June 05, 2015
Plan B: Stay on the HP 3000 to 2027?
Could you really stay on the HP 3000 through 2027? What follows is a classic strategy for 3000 owners. Wirt Atmar of AICS Research wrote the following column in the months after HP's 3000 exit announcement. The article is offline for the moment, so I thought we'd put it here as a reference document for any IT manager who's trying to defend the case for remaining on their HP hardware a few more years. When Atmar passed away in 2007 the community lost a dynamic advocate for MPE computing. His company eventually migrated its QueryCalc application for IMAGE reporting to Windows. But not before he organized advocacy like the World's Largest Poster Project, at left. Few 3000 experts did more for MPE owners than Atmar — including thinking outside of HP's box.
Plan B: Staying on the HP 3000 Indefinitely
By Wirt Atmar
Hewlett-Packard and a few others are stating that staying on the HP 3000 for the long term is your least desirable option, the one that puts you at the greatest risk. Let me argue here that remaining on the HP 3000 is not likely to be all that much of a risk, at least for the next 25 years. It will certainly be your least expensive option and the one that will provide you with the greatest protection for your current investment in software and business procedures.
AICS Research, Inc. wholly and enthusiastically supports the evolution of an HP 3000 MPE emulator, another path that has been described as "risky." But there's nothing risky at all about the option, should HP give its blessing to the project. It is technically feasible and completely doable. Indeed, the emulator actually offers the very real possibility of greatly expanding MPE's user base. However, staying on the HP3000 does not require HP's blessing. It's something you can decide to do by yourself. And should you decide later to move off of the HP 3000, you've really lost nothing in the interim. Indeed, you've gained time to think about what is best in your circumstances.
A part of calculating your "risk" is really nothing more than sitting back and determining what part of the computer market is rapidly evolving and which part is more or less stable.
The HP 3000 is well-known for its qualities: a very nice CI scripting language, a very robust job scheduler, an extremely stable and scalable database, and its simple, English-like commands. Beyond that, we have also been lucky that the HP e3000 has also recently had put into it several standards-based attributes: network-based IP addressable printing, telnet and FTP, and all of these qualities are now very stable.
But all of the other processes of modern computing, the material encompassed by POSIX (Java, Samba, Apache, bind, DNS, etc.) are the qualities that are rapidly evolving. And none of these need to be on the HP 3000. In fact, you're probably better off if they weren't on the platform.
The picture at left is of a $450, 128MB, 900MHz, 30GB Dell server running Red Hat Linux and a used, unlimited-number-of-users, 128MB, 8GB Series 927 we bought from a customer for $200. Because of HP's announcement, some fraction of users, undoubtedly greater than 50%, are going to move off of the HP 3000. What this migration is going to do is provide a glut of hardware on the market in the next several years that is simply going to be unbelievably inexpensive, and there's no reason that you shouldn't take advantage of the situation.
You can actually telnet to this 927 by logging onto 220.127.116.11 and typing:
Once there, you can then telnet from the HP 3000 to the little Dell server by typing:
And that's very much the point. The telnet and FTP standards are now very stable. Almost no change is going to occur in these standards in the next quarter-century. Fortunately both the HP 3000 and Linux have them deeply embedded in their structure now. Because of that, you can very readily append Linux and Windows processes onto your HP3000 as auxiliary cheap external boxes. Using the FTP site command, the HP3000 can easily operate as a master controller of any number of external Linux and Windows machines.
It is our intention to move our web pages up on the Linux box. It is undeniable that Linux makes a fine webserver. But on the other hand, it is equally undeniable that the HP 3000 is a very nice database platform. Using HP3000 scripts and jobs, it is very easy to transfer files to and from the Linux box, constantly updating web pages as need be from data held in your HP3000's databases.
Most of the applications on the HP3000 are quite old and very stable. If the more modern -- and therefore much less mature -- applications such as web and file serving are put onto the Linux box, such auxiliary Linux platforms can fail without impacting the HP3000 at all, other than perhaps holding open the one or two processes that might be waiting for a reply. But even if that should prove to be true, all that these processes should do is hang until the Linux boxes are resurrected. They certainly will not crash the HP3000.
There are fewer parts in a modern computer than most people imagine: a power supply, a few circuit boards, a few disc drives and a backup device, generally something like a DDS or DLT tape drive. But beyond that, they're hardly anything else but sheet metal.
One of our HP3000's, the 918 in the picture at left, originally came with two 4GB drives mounted internally. One of the drives failed, as that particular series of 4GB drives that HP supplied had a tendency to do. Access to the drives is merely a matter of unscrewing two screws at the base of the faceplate, lifting the faceplate away, and pulling the disc drive cage out a bit from the central case.
To replace the drive, all I did was unplug the power cables and the ribbon cable from the defective drive inside the cage. Otherwise, I left the drive mounted where it was. I then ordered an extremely inexpensive, external SCSI-connected LaCie drive from APS that was designed to work on PC's or Mac's and plugged it into the SCSI port at the back of the HP3000, giving it the same SCSI address as the dead drive [I prefer SCSI-connected external drives, even though they're a bit more expensive, simply because they're so much easier to replace if the time comes again to do so]. I wasn't able to order an exact replacement 4GB drive. The smallest, cheap external $250 drive that I was able to order was 18GB, and that was from the "legacy" series. Nonetheless, it booted instantly.
How stable is this sort of repair process likely to be over the next 25 years? SCSI is SCSI. We were an early and very enthusiastic adopter of Macintoshes when they first appeared in 1984, and this 18GB drive could have been just as easily connected to one of our 1985 Mac Pluses as it was to the 1999 HP 3000. Although there are other external bus structures in existence (USB, Firewire, optical, etc.), SCSI is likely to be approximately as common 25 years from now as it is currently. But even if it were supplanted by some other bus structure, you can reasonably be assured that bus convertor boxes will be available. While there is likely to be a great deal of evolution in peripheral devices over the next quarter century, SCSI frees you to be able to accept that evolution rather easily.
Can you really operate a business on 25-year-old hardware, 25 years from now? We do it here with our Macintoshes. Because we were an early adopter of the Macs, and because Apple has not attempted to maintain backwards compatibility in its lines, we were orphaned within just a few years of adopting the Macs. Our initial enthusiasm for the Mac caused us to put 5,000 pages of company documentation on the machines. Unfortunately, the very next series of Macintoshes, the PowerPC's, would not run our software and thus we were constrained to keeping our original Mac Pluses alive forever.
Although Apple has made the Mac line incompatible within itself several times since, none of these more recent incompatibilities bother us, because we were stuck on the very first generation of Macs. When the Mac Pluses and Mac Classics began to become obsolete, we bought 10 spare machines from the local high schools for almost no money at all. These spares are now stuffed in every nook, cranny and closet, but so far, they haven't proven to be necessary. Although the original Macintoshes were never made nor advertised to be rock-solid, reliable devices, so far they've held up to 17 years worth of daily use.
And that too is simply the nature of electronic devices nowadays. Mechanical devices (discs, tape drives, keyboards) may fail, but the electronic circuits could easily run for several hundred years without much maintenance.
Pictured at left is a third small HP 3000 that we run, another 918. However that's not the device of interest in this picture. Rather the machine of importance is the small $400 e-machine PC in the center of the image.
Adobe Acrobat Distiller is the program that converts PostScript files into the PDF format that's become very popular on the web. Beginning about five years ago, for a period of two years, I spoke to everyone I could at HP and Adobe about porting Distiller over onto the HP3000, but I was able to make absolutely no headway with anyone. No one was interested. Even more frustrating, because POSIX is not UNIX, the UNIX version of the Acrobat distiller would not run on the HP3000 as it was, even though it was certified for HP-UX.
One day, in an epiphany not unlike Saul's conversion on the road to Damascus, it simply dawned on me that I didn't need to keep beating my head on the wall. Rather, I could purchase the very inexpensive Windows-based version of Acrobat and FTP my files from the HP3000 down into a PC. The process worked so well that I have now become a very enthusiastic advocate of not porting material onto the HP3000 directly. Rather I now argue that it's best to run the programs on the platform for which they were designed and control them from the HP3000. Indeed, doing this insulates and protects the HP3000 in two ways: one is from random software bugs, the second is from obsolescence.
In the arrangement we now use, a standard, simple HP3000 job runs our QueryCalc reports and prints their PostScript output to MPE flat files. As a second step in the jobs, the ASCII flat files are FTP'ed down into the e-machine, into an Acrobat "watched" folder, adding the file extension ".ps" onto the file as an intrinsic part of the transfer. The PC is set up so that when a ".ps" file appears in the watch folder, Acrobat automatically converts it into PDF, moving it to a pre-specified output folder. Although the distillation process generally takes less than a second, we have our HP3000 jobs wait 10 seconds before they retrieve the newly-converted PDF files and move them back onto the HP3000. Once the new files are back on the HP3000, they're FTP'ed to a third server, our webserver in Minneapolis, MN, inside the same job. It's all surprisingly very simple, very straightforward and very efficiently done.
Because virtually any process on a Linux/UNIX or Windows machine can be controlled in this manner, there's essentially no reason to port anything to the HP3000 nowadays. But just as importantly, this simple observation makes the current version of MPE nearly obsolescence-proof. Even more than SCSI, FTP and telnet, because they are now nearly ubiquituous 30-year-old standards, are going to look the same in 25 years as they do now. They cannot be changed.
