October 30, 2013

Marking Moments on Wake Anniversary Eve

AfterlifeT-shirtIn about six hours or so, the HP 3000 community might pause to commemorate one of its last collective acts. Ten years ago the World Wide Wake, organized by event ringleader Alan Yeo, invited members in dozens of locations throughout the world to lift a glass and salute the end of HP's manufacturing of the HP 3000 computer. MPE/iX would be recrafted and revised for another five years, but Oct. 31, 2003 was the last day customers could order a new HP-badged 3000.

At the time we invited a director of the Interex User Group, Denys Beauchemin, to offer a confirmation about the success of the system and record the aftermath of HP's departure. He did so in our Open Mike column in the November printed issue of the NewsWire. (It would be almost two years before we'd start up this blog.) It's fun to track the predictions in that column. Beauchemin, heading up a group that itself would remain open just another 20 months, collected sentiments from community notables including the late, great Wirt Atmar, who would pass away a little more than five years later.

Wirt outlived HP's 3000 business, right down to the closing of its MPE labs at the end of 2008. Unless you're reading this from the blazing-fast Google Fiber of the afterlife, you've also outlived the end of HP's 3000 saga. For HP computer users whose systems are facing an end of manufacture, the following is educational. It's memorable for migrators to revisit that time of reflection, too, and see if anything resonates in today's platform ownership.

Please leave a comment below to share your own story of the 10 years that have followed this anniversary. Or email one to me to tell your tale of what has followed the Wake.

By Denys Beauchemin

On All Hallows Eve of the year 2003, an historic event took place without fanfare and virtually ignored by the vast population at large. Only the cognoscenti will mourn the passing into computer history of the HP e3000, née HP 3000. This magnificent machine, which would be marking its thirty-first year of existence next month, is instead disappearing from the list of HP computer products. End of Sales for the HP 3000 is now upon us.

I was first introduced to the HP 3000 in 1977 somewhere in New Hampshire. At that time I was working in Montreal on an HP 21MX designing and programming applications in a timesharing bureau. I immediately took a liking to the HP 3000, transitioned jobs to be able to work on one and joined the users group for the first time. Over the years wherever I worked, there was always an HP 3000 in my environment. The HP 3000 has been part of my career almost from the beginning. Its passing fills me with melancholy, and whilst I had not been doing as much with it these last several years, I could always count on it being there, adding new capabilities along the way. This is true no more.

I asked a few luminaries of this long-lived computing environment to reflect on the machine, its passing and perhaps to shed some light on this event and what its effect might be.

“A great IT platform: reliable, affordable, flexible, easy to operate, and easy to program. And every release compatible with the previous for over 30 years. Perhaps some future OS team will adopt these same goals.” — Bob Green, Robelle

“The HP 3000 has been one of very few computers with a very important property: it lets people get things done. Because of that, it’s been my primary professional focus for the last 24 years, and hopefully for many years to come. Its cancellation was the straw that broke the camel’s back in my regard for, and trust in, HP as a company.” — Stan Sieler, Executive Vice President, Allegro Consultants. [Ed. note: Sieler marked his 30th anniversary at Allegro this month.]

“One of the worst things a hardware company (which subsequently develops some excellent software) can do to that software is to support it as if it were hardware. The 3000 was a victim of such treatment. RIP.” — Fred White, Co-creator of IMAGE

“My association with Hewlett-Packard began in 1963, when I was first introduced to extraordinary quality of HP instruments. Our official association with MPE began in 1976, and it too represented to me the very highest ideals of quality engineering. MPE was a magnificent operating system, simple, stable and extraordinarily efficient. The death of MPE concerns me greatly about the future of HP itself, not because MPE was ever a substantial contributor to HP’s bottom line, but because its death is indicative of the kind of company that HP is now casting itself as: a manufacturer of commodity products, having wedged itself in between Dell and IBM, a virtually unsustainable niche. I have come to believe that the most likely scenario now for the future of HP is for HP to be bought by Dell in three to seven years, just for the printer division, with the remainder of the organization either sold off or disposed of. If true, that’s a sad end for a company with which I’ve proudly had a life-long association.” — Wirt Atmar, AICS Research, Inc.

“When HP announced that it was no longer in HP’s best interest to continue with the HP 3000, my reaction was one of joy. I believed that — once HP was out of the HP 3000’s way — MPE-IMAGE would be able to prosper ‘under new management’. HP, unfortunately, had other ideas. Be it as it may, I feel a tremendous amount of loyalty towards MPE-IMAGE users and, as HP’s MPE-savvy people dwindle, I keep adding more and more items to my to-do list. I love IMAGE and I continue to work, on a full-time basis, searching for ways to make the lives of TurboIMAGE users as rewarding as possible.” — F. Alfredo Rego, Adager.

“The HP 3000 has been my business companion for 26 years, providing continuity for my COBOL application development. It enabled my company to become an international solution provider and its tragic demise is a reminder of my own mortality on this earth. May the spirit of MPE live on forever in the user community it leaves behind. I believe that inside every HP 9000 there is an HP 3000 waiting to be released after October 2003.” — Jeanette Nutsford, Computometric Systems Ltd, New Zealand/UK/USA

“I came from an IBM mainframe background and then started working on the HP 3000 at HP as a Systems Engineer on the Series II in 1976. I knew I had gone to heaven when I could use a terminal to do compiles and queries in a very short time and on-line with a very user friendly operating system, MPE. Times were good then in the user community because everyone was in a learning mode and helped each other. Times have changed and we must now move on to new challenges. I really miss the good old days but am glad to have met a great circle of friends along the way!” — Paul Edwards, Paul Edwards & Associates.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:36 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 16, 2013

For almost all, not the first time to migrate

A recent talk with ScreenJet's Alan Yeo shed some light on the migration process for 3000 owners. Our era is not the first time anybody has made a migration in the 3000 world. This one is different, however, from the transition the entire community performed about 25 years ago. That was an era when HP rolled out radically new hardware, but had engineered a way to carry program code forward. There was work, however, that everyone had to do.

Migration Made EasyIn the fall of 1988, moving from MPE V to MPE XL was being called a migration. In the same way that today's migrations are being shaped as transitions or modernizations, the migration of MPE V systems to a new OS was attempting to avoid being labeled a conversion. Big work, that conversion stuff. Migration, by everybody's measure this year, is bigger stuff than replacing an app while moving off a 3000.

Yeo said this month that a customer of his had already made their migration once -- a "proper migration" if you can imagine the British accent -- and was returning to do another migration. "They're happy they migrated, because they now know that they can," he said. Yeo estimated that about one in every five companies that have left have done this proper migration -- which means keeping business logic and lot of MPE code in hand during the move.

Today's strategy for migrating has much in common with what 3000 owners were doing in 1988, the time when MPE XL was first coming online at customer sites. Victoria Shoemaker of Taurus Software wrote an article in the HP Chronicle that month called From MPE V to MPE XL: Migration Made Easy. Her seven steps make up that year's proper migration: Education; analysis; developing a migration plan; MPE/V conversion; installation of HP-PA RISC machines; Compatibility Mode operation; Migration to Native Mode operation. 

How familiar does this paragraph sound, based on today's advice?

Planning is the single most important element of your migration. Regardless of how many applications that run in your shop, how many machines you have, how much third-party software you run, your migration's success depends on how well you have planned it. Spend the time to plan. It pays off.

There are some differences between the advice you can check out in the PDF of that archive article from the HP Chronicle versus the counsel you'll get today. In late '88 there was not much of a thriving market of experts who were selling professional services for getting onto a new hardware platform with a new OS. HP set up Migration Centers in five US cities, plus one in Germany. You'd bring in code and run it on the new Series 900 HP 3000 system, then resolve errors and get time to do rewriting as needed. The centers even included shredders, so your sensitive data and coding wouldn't be compromised.

But nobody inside HP was doing that work. And travel with your tapes and printed code was essential to using that help. You'd apply for some time on some very new computers, and an even newer OS. The timesharing era wasn't that far in the past. It didn't seem a tremendous throwback.

Today there's other options. You can even have that migration planning done for you after a series of interviews at your own site. Or simply phone calls, after you've sent information over this thing we call the Internet. Didn't exist in 1988, to be sure. You could transfer your files via a terminal emulator, of course. The concept of remote system access and inventory was a rare thing indeed.

Tens of thousands of 3000 sites survived and even thrived after the MPE V to XL migration. HP created a Compatibility Mode to operate the old programs unmolested. Performance was actually worse in many cases in that early migration era, because MPE XL 1.x was a slow and unpredictable release. Operating in Native Mode at least made the brand-new Series 950 and 925 servers as fast as existing top-end Series 70s. Like today's ultimate generation of HP's 3000 iron, Hewlett-Packard was certainly leaving a widely-installed field of hardware behind.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:24 PM in History, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 15, 2013

What Posix Delivered, and Didn't, for 3000s

Open3000 pageThe arrival of the POSIX.1 software standards in MPE was a compatibility milestone. I remember the call I got from HP's Glenn Osaka, then a product manager at the 3000 division, asking what I'd think about a renaming of MPE. In the fall of 1991 the 3000's OS was called MPE/XL. In just a few weeks, HP wanted to start calling it MPE/iX. Those last two letters were the same as Unix, but the OS didn't ever produce commercial apps from that OS. HP was hawking its Unix hard by that time. Starting in 1992, the 3000 was being portrayed as open.

But a decade of HP effort to win applications from the Unix environment came to an end in the fall of 2001. What was left over from the grafting of POSIX onto the 3000's OS? To this very day, you can use open source software that's been ported to MPE. Or port some yourself, if this will solve a compatibility problem.

HP wasn't shy about telling 1991's customers how much difference that iX was going to make. Unix benefits that the 3000 were supposed to gain included app portability, a Unix development environment, and multivendor connectivity. HP called it the Open 3000.

"Customers now have access to a wide breadth of industry-leading applications," said 3000 GM Rich Sevcik. "It should be viewed as a very exciting incremental set of functionality for the MPE owner, and it's just another example of the smooth evolution of the HP 3000."

While the arrival of Micro Focus, Oracle's apps, Lawson Software ERP or SAP never materialized, some key non-commercial software made its way to the 3000. Lots of it has become essential at connecting the servers to non-3000s, especially through networking. One of the first and most prominent results of Posix was the file-sharing tool Samba.

One HP lab engineer of that time said the goal of the POSIX.1 effort was "to increase the availability of some types of applications on the 3000, and to provide for modernization and connectivity with other 'open' platforms. POSIX.1 allowed the Apache Web server, Samba, and many other open source tools to be ported at low cost to the 3000."

The cost was so low that a then-essential Web Server, Apache, was ported by a non-HP engineer who needed the software for his community college's datacenter. Mark Bixby was later hired by the lab and became crucial to what was called Internet & Interoperability.

Posix also brought industry-standard administration interfaces to the OS. The ideal there was to be able to take Unix-trained IT staffers and put them to work managing HP 3000s. Or to make the 3000 no different than Unix management, so the MPE server wouldn't stick out too much. Unix was claiming to be an open choice -- that engineer was correct in putting quotes around open -- ever since the late 1980s.

But Posix was never going to future-proof the 3000's environment, in spite of the promises made about its prospects at HP. It was never engineered enough to provide binary compatibility. By the middle '90s, the Newswire was covering "Proposition 3000" to make the 3000's FTP GET, its tar -xzf, its make and make install work like HP's Unix counterparts.  No vendor would ever certify code for every Unix, or even Linux distros in existence today.

But a majority of open source code has a good track record for just working.

The promise of "open" was always on the other side of serious engineering costs. Until Intel processors ruled the planet, you'd have to worry about hardware support and low-level incompatibilities. Things like page sizes, sector sizes, supported devices, ioctl() codes, incompatible drivers and so on.

Eventually even architectural differences between MPE and the Unix world made Web services a non-starter. A Unix standby called the "fork() of death" that made production web services on the 3000 an impossibility. One legendary MPE expert, Jeff Kell of the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said the fork simply wouldn't go into the meatiest part of the OS.

"fork() is such an alien and invasive concept to the MPE mindset, yet a laissez-faire operation on *ux," he said. "It would have required some really heavy lifting, perhaps beyond the fork() conversion folks' abilities or resource scope." Plainly put, more engineering time might have brought MPE into line with Unix, but it might have been too great a difference in design, too.

When you can apply Perl, or other open source resources like the ones found at www.mpe-opensource.org, to a 3000's mission, you see the benefit of changing that XL to an iX. Posix was HP’s first effort at making MPE more standards-friendly. The engineering led to the potential for open source programs such as Samba, Apache and more to make it across the porting divide — and give the 3000 its first genuine cross-platform tools. The Posix work in MPE made GNU C for the 3000 a possibility, back in the nascent era of the open source movement. And without GNU C, nothing else would be available from the open source library today.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:45 PM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 27, 2013

An HP Museum That Could Use Your Help

People accuse the HP 3000 community of being rooted too deep in history, reaching back to a Hewlett-Packard experience that no longer exists. But there is an organization devoted to that HP, and it could use the help of the 3000 manager who might be cleaning house.

HpcomutermuseumThere's housecleaning going on all the time in the community. Nordstrom's decommissioned its 3000 servers, for example. Newer systems, but there's bound to be something genuinely antique tucked away behind a closet door. The HP Computer Museum doesn't take up much space, but its doors are always open, from all the way down in Australia. A message from volunteer Jon Johnston.

Just a quick heads up on the HP Computer Museum, in case you don't already know us (www.hpmuseum.net). Our objective is to preserve the first 25 years of HP computing history (1966 to 1991). 

We are always looking to acquire things we don't have and often looking for help on things we're not very smart about. So, please keep us in mind if you come across some old HP stuff (hardware, software, documentation, promo items, videos), and be sure to forward our URL to any old HP contacts you may have.

We are especially interested in hearing from anyone who may have an HP-IB hard disc with the MPE system loaded.

We talk about history as an instruction to the future. One item out on the Computer Museum site shows how imagination and innovation didn't get rewarded at HP. This was a Hewlett-Packard of almost 30 years ago, in an era when the dominance of PCs wasn't yet complete. HP's answer was the HP 150, later known as the Touchscreen 150. The 150 was frequently found paired up with HP 3000s. Some say it was just about the only place the system appeared. In the first year, HP sold 40,000 of the Touchscreens.

HP's entrance into the 1980s PC marketplace was based not on MS-DOS, but CPM. The rival OS had been popular until Microsoft rolled out MS-DOS, but CPM and the computers that relied upon it just could not compete for the attention of software developers. HP did its best to include some name-brand software with the Touchscreen. The $3,995 computer was introduced in 1983 and advertised in the same era as Apple's new Macintosh and the Compaq luggables. The latter was a 35-pound system touted as a portable, while the former was designed with a handle molded into its back.

Touchscreen editingLike the Mac, the Touchscreen had a nine-inch screen. Its interface was often driven by softkeys across the bottom of that screen, an echo of the HP 3000 terminal interface. A Touchscreen could be hooked up as a terminal only, never seeking external storage. The Computer Museum's entry says that HP dreamed of nabbing more than 20 percent of the PC market, selling a computer that was $1,000 more than IBM's PC, or the Compaq systems which sold for even less.

Touching a computer's screen as an interface was way ahead of the computing times of 1984. A video from the Computer Chronicles TV show of that year shows how HP was using touchscreens to mimic the behavior of a Rolodex.

The 20 percent of the PC market became so elusive so quickly that HP seemed to drop its marketing after just a few months. There were TV ads, some of the only advertising HP ever purchased for broadcast until more than 15 years later, again for its PC products. "Even though Hewlett-Packard technology has produced a number of firsts, some of you still don't know who we are," said one ad. "Maybe now, you will." A caterpillar becomes a butterfly in the ad. HP's innovation with interfaces was not as important as its connections with the software ecosystem. Lotus 1-2-3, dBase II for databases, VisiCalc for spreadsheets and WordStar for word processing were there at introduction. It wasn't enough.

Handshake cartoonWhy is the HP Touchscreen an important part of the HP 3000's history? HP advertised the computer as "fully compatible with the big HP 3000 computers." It might be the only time the 3000 ever made its way into the consciousness of a consumer audience. But this was a Hewlett-Packard that was certain it could trade on its reputation from the business marketplace -- where the 3000 was its only success -- while introducing what everybody was calling a "personal computer."

"The Touchscreen Personal Computer is a Hewlett-Packard product. This, after all, could be the most important thing you need to know about it," one ad in Forbes read. "Is your office operating at a crawl, when it could be flying?"

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:18 AM in History | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 18, 2013

Three years later, OpenMPE triggers pains

Hewlett-Packard canceled its 3000 plans in 2001, which launched an open source effort for MPE less than six weeks later. Like a satellite boosted into orbit, the voyage of OpenMPE seems to have momentum even today, more than three years after a lawsuit marred a volunteer group.

Look up "OpenMPE suit" in our search engine and you'll find no fewer than 15 stories I wrote about a civil suit between board member Matt Perdue and the OpenMPE board. Some members were named individually as well as et al in the lawsuit in Bexar County, Texas. The suit was filed there because that's where Purdue lives and works.

TriggerpointYesterday I updated the OpenMPE saga by tracking the location of that satellite today. It's split into more than one trajectory. There's a website to serve archival data on the 3000. There's the remains of the suit, made up of hard feelings and legal fees. Then there's the domain of this group of volunteers, the web address where it existed in its most tangible public incarnation: openmpe.org. I noted yesterday that Perdue renewed the domain this month, even after he'd been removed from the board in 2010.

OpenMPE triggers some pain for nearly everyone, but that's the way an overstressed muscle can behave. HP wasn't happy about having seasoned community members asking a lot of questions that had gone unconsidered about migrations. Volunteers got disappointed and left, or sacrificed plenty of time and some money while they stayed. Community members kept asking what the group achieved, even while HP tilted the table with its confidentiality demands over conference calls. Finally, during the nine months of all-out battle in lawyers' letters and in court, the very essence of assets, monies and right to operate were challenged.

We're always glad to get comments on the stories in the Newswire's blog. The ones I'm compelled to reply to are those where fairness and accuracy get questioned. Keith Wadsworth, a former board member and defendant in that suit, took the time to note my shining prejudice about the legal actions in those nine months. At the end of matter, the board where he served as co-chairman decided it wouldn't comment further beyond what anybody who'd drive to Bexar County could discover.

More than 11 and a half years has elapsed since a single volunteer, Jon Backus, met with HP's Dave Wilde over breakfast about OpenMPE. Just like the OpenVMS customers of today, 3000 users wanted to gain access to the OS source code. Open source was white-hot in 2002, with Linux swelling in popularity. Taking technology built inside a vendor and making it open seemed possible -- and just like in the VMS world, maybe a way to ensure MPE could be sustained.

Roll forward to 2008, and those six-plus years have seen HP close its MPE labs and end the CDA talks with the OpenMPE volunteers. Then-chairman Birket Foster believes there's still a chance to advocate at HP, in talks with what MPE interests remain at the Support organization. HP Support has no desire to talk with anybody but support customers, and certainly not on the record.

But one stray probe of the OpenMPE satellite remained on course: a way to license MPE for support use. The licenses don't get issued until 2010, and OpenMPE is the last company to receive its source license. Source is an asset to a support company solving problems, but it also looks meddlesome to other companies. Modifying MPE might create extra development work for anyone who sells MPE software. Customers might use workarounds that would force a vendor to support multiple versions of a utility or application.

It's a long shot, but it was possible. Nobody knew if source could have that impact. OpenMPE was the only license recipient without clients or customers. A source code license was near the top of the group's desires for its final three years of talk with HP. By that time Interex was out of business and Encompass and Connect had no link to such 3000 advocacy.

There was an election of OpenMPE board members once a year, without little opposition by the end. Volunteer work for customers using a computer cut off by the vendor -- well, that's a hard assignment. Move on, people said. Be a real company and get customers, others urged. Some said people wouldn't really be using MPE and the 3000 that much longer anyway.

In 2007 Wadsworth was asking, while running for the OpenMPE board, if any more 3000 use was even reasonable.

At this stage in the game, what is homesteading? Do you really think anyone will stay in production on the 3000 for many years to come? Stay status quo? Do you really think there are users that have given no consideration to a migration plan? Does it not make sense that everyone on the 3000 today is in some form of a migration status?

I defined homesteading because I invented the term, sitting in a London Internet cafe on the night after HP made its announcement. I wanted those who could stay on the server to understand they were more than luddites, avoiding new technology. Without the vendor's future support, they'd be on their own many times. Dugout houses on the winter prairies came to mind. Anybody who didn't already run 3000 apps on Unix or Windows or Linux could be a homesteader.

As for "many years to come," I didn't know that I'd still be writing about MPE in 2013, or reporting on a company that is saving the OS from the fate of running only on aging HP gear. The CHARON virtualized server may be stop-gap at these companies. Others have no plans to shift anything, in spite of what experienced vendors are advising.

It all looked suspicious to Wadsworth in 2007, in the months before he took his first run at joining the volunteer board. "There are real questions about what and who is OpenMPE -- and what are their real intentions. And why have HP representatives attended closed executive sessions?" he wrote to me.

By 2010, Wadsworth had made it onto the board and started to ask other questions. OpenMPE had to prove itself as a business, he told me, or it should disband. The group had been granted a license for MPE source, but it had little else as an asset. It also didn't have staff to use that asset -- or more accurately, developers who'd polish it toward productive use among 3000 customers. That source was like a drill press without any metal stock on hand to shape, or even an operator. Staff time was always an issue.

As I wrote in my reply to Wadsworth's comments, all those assets had landed in the offices of Perdue, and that was unfortunate. That's a single point of control. A dispute over using servers escalated in the face of questions from Wadsworth like, "Where are our assets and revenues, and what are they? How come we don't have accurate corporate records? What's our business plan? Shouldn't we have insurance for us board members?" Interesting questions for a group of volunteers who'd had plenty of impact on expanding HP's end-game for the 3000. The changes of HP's end-game could elude the vision of customers. Just like asking why HP was attending closed executive sessions. Because the vendor insisted the sessions be CDA-covered. OpenMPE had no leverage to say no. The discussions would be over.

OpenMPE's impact was back in the days when HP would hold conference calls. Those ended in 2008. About two elections later, the lawsuit and demands began. 28 people have served on the OpenMPE board. Of the final three to volunteer, Wadsworth was the only one to ask the board to consider if OpenMPE should even exist. His questions of 2007 about the group's motives finally had a place to be asked.

In our hindsight from 2013, we know that HP was going to cling to its MPE intellectual property even while it ended its business plans for the 3000. Just like the OpenVMS users are saying this month, there was a chance it would end otherwise. Sharing code with cut-off customers. Stoking good will, instead of believing 75 percent of 3000 sites would choose Unix servers. OpenMPE didn't get what it wanted in 2002. But it had a good reason to exist while HP would talk to it, whatever the conditions. Hewlett-Packard didn't want to continue that dialog, once its 3000 labs closed down.

A group that finds a director suing it is well, unprecedented in your community's history. Just like HP held on to an MPE it could no longer use, Perdue is retaining his use of openmpe.org. I studied tens of thousands of words of battle between a board and a member who would resign after he filed his suit. Legal stories are complex and filled with chances to misunderstand intentions. This was no different. The resolution of the lawsuit was just as much under wraps, with Wadsworth's participation, as any conference call HP held with the boards before he arrived.

In 2010 that lawsuit was filed naming Wadsworth and another board member as individuals, as well as the OpenMPE board as a whole. A Dec. 20 email from Wadsworth to the board outlining the situation: "It seems we all are being sued by Perdue. Myself and Jack as individuals, and the Board as a whole."

So at least I've got the portion correct where Perdue files suit against Wadsworth, He did so at the same time Perdue named the board as defendants. In another email from Wadsworth, he reasons, "Perdue singled out the two new guys [on the board] for ego purpose."

By the finale of the suit, I was told by Keith that "It is public record that Wadsworth/OpenMPE have a claim for moneys taken and the standard attorney costs." He's right about one thing. I can see now how that OpenMPE claim did not arise out of a countersuit. (My paper records are archived pretty deeply on this subject but I've researched what I've got stored online.)

About the lawsuit's hearing -- a two-hour trip each way by car to a courtroom that isn't near my office, unless you compare it to a trip to California -- it was postponed twice. On May 10 there finally was a meeting to decide if the matter was going forward to trial, or would be settled. I didn't take a full day to travel to the court and attend that hearing -- which it now seems tilted the matter toward a settlement. The resolution was not crafted out in the open.

The lesson in all of these words might be simple but useless: there's no understanding some people. Or it might be trite, like, "no good deed goes unpunished," or "of fledgling aspirations come mighty deeds." We've learned one thing about MPE, though: nearly 12 years after HP said it had no more future or utility, the environment still triggers business transactions, as well as painful memories of any volunteer's attempt to make it pay its way into the future.

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

September 11, 2013

HP dives out of the Dow Jones average

It was a pretty good run for awhile -- 16 years of Hewlett-Packard stock being part of the greatest run-up in Wall Street securities history. But this week the Dow Jones organization announced the biggest shake-up in the average in a decade, removing Hewlett-Packard's shares. The stock lost half of its value, then regained nearly all of it, in a turbulent 18 months that ushered it out of the best-known average.

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 7.54.08 PMThe change takes effect with the close of trading on Sept. 20, and was "prompted by the low stock price of the companies slated for removal, and the Index Committee's desire to diversify the sector and industry group representation of the index," according to S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC, the company that oversees the Dow. Alcoa Aluminum and Bank of America are also being removed.

HP's shares are not trading much lower than in 1997 when it joined the average. In that year, HP  traded at $25.75 a share, just $3 higher than today's price. It became only the second computing company to join the 1997 Dow; Johnson & Johnson, Travelers Group and WalMart were added to the index that year as well. All but HP remain part of the index of international business. The Dow average was about 6700 when HP was added. Today it's above 15,000. 

1997 Annual Report coverThe HP of 1997 had no significant Internet presence, playing catch-up to Sun. Hewlett-Packard also was scurrying to adopt Windows as an enterprise solution, having gambled heavy on Unix through the 1990s instead. That year's Hewlett-Packard also sold HP 3000 Series 9x9 servers, a solution that was just gaining its first open source software programs as well as dropping the Classic CISC-based servers that ran MPE V. HP was a $43 billion company that year with a workforce of 121,000.

But many things have changed along with HP's overall futures and fortunes. In the summer of 1997, 3000 division manager Harry Sterling, in just his first full year on the job, announced that the HP 3000 would be gaining a 64-bit MPE, with designs aimed at using the newest HP chips.

Unix came in for specific mention in HP's annual report of 1997, as did Windows NT and a splash about running Barnes & Noble's website with HP gear. (Amazon, still not making a profit, was driven by Linux and Sun systems.) But while the HP of that year pointed to its commodity-grade environments during an era when an OS meant as much as application availability, the HP 3000's future was painted in bright shades at an HP World conference on a steamy Navy Pier in Chicago.

"The growth of the HP 3000 is secure well into the 21st century," Sterling said. "Our engineers are working on a new generation of HP 3000s based on the 64-bit PA-8200 chip." HP said that a new 200MHz, 8200-based system would arrive in the lineup first as a midrange system.

More importantly, HP said it re-evaluated its 1996 decision to wait on delivering a 64-bit implementation of MPE/iX. The new MPE version will "fully exploit the power of the PA-8000 processors. After better understanding your needs, our completed investigations have convinced me that we need to move forward on this front," Sterling said.

HP stalled on its 64-bit MPE/iX program in the years that followed, delivering its final roadmap with a 3000 future on it during an HP World conference in Chicago again, four years later.

Visa International is replacing HP in the Dow Average, the Index Committee reports. Also joining the 30 companies in the average: Nike and Goldman Sachs. The index is designed to represent a broad spectrum of businesses and has included former companies such as ATT and GM. The biggest shift in its membership since the HP removal came in 2004, when "Too Big to Fail" AIG, Pfizer and Verizon replaced ATT, Kodak and International Paper. AIG was dropped in 2008.

Computing firms in the Dow are now represented by IBM, Microsoft and Intel. The latter two vendors joined the average just two years after HP arrived.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:44 PM in History, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 06, 2013

History tells us to mind the futures gap

MindthegapHewlett-Packard's Millenial Version (2001.0) kicked out the 3000 a dozen summers ago. But your community still talks about that breakup, something like the girlfriend a fellow lost after she was so close that she knew your team's football players. (There's an allusion that might play on both sides of the Atlantic, now that our sports called football are both apace this weekend.) It's a worthy subject. A gap between futures talks and vendor reality must always be considered. This is the season of 2014's planning, after all.

The latest discussion about 2001 came out of a corner of the community's online outposts. Over in an exclusive sector, people talked about whether HP 2001.0 had ever violated regulations when it went to that summer's HP World show, talking up 3000 futures to anybody within the sound of the HP voices of Dave Snow and Winston Prather.

Timeline: Chicago hosts that summer's show in late August. All seems well on the slides and futures talks. Two and a half months later, the big Acme safe (Warner Brothers cartoon-style) gets dropped on the heads of users, managers and vendors everywhere. Was Carly Fionia's HP-Invent fibbing about the 3000's futures?

This week the chatter amounts to just speculations, unless an HP manager (that might be former GM Prather, or someone higher up) wants to reveal the internals. Yup, Winston's still at HP.

But I may as well concoct a scenario that might permit HP to make its presentations that summer and not break the rules. In this tale, HP hopes there's a lot of revenue growth coming soon for the 3000. Either that, or it's gonna go away. Fiorina was well-known for cracking the whip on revenue growth.

So after July meetings with big customers, here comes that August HP World conference. At the time, there's no lack of verbal assurances about 3000 futures from HP. Things in writing, or on a slide, are a lot more fuzzy. There's no date-certain about Itanium for MPE at that meeting in Chicago, either. One VAR I interviewed about the meeting said, "That's when we knew the writing was on the wall" about MPE. It wasn't going forward, he said.

So perhaps HP was hoping against hope they'd get a balloon-full of orders, or something to lift revenue growth. Mind you, the year's sales that led up to the 2001 meeting were plenty encouraging and on the rise -- this despite having nothing to sell but a behind-schedule refresh of the 3000 lineup. The refresh yielded A-Class and N-Class servers, but shipping only at mid-2001. Yeah, right around that crucial summer.

Y2K had held the customer base in place. Something shipping right away as an upgrade, a computer which used a more modern PCI bus and had a nice performance boost -- well, it might have netted sales to satisfy the "it's growing or it's going" execs inside HP. I leave it an exercise to the reader to remember which HP manager was driving 3000 R&D when N-Class systems were being developed. (Hint: I've mentioned the name more than once already.)

As I said, it's conjecture until someone who was inside those planning meetings, responding to CEO-level directives, opens up. I will probably live to see the tale told. But I'm only 56, and it's only been 12 years this summer since those meetings. 

Some vendors believe that a shift away from HP-crafted environments could be regarded as inevitable. Considering how the rest of the OS-centric HP enterprise business has fared since then, it's possible that for Hewlett-Packard, the company's misreading of 3000 durability was the only thing that made MPE the canary in HP's mineshaft of enterprise server business.

[Ref: Canary in the mineshaft: a caged bird carried down to warn miners of a leak of dangerous gas. If the bird keeled over, the miners left the tunnels immediately. Gas = new go-go growth demands from HP business. See: Merger with Compaq.]

Some of the veterans in our community believe that those 3000 futures decisions were being made on the basis of personal growth. Career growth, that is. Rather than keep the faith in futures of the 3000, some were giving their HP career more priority. Alas, at last count, HP has released-retired-fired more than 80,000 employees since that summer. So much for making HP careerism a priority.

The veterans acknowledge there's no graceful way to pre-announce that a product is going away. Many people got 30 days' warning, pre-November. I don't know about SEC regulations, but the 3000 business was never called out in any quarterlies. You could hardly find the Business Critical Systems numbers in statements circa 2001. There was a lot less public information, and certainly no webcast analyst presentations, as there are today.

Internally to HP, CSY was a line of business. I am imagining that the public trading rules regarding reports are executed this way: SEC regulations would not be disturbed if HP said something different in Chicago, 2001 besides, "the future looks great." It's been HP's habit, however, to say everything's great in public, until they make an announcement like the one in Las Vegas this June about OpenVMS.

The difference: HP had the stones to talk about OpenVMS going away during its annual conference this year. And now, during this month that's just begun, HP will face the music from the installed base at VMS Boot Camp. I recall the timing with the 3000 was quite different. First, announce the 3000 shutdown just before a big holiday period, when IT budgets for 2002 were already set. Then, not face a big customer conference for another 10 months. HP World LA was rowdy, but by then the customers had time to cool off. Nobody was migrating, however. Not in September of 2002.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:12 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (1)

September 04, 2013

MPE's Skies app flies from Open to New

A healthy clutch of HP 3000 N-Class servers is going onto the used market soon, the result of a migration off of MPE. These computers represent a couple of futures, one dreamed of in 1998, and another, the reality of some 2013 computing for MPE.

SwaclayThe servers have been running the Open Skies application almost since the N-Class was released. Open Skies in its first incarnation was a software company with an application by the same name. Southwest Airlines put Open Skies, with its reservation breakthroughs, into everyday use. The application only ran on MPE/iX. In time, in a move characteristic of another Hewlett-Packard, the vendor purchased the Open Skies software company. The deal was designed to show markets of 1998 what could be done with an HP 3000 and cloud-based apps. At the time, HP was calling the strategy Apps on Tap.

Here in the waning days of summer 2013, what remains of Open Skies has been migrated to Windows .NET by Accenture and its Navitaire division. Industry-standard environments are easy choices for companies like Accenture, a consulting company that grew out of the '90s-era Anderson Consulting. The migrated app is called New Skies and now takes over for Open Skies completely. Airlines around the world used Open Skies to perform revenue accounting on online ticket sales. But at one time, even the fundamental concept of online ticket sales was a novelty. It was led into the world by MPE servers.

Mark Ranft has been managing the transition from the Skies which were Open to the Skies that are New. The work has been performed for Navitaire, a company Accenture created when HP sold off Open Skies at the end of 2000. Of course, less than a year later, that generation of Hewlett-Packard, led by its revenue growth queen Carly Fiorina, ended 3000 futures at the vendor.

Ranft says that of the 35 N-Class servers which did revenue accounting for airline customers, about six are still installed and will be sold now that the migration is complete. The final customer relying on Open Skies, rather than the New Skies .NET replacement, switched off the 3000 this year. Open Skies founder Dave Evans wrote an eulogy and history for the software that put HP into the airline business.

"We were successful because of the rock-solid nature of HP 3000 and IMAGE," Evans said, "and we competed with the legacy mainframes. But we are set to retire our HP 3000 Airline/Rail reservation system Open Skies after 19 years of faithful service."

Over these years it has been responsible for the efficient handling of over 1.5 Billion passengers. I'm sure many of you have flown carriers that have used the Open Skies system over those years -- more than 60 airlines around the world have used Open Skies. Here is a brief history:

  1986 - Morris Air Charters (in Salt Lake City) converted a basic Tour Operator/Charter booking system from our Zicomp minicomputer to a HP 3000 Series 42

  1992/1993 - I wrote MARS (Morris Air Reservation System) on the HP 3000. MARS was the first true Ticketless airline reservation system. Remember when you had to have tickets to fly?

  1994 - Morris Air merged into Southwest Airlines. MARS became the base of Southwest Airlines Ticketless system for over 10 years.

  1994 - Open Skies company was founded -- Open Skies was the next generation of ticketless systems written on the HP 3000.

  1995/1997 - With the help of Adager we convinced Southwest Airlines (SWA) that the HP 3000 and IMAGE could support them better than a mainframe, and we commenced a project to write a reservation system for Southwest. That project actually went very well -- we also enlisted the help of Quest's Netbase to get the scale and reliability we needed. Unfortunately, Y2K panic popped up its ugly head, and the current SWA reservation system vendor pushed SWA to invest a lot of money to ensure that their system would work in Y2K.  Eventually, for many reasons, SWA decided to invest in the current system and shut down the project.

  1998 - Open Skies company WAS sold to Hewlett-Packard Company and became one of the launch "Software as a Service" products for HP.

  2000 - Apparently Hewlett-Packard didn't want to do Software as a Service anymore, at least with the airlines. They focused on the more profitable printers, PCs, Servers, and we all know where that got them. Thanks, Carly. She sold us to Navitaire/Accenture in November 2000.

  2002 - After HP announced the end of HP 3000, we began a project to rewrite Open Skies on newer technology -- we chose Microsoft .Net. and MS SQL for the database for "New Skies".

  2005 - New Skies was launched, first front to back new technology Airline (and bus and rail) Passenger Service System. Major competitors are Amadeus and Sabre, both still rely on Mainframes.

  2005 - 2013 ... New Skies has now booked around 1.6 Billion passengers for over 50 Airlines in 30 countries.

  Fall of 2013 - last Open Skies customer will move to New Skies.  Going to be a sad day...

  We owe the success of Open Skies really to many people, many of you in this [community]. We have had our struggles over the years, but this community has always been there to help us.

  Our systems are mission-critical, 24x7x365.25 in nature. We have seen many competitors come and go over the years -- their downfall was usually caused by a lack of operational stability and performance scalability. It was easy to pick off all the guys in the '90s that architected their systems on 'open systems,' Unix, and relational databases.

  Again, thanks to all who have pushed the HP 3000 forward over the years.  Open Skies will probably not make the history books, especially in relation to the HP 3000, but together they did change history for the traveling masses.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:38 PM in History, Migration, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 02, 2013

Laboring Toward Support of SQL

Here in the US we're celebrating Labor Day. It's a Monday of a three-day weekend for a lot of laborers, although the day has turned into quite the commercial bonanza. It seems everyone wants to sell us mattresses and bedding sets this weekend. Perhaps sleeping season starts anew, with the end of the official summer vacation season.

Orly at ReunionWhile we ponder how much we owe to the historic labor organizations of the 20th Century -- things like national holidays, group benefits for health, the concepts of overtime and regulated reviews -- it's also a day to dig into the records for some 3000 history, too. I was tracking down technical papers for a 3000 consultant, one who'd asked the community to help him find his writing from the 1980s. I happened upon a paper from 25 years ago, offered at an Interex conference by HP's Orly Larson (at left). The genial advocate for databases was promoting the ideal of SQL for data storage and retrieval.

That might sound like advocating the benefits of sunshine or drinking water, but SQL was a long way from being essential to HP's 3000 success. It would take another five years, until 1993, for SQL to make its way into TurboIMAGE database architecture. In the meantime HP offered up three SQL products for 3000 DP managers. It was an era when the HP CISC processors, driving MPE V, were still in production use in the customer base. PA-RISC was laboring through its infancy among customer sites in 1988.

SQL Choices 1988Larson sums up what was on the HP price list in 1988, and notes that Oracle was on the way for a late '88 release for MPE/XL, in a paper hosted on the OpenMPE website. The table (above) from that paper notes the first array of SQL solutions for HP's business computing customers. I've never encountered a 3000 customer who ever reported of using HP SQL. Allbase became a tick-box product for Hewlett-Packard while discussing 3000 options with new prospects. (Tick-box: yeah, we've got that. But nobody orders it.) Those customers who came in looking for SQL support on the 3000 were often convinced that the built-in IMAGE was a better choice, once you considered all the third-party software that was built to use that ubiquitous database.

There has been a lot of labor, across countless platforms, to elevate SQL selection to the equivalent of turning on a spigot for a drink of fresh water. Other technologies that seem new today, and have pending impact on MPE use like cloud computing and virtualization, will experience those years of laboring to become de-facto standards. The labor comes from the integration aspirations of IT managers, working overtime on long weekends like this one, to deploy something lauded but not fully proven. SQL was once a laborer in that state.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:54 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 27, 2013

The Things We've Missed, This August

ScottHirshThis week the VMware annual conference is holding court in San Francisco. Three HP 3000 faces are at the conference. Stromasys has its booth up and running, because the company's specialty is virtualization. Scott Hirsh (at right), former chairman of the SIGSYSMAN group in the '90s, is on hand as a member of his new company, virtual storage startup Actifio. Meanwhile, Doug Smith is on the scene, taking a few days away from his HP 3000 consultancy in the Dallas area.

It all reminds me of the way August usually buzzed for your community. This was the month when the printed publications that covered the 3000 swelled in page count. Today there's only one of us left, but August used to promise hefty issues of HP World, or Interact, or HP Professional. Even HP Omni, based in the UK, had a lift from the annual Interex conference, held as a moveable feast around North America.

We are mailing out our usual August issue this week. But it doesn't have a special shipment ahead of the postal service, to arrive at a show hall. The sweet frenzy of booth setup was one of my partner Abby's favorite times, when the vendors and leaders of your community could talk before showtime. This was when we'd usually bring around a small present, often made of leather, as our way of showing thanks for those sponsors. I'm even more grateful this August for our sponsors, fewer in number but just as devoted.

By the time our blog began, the annual conference was gone, a victim of the Interex bankruptcy. We could only report on what was no longer there, and why, what it cost everybody. It was the last time than an August had a conference scheduled with an HP in the title. Now HP Discover is entrenched in Vegas and happens every June.

Virtual shirtWe're also missing the parade of t-shirts that floated through August. A t-shirt offered at an HP conference had to be clever, if it was going to be picked up from a booth worker. Even the Newswire had t-shirts. The ones that HP's handing out this week are a bit threadbare on clever, or even inspiring. You don't often want your marketing message, something as unwieldy as "Proven software-defined innovations from HP," on the front of a shirt. It's another place where HP "needs to do better," as its CEO said while explaining the latest financial results last week. We once designed a shirt, for a vendor out of this market, with a wraparound rocket screen-printed on front and side.

Another thing we've missed this August is the annual HP Management Roundtable. Veterans of the conference trail might remember one of the last roundtables, this one focused on the 3000. On cue, 11 HP executives and managers rose up as one, removing their sportscoats and suit jackets. It was a powerful moment that was supposed to signal that the managers were rolling up their sleeves to do work answering questions. Harry Sterling, the best GM the 3000 division ever had, choreographed that move. He was the only GM ever to appear onstage for a talk wearing a tuxedo.

IMG_4051We miss the stunts and the amiable suffering too. The former included The World's Largest Poster project, where an HP 3000 drove an HP large-format printer, for weeks before the show, creating the poster in strips. The Newswire provided lunch while Wirt Atmar did all the organizing and produced the poster in rolls of paper. It all had to be loaded in a van and driven to Anaheim. Atmar called that toting of the rolls "the corporate fitness program" at his software company.

We're missing those kinds of people we'd see only once a year, the ones who we'd interview or check in with via phone every month. By the time we published our first Newswire during an August, the show called Interex had been renamed HP World. It was an outreach that the user group performed to retain HP's cooperation. For close to two decades by that time, the group had brought the smartest and most ardent users within HP's reach. I had my own moments of joy at those meetings, walking the halls and being hailed with hellos. A conference conversation rarely lasted five minutes and could be interrupted at any time by another attendee, especially a customer. Meeting in person was the best way to close a prospect, or understand a problem.

We also miss the System Improvement Ballot, a way to petition HP for improvements to MPE. The results of these requests were often unveiled at an August conference. It was like unwrapping a Christmas present for some customers, or finding a lump of coal in the stocking for others.

August used to leave your community invigorated, rededicated or just stirred up. But it always brought us closer together. We'll always have August in our memories, our cabinets of memorabilia, and the archives of the printed 3000 Newswire. I'm happy to be replicating one of the elements this year, by shipping out our 139th issue. If you'd like a copy in the US Mail, send me your address. As far back as 16 years ago, we were getting ready for daily coverage like you read in our blog. I'd stay up late each night producing stories for our website overnight. At least the drumbeat of a daily deadline hasn't changed.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:23 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 08, 2013

HP placed a bet on SQL with open IMAGE

August used to be a month for HP 3000 gatherings. The majority of the community's Interex conferences convened in this month, including one in San Francisco 20 years ago. In 1993, Hewlett-Packard was making a gamble on the future of the database that had already led the 3000 to 70 percent sales growth.

HP Market PushWhen the year opened, HP was telling customers that unit sales had led the computer out of the wilderness. "It's not a backwater," said HP's UK Managing Director John Golding. "It's an important order and profit generator." But the open aspect of the 3000 was dragging focus away from the server -- HP's own focus. Changes from inside HP's IMAGE labs were going to refocus attention on the heartbeat of the MPE/iX experience.

HP said "it believes it is the first vendor to develop an SQL-based interface that read and write information stored in a previously non-relational database." The new HP IMAGE/SQL, replacing TurboIMