mom and dad are attending the round tables, the kids are enjoying the conference in their own special way." This show, almost 30 years ago, was my first exposure to the Interex yearly meetings. I have a firm memory of the young Sasha making his way happily from vendor booth to vendor booth, wearing a vest that was festooned with the giveaway buttons from the vast array of 3000 vendors.
Like his brother, Sasha was just shy of age 12 during his debut in the wide HP 3000 community. His parents Vladimir and Anne shared the photo above of a 12-year-old Sasha -- now tenured. It's a marker that your community has enough tenure that it's produced father-son heritages. And yet another generation has been born to these heirs. There are others to note, too.
In addition to the Volokhs, we've written up -- during a week that like this one is nearing Father's Day -- the combo of Terry and David Floyd. During the past year, David has moved into the ranks of an established manufacturing system manager, after his stint of leading the Support Group. He too had early first steps onto the path of his father, writing an application that he finished at age 15. David's first HP 3000 experience was at age 5, in 1981, on a Series III.
Sasha is among the youngest of 3000 family's progeny. David has not seen his 40th birthday yet. David was a tender nine years old at the time of that 1985 conference, the first show since HP had announced that its Vision program for the 3000 would be replaced by Spectrum. Below is a pictorial wrap-up from the Daily of that year. (Thanks to Sasha's mom Anne for the 3000 photo history.) Note the picture of David Packard, enjoying attendees at the conference.
And from our own late May, 2005 Extra -- sent out two decades after that DC show -- and in the same season as Father's Day, we offered the new-dad news below. It extended the third generation of 3000-related family members.
Volokh empire adds another heir
Eugene Volokh, the co-founder of HP 3000 utility software vendor VEsoft, added another member to his family with the birth of his son Samuel. Volokh, who has added the career of constitutional law professor to his roots programming for HP 3000s, now has two sons by his wife Leslie Periera. Proud grandpa Vladimir, who heads up the VEsoft empire, reports that Benjamin was born at 10.5 pounds, bigger than Eugene’s 9-pound birth weight.
While Eugene’s technical legend remains fixed in the minds of HP 3000 customers who cut their teeth during the 1980s — the son of Russian immigrant Vladimir, he worked at HP as a teenager and created MPEX with his father before graduating high school — his later life illustrates even broader interests. His writings on law and society are profound; his Volokh Conspiracy blog (volokh.com) bristles with a wide scope of commentary. Now the father of two, Eugene might have even more drive to accomplish one of his more nascent desires: to write children’s fiction. In an interview with blogger Norman Geras while Samuel was already on the way, Eugene admitted a wish to entertain:
Q. What talent would you most like to have?
A. Being able to write memorable and entertaining fiction, especially children’s fiction.
Fifteen years ago, we wrote a full-throttle feature for our printed Newswire edition celebrating the fathers of your community who had heirs in their footsteps, or upon their shoulders. The Floyds -- David has a couple of sons of his own, by the way -- were captured in the following account from 1999.
Fathers pass 3000s to next generation
For MANMAN/HP expert and founder of the Support Group, inc. Terry Floyd, working with his son David has been the return of an often prodigal son. David first began to work with his father by writing an application he finished at age 15 — but worked for another HP 3000 company as a programmer/analyst before returning to tSGi last year.
"David wrote a program I'd always wanted — a Labor Summary Report for the 3000 — in 1989, because there was no such thing in MANMAN," Terry said. "He wrote in FORTRAN and IMAGE, and called a subroutine I'd written, one that exploded a Bill of Materials 150 times faster than ASK had been able to. Every user should have it. We sold it for $1,500 four or five times, and David was filthy rich at 15, made about $4,000."
While David did take a FORTRAN class in college, learning IMAGE was an on-the-job education. His father brags that his son learned FORTRAN in night school and got the best grade in the class at age 15.
Working together on the Labor Summary Report "was a lot of trial and error, because we went back and forth, setting new goals and changing the specs, so he would get used to the real world," Terry said. "He learned a lot of IMAGE by himself, by looking at the ASK programs."
Working together on an application "that was unique and different was what really got him excited, and me too," his father said. "We worked in the house for so long, he couldn't avoid learning how manufacturing companies work." Later on when Terry taught a FORTRAN class, David was one of the students. "He'd ask questions like 'Could you explain that part to them a little better?' " Terry said.
"My dad and I worked on cars together that would last three years," Terry said. "But that's a lot more static than working with customers, asking you questions. When David's in the middle of that, he picks up on all that."
Terry is happy to have his son use his experience as a springboard. "There's a lot of stuff for us to talk about now, besides fun and cars and running around," Terry said. "He's been in and out of the company often enough to have five different employee numbers, including employee number three after me and [my wife] Caren."
The master-apprentice relationship between the two HP 3000 technicians moved faster because of the familial bond. "I'm a lot harder on him than I would be on anybody else," Terry said. "He's a test case, and I try things out on him. He's really into volunteering to help prototype ideas, and he's always done that with me. I've always told him everything, to give him the advantage of all the mistakes I've made. I don't just admit my mistakes, I advertise them. We're alike in many ways, and it's because we've worked together."
Later on in 2011, we gave David his own spotlight as president of the Support Group. In the introduction, we noted
David can say he was at the console in those early years, even though he wasn’t born until the Series III was shipping and ASK was enhancing MANMAN. He first used an HP 3000 at the age of 5, in 1981.
He says he would “connect our kitchen phone to a 300-baud acoustic coupler modem to dial a terminal into one of the ASK 3000s. There I could play Mystery Mansion, Adventure, Dungeon, and other games.” He started doing paid work on a 3000 in 1991, at the age of 15. His first project was creating a MANMAN report called the LSR/3000 (Labor Summary Report). He continued working summers in high school programming and providing MANMAN support, got a job at Belvac Production Machinery in 1995 as a MANMAN programmer, and became a consultant in 1996.
Your dad started the ball rolling on your family’s MPE experience, and you believe there's another decade left for MANMAN users. What would another 10 years of MANMAN mean to your family?
My dad timed it so [the 3000] will be the entirety of his career. He had an HP 1000 right out of college, and within five years he had an HP 3000. If we manage to get another 10 years out of this, which it looks like we will, that’s his entire career on MPE and HP systems. He’s thrilled about that.
June 06, 2014
A Long Time in Passing
It's very late spring here at my house, and that means our basketball ardor is at its zenith. This year my beloved San Antonio Spurs are already playing in the championship round. The NBA calls this The Finals. But for the last seven years, there's been nothing final about the Spurs' work to win a title. Each year the organization, as they like to call the coaches, managers and players that comprise the team, seems to make a serious Drive for Five after four previous championships. Their last championship was in 2007 -- or in the middle of HP's first "wait a minute" two-year extension of its 3000 business.
Over the past three years, though, analysts in the sports community have tried to write off the Spurs as too old to compete at the highest level. Tim Duncan, Spurs superstar and Hall of Famer in waiting, is about as old as a Series II HP 3000. Unlike that CISC model of server, Tim's gotten better with age, more crafty with the minutes he plays in what's clearly the last act of his career. The former monster scorer has become a passer.
By his side on the court, two other stars play, to make up the Spurs' Big Three. Everybody's got a Big Three now in basketball, from the Celtics to the Miami Heat. The Spurs were the first. Their other stars are as old as a Series III (Manu Ginobilli) and Tony Parker, a younger man, but as old as a Series 68.
One of my first assignments in journalism was as sports editor. I covered five prep school districts and wrote a lot of stories about boys and girls who were 13-18 years old. There was plenty of drama and heroics. What I learned back then was that age didn't matter, if you had the right coach and you were focused enough to learn how your skills could shape each game. Del Coryover was a star at 15 in Leander, carrying the football for a couple of touchdowns a night. Nobody told him he was not the right age to fly past bigger defenders.
So it seems, sometimes, for HP 3000 installations begun in the 1980s. Like those Spurs stars, these servers and the pros who manage them just keep coming back for more work. On the ABC network, they've taken to calling the Big Three and their legendary coach Gregg Popovich "The Same 'Ol Spurs," with affection by now. Their continued championship relevance, over a stretch of time that goes back to before there were A-Class and N-Class servers, has earned them respect. They are not flashy. Nobody pounds their chest and screams to the rafters after a monster dunk, or a back-door cut, or dropped-bomb three-pointer, or the blocked shot -- although they perform all of these nightly.
Last night they played badly, under brutal conditions. The AC failed in their homecourt at the ATT Center, and in that 90-degree indoor swelter they failed to pass crisply. Miami stole the basketball like bloodhounds after loose pork chops. But the Spurs play their bench men often, and in crunch time, too. It's a full-team approach, instead of superstars like cloud servers and Oracle databases. They survived on reliability last night, counting on the fact that fresh players make better plays. What makes the 3000 great is what makes the Spurs great: consistency, the clockwork-like execution that happens from hundreds of hours of practice, all laid down upon a bedrock of team-first strategy. They practice passing "from good shot to great shot."
As one example of delicious good to great dependability, consider something called the outlet pass in basketball. You probably never heard of it because it's fundamental. Tim has been re-coached by Coach Pop, as he's called, to use stunning talent to make these offense-sparking plays perfect and extraordinary. At their best, they can be the long-bomb touchdowns of basketball. For the basketball geek, the YouTube video embedded here gives you a taste of these Duncan veggies, whizzing the ball down-court to make the sizzle happen at the other end.
How is it possible that the outlet pass -- or a bank shot, one of Tim's mainstay plays -- still works wonders in the modern NBA? He does these things as a trademark that's earned him an un-flashy nickname: The Big Fundamental. When sports analysts are agog at the success of a bank shot -- first performed in the 1950s -- I think of the consultant who observed companies using the equivalent of the bank shot, PowerHouse.
"I am amazed to know that Powerhouse is still running on any platform," Bob Kaminski said, after Unicom bought the product and worked to revive it. As a young employee with the vendor he said, "I started with Quiz, Quick and QTP in 1983-84. Sold it, until I left Cognos in 1989. It was great then, and I assume is still a great tool."
But this passing year means more for the Spurs, and perhaps more for the 3000, than many others before. This season is one of redemption for the team, having seen that Fifth title slip away last year with 28 seconds left to play. It was a gut-punch few other teams could recover from, losing like that. The team responded by leading the league in wins during the next regular season, and now returning to The Finals to gain their revenge -- as well as their respect. Tim Duncan is in the twilight of his career, just like HP's hardware that runs MPE/iX is running out of time.There's a future for the operating system, the brand of computing that's as extraordinary as the selfless, ball-sharing approach Coach Pop teaches. In the Spurs locker room there's a hungry young star named Kawahi Leonard, gifted with speed and wingspan and intelligence that make him the next generation of The Big Fundamental.
And in your HP 3000 community there is CHARON, the HPA/3000 emulator that will sail higher and faster than any iron HP could ever design. Kawahi needs a coach of the caliber of Pop. CHARON needs coaching that should remind people of Harry Sterling, the last HP general manager who practiced the fundamentals of computer product management. Push the technology to something better like N-Class servers. Be selfless about your own HP future, because the customers matter more than your career.
When there's a Kawahi around, a Coach Pop tends to emerge. It might take awhile for them to find one another, and in the meantime there are pronouncements about how the star will never amount to championship material. Or a product won't make a mark on the market.
It's a long season for host-based servers, though. While IBM sells off its low-end server business, while Dell crawls into the services space and downplays its iron, the concept of managing an MPE machine yourself is still alive out there. It's pounding the ball up and down the court and looking for its leader, the one who will take a revitalized MPE platform and score. Not so that a lot of people will see and notice. But for a group of companies who are as small as any TV marketplace in San Antonio, it matters because it's history, carried out every day.
The Big Three and Coach Pop and the Spurs are passing -- both in the sense that they share the ball in their 10-man community of players, and they are working toward that final act of their careers. But it's been a long time in passing, their retirements. Some here in Texas say that even at advanced ages, the Big Three could hang around for another season, challenge for another title. Anything in life that hangs on longer than predicted, and remains productive and relevant and unique while it does, should be applauded and cheered. Those are the sounds coming from my living room this month, while we watch a legend extend days and nights of excellence.
And if it takes any team even longer than expected to make its passing -- while it remains essential -- what a gift, for those of us who love the fundamentals.
June 02, 2014
Looking Up, from a Vision to a Spectrum
While I'm researching for another Newswire story, I've found an archive of reporting from the year that HP was taking its first full turn onto the path of RISC computing. RISC is the architecture that grew from the MPE XL version of the 3000 and its 900 Series systems, until finally HP evolved it into the Integrity lineup -- the only host that will ever run HP's Unix replacement OS. Back in 1985, it really looks like the company's CEO didn't know any more about 3000 designs than any other CEO at HP has since that time.
John Young was HP CEO, interviewed in the week while the Interex user group was hosting its Interex Washington DC conference. But the CEO wasn't at the conference. The company's founder was there, but David Packard wasn't the subject of the Computerworld interview. Young was asked what was prompting HP to pursue RISC as a computing strategy. He spent some time conflating and mixing several HP servers' technology. In the most baffling part of his answer, he said this about how muddled HP's computer architecture was -- and how RISC was going to change that.
We had desktops with one architecture, factory floor terminals with another and the HP 3000 with yet another stack architecure. The 9000 series terminals emulated the 3000 architecture in some ways, but not really completely.
Young went on to add that HP spent 90 percent of its development time changing things to make its networking perform correctly. "And those changes propagated down the whole computer line. I just decided, when I became HP president [in 1978]... that we wanted to find some way of bringing a harmony out of this unique business opportuntity. We needed to make a jump, and the conjunction of all those things was a program we Spectrum."
9000 series terminals? He probably meant the HP 9000 desktop systems, built for engineering. The 3000 architecture was Complex Instruction Set Computing (CISC), but so was the 9000's. Just a different design, called FOCUS. The factory floor terminals might have been attached to HP 1000s. One of the engineers on the scene at the time, Stan Sieler, told us he figures emulated in Young-speak might have been more philosophical than technological. Sieler also said that the sparkplug of RISC at HP was eager to get the Vision project out of the way, so Joel Birnbaum could enjoy his spectrum.Sieler said, "I suspect [Young's] referring to the 9000/500 that was based on the FOCUS chipset. It was, if I recall correctly, a stack-based chipset. I think he meant 'emulated' more in the 'inspired by, and is similar to' manner, not what we'd normally think of as emulation."
At that point in the era where the PC was only just starting to be a dominant business tool -- it now drives the largest share of HP's revenues -- and such computers were called micros, HP was sweeping technology away that it had spent years creating but never released. Failure was always HP's first option for the predecessors for Spectrum, Sieler said in his interpretation.
At one point, I was part of a task force that designed the "FOCUS-II,", which was pre-Vision (and pre-PA-RISC). It was supposed to be the next CPU architecture for the 3000, 9000, and 1000.
Scott Stallard was the chairman (he later became an Executive VP at HP), and others worked on it. But when we presented the report, we discovered that no one had told us we were supposed to fail -- so that Vision could be given the official blessing.
But neither FOCUS, FOCUS II, nor Vision were RISC CPUs. Birnbaum was hired away from IBM after Big Blue didn't want to create a RISC system, Birnbaum's dream design. Sieler went to work on Vision, then, only to learn that he'd been put on another blind alley. "I don't think that Vision fell short of what Spectrum became," he said.
To the contrary, it could do things that no subsequent architecture can. But, that came at a cost. Vision was definitely a CISC instruction set.
In 1983 (and somewhat earlier), I was doing design/development of process management for the HPE operating environment (for Vision). "Process management" meaning creating, starting, controlling, and killing processes (programs).
When I left HP (late September, 1983), we had one or two minimal (breadboarded) Vision computers running. Most of the time we used emulators/simulators involving re-microcoded HP 3000s. About a week after I left, HP killed Vision in favor of PA-RISC.
I once mentioned to Joel Birnbaum that it was cause/effect: I left HP, HP killed Vision. His response was quick: "If I'd known that, I'd have gotten rid of you earlier."
Sieler laughs at this today, bemused at the way things changed so quickly -- and then have not changed since. "HPE was renamed MPE XL," he said, "and most of the code written for it survived, To this day, much of process management in MPE/iX is still my code."
May 29, 2014
They knew what they had before it was gone
In the classic Joni Mitchell song, she asks, "Don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you got 'till it's gone?" However, in the HP 3000 world, the advocates, fans and users know the special place the 3000 held in their lives -- and long before it was really gone.
At the now-defunct Boyle Engineering, the last in a long line of HP 3000s was sold for scrap this month, according to Harlan Lassiter. When Boyle was purchased in 2008, the site that housed the 3000 was closed down. Equipment was left behind, but Lassiter -- who worked at Boyle 27 years -- kept track of an abandoned 3000 Series 928. He reported he was sad to see it go. One last boot-up was all that Lassiter wanted at Boyle, whose services were engaged to plan, design, and construct infrastructure projects.
Last time I was in the building, in the corner of the raised floor computer room, was our HP 3000 928 system, console monitor and LPQ1200 printer. Yesterday it was gone. Apparently it was picked up late last week as scrap. Also picked up and sold for scrap from the room were about 50 Dell LCD monitors (some new, still in bubble wrap) and perhaps 30 Dell desktop computers, APC battery backup systems, server arrays, and other assorted computer equipment. Much of the equipment could have been donated to organizations that could use a computer system, even though it would not be the most current.
That 928 was the last in a series of HP 3000 systems for the company, having begun with a Series II when I first started with Boyle in 1979 . We came a long way. I started as a programmer and left as the system manager. The system ran all of the company in-house accounting, finance, payroll and project tracking reports and engineering software. All software was developed in-house and was written in FORTRAN. As FORTRAN evolved through the years, so did the software. Files were converted from serial (flat) files to KSAM and eventually to IMAGE databases. What used to take overnight to process took less than an hour in later days.
It was a great learning experience. I guess I was hoping to fire the system up one more time just for nostalgia's sake, since I am the only one left that would be able to do such a thing.
Another piece of HP history, a living one that served both the 3000 and HP-UX systems, has been bulldozed, right off the ground of the old Hewlett-Packard Cupertino campus.Apple now owns the acres of Cupertino where the HP 3000 grew into a business powerhouse. The HP buildings have been razed, and Jim Hawkins of HP reports that even the grove of redwood trees is no more. Apple's building a spaceship-like headquarters in its place. Employees and retirees held picnics there, along with the historic Glendenning Barn which HP maintained as a reminder of the property’s pioneer-era life as an apricot orchard and farm. Hawkins, one of the last 3000-focused engineers at Hewlett-Packard, celebrated those redwoods as a place of the 3000 community.
The HP Cupertino Site, home for (most of) the HP 3000 R&D teams, and manufacturing source of (most) pre-RISC MPE servers, is now scraped clean in preparation to land Apple's "Steve Jobs memorial spaceship."
The redwood grove where execs used to serve us hamburgers during beer busts is all cut down, as are apparently all other trees except those on the borders of Pruneridge, Wolfe, Homestead, and Tantau streets.
After reading Lassiter's farewell, Ed Effinger shared a memorial in waiting. His was report of a forthcoming shutdown at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario. "We have a similar story to what mine will be next March," Effinger said, "as we plan to pull the plug on our Series 929. We also started with HP in 1975-76, to replace our old Honeywell system -- and I too have done all things here."
These are customers of more than 35 years of MPE computing, and that redwood grove was servicing the community at HP's campus even before that time. At least these veterans of the ecosystem know what they're losing, and how much that loss stings. At the old HP campus, it looks like Apple's paving paradise to put up a an underground parking lot.
May 28, 2014
3000: Cards and punching and tape, oh-29!
The Hewlett-Packard System/3000 -- that's what the computer called the 3000 was first known as during the era when punched cards and tape could drive its data. The 3000-L mailing list popped back up to life last week with stories about the era when hanging chads and IBM 029 punch machines were a working part of MPE's four decades of historic service.
History for an active operating environment whose pedigree includes punched tape and punched cards -- that's pretty much exclusive to the HP 3000. Punching pedigree is a mark of utility and durability, even if those card readers are only in museums and garages today. One recently sold on eBay for more than $300 to a collector.
Maybe it was the debut of a System 360 mainframe on Mad Men's penultimate season that put punched cards into the minds of its longstanding users. Mark Ranft of Pro3K told a story last month about his first IT job as a System 360 operator in the US Marine Corps -- and how that led to a Nortel assignment with a card reader and paper tapes. "Thankfully they had a Series III [HP 3000]. As an operator, I was bored to death, so I read all the manuals. That's how I got hooked on MPE."
About a month later, former OpenMPE secretary Tracy Johnson started the 3000-L readers down nostalgia lane by pointing to TELTAC: a Teletype tape-to-punched card conversion program. "Was there a Contributed Software Library program for that?" he asked. The MPE CSL was born as a swap tape, during this era of punched card holdouts. Gilles Schipper of GSA associates replied there was no need for a CSL program, because FCOPY has always had that capability.
The memories of cards and punching and the 3000 started to tumble out of the readers of the L. "If I recall correctly," said Terry Simpkins of Measurement Specialties, "when I was with HP's Disc Memory Division in Boise back in the early '80s, we actually had a card reader connected to one of our 3000s. I brought several boxes of cards with me from grad school, and we read them into EBCDIC files. Don't ask why I was carrying boxes of punch cards around the country."
The HP 3000, in its infancy, could use punched cards or paper tape. Those were two computing props not seen in Mad Men this spring. But they're remembered as durable data mediums, even by those of us who dropped a deck or two of them in front of a college computing center on the way to running a program."Why cards? asked Tracy Pierce. "A darn reliable medium. You never worried a sec about losing the data in those grad school cards. It's easy to mangle a card so it's not machineable, but darn difficult to really destroy its data. You can run cards through a shredder and still recover the data."
In just a matter of about eight hours, Jeff Kell of the University of Tennessee at Chatanooga had chipped in a thorough history of how data was sent to and from the earliest HP 3000s. The story included a speed measurement that used a holiday as comparison. The HP optical mark sense card reader was the tortoise in the data race.
As for the "mark-sense" reader... we had this grand plan to do grades on "mark-sense" cards. The idea was to "print" class cards (one card per student, sorted by instructor by class), and let them pencil-mark the corresponding grade for the student. It was great in theory, but the mark-sense reader had much less than stellar performance and reliability (it sucked!). And having these "printed" cards burst on their perforations to yield the "card" left some rough edges, which the reader really, really hated. And it was slow as Christmas. Heck, it was slower than Leap Year.
We got an HP2000/Access system in Fall of 1975. It not only supported a card reader and printer, but also supported the remote job entry communications with the IBM at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. So we had a card reader upstairs in the student keypunch lab, as well as a printer, and there was no more waiting for submission. They could just feed their jobs directly to the reader, their printouts came back to the printer, and it was available constantly. Big step forward.
Later we got an HP 3000, and had a copy of MRJE/3000. Now students could enter their programs online via Editor/QEdit/Quad/whatever they prefer, submit their jobs via MRJE, and view their output in SPOOK before actually printing it out. Even better still.
Kell added that his campus kept the card reader for the 3000 for legacy purposes. This is a 3000 customer that only turned off its MPE systems last December.
Card readers for the 3000 lasted through the lifespan of the Series 70, which means into the early 1990s.
"HP reluctantly supported a card reader through Series 70," said Bob Jankowski of Ideal Computer. "It was definitely available with HP-IB interface and required a dedicated GIC and an auto tap switcher for power. I remember working on these a few times -- and one of my current customers still has theirs in the computer room. One of the wearing parts was called a 'picker sector.' Try saying that 10 times fast. The HP 7260A was the optical mark sense reader. I remember it being a serial device used through MPE-V and being picky about what it would read.
Kell's colleague Tony Shepherd recalled the budget-conscious approach that a computing pro of the 1970s had to embrace. Carpentry power tools and rubber stamps were sometimes among the best data tools.
The perforated card edges were a problem. We wound up printing and bursting them, then putting them in card trays (3,000 cards per tray) and sanding the long edges. It took a little explaining to get management to understand why we needed to buy a dual-action orbital sander with integrated vacuum pickup in order to get grades to post. Sears had one for about $50 that did a great job. We had a good incentive to get the OpScan process developed quickly, and it was indeed much better.
In those days we were just staying ahead of the bleeding edge -- we had a small (but dedicated and very smart) staff and no money. Solutions had to be quick and cheap. For example, one office wanted a new system to record sales of parking bumper stickers. We spent some hours "studying" their needs, then presented them with a bound ledger book and a Bates numbering stamp. It fulfilled all their stated requirements.
The physical manifestation of data, cards had personality. "The first card stock we used had problems with curling," Walter Murray reported from his early 3000 days, "but the second stock we tried worked pretty well. Something to do with "long grain" versus "short grain," as I recall. You'd think we were buying rice."
As for the card reader on Murray's Series II HP 3000, Kell described it as hardware that reduced the footprint versus IBM's original designs.
In the HP card reader you loaded cards on the right into a diagonally-slanted tray, pushed the start button, and it had some sort of combination air driven / pick roller thing that swiped the card through the reader into the output stacker on the left. It was pretty darn quick about it too... not up to par with an IBM's speed, but not slouchy at all. And it fit easily on a tabletop, while the IBM version was the size of a chest freezer.
The work was obviously tedious. It might have helped develop an attention to detail in the earliest part of a 3000 pro's career. Kell has the last word on what a keypunch looked like from that era.
If I remember models correctly, there was the 029 (punched cards real-time), the 129 (buffered a card, you could "backspace," it only punched the card once you released it) -- and this service bureau I worked for had some key-to-disk things that "punched" (wrote) data to floppy diskettes. When they were done and verified, you loaded the diskettes into another IBM thing that loaded the diskettes to 9-track tapes that were used as data input on the mainframe.
May 20, 2014
Who's SUSAN, and what's her CPUNAME?
The MPE operating system, first booted for genuine use some 40 years ago, is a most unique creature of the computer ecosystem. This is software that does not have its own license, specifically. According to HP, the ownership of any MPE/iX version is determined by owning an Hewlett-Packard 3000 server, one built to boot up MPE/iX.
We reached out for clarity about this when a very large aircraft maker tipped us off -- once again, it will examine replacing HP's 3000 iron with CHARON licenses on Intel systems. After the MPE/iX software is turned off on any replaced 3000 hardware, does its hardware-based license then expire? The operating system license, according to HP's MPE Technical Consultant Cathlene Mc Rae, is related to the HPSUSAN of the original HP hardware.
So wait a minute. Are these HPSUSAN numbers of 3000s considered de-licensed, even if they're going to be used on the CHARON emulator? Mc Rae explained.
The HPSUSAN number is different from the MPE/iX license, although there is a relation between the two. The ability to use MPE/iX on the emulator is a result of completing a Software License Transfer. The original MPE/iX license on the HP e3000 would then no longer exist.
In the hardware world of HP 3000s, HPSUSAN takes the original serial and model numbers on the system. It remains the same, as long as the customer owns the system. This combination was used to ID the hardware and enable diagnostics for the correct system.
However, that transferred license for the MPE/iX installation on the CHARON emulator -- available via a $432 Software License Transfer Fee -- won't be getting a new HPSUSAN number during the process. HPSUSAN gets re-used, and so it leads us to see what HPSUSAN stands for, and how the HPCPUNAME is a key in emulator installations.The U in HPSUSAN stands for Unique, as in System Unique Serially Assigned Number. Mc Rae said that HPSUSAN is one of a kind for HP-built 3000 systems. But SUSAN doesn't designate an MPE/iX license, even though MPE is licensed via hardware ownership.
Mc Rae explained to us, and to the CHARON prospective user, "MPE hardware and software was created before the technology of virtual systems and emulators, in the 1970s. Licenses were based on hardware ownership."
This sounds familiar. HP once compared the licensing of MPE/iX to license plates issued for a car. They could not be separated, these numbers and the car that was the HP 3000 iron. (Let's just put aside the common practice of those metal-plate days, when they'd give you a new number after your plate was older than 8 years in Texas.)
In 1999, HP was busy suing Hardware House and a few other resellers over the resellers' separation of HPSUSANs from HP's 3000 hardware cars. The House was taking other PA-RISC servers and pressing valid HPSUSAN numbers onto the non-3000 iron. People went to jail. Lo-jacks were ordered for ankles.
Thanks to the passage of 15 years' time, an HPSUSAN number can now move to a USB thumb drive plugged into a CHARON Intel- or AMD-based server. Those license plates can travel to a newer model of car. The emulator's HPCPUNAME, however, can only be designated as an A-Class or N-Class system, according to HP's knowledge. That'll likely be a reason to contact all software vendors whose products operate on the replaced HP 3000 iron.
You see, vendors use a combo of HPSUSAN and HPCPUNAME to control licensing. Products such as Infor's MANMAN or PowerHouse not only want to read HPSUSAN -- which you can move to CHARON -- but also HPCPUNAME. If you're moving off a Series 979, for example, "979-100" isn't an emulated system under CHARON. No 979-100 for HPCPUNAME. You've got to get license permission from your software vendors to enable an A-Class or N-Class HPCPUNAME.
The HPCPUNAME on the CHARON system may not be set to 979, Mc Rae said. "Based on the CHARON HPA/3000 family, it is assumed that the HPCPUNAME will be set to an A-Class or N-Class CPUNAME," she said. "For example: HPCPUNAME = SERIES e3000/A500-200-50. As far as I know, CHARON can only emulate A- and N-Class systems." That's true: a Series 9xx model isn't on the HPA/3000 product list.
The silver lining in this cloud is that you're only doing this contacting and CPUNAME-changing once. Moving to an A-Class or faster CPU from a 9x9 system is the last time you'll be changing from an unsupported CPUNAME to something included in the CHARON product line.
In short, independent software vendors are going to have to be contacted, if they've licensed their products with the HPCPUNAME-HPSUSAN combo on a Series 9xx. Contacting your software vendors about a system upgrade is a fair business practice. But it's more than the right thing to do. Series 9xx users headed to the emulator look like they need that refresh to boot up their indie software.
May 19, 2014
PowerHouse users launch enhancement run
Years ago, the Interex users group for HP 3000 managers and owners provided a way to make MPE better. There wasn’t much that HP was willing to do to re-engineer its hardware servers — not working off the requests of customers. But ah, the operating system and its allied software subsystems were always open for system enhancement requests. They called it a System Improvement Ballot, and every year had an SIB.
In their day, these were much awaited missives from lovers of MPE to the heart of the OS, the HP labs. They were ranked and debated. The collection of a Gang of Six such requests made up the mission statement for OpenMPE from the first year of that group’s existence. When the labs went dark and that list was frozen, there was little hope of anything thawing the development stream.
That’s what makes the PowerHouse community so novel. After years of nothing new in the product line, the new owners have opened the doors to enhancement requests. The discussion of who’s going to manage the enhancement requests started bubbling up at the LinkedIn Cognos PowerHouse group. It tells a good deal about how slowly things were flowing at the time by looking at the name of that group. Cognos hasn’t been the owner of PowerHouse since 2009. Now that IBM has sold off the products and customer base, Unicom Global is using an established representative to build a wish list.
Bob Deskin has taken the discussion of enhancements onto the Powerhouse-L mailing list. If you're watchful about how much email fills your inbox, you can simply keep track of the list's archives without subscribing. Customers are giving the new PowerHouse management fresh improvement requests using that list.
There’s a lot of catching up and improvement to do. As one example, Fatal Errors of the software were “never documented in the manuals,” according to Bob Deskin, formerly the Cognos/IBM voice of PowerHouse products to the customer base."More often than not," Deskin said of the Fatal Errors, “they simply represent something that should not have happened. And the most common cause for that was something else that happened but shouldn’t have that ended up causing the Fatal Error. That’s why many of them are so hard to trace.”
Details of what could be brought up to date in PowerHouse, shared to that mailing list this week, are going into deep specifics. But that’s what you expect from the creators of software. Deskin’s encouraging transparency.
As you can imagine, the UNICOM PowerHouse team is still in transition. That said, they are looking to the future and although they and I have some ideas, we’d like to hear yours big or small. You can post them here for everyone to see. That way everyone gets to see them and expand on them.
There’s no guarantee about how many of these requests will ever be acted upon. Or even which versions of PowerHouse products (MPE, or VMS, or AS/400) are eligible for wishes. But Bob Deskin, consulting with Unicom to moderate a dialogue with users, suggests that everybody with a PowerHouse request chip in, right out in public.
A colleague of Deskin’s, one who’d worked with him both at Cognos and then later at IBM, offered this testimonial to Deskin being the right fellow to listen at this moment. Matt Ohmes said nobody’s a better match for this role -- a pivot point for PowerHouse, happening at Unicom.
I’ve worked with Cognos, then IBM for 31 years, many of the early years especially using PowerHouse and gained quite a reputation myself. And I would like to say that there is not another person — literally — on earth who knows more, or is better qualified to answer questions about PowerHouse than Bob Deskin.
May 08, 2014
A pretty fine book for MPE's after (HP) life
How could a vendor suggest that a widely-installed and mission-critical product be turned off? Have a look at what Microsoft is doing this year. The advice has been to turn Windows XP off, replace what's working. HP 3000 users got the same advisory in 2001.
That was a momentous year for MPE users, but the year that followed contained the same confusion from the vendor that Microsoft is facing now. I noticed this as I dug into Jon Diercks' MPE/iX System Administration Handbook. It carries fine information, an opinion I expressed in our recent mini-lesson about BULDACCT and some automatic security that it provides. As I did my digging I found a stale message inside the book, but it wasn't one that Diercks created.
You might believe that nobody could apparently see what was about to happen to HP's 3000 business, considering what appears on pages xxi through xxiii. It's a foreword from the General Manager of HP's Commercial Systems Division, Winston Prather. A book that was released in 2002 -- yeah, months beyond that 2001 exit notice -- includes this advice about ownership.
Today, with technologies like Samba, Java, GUIs, our WebWise products and our partners, the HP e3000 still provides a great environment for the creation and support of new object-oriented, web-based applications, as well as e-service and e-commerce environments.
The book's readers absorbed that message for years after HP insisted that Prather was wrong. Or to be accurate, when Prather took pains to tell his customers the 3000 was not a great environment for any of the above tasks. It was probably as confusing as what Microsoft's done this month by releasing an XP security patch after it insisted it would not. Some writers believe that patch should not have been released. That's the kind of sentiment I continue to hear about HP twice-delaying its 3000 exit.Follow the link from the top of yesterday's story and you'll find a writer who thinks "its a huge mistake" that Internet Explorer will not suffer from this month's zero-day exploit, even if the browser runs in XP.
IT admins, faced with the harsh reality of finally having to upgrade to a modern operating system, will sleep well knowing that Microsoft is a pushover and will continue to support XP while it has a significant number of users. The status quo is preserved.
Except it's not preserved, not any more than MPE/iX status was preserved during a pair of HP's two-year extensions. It's just that many companies -- perhaps the same percentage as the 3000 owners of 2002 -- find it beyond their budgets and resources to dump XP. And so even today, Diercks' book has value a-plenty to any company that still finds MPE to be the best tool for their circumstance. The book's not perfect, and Diercks always knew that was so, citing the rule all authors live by: omissions and errors will be in every creation. You must let your work go, however, learning from the creation and promising yourself to Do Better Next Time.
Put another way, perfect is the enemy of good. MPE was never perfect. If it were, than a mighty fine product like MPEX, an eXtension of MPE, would never have gained its candidacy as one of the elephants for the 3000 owner, developer, or administrator. Elephants, supported by a turtle.
Turtle? Elephants? And this has what exactly to do with MPE?
In a Hindu legend, the world is supported by four elephants, and those elephants ride on the back of a turtle. (It's a legend, so you'll have to take my word for this. Look at the picture above and you'll see four, with the fourth one tucked just behind the first.) But in this model of the world, MPE is that turtle. A few key independent software vendors are those elephants. You can decide for yourself who they might be, those elephants holding up the world -- which is the 3000 community.
But none of the elephants are mentioned in that fine MPE book. Diercks took care to note that he'd mention nobody's software except HP's in that book, no matter how fine the vendor's software performed. We've been in this situation, where including anyone just ensures that someone who's overlooked would be upset. You handle this situation a lot like Diercks did in his prologue: We know there are good products out there, but he wanted "to avoid being accused of unfairly representing (or failing to represent) any vendor or product."
One way of looking at the 3000's legend is to consider that MPE (and its database IMAGE), comprise the turtle in the Hindu story. Without MPE, there would be no Suprtool, no Adager, no MPEX. These might be considered elephants, and I'll leave you to fill in that fourth pachyderm. (If you're still with me, nominate a fourth elephant; that's going to be fun to share.)
While you're pondering all this, don't forget that Diercks' book is also something of a time machine. I mean that it contains a snapshot of the full faith of Hewlett-Packard in the 3000's MPE, right down to the hp.com/hpbooks webpage (now defunct) and HP logo on the title page Then there's Prather's best guess about the 3000's future, although it really was not written as a guess. See the language in the excerpt above; click for details.
Like Prather said in that foreword, things in the IT industry can change fast. Much faster than a printed book can be manufactured and released, with essential edits and reviews and distribution. If the publisher Prentice Hall had finished that book any later (because a publisher controls the birthdate of a book, not the writer) the MPE/iX System Administration Handbook might not even exist. That would be a great loss. At the least, this fine book wouldn't take us all back in time to HP's confusion about the 3000, confusion that mirrors Microsoft's of today.
May 01, 2014
3000 mailing list notes becoming fainter
Have you ever been down to your mailbox with anticipation, pulled open the door and find nothing new? The HP3000-L listserve, which we variously call the 3000 newsgroup and the 3000 mailing list, is having that kind of dry spell. Like the rainfall that we yearn for in Texas this spring, it's been close to two weeks since a single new note has been in that mailbox.
There's little point in comparisons but being the thieves of joy. However, the days of 1,500 messages a month were more joyful for the prospect of MPE and 3000 wisdom in those times, a torrent shared and shaped by a larger community. A goodly share of those messages, even in the heyday, covered the flotsam of politics, as well as more scandalous off-topic notes on climate science and treason. You could shop for a car or camera off of the advice, in those days.
The message count has drawn down despite a stable subscriber tally reported by the hosting system, servers at the University of Tennessee at Chatanooga. A little less than 600 readers are now receiving 3000-L mail. That is, however, the number of subscribers who were tallied nine years ago. And at least all of today's mail -- well, nearly all -- is related directly to HP 3000s. Off-topic noise has been all but eliminated.
We have a slavish devotion to the 3000-L, as the community veterans call it. Thousands subscribed to its messages for free, and I read that rich frontier of information in the early 1990s and could believe in a monthly newsletter for 3000s and MPE. We even devoted a column to summarizing and commentary about its traffic, for many years. John Burke was columnist for many years of those reports; the columns ran for more than 9 years in the printed edition of the Newswire. (Find them at the classic archives of the Newswire Tech Features, or type net.digest in our search page off the link at left.) Our caveat in passing along that expertise was "Advice offered from the messages here comes without warranty; test before you implement." If not for 3000-L, our last 18 years of work here might not have emerged.
A similar dry spell for the "L" took place in February, but the current one is the longest we've measured so far. It's simple enough to break the drought, simpler than what we face in Texas, anyway. Ask a question online -- you can do it via a web browser -- if you're subscribed (or sign up, from the website.) Then watch the wisdom echo back. In some ways, the L is like a canyon wall that won't speak until you shout out to it. Or futuristic drone robots, waiting for a command.In years past, the mailing list was also a newsgroup. By using newsgroup reading software, and then later using a browser, readers of comp.sys.hp.mpe could enjoy all the wisdom, and wince or chuckle at the chaff. Alas, the synchronizing of listserv and newsgroup has broken down by now. You could not get a specific number in those days about readers. You knew how many subscribed via emails. But comp.sys.hp.mpe could be read and used by countless others.
After the previous dry spell, readers could learn how to lock a KSAM file in PowerHouse Quick, or get advice on how to rebuild a 3000's filesystem. The former is an arcane bit of technical knowledge, yes, but the latter is everyday wisdom. And the L offers a dialogue process, to follow up with additional questions.
Like the drone robots Huey and Dewey from the sci-fi classic Silent Running -- a movie so old that Bruce Dern was young while he starred in it -- the L is likely to run long after most people will find an everyday use for it. In an apt coincidence, Silent Running made its premeire the same year that HP did its first Series 3000 launch, in 1972. The 3000-L looks back for its wisdom, while the direction in which that film looked gave a view of one kind of future. Nobody can be certain when either of these stories will see their final showing. The Web, after all, remembers all.