Hardware ages, but software doesn't. It is essentially immortal. But can you run 25-year-old software 25 years from now, especially if no one is "maintaining" it? What does maintenance mean? To a great degree, it means keeping up with the evolving standards, not fixing bugs. But what would you really want to change on your HP3000? Your code works now. It will work just as well a quarter-century from now.
The little Linux box in the topmost picture is set to dial back to Red Hat every evening, check for updates, and apply them automatically, if need be. Doing this is necessary at the moment because of the rapid evolution attendent to trying to make Linux a mission-critical operating system, and it will be that way for the next five years or so. But there's virtually nothing that really needs to be fixed on the HP 3000 that sits next to the Linux box. MPE code has proven itself to be extremely reliable at tens of thousands of sites over decades of use. And although the total sum of all of the equipment in the upper image came to less than $2000, there is sufficient computing power on the table to run a $50 million/year business easily.
All software contains bugs, and on the last day that HP corrects whatever bugs it finds in MPE, if no emulator and no Open MPE should come to pass, those defects that exist in the code on that day will remain there forever. But in many ways, operating under these conditions is more stable and more predictable than when code is still actively being modified. You rapidly learn where the remaining pitfalls are and you simply work around them.
The real trick to operating obsoleted hardware and an O/S is to buy multiple spare equipment. This equipment is going to become startlingly cheap in the next few years, so keep your eyes open for it. In your free time, configure these spare systems to be identical to your production boxes. In this manner, if your primary systems should fail, you can actually swap out a spare system faster than you can call for assistance and certainly be back on line before the repair people arrive, if you need them. Doing this also allows you to find out what's wrong with the failed system at a leisurely pace and get it back up and running on a schedule that's far more appropriate to the task than one dictated by panic.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this note, I do not believe that staying on the HP 3000 indefinitely to be a particularly risky strategy. If your code and business procedures work well today, they will work just as well tomorrow, a week from today, or twenty years from now. In great contrast, migration may be the riskiest thing you can do.
Over the years, we've had a great many customers move off of the HP 3000 and we've been very interested in hearing about their successes and their failures. The former users who have had their companies bought out by a larger organization have had the greatest success. The larger organization dictates what kind of computer system they're going to use, and in this situation, the HP3000 often loses. Nonetheless, our former customers generally have to do no more than have their terminals changed out and learn the new business rules as they connect to the central server at company headquarters.
In this company-purchase environment, everything has been relatively well smoothed out in advance by the purchasing organization, optimizing their procedures over a period of years, if not decades. But the same hasn't been true of our customers who have "migrated" off of the HP 3000 onto some other platform, based on their own volition. Their costs of migration have universally been far higher than anyone originally estimated, as have the times involved. Indeed, the migration efforts were so difficult that a few of our former customers have outrightly failed during the process and many others were put at high risk. There's no single day in the life of a company when the computer system, no matter how it's architected, that it can't operate and fulfill its business purpose, and it's this simple necessity that makes migration so extremely difficult.
If your choices boil down to choosing between a "migration" process, which may cost millions of dollars, and which may well put the company at risk, and doing nothing, other than purchasing a number of very inexpensive spares, staying put may well be the least risky thing you could ever do.
June 04, 2015
More open HP shares its source experience
It's not fair to Hewlett-Packard to portray its Discover meeting this week as just another exercise in putting dreams of industry-rocking memristor computing to rest. The company also shared the source code for one of its products with the world, a tool the vendor has used itself in a profitable software product.
HP’s Chief Technology Officer Martin Fink, who also heads up HP Labs, announced the release of Grommet, HP’s own internal-use advanced open source app. The platform will be completely open source, licensed for open use in creating apps' user experience, or UX as it's known in developer circles. Fink said Grommet was HP’s contribution to the IT industry and the open source community.
HP says "Grommet easily and efficiently scales your project with one code base, from phones to desktops, and everything in between." The vendor has been using it to develop its system management software HP OneView for more than three years. The code on GitHub and a style guide help create apps with consumer interfaces, so there's a uniform user experience for internal apps. Application icons like the one on the left are available from an interface template at an HP website.
The gift of HP's software R&D to a community of users is a wide improvement over the strategy in the year that followed an exit announcement from MPE/iX futures. A campaign to win an MPE/iX open source license, like the Creative Commons 4.0 license for Grommet, came to naught within three years of that HP notification. There were some differences, such as the fact that HP still was selling MPE/iX through October of 2003, and it was collecting support money for the environment as well.
The 3000 community wanted to take MPE/iX into open source status, and that's why its advocacy group was named OpenMPE. It took eight more years, but HP did help in a modest way to preserve the maintainability of MPE/iX. The vendor sold source code licenses for $10,000 each to support companies. These were limited licenses, and they remain a vestige of what HP might have done -- a move not only echoed by Grommet, but reflected in HP's plan to move OpenVMS to a third party.
"I guess there is a difference between licensing the MPE code and then distributing it," our prolific commenter Tim O'Neill said last week.
I have heard that HP hangs onto the distribution rights because they are afraid of liability. Surely they do not, at this point, still seek to make money off it, do they? Is there some secret desire within HP to once again market it?
It feels safe to say not a bit of desire exists in HP today, even though Grommet shows the vendor can be generous with more mainstream tech. In at least one case, HP's offer of help with MPE's future was proactive, if not that generous.Steve Suraci of Pivital Solutions tells a story about that MPE/iX source license. He was called by Alvina Nishimoto of HP in 2009 and asked, "You want to purchase one of these, don't you?" The answer was yes. Nobody knew what good a source code license might do in the after-market. But HP was not likely to make the licensing offer twice, and the companies who got one took on that $10,000 expense as an investment in support operations.
Pining over Grommet or the sweeter disposition of OpenVMS won't change much in the strategy of owning or migrating from MPE/iX. Open source has become a mainstream enterprise IT scheme by 2015, pumped up by the Linux success story. O'Neill said he still believes an open source MPE/iX would be a Linux alternative. He reported he recently discovered the Posix interface in MPE/iX. Posix was supposed to be a way to give MPE the ability to run Unix applications, using 1990 thinking.
The aim for Posix was widely misunderstood. It was essential to an MPE/iX user experience that didn't materialize as HP hoped. But John Burke, our net.digest and Hidden Value editor for many years, noted in the weeks after that exit announcement that HP's training on Posix expressed that desire of bringing the Unix apps to the 3000.
The following is an example from HP training:
"Before we proceed, let's stop to ask a question, just to ensure you've got the fundamental idea. Which of the following statements best summarizes the reason why HP has brought POSIX compliant interfaces to the MPE/iX operating system and the HP3000?
- POSIX is the first step in HP's plan to move all HP3000 users to UNIX
- POSIX is a tool that HP is using to bring new applications to MPE from the UNIX environment.
- POSIX is a piece of software that HP is using to eventually combine the HP3000 and the HP9000 into a single system.
Choose the best answer, and press the corresponding key: ‘1’, ‘2’ or ‘3’."
May 25, 2015
A Memorial to 3000 Advocacy
It's Memorial Day in the US, a holiday where we celebrate those fallen in combat. There's that ultimate sacrifice in uniform and on duty for this country, worthy of a parade. But here on a day when many of us take time away from the job, it's worth a moment to remember those who've left our MPE community after good work to benefit all.
Wirt Atmar was one of those fellows. He passed away more than six years ago of a heart attack, but he's got a living memorial up on the archives of the 3000-L newsgroup. The lifespan of HP's business with the 3000 got a benefit from his work as well. It's safe to say that MPE's 1990s would've been poorer without his advocacy for IMAGE.
1990 was a high-water mark in HP 3000 advocacy. From his company AICS Research, Wirt created the report tool QueryCalc as well as QCReports and a free QCTerm emulator. In the fall of 1990 he helped spark a change in HP's business practices about the 3000 — a change that remains important to those who are changing little about a stable HP 3000 environment.
In 1990 Atmar wrote an open letter to HP published in The HP Chronicle, the monthly news magazine I was editing at the time. In his letter Atmar chastized HP for the way it was relegating IMAGE to minor status among the 3000's futures and features, as well as the general treatment of a loyal customer base. Word was building in the community that HP had plans to separate the IMAGE database from the purchase of any 3000. The database had been included with the 3000 since 1976, a radical move at the time that sparked the creation of untold numbers of utilities and applications.
A programmer or development company could create an application or software for the 3000 community using IMAGE as the database, knowing that every 3000 out there would be able to make use of the creation. 3000=IMAGE was a formula close to being broken. The community reared up on its hind legs and castigated its supplier, using the Interex 1990 user group meeting as the forum for its dismay. SIG-IMAGE, a Special Interest Group of users gone dormant, re-formed to organize the complaints and demand remedies.
In community lore, the protests around the meeting are known as "The Boston Tea Party," in part because they changed HP's course of conduct about customers. I recall Adager's Fred White as the most scathing critic of HP's myopia of the time, but a row of customers lined up behind and in front of him at the public microphones in a Boston meeting hall. This was a time when the HP Roundtable was the highlight of the conference, a chance to quiz the top executives of the company, right out in the open, about shortcoming and problems. The national IT press of Datamation, Computerworld and Information Week, all with HQ just up the road, were on hand that year to report the rebellious talk.
HP looked chagrined and embarrassed fielding customer complaints — during a time when customer communities had a different impact on their vendors.
At the time of the Boston uprising, Atmar noted, HP was easy to take advantage of, because the vendor was afraid of negative publicity. He said that his open letter "basically caused the  Boston riot."
In the fall of that year the users not only stalled the separation of IMAGE from the 3000, but sparked a "Customer First" strategy from HP that was used to retain 3000 customers. HP used Customer First as a model in its other enterprise computer operations. As part of that, customer focused R&D mandated that every employee had to become an expert in understanding customers' businesses so they could know the customers' "pain points.” At its best, Customer First let HP anticipate 3000 customer needs in order to be able to deliver solutions that customers might not have even considered. Every engineer and manager was sent on customer visits, to spend a day or two with HP 3000 customers. HP gained insight at a new level, and refreshed its customer relationships. Customer First became a mantra in a new generation of HP 3000 division managers, the idea of customer delight: unexpected features, beyond commonplace requests.
It was a renovation for customers, even if it came at the end of a pointed stick of sharp criticism and some disgust. But as Atmar pointed out, "It was a glorious moment, yes, but as the Roman slaves told the Roman generals, 'All fame is fleeting.' "
Even 15 years later, as homesteading advocacy talks were taking place with HP, the outcome -- a better place for homesteading 3000s -- would've been impossible without the ideals of Customer First that were sparked by that 1990 uprising. On the occasion of the 3000's 25th birthday, Atmar talked about what that birthday of the product -- which was still living on the HP price lists in 1997 -- meant to the customers.
Maturity. If you were a business owner or manager, I can't think of a single word that you would want to seek out and celebrate more than a mature solution, one that can easily demonstrate that it can do what it says it does. Immature solutions, on the other hand, are going to cost you an awful lot of money — and a growing segment of the business community is beginning to understand that. You can only be lead down the garden path so many times before it begins to dawn on you what it's truly costing you.
May 14, 2015
TBT: The Day that HP's 3000 Division Died
On a day in May 13 years ago, Hewlett-Packard took the designation of "division" out of its HP 3000 business. And so that summer started the first era in 36 years when the 3000 and MPE had no dedicated company unit or general manager to call its own. Its final GM believed selling 3000s was not his exclusive focus.
Only six months before the 3000 left the org chart, the vendor announced the term of its swan song for the system. But through the early months of 2002, there was still a Commercial Systems Division -- CSY in the HP naming conventions -- to issue software, business decisions, and pronouncements about the future. General Manager Winston Prather ended that era as he stepped away from the GM post. (The photo at left comes from the Chicago HP World, where HP told customers nothing about a 3000 pullout announced 90 days later.)
As 2002 began, we asked Prather what he saw in the future for CSY as an HP unit and MPE as a computing environment. Asked if he'd be the last 3000 division manager, Prather said, "Gosh, I don’t know. Part of me wants to say ‘I hope so.’ But there’s a negative sound to that, too." He sounded positive that MPE users would outlast the vendor's lifespan, unless HP planned to be around longer than forever.
Here’s the bottom line: MPE will be around forever. And we want to help that. This is in no way HP trying to kill MPE. We will explore and look at all the different options to enable what I’d call the afterlife — or at least the after-HP life, beyond 2006.
Prather was stepping away from a 3000 whose futures he claimed to have curtailed with a personal decision. "It was my decision," he told a user group publication, adding that the server had stopped being strategic to its owners and users. He told us that as GM it wasn't his job to sell 3000s -- just to deliver the right server to the customer from HP's many choices. Later that year he ended HP's 3000 life. He'd been doubling as a GM for another HP division for more than a year by the time HP took CSY off its org chart. And so the community began an eight-year period of referring to a Virtual CSY, and the vCSY nickname earned a place in user group communications.Prather's vision of 2006 was something that would change, too. 2006 was the first of five more years with a virtual CSY that was impacting real customers. The division folded up without a dedicated marketing manager, after Christine Martino left for a "carrier-grade Linux division" being called TSY. In the clearer focus we have 13 years later, a few things are certain.
1. Prather was a GM of that TSY while HP was deciding the fate of his HP 3000.
2. Martino left to be GM of that TSY after she announced the plans to cut HP's 3000 operations off.
3. HP's High Performance Computing unit then became Prather's next GM post. He vacated a job that Martino took over, while HP ended the need for a 3000 general manager. The term general manager didn't sit well with Prather when asking him about job titles in 2002.
"Just think of us as heads of our organizations, for now," he said, reflecting a bit of work still to be done on HP's internal reorganization. He said Dave Wilde is "the go-to guy" for the 3000 community from here on, making the decisions on things like HP's licensing policies beyond 2003 and when HP will start working with OpenMPE to make a hardware emulator MPE license possible. Wilde had been leading the lengthy HP investigations on OpenMPE development, including meetings with the OpenMPE board members at the recent Solutions Symposium.
As for the employees in CSY, Prather said that "not one employee is doing anything different" as of mid-May, with 3000 offices still in place in California and Bangalore, India and no head count reductions underway. Prather couldn't promise that 3000 staff in HP wouldn't become part of the expected 15,000 layoffs resulting from the Compaq merger. He didn't think that CSY has ceased to exist, except in the sense that it's no longer an HP division.
"As far as a group of people dedicated to the 3000, it has not ceased to exist," Prather said. The reorganization "is a focus on employees, and trying to do the right thing by them to ensure their long-term career path. It sets us up to meet customers' needs in the long run. We needed our marketing teams and R&D teams to stick around for many years. Having them in a silo-ed organization, where they continued to be concerned about not being needed, caused retention problems."
Despite some bonuses to stay, tech staff with 15-25 years of experience departed CSY during the first year there was no more so-named division. Those layoffs had some impact on a small, veteran unit. Recently there's been some reexamination of what date these executives in HP were certain there would be no more releases of 3000s and software. The review is tied to the perception left in customers' minds and hearts after that Chicago show of 2001. Things were going to be okay -- and then they were not.
But the expiration date of the 3000's division is not in doubt. Prather and Wilde have now both retired from HP. Martino now works at Intuit. Her LinkedIn profile has a work history that only begins after she left the 3000 division. The date of ending that effort is less certain.
May 11, 2015
Who'd ever know where everyone would go?
Business practices have changed enough over the last decade that even history can't teach us much. When HP dropped its 3000 practices, we all cared about environments and platforms, which OS supported the apps we wanted, and which system maker we could count upon. Then HP embraced Windows to puff itself up, and no platform the vendor created would be as strategic again.
One old story was that customers didn't want to invest in an HP product that was called strategic during an HP presentation. It could easily be the kiss of death. The genuinely strategic parts of the 3000, like IMAGE, never needed that blessing. And sure enough, only about a year after Carly Fiorina anointed the 3000 as a strategic product, HP was pushing it aside.
Fiorina is on my mind today because of a figure related to the destination for 3000 migrations. I told a Computerworld reporter who called about Fiorina last week that I believed that 80 percent of the installed base that left after 2001 didn't land on an HP platform. Long-term, maybe not a good choice.
Not so fast, I heard from a retiring HP employee. My 80 percent was way overstated, because HP tracked where people were going. Nowhere near that percent were leaving HP altogether.
Sure, to the extent anybody could track moves in a base where HP didn't know more than two-thirds of the customers by the late '90s. "Hey, lots of them are headed to HP-UX. We're working with so many." I'm reminded of the cheery lab reports delivered about MPE XL stability during 1985 or so. Then a one-year delay, while lab management dealt with the less-attractive realities. Whenever the real answer is not popular, effort spent to confirm it will only make you correct. What would anyone in HP do with knowledge that the migration push was separating 3000 sites from HP altogether? HP wouldn't have changed its course.
On to that percentage figure. It didn't come from speculation, just a third-party report of an HP executive's explanation.In the fall of 2011, Dr. Robert Boers, CTO of Stromasys, told a room of 3000 fans and developers that he wished HP been able support or fund an emulator product earlier than 2009."
In fact, HP eventually wished this at some more executive level than the R&D lab. Boers told the 2011 crowd that HP approached him to wish he'd revive the PA-RISC emulator project that HP's IP unit had roadblocked. ("Give you lab access to trade-secret boot up routines? What for?")
Here's why. By 2009, Boers said, "HP told us that more than much more than half of the systems had been replaced with a non-HP platform." Running Windows on HP ProLiant servers doesn't count for much; not when Dell or Lenovo can sweep in and replace those ProLiants.
Perhaps Boers' story was just a tale HP was telling to get a developer to restart a project that had already cost a pile of money. Or maybe Boers was making it up. But since HP has been and always will be full of people who "can't say more," it's nigh-impossible to fact-check. With everybody having an incomplete picture, then a tale like 80 percent either is "speculative fiction" or "sounds good to me."
"I just never heard many people saying anything other than 'we're leaving for Windows, or Linux,' " Vladimir Volokh told me this afternoon. VEsoft's founder covered a lot of ground, literally, visiting 3000 customers for more than 15 years.
I can retreat back to 66 percent lost customers, but that doesn't change the bigger point. Eliminating HP's futures for the 3000 didn't deliver much to most of the community, except migrations to manage.
Here's another question nobody can answer for certain. If HP in 1999 chose Ann Livermore, the runner-up for Carly's CEO job and someone who knew the 3000 personally, would the system get the ax from HP's futures? Maybe puffing HP up with a merger into low-profit revenues would not have been Livermore's strategy. I can speculate, but the outcome that changed 3000 lives is anything but fiction.
May 05, 2015
When Migrations Are Easy Replacements
One day ago Computerworld asked me whether I thought Hewlett-Packard had done the right thing about HP 3000 futures. The deed that changed most of the lives in the 3000 community happened long ago, but those 13-plus years have been put in current focus by the candidacy of the CEO at the time of the 3000 exit plan. Carly Fiorina wants to be America's next president. Computerworld's Patrick Thibodeau, having covered 3000 events for close to two decades, knew there would be some permanent marks here from that dark decision of 2001.
But there are people who have come to accept and even embrace the change forced upon customers and suppliers. These are sharp and savvy people who've made changes themselves in the wake of the end of HP's 3000 business. Most of them have extended their skills or product line or service offerings. All of that came at a cost, the risk that entrepreneurs take in business.
Migrations made business in this market too, just like the Y2K deadline lifted a lot of COBOL experts' revenue reports for 1996-2000. There's one insidious angle to that "new business from HP changes" strategy, though. It's the idea that the HP 3000 was easier to replace than other enterprise systems because it was general purpose and transaction-based.
That's a label that also fits the Digital VMS line as well as IBM's Series i (AS/400). IBM had the good sense not to walk away from its midrange servers, and HP decided to protect a larger customer base in the VMS systems (larger than the MPE base by a factor of 10). But the 3000 was not targeted because of any ease of replacement. "VMS and MPE were general purpose, transaction systems that were much more easily replaceable," the assertion goes, more easy than replacing something like the NonStop fault-tolerant environment.
Using that line of thinking, HP's Unix is up for the next cut, now that VMS has been ushered out of HP's long-term enterprise futures. Nobody who's invested in VMS, MPE, or HP-UX wants to hear that their general purpose computer would lead to a costly long-term choice. It was never about a customer's choice. This was always all about business and HP's hard choices — and so that's why Computerworld wanted to know how your community was adding up the cost, now that Carly's will begin taxing political credibility.Relative ease of migration is something like being a little pregnant. The change was never going to be easy or without pain. At the end of the migration process a customer has something new, something that looks a little bit like its predecessor. But the ideas of "easily replaceable" and MPE exits won't ever fit together. At least not in the shops of customers. I'm sure these 3000s were easily replaced in PowerPoint slides and white papers, though.
As proof of that complexity, consider all of those migrations still being assisted by 3000 experts. Because nothing of the nature of MPE is easily replaceable. Thibodeau wrote as much.
Another place for clues to Fiorina's leadership could be the decisions around the HP e3000, a mid-range system that was widely regarded for its durability and reliability. To the shock of users, HP in 2001 announced that the HP e3000 was being discontinued.
It was not the right decision, said Ron Seybold, who heads The 3000 Newswire. "'If it isn't growing, then it's going' were her marching orders after buying Compaq," said Seybold. He argued that the system was small, but profitable. In his mind, that decision proved "she wasn't looking any farther ahead than tomorrow's earnings reports."
No, it's not a direct line between the departure of 3000 futures and the lingering malaise of HP's fortunes. But the 3000 represented a trend away from R&D and HP inventions, even while Fiorina ironically installed the word "invent" under a new HP logo. Fiorina made her HP mission about the short-term, not long-term strengths.
The demise of invention resulted in a massive percentage of the 3000 base leaving for non-HP products. That kind of migration eliminated HP's messy problem of taking care of so many enterprise businesses. About a decade or so after 3000s stopped rolling off the HP assembly lines, HP is splitting off the mess that Carly cobbled together and focusing on -- wait for it -- enterprise computing.
It's important to note that Fiorina didn't sign the 3000 death notice. There's a good chance that until her political operatives read that Computerworld story, she didn't even know the 3000 made an HP exit. The last time she was seen acknowledging the 3000, she'd taped a promise to preserve it in HP's plans. The video got its only airing at an Interex meeting in the year 2000. The Compaq deal was already in play by then.
For those who didn't follow, the genuine ax-swinger of the 3000's demise was Winston Prather -- who moved to HP NonStop division in fairly short order after he opened the scuttle-hatches at CSY. Having executed HP's exit, he seemed to have atoned by preserving NonStop. It's probably because there's nothing else out there that does what that Tandem-created product does so well.
And so the irony is that the best hope for a surviving HP-built environment will come from a product HP did not create. Migrations from NonStop are thought to be nearly impossible. That thought is one protection from believing their replacement is easy.
April 30, 2015
TBT: The Legacy of 3000 Creators
The creators of some of the 3000's earliest pieces are still with us, most of them. A notable exception is the legendary Fred White, pictured above in a photo taken from the years before his death in 2014. He's holding up his end of a memory board for an early-model 3000. The HP 2000 Access system behind him introduced many people to HP business systems, and they went on to become the computer's first wave of users.
Holding the other side of the board is Ed Sharpe, who created and curated the first networking resource online devoted to the 3000, a bulletin board system he called The Forum. Throughout the first decade of the 3000's life, BBS communication was the only way to exchange information about MPE technical details other than attending user group meetings. HP did not launch its teleconference sessions, broadcast to customers through HP sales offices, until late in the 1980s.
The Forum earned the support of system managers reaching out to connect with each other. The character-based BBS interface was not much less sophisticated than the mailing-list-based HP3000-L of about a decade later. Downloads of contributed software were a big feature of the Forum. It connected users in an era when long-distance was still a serious business expense.
There was sport and fun on the Forum, too, much like the current-era's Friday Funnies from the 3000-L. "We had a total-weirdness chain story that everyone would add upon about Jo-EL, this man from another planet who presided over HP Labs (a tease at HP's Joel Birnbaum and riffing on Jor El from Superman). The thing went on forever, and we were all killing off each others' characters. and they would come back to life miraculously."
The biggest drawback to the Forum was the long distance charges for the users when downloading Forum CSL files! I am sure I caused some corporate phone bills to increase. Over in Europe, they had greater accessibility to X.25 at that time.
Sharpe created the Forum BBS using the only version of BASIC ever developed for MPE, BASIC/3000.
The marvels of early technology like that core memory are a part of Sharpe's passions. "We are basically holding 8K," he reports about that photo with White. "Core memory was wonderful though -- no battery back-up needed. You could go back a year later, turn it on, and there it was -- just as it was when you shut it down. This board design was a single board compilation of the board set: Core, SSA and XYD that went into the HP 2100 computer. It was used in the HP 2000 F and HP 2000 Access system we had."
Sharpe kept track of the resources in one of the community's Contributed Software Libraries by way of a column in the HP Chronicle for five years. After retiring from The Computer Exchange, a computer retail and timesharing business in Phoenix, he opened up the Southwest Museum of Engineering, Computing and Communication. He's got a collection of vintage gear at the museum including that HP 2000 and gems like an HP 9845 workstation, the latter complete with built-in thermal printer and cassette tape-based storage.
Thanks to a donation from Keven Miller of 3K Ranger, the museum now has a Micro HP 3000. "We will continue to look for more parts to keep it supported into the future," Sharpe says. "We are still looking for a Series II, a Series III and a Series 30 -- and a CX or pre-CX 3000. (Yeah, I may be dreaming there...)"
He's still learning about the HP 3000, too. "I need to know, will the old BASIC 3000 interpreter and compiler from MPE IV run on MPE V?"
April 28, 2015
Locating Help for 4GL 3000 Projects
A phone call -- how old-school -- to the NewsWire offices today posed an interesting question: Who'd be able to help a site that's got Speedware applications which appear to be layered with Visual Speedware? The list of independent Speedware experts who know MPE isn't a long one. A few months ago we compiled the a collection of 3000 experts into a single webpage here on our website. Only three companies named Speedware skills specifically in their company profiles.
"The Speedware here feels like it's hidden behind high walls," the caller said. "There's an aspect of Windows running in there, and the site doesn't really know where their development server is." Visual Speedware is still a product of Fresche Legacy -- the new name of Speedware since 2012 -- and the software that was created for "Enterprise Client/Server Development" has a presence on the Fresche website. The product's data sheet from 2002 is on the hpmigrations.com wing of the Fresche Web addresses.
Readers here will know there's an opportunity to help with a Speedware installation. It's a skill set in declining supply, this kind of 4GL expertise. PowerHouse users have a mailing-list newsgroup, but there's nothing like that for the Speedware user.
The two brands of 4GL have widely differing early days; Speedware was sometimes white-labeled to create apps sold by other software companies. SoftVoyage is a memorable example. PowerHouse always had its name out front where it was deployed. Later installs of these two 4GLs, through the late 1980s onward, were more similar.
In the ways of the IT world in 2015, both of the vendors of these products consider their 3000 customers to be ready candidates for migrations. The transition arrives in various flavors, but all of it is designed to leave the Hewlett-Packard-branded 3000 hardware behind.Fresche Legacy has been in what it calls the application transformation and migration business a long time. In more recent years the company has focused on the IBM marketplace transitions. Fresche Legacy is exhibiting at this week's COMMON conference for IBM users, one of the biggest in the AS/400-Series i world. But when HP 3000 migrations were a nascent concept, HP pointed to a 3000-to-9000 Speedware transition as an early migration success story.
PowerHouse is supported in the 3000 world by MB Foster; the company founder Birket Foster can call on experience with PowerHouse back into the 1970s when the company was called Quasar, rather than Cognos. Foster's right up to date with this platform's options and structures. This year MB Foster inked an alliance with Unicom Global, the latest PowerHouse owners, to assist companies including HP 3000 owners.
If you go back far enough in the history of these two 4GLs, you'll find a moment where PowerHouse and Cognos were in a services deal together. It was all about migrations of PowerHouse, not the preservation of one 4GL or another. It yielded a then-groundbreaking photo of Cognos and Speedware crews arm in arm in one booth, supporting one another.
April 23, 2015
TBT: The Rise of Superdome to Blades
Earlier today, a 3000 manager asked if the Moonshot line of HP servers was part of the plans to establish the Charon HPA PA-RISC emulator in the community. "I think it would be great if someone would demonstrate MPE/iX running on HP Moonshot server," said Tim O'Neill. "[Stromasys might be using] Charon to do something like this, but are they doing it on a Moonshot?"
Moonshot is not the best fit for the Stromasys product, because the HP bladed server is aimed at far larger processing needs. The targets for Moonshot are providers of networking services, cloud hosting co-location providers, customers as large as PayPal, and 20th Century Fox. The studio now distributes its movies around the world digitally, movies that are hundreds of gigabytes per file, and it reduced its datacenter footprint by more than 80 percent and sends those files 40 percent faster.
It's not that the movie business didn't ever use MPE; Warner Brothers had a European distribution center for movies that used a 3000, but that was back in the day when canisters of 35mm film were shipped to theaters. Evoking the name Moonshot, however, recalls the hope that the 3000 community held for HP's first massive enterprise server, Superdome,15 years ago.
The first Superdome computers were PA-RISC systems that ran with the same PA-8600 and PA-8700 servers that powered HP 3000s. When HP started to talk about Superdome in the months after Y2K, 3000 customers wondered "Why not us?" as part of the product's target audience.
An IT manager with beta-test experience on Superdome said at HP World that he believes there’s no reason Superdome can’t work with MPE/iX. “It’s PA-RISC hardware,” he said. “I asked our technical contact from HP why it wouldn’t run with MPE. He replied to me, ‘Yes, why wouldn’t it run MPE?’ ” In a future version, the computer will use its advanced partitioning to run more than one operating environment at once, according to HP’s presentations.
Five years ago this week, HP announced at the HP Technology@Work 2010 conference the first server technology that bridged the multiple-processor designs of Superdome into the blade server concept that would become Moonshot. Even more so than the original Superdome, the Superdome 2 had zero chance of becoming an MPE/iX hardware host, because by the Spring of that year HP was counting down the months until it stopped MPE support completely. (Officially, anyway. Right up to this month, rumors are floating that HP is supporting customer 3000s somewhere.)Multiple operating systems, supported on a single HP system, were the innovation HP added to its enterprise lineup with the first Superdome. HP said it was designed to support multiple OS's simultaneously, including HP-UX, Windows NT and something Hewlett-Packard called "the freely distributed Linux operating system."
Supporting two different OS's on a single HP server was a project that went back to 1994 at HP. The Multiple Operating System Technology (MOST) was designed to let MPE/iX control instances of HP-UX on one PA-RISC server. Reaching for performance even on the biggest CPUs of 21 years ago was a problem — but one other MOST challenge was the competition between HP 9000 Unix salespeople and the HP 3000 sales force.
When Superdome was first announced, HP already understood there was going to be no single operating environment to rule all enteprise computing. "Technology is changing so fast, that to bet a business on a proprietary technology, or on a single technology, commits an IT environment to becoming a legacy environment," said CEO Carly Fiorina.
Should there ever be any interest in demonstrating the top power of Moonshot, HP operates a lab system that sounds a lot like the old Invent3K servers hosted to 3000 developers. The HP Discovery Lab allows customers and partners unfettered access to an HP Moonshot System to experiment, test and benchmark applications in a secure and confidential environment. Labs are located in Purdue University in Indiana, Houston, Texas, Grenoble, France and Singapore. Developers can also gain access to a Discovery Lab through VPN from anywhere in the world.
April 16, 2015
TBT: When 3000 Training Went Digital
Twenty-five years ago, HP was making history by integrating CBT for MPE XL on a CD-ROM, running from an IBM PC-AT. Or a Vectra. Ah, what we learned in those years by using acronyms.
At a user conference in Boston better known for a 3000 database showdown, the mashup of acronyms promised Computer Based Training for the 3000's operating system from a Compact Disc Read Only Memory drive. Here on Throwback Thursday, we're celebrating an industry first that leveraged the HP 3000, something of an anomaly for Hewlett-Packard. CD-based information delivery was still in its first steps in the computer industry, and just ramping up in the music business as well. It would be another 10 years before Apple shipped desktops with built-in CD-ROMs.
An HP official who would later come to lead half the company as executive VP, Ann Livermore, was a humble Product Manager for this combination of HP CD classes and an HP CD-ROM player. "It's the equivalent of having a system expert looking over your shoulder while you work," Livermore said. "The audio on these training product adds significant value to the learning experience." The interactive courses show users a typical HP 3000 console on the PC, accompanied by verbal instructions and explanatory text and graphics.
In an era where Bulletin Board Systems were cutting-edge information channels and web browsers didn't exist, having CD-ROM as a tool for support broke new ground for HP's enterprise business. HP sold about six hours of training on CDs for $950. The breakthrough was being able to use the training repeatedly, instead of putting each new operator or end-user in an HP classroom for a week."The CBT product trains end-users and systems operators in HP 3000 Series 900 operations, including account management, system backup, shutdown, and recovery," my article from the HP Chronicle reported. I noted that MPE XL was a proprietary system, something that the vendor was trying to change with another announcement. Posix, an open system interface for Unix, was headed for MPE XL.
Hopes were high. Hewlett-Packard believed a version of MPE that supported Posix would permits Unix software to run on 3000s. We didn't make it up.
"You will be able to run Unix applications on the HP 3000s," said Wim Roelandts, vice president of HP's Computer Systems Group. "For us, open systems are not just Unix." HP also announced X Window user interface support for MPE XL, along with telnet and FTP.
Posix arrived in 1992, triggering a re-naming of the 3000's OS to MPE/iX. The interface has outlasted the utility of the CD-ROM CBT, giving Unix-savvy administrators a way to comprehend and drive what MPE does. But the holy grail of Unix on the 3000 never arrived ready to serve. It would take another 20 years to deliver MPE hosted on top of Linux, when the Stromasys Charon HPA emulator arrived in the market.
April 07, 2015
Operating Systems Of Our Lifetimes
Managers and owners of HP 3000s are the kind of customers who understand what an operating system does. Most of us in the community remember when there were countless OS's out there to run our businesses, if not necessarily our lives.
The HP 3000 stands out in a healthy legacy comparison because its birthdate in the initial generation of minicomputers. Unlike nearly all, its OS remains in business use today. Other OS's which are not in use: MCP from Burroughs (a source of MPE inspiration); Univac's VS/9; NCR's VRX; Control Data's Kronos; and Honeywell's CP-6. 3000 veterans will recognize those as BUNCH companies, whose mini and mainframe products were swept away by IBM's, HP's, and Digital's.
MPE has not yet outlasted the VS minicomputer operating system from Wang Labs, since that mini still has support from its latest third party owner, TransVirtual Systems. There's more than blind loyalty there when an OS can move into the four-decade lifespan. There's commercial value, too. VS still has about a decade to go to get to MPE's 41 years.
For the 3000-savvy, the cartoon above would have a few extra boxes in it. The longest one is likely to be MPE, in its II-V, XL, and iX generations. There are a few others that pre-date DOS, of course. HP tried to sell PCs running CP/M, for example. You could insert the following boxes underneath the fine cartoon from XKCD, the work of brilliant cartoonist Randall Munroe.
That useful lifespan for MPE will run to 53 years, unless a rolled-over calendar is not a problem for your applications.
Hop over to Munroe's website to enjoy the irony and heart of someone who understands that Gnu (yup, the root of the 3000's iX generation) could be there at the very end, turning out the lights. And who can say for sure that MPE will truly end its days on Dec. 31, 2027 after all? Wang's OS has passed through several third party hands. HP's own VMS will become the property of a third party next year.
In-tribute plug: If you can't find something on the XKCD store to buy, or a cartoon to link to, then all of the above is probably nonsense. For the rest of you, let me know if Gnu could really rule the planet after civilization ends. We're already hearing that embedding a Linux microkernel would make the OS more useful for Digital server users. Something less complex is surely on its way. It might arrive before that fire.
April 02, 2015
TBT: The Ultimate MPE/iX links big disk, FC
HP unveiled the final, ultimate generation of its 3000 operating system 13 years ago this month. On this Throwback Thursday we mark the month that MPE/iX 7.5 made its datasheet debut. It was less than six months after Hewlett-Packard announced an "end-of-life" for the 3000, but the OS was destined to be officially supported for more than eight years.
Independently, 7.5 is still supported by the community's third-party experts, such as Pivital Solutions. The data sheets and lab reports illustrate why the release has had such longevity, a run that rivals the lifespan of Windows XP.
When 7.5's data sheets moved into the customer base, the colorful paper was still commonplace as an information delivery device. What was uncommon about the release was its forward-looking view of fast storage support. HP had built in A-Class and N-Class hardware support for Fibre Channel IO connections, the fastest of their day. But it took the arrival of 7.5 to streamline and stabilize FC connections.
Previously, the 3000 could only be connected to FC devices through HP SCSI Fibre Channel router. In selling the benefits of 7.5 -- and with it, the upgrade sales of A- and N-Class servers -- HP admitted this router arrangement "not only added complexity and slowed FC transfer rates, but it also created multiple potential points of failure."
Access to the wide range of Fibre Channel devices was among the benefits, letting customers make the jump from the AutoRAID arrays to the more powerful and flexible VA 7100 series. Just this week, a customer made news in the community while troubleshooting a VA 7100. That storage platform remains in obvious use at 3000 sites.
The ultimate generation of 3000 processors, the PA-8700, got their complete support in 7.5, too. Fibre Channel proved to be a tangible benefit of the new PCI bus on the newest servers. One feature would have a reach even further than that CPU line: the ability to access a boot disk greater than 4GB. 7.5 opened up untold millions of gigabytes across the entire 3000 line.
Tapping the full range of storage was a game-changer for homesteaders, according to one well-known storage and MPE expert.
MPE veterans praised the enhancement as vital to the 3000’s continued success. “In my mind, this enhancement was critical to the viability of homesteading and the success of OpenMPE,” said Denys Beauchemin of backup utility provider Hi-Comp. “A few years from now, when your LDEV1 disk drive breaks, you will no longer be faced with the problem of buying a 160Gb disk drive (the smallest available) and only being able to use 4Gb.”
Far less crucial was the included support for a free, secure Apache Web Server, which HP had rebranded as HP WebWise. Developed from the starting point of open source Apache — in a user-driven project led by then-customer Mark Bixby — a native 3000 Web server seemed essential in the late 1990s while the dot-com boom was mounting. HP tried to charge for its supported implementation, but slow uptake shifted the product to free-in-7.5 status. The future of the 3000 would not lie in support for Web services, though, not when Windows-based servers were ubiquitous and cheap.
An OpenSSL crypto library was one of the byproducts of that full WebWise support in MPE/iX 7.5. Security concerns were increasing in that era, and some developers of e-commerce software wanted tools to integrate into their applications. WebWise was intended for the 3000 administrator and developer to be able to create RSA, DH and DSA key parameters and X.509 certificates; do encryption and decryption with ciphers; perform SSL/TLS Client and Server Tests and handle S/MIME signed or encrypted mail. 7.5 made support of sendmail possible.
It's all possible today, but the advance of these security tools slowed considerably after the crypto library made it into every copy of 7.5. There was a silver lining in this slow uptake of the frozen toolset. When OpenSSL was used to hack millions of servers in the HeartBleed malware crisis, few 3000s were exposed. That incomplete implementation of OpenSSL, frozen in an earlier edition of the software, put it back in the same category as un-patched OpenSSL web servers: not quite ready for prime time.
March 23, 2015
The Distinction MPE Source Has Delivered
The long-sought MPE source code arrived in your community five years ago this month. Hewlett-Packard released CDs filled with millions of lines of Modcal and SPL, shipping them off to eight companies who'd paid $10,000 each for the resource. Companies including 3000 specialist Pivital Solutions, as well as corner-case outliers such as Ordat (makers of a TurboIMAGE middleware tool), as well as the ubiquitous Adager and Allegro earned the right to explore and adapt the 3000's heart and soul.
Hopes were sky-high when the source code quest began in 2002. Just a matter of weeks after Hewlett-Packard pulled its own plug on 3000 futures, a new organizaton called OpenMPE took up the pursuit of those lines. The ideal was to find a way to extend the life of MPE/iX beyond HP's plans. The maker of the 3000 had other ideas. Its goal was to cut off further development of 3000 resources.
Better fortune took eight more years to arrive, and even then the 3000's source rolled into vendor shops with a major restriction. To use the code legally, a licensee had to promise they wouldn't try to move MPE/iX beyond its ultimate 7.5 release. No new generation of the 3000 OS. By 2010, 7.5 had seen no significant advance for three years. The initial 7.5 release, sans PowerPatches, was eight years old.
But the vendors who earned the right to apply their skills and experience to that code, continue to distinguish themselves in the support and development sectors. Neil Aemstrong of Robelle summed up the advantage. "Seeing the source and reading it is certainly a large part of being able to develop patches and potentially avoid any issues," he said. "It may not be perfect, but it helps."
In addition to the above-named Pivital, Adager and Allegro, Beechglen, Neil Harvey & Associates, and Terix entered the elite source-ready roster. All but Terix remain in your community today. HP has standards for its licensees, and some (like Pivital) were even invited to join this cadre. One more license was assigned, but Open MPE couldn't complete its arrangements.Source made no difference in constructing an emulator for 3000 hardware (it was unlikely to do so) but support companies have used to generate workarounds for homesteaders. These are among the highest-flying companies who started offering source-inspired patches in 2011.
HP blocked the release of any work in 2010 for another eight months. “Customers will have multiple options for MPE/iX assistance after HP exits the Worldwide Support business on December 31, 2010,” said HP 3000 Business Manager Hou stated in a comment on license terms. “The licensees... will not be able to use the MPE/iX source code in the delivery of system-level technical support until January 1, 2011.”
Releasing work derived from the source has been more than a matter of a license. Any such holder needed advanced technical skills to make something out of the millions of lines of source HP shipped.
"The source code by itself is a dead entity," Adager's Alfredo Rego said. "You have to know how to bring it alive."
As for OpenMPE, its volunteers and board of directors always believed that HP would need to grant permission to know more about MPE/iX. HP consulted with vendors outside of the OpenMPE orbit, but that group more than any other put the vendor on record during source negotiations.
March 19, 2015
TBT: First 3000 priced at one million dollars
The highest price for any HP 3000 rolled into your community 25 years ago this month. HP announced its biggest system ever, a computer with designs of competing with IBM mainframes. Not many technical details were available in the New York City rollout, but one had everybody looking skyward. Here on a Throwback Thursday, we chronicle the Series 980 with two processors that would cost $1,090,000.
HP could have priced the system at $100,000 less, but why bother? A million dollars was part of the point. Its target was not really the 3000 customer who'd built their IT operations on servers that cost less than half of the 980/200. Hewlett-Packard hoped the fastest PA-RISC system that it'd ever designed could displace some of the multi-million-dollar systems IBM had been selling for more than a decade, probably even 20 years.
Oh, there was mention of upgrading to the big box from the Series 950 systems, the first computers from HP's MPE/XL RISC era that were actually fast enough to power through a very green operating system's overhead. No upgrade pricing was available at the 980's announcement, though. The specifications of the biggest server seem quaint compared the computing of today. You could put a full gigabtye — yes, 1 GB — into a million-dollar HP 3000. And storage? Wow, a full 85 GB, using the newest Fiber Optic linked drives.
The drives would be extra, and so that full-bore storage would top out at about the capacity of three thumb drives of today. Yes, a whole $67.40 worth at Walmart. HP had another deal, VPlus Windows for PC-based application screen services, and NewWave System Services, at no extra charge. Programmers had to translate their existing application forms file into a PC forms file for use on the PC. A PC running the mostly-stable Windows 3.0.
There was genuine and durable innovation coming out of HP in that month of March. The world's first DAT tape drives were being shipped. Backup would never be the same. "The tapes, the size of a credit card, are intended to adopt the middle ground between quarter-inch tape and nine-track tape drives."Far below the stratosphere of that million-dollar 3000, HP was actually shipping -- instead of just announcing -- the Series 922 for $35,000 for a 24-user box. The 922 could be configured to support almost three times as many users, without a significant increase in performance, at double the pricing.
Twenty-five years ago this month, the era of user-based pricing cleanups began for the 3000, as its creators pressed the pedal to the metal trying to scrape all available dollars off the table. Unix systems were being sold without user license controls, at least at the operating system level. Database makers like Oracle were cleaning up on user licenses, but at least the suppliers of the systems were not reaching that deep.
In due time -- well, perhaps 7 more years -- Windows-based servers became alternatives with business-caliber reliability, sold without user license limits. The 3000 labored under such pricing schemes while its competition did not. It was old-school strategy to make an operating environment more costly whenever it was used by more employees at a customer site. The user-based strategy permitted HP to publish its entry-level prices for a 3000 at a new low, while the top end cost 31 times more.
With the more than nine months delay of a delivery date for its million-dollar 3000, HP was introducing your community to the legendary lag that DEC and IBM customers already knew well. "Indeed," I wrote in my editorial that month, "there's a joke which tells that an IBM salesman can be easily identified on his wedding night; he's the one who sits at the edge of the bed and tells his bride how memorable the evening will be, rather than making those memories with her."
March 13, 2015
Fiorina campaigning again, against Clinton
Former HP CEO Carly Fiorina pushed herself to the front of news again, as a story in the New York Times chronicled her campaign against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Fiorina has spent the last several years aiming criticism at Clinton, including a recent swipe that attempts to smear Clinton's travels around the world.
"Like Hillary Clinton, I too, have traveled hundreds of thousands of miles around the globe," Fiorina said, "but unlike her, I have actually accomplished something.” The claim recalled memories of Fiorina's most lasting accomplishment from her HP days: hawking a merger that pushed out the values and influence of the Hewlett family.
Thirteen years ago this week, a raucous stockholder showdown in Delaware ended with Fiorina's forces victorious, approving the Compaq merger. Walter Hewlett, son of HP founder Bill Hewlett, contested the vote in a lawsuit. HP directors on Fiorina's team responded by refusing to nominate Hewlett to keep his seat on the HP board.
Many actions of that period were designed to make HP bigger. Low-growth product lines were cut or de-emphasized, most particularly in the HP 3000 world. Despite the efforts to puff up HP, though -- and continue revenue growth to satisfy shareholders -- the plan had no effect on stock value. By the time Fiorina was fired in a board move -- 10 years ago this month -- HP shares sold in the low $20s, just as they did on the day of that Delaware merger victory.
Those inflated accomplishments of her go-go strategy were not misunderstood by the Times writer. "Her business career ended... in one of the more notorious flameouts in modern corporate history," Amy Chozick wrote today. "After orchestrating a merger with Compaq that was then widely seen as a failure, she was ousted in 2005."
The failed merger with Compaq did give HP a product with some foothold in 3000 migration projects, though. The ProLiant servers from Compaq are competitive with Dell and Lenovo systems for installations of Windows Server, the most-chosen alternative to HP 3000s.
Fiorina's tone has been strident, much as it was during her tenure when the 3000 was cut loose by HP. She's most recently tried to assert Clinton has stolen concepts and intellectual property from her.Pushing onward without regard for reality was among the things that got Fiorina fired 10 years ago. HP's board had trouble getting her to relinquish controls that might've tempered her mission to acquire corporations. In her Clinton attacks, Fiorina claims the title of the autobiography she wrote, Tough Choices, was appropriated by Clinton when the former First Lady wrote Hard Choices.
A Twitter image on a Fiorina feed posted the covers of the books side by side. There's also the former CEO's claim that a Clinton speech to female tech professionals, saying that women can "unlock our full potential," is a theft of Fiorina's Unlocking Potential Project.
The Times article, as critical of Fiorina as the former executive has been of Clinton, prodded that claim, too. "Fiorina came in for some derision on The Huffington Post, which recounted the tussle under the headline “Overused Management Bromide Now The Exclusive Property of Carly Fiorina, Apparently.” "
The CEO who led the HP which cut off its 3000 plans has many critics in the community to this day. The impact of a rush to expansion kept HP off its legendary game of R&D, according to HP's former VP of Software Engineering Chuck House. OS marvels of their day like MPE don't flow out of HP labs any longer.
A recent $2.7 billion acquisition of Aruba Networks is the latest HP purchase, buying technology that promises a cutting-edge firewall to enable mobile enterprise computing with the Aruba Mobility-Defined Network. HP says the deal "positions Hewlett-Packard to accelerate enterprise transition to a converged campus network." It's also about 90 percent smaller than the Compaq merger — more in line with the reduced HP of today.
March 06, 2015
IMAGE was always the future of the 3000
We're all-digital now here, so we are working harder at providing resources that can only be served up online. In our archives we've got articles that exist only on paper, and so the transfer of these into digital becomes a way to preserve what we've learned. Even articles of more than two decades ago contain good logic about preservation of IT resources.
One look at news of a springtime more than 20 years ago yielded a couple of articles worth preserving. We've already shared the outlook of HP's Glenn Osaka on the 3000's future, circa 1993. A little deeper in that same issue of the HP Chronicle lay a greater treasure: A forecast for the system from Wirt Atmar, the late founder of AICS Research. Atmar was a tireless advocate for MPE, the 3000, and maybe most importantly, the IMAGE database. "The HP 3000 does only one thing, but it does it very well," Atmar wrote in The Future of the HP 3000.
A search for a Web page with the article didn't turn up any hits, so we're putting it into the NewsWire's resources. The article is a PDF available here.
In a wide-ranging two-part article from January and February of 1993, Atmar taught us all how an integrated IMAGE database provides the essential value for MPE systems. The good news about all of this is that it's software integration, so even the Stromasys Charon emulation of 3000s retains this benefit. IMAGE made the 3000 a success, and it continues to do so for the companies who still rely on the server.
The success of the HP 3000 is, and always has been, tied to the success of IMAGE. The machine and database have prospered as an indivisible unit. Although MPE is an absolutely superior operating system for business development, it is not strong enough to support the continued existence of the HP 3000 by itself. If IMAGE should disappear, the death of the HP 3000 will soon follow.
Although HP announced its impending death of its 3000 plans about nine years after that article, the 3000 itself has not died. In fact, after Atmar's articles, HP changed its plans to separate IMAGE from the 3000. The bundling of the database and its hardware was preserved. But IMAGE has always been — and always will be — bundled with MPE.
That's the important pairing which Atmar's article chronicles. It explains that the combination "has never been anything than an electronic substitute for steel filing cabinets." Those are the essential kind of furnishings you'll find in offices to this very day.
March 05, 2015
TBT: NewsWire's genesis flows off 9x9s
20 years ago this month, HP took its first steps into an affordable midrange for its Series 9x9 HP 3000s. During the same March, we decided to take our initial steps toward creating a specialized newsletter to serve what showed a glimmer of becoming a revived community.
The 9x9s, known as the Kittyhawk boxes, made their debut in 1994, but the initial models were no long-term bargain for the typical midrange customer. Inside our house, we had worked for two years to serve the information needs of the vendors in a marketplace that the entrenched publications were ignoring. The 3000 was dead, or dying quickly, the editors told us. And so, despite rousing writing and media outreach for software and hardware companies, telling the stories of 3000 success, nobody wanted to devote an editor's attention or the printed space to report that news.
Our independent marketing communications work was hitting a wall of disregard in the industry about MPE and the 3000. In a meeting over coffee in March, my wife and partner Abby Lentz said, "This market might be getting smaller, sure. But some businesses thrived in the Depression, didn't they? Let's do a newsletter."
Ever the sunbeam of my life, she proposed something that seemed outlandish. A dozen issues a year? Specialized publications like the HP Chronicle and Interact knew about focusing on HP, sure, but they were reducing space for 3000 stories. What good could come of selling a monthly pub that would have to try to find more than a dozen news items each month about the legacy system in HP's lineup? Who'd pay for something like that?
But those vendors who knew us had thousands upon thousands of 3000 customers out there, though. And thousands of messages a month on the 3000-L mailing list rolled through my AOL account. The spring of 1995 uncovered a rocky field to try to put down any seeds of hope, though.Our research that began in March was not promising. One of my earliest HP Chronicle correspondents in the market, a seasoned system manager who'd moved into marketing, doubted any subscriptions could be sold. "$100 a year? I don't know you could get $10." HP had been scuffling to keep the 3000 relevant to its own sales force, too. The releases of the midrange servers provided a little hope. IMAGE had just had an overhaul, too, coming into the SQL world.
Out on the curb in front of our house, the massive oversized mailbox was full of slick tabloids that didn't charge a penny for weekly updates. In a similar way, there were low-cost alternatives to massive 3000s still on the rise. What's more, even the HP Unix systems were looking over their shoulders at a "Windows Invasion" into business computing.
But all the 3000 market really needed, as it often did, was more horsepower at a better price. "The big story technology-wise is that this doubles the performance of the 9x7 family," said HP's Andy Jolls. Selling a K-Class system was one of the easiest ways to get customers off of the 9x7s, introduced in the early 1990s.
The midrange 9x9s had a new wrinkle to power this renaissance of the marketplace. HP said these K-Class servers would accept the next-gen HP PA-RISC chips, for upgrades without replacing systems. These board upgrades were popular, but they helped the servers dig in at customer sites. Buying a 9x9 was a long-value investment. The swell of sales helped the 3000 take off again. But there was no churn in the market toward new boxes, the kind of investment protection that levied a cost in HP's plans for 3000 growth.
By the time we lifted the NewsWire into its first orbit in that summer of 1995, demand for the Kittyhawks was running well ahead of supply. A new 8-user system emerged for $55,000. We tended the first sprouts from those wan springtime seeds of our NewsWire, a few sponsors who said they'd take a chance on a newsletter aimed at a market that media companies didn't believe could grow again.
February 12, 2015
TBT: Sure, there's 20 more years of the 3000
Just 22 years ago this month, the leader of the HP 3000 division figured HP would still be selling and supporting HP 3000s working in businesses today. Glenn Osaka was in his first few months running what HP called CSY, a group that was coming up hard against HP's own Unix sales force.
"I think there's another 20 years in it," he said in 1993, "but I can tell you that 20 years from now, we'll probably look back and the 3000 won't be looking at all like it looks today."
Nobody could see a virtualized server looking like HP's proprietary hardware. PA-RISC computing was just becoming dominant. In 1993 there was no serious emulation in enterprise servers, let alone virtualization. The magic of Charon had not even dawned for the Digital servers where the Stromasys product notched its first success.
But HP was thinking big in that February. Osaka said the 3000 was about to take on "applications that traditionally would have been thought of as IBM mainframe-class applications. That program is going gangbusters for us. To get that new business on the high end of the product line is very effective for us, because it's the most profitable business we can do. More and more of our new business is going to come from people who are coming from mainframes."
The division was posting annual growth of 5-10 percent, which might have been impressive until HP compared it to 40 percent annual growth in its Unix line.
In a year when HP was just introducing a Unix-like Posix interface to MPE, Osaka said HP's "work that we're doing on Unix is very easily leveraged to the 3000, and we're simply using our sales force to help us find the opportunities to bring it to market first."
He identified the newest generation of the 3000's database as "SQL for IMAGE," something that would help with relationships with partners like Cognos, Gupta Technologies, PowerSoft and more. What HP would call IMAGE/SQL "will give our customers access to these partners' tools without having to change their database management system." A new client-server solutions program was afoot at HP, and the 3000 was being included on a later schedule than the HP 9000 Unix servers.
The server would "carve itself a nice, comfortable niche in some of the spaces we don't even really conceive of today, particularly in transaction-based processing." Osaka would hold the job until 1995, when he'd become the head of the Computer Systems Business Unit at HP. By that time, he'd guessed, HP would still be able to show its customers that "the level of capability that we provide on the 3000 is higher" than HP Unix servers.By the time we interviewed Osaka three years later, in a new post in 1996, he'd dialed back his forecast to say "we have at least 10 more years of very strong presence in large companies and medium sized companies with the 3000 in the marketplace. What I don't know is what people are going to buy. For a long time I have had as a core belief that the life of any computer is tied to the lifespan of the application."
But by 1996, with his unit containing both Unix and MPE divisions, Osaka was giving us at the NewsWire the first notes of warning that things had changed for the server inside HP. In our September 1996 Q&A, he said new applications ought to be launched on other platforms.
The whole dynamics around the application software industry have changed. Because of Microsoft, it's turning into a volume marketplace, and there's not enough volume in the 3000 business to fuel the early growth of such companies. If I were a developer, depending on what kind of application, I'd say put it on Oracle, or Informix, or NT BackOffice. Then I'd feel more comfortable I'd get a return.
You're making us glad we didn't ask you about the NewsWire's chances when we started.The NewsWire is an interesting thing. Information that is critical to this user community has high value, because HP has become less effective at delivering that information to the broad user base. That's a viable business plan, but there are others [in this market] that people talk to me about that don't quite make so much sense.
We left that interview feeling lucky to have pushed out our first year of a publication that was doing what HP couldn't do so well anymore. We'd also be facing the hard reality, within five years, that HP couldn't manage a belief in any future role for the server beyond 2006.
Osaka left HP within two years of our second interview, moving on eventually to Juniper Networks and other high-tech firms. Today he's a private consultant and advisor. Of his work in the 3000 division, MB Foster's Birket Foster says on Linked In
Glenn provided leadership and "out-of-the-box" thinking when running the CSY division. Glenn saw value in the software vendor community, completing solutions for mutual customers. Glenn assisted the formalization of the SIG SoftVend meetings, to exchange directions with software vendors and facilitated non-disclosure meetings for access to MPE source, and working with tool/utility software vendors.
February 05, 2015
Getting Chromed, and Bad Calls
The HP 3000 made its bones against IBM's business computers, and the wires are alive this week with the fortunes of Big Blue circa 2015. Starting with meetings yesterday, the company is conducting a Resource Action, its euphemism for layoffs. IBM employees call these RAs, but this year's edition is so special -- and perhaps so deep -- it's got a project name. The cutting is dubbed Project Chrome, and so the IBM'ers call getting laid off Getting Chromed.
Hewlett-Packard has never wanted to call its layoffs by their real name either. The first major HP layoff action during the 3000's watch came in the fall of 1989, when more than 800 of these separations were called "being excessed." Employees had four months to find a new place inside HP, but had to search on their own time. Engineers and support staff were given the option to remain at the company, but jobs at plant guard shacks were among their new career options. Another virulent strain of HP pink slips came in the middle of the last decade, one of the purges in pursuit of better Earnings Per Share that pared away much of the remaining MPE/iX expertise from the vendor.
Aside from bad quarterly reports, these unemployment actions sometimes come in the aftermath of ill-fated corporate acquisitions. This week on CNBC's Squawk Box, analysts identified HP's Compaq merger as one of the worst calls of all time. The subject surfaced after the questionable call that led to a Seattle defeat in Sunday's SuperBowl. A big company's failures in new markets can also be to blame for getting Chromed. IBM has seen its revenues and profits fall over the last year, while mobile and cloud competitors have out-maneuvered Big Blue.
IBM has already shucked off the Cognos development tool PowerHouse as of early last year, but now comes word that other non-IBM software is getting its support pared back in the RA. In the IEEE's digital edition of Spectrum, one commenter made a case for how IBM is sorting out what's getting Chromed.
The digital article on the IEEE website also includes some reports that employees over 40 have been targeted. They then saw the company threaten to withhold severance packages if age-discrimination lawsuits were filed.
I am the last US resource supporting a non-IBM software package, which is in high demand globally -- yet the powers that be seem oblivious to it. Rather than create a dedicated group to go after that business, they cut anyone with that skill, since it is not an IBM product and therefore, "not strategic." Unfortunately the company continues to gamble on their Tivoli products, which clients seem to embrace about as much as Lotus Notes, rabies and bird flu.
HP and IBM have a lot in common in their workforce makeup. Both employ more than 300,000 workers as of last year, and while those numbers lead the industry, neither is among the top 15 employers worldwide in headcount. However, HP and IBM manufacture goods, so they look up at the largest manufacturing worker employer, Volkwagen. There are 555,000 VW employees.
HP's employee count rose into six digits, and then doubled again, as a result of two acquisitions. Compaq drove the headcount to above 140,000, a 65 percent increase. Then in 2008, EDS became an HP operation, and the headcount soared to 349,000. Since 2011, the workforce at the vendor that's still working to sell some HP 3000 replacements has dropped by 15 percent. The current HP layoff plan — a layoff strategy has been in place for more than five year — calls for a total of 55,000 job eliminations by the end of this fiscal year.
These employee cuts are the result of relentless pursuit of EPS growth, so that the numbers reported to shareholders can show an increase in spite of flat to falling revenues. Stock prices at HP have recovered to 2005 levels amid the HP layoff march. But IBM's share price took a 12 percent dive on a single day this fall, is now below its mark when current CEO Ginni Rommety took over, and hovers today around $160 a share.
Rommety was rewarded for her performance in 2014 with a $1.6 million bonus. The tepid stock of IBM made it "the worst performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average for a second straight year," according to Bloomberg News. The company that once proudly wore the reputation "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" is doing a lot of firing this week.
January 29, 2015
TBT: 3K Stands, and a UK Bridge to late '90s
Each time we produce a printed edition of the Newswire here — there's a very special one on its way in the mail today — I usually reach into our archives for some research. While writing about the progress of hardware in the 3000 line I revisited 1998. This was a year with conference expo stands and an Ironbridge in the UK for HP Computer Users Association members. The occasion was the annual HPCUA show, offered in a time of 3000 and MPE growth.
HP 3000 sales were on the rise, thanks to the Internet. The strong catalog-sales customer base was deploying web sites for e-commerce, and the servers of the day were finally getting Web hosting software. HP considered it important to offer just as much for MPE/iX as was available on Unix and Windows NT. Yes, NT, that long ago. Java was supposed to enable cross-platform development of applications. HP's labs had ported the language once touted as "write once, deploy everywhere" for use on MPE/iX.
As we arrived to man our first overseas stand for the Newswire, one man had stepped away from his HP futures. Dick Watts, an executive VP whose departure was "a great blow to the interests of user groups worldwide," had resigned in a surprise. He was in charge of the salesforce that directed the business futures of the 3000, HP 9000s and more. The departure was so sudden that the HPCUA's magazine was left with a feature interview of an executive who was no longer employed by HP. He'd made promises to user groups about HP's help for their initiatives. The magazine called him suave.
The conference was held at Telford in the UK's Shropshire, notable as the site of the first arched iron bridge erected in the world, more than 200 years earlier. Most HP 3000 shows were being offered in larger cities like Birmingham, or on the seashore in Brighton. Telford and the conference wanted to remind us about foundational technology, the kind like the 3000 had established in the age of business computing.
The exhibition offered 22 HP 3000-allied stands in addition to ours (touted at left by General Manager Harry Sterling), including one from a company called Affirm that would eventually become the ScreenJet of today. As unique as shows of that day were also personal, HP Systems User 98 gave commemorative plates of the Iron Bridge to all attendees. They also heard talks about a Grand Prix team, a Microsoft marketing pitch on a scheme called the Digital Nervous System, and "How IT Helps HP's Success." That last included a peek into how much HP 3000 systems still drove the Hewlett-Packard of 16 years ago. As with much of the era, it purported to be an accomplishment served off the plate of Unix.Some clouds on the vendor's horizon were already growing clear in that September. CEO Lew Platt would be holding his job for less than a year more -- he agreed to help select a successor early in '99 -- and he blasted the company's sales force for a disappointing quarter. HP closed its offices over the Fourth of July and would do a shutdown over Christmas, too. The cuts were in response to a quarter Platt called dismal. HP was being outflanked over dot-com opportunities by Sun and IBM.
In industry-wide concerns, the Confederation of British Industry was warning that "there is little time left for firms to make sure their computer and electronic systems -- which control the air conditioners, lifts and safes -- can cope with the Year 2000 date change."
MPE V had finally come off HP's support -- only 11 years after HP introduced its successor MPE/XL. Plotters were still a valid output device in some engineering companies, the first generation Series 925 and 935s were being replaced by 9x9 systems, and one UK 3000 vendors said "from here on in, Client/Server technology is accepted as a standard component within the HP 3000 Enterprise Environment." Meanwhile, Oracle was saying "We think the platform switch now is to the Internet as a computing platform." Oracle was to swallow up Sun a dozen years later, acquiring the company that was saying in the late '90s, "we put the dot in dot-com."
Meanwhile, HP was telling 3000 users that the technologies being "developed or investigated" for the server included Itanium processor chips (then called IA-64); multi-CPU systems from 16- to 64-way, 1 Gbit LANs, and the faster PCI IO bus. That last would not be delivered for another three years, a better record than the first two technologies, which never left investigation. A 16-way N-Class was recently discovered in the wilds of the homesteading world, but that configuration was never on HP's 3000 model lineup.
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, email@example.com, in his final days. One developer who heard of his passing said, "Let's hope that when Fred gets upstairs, his entry permit to Heaven is stamped 'Automatic, Master'."
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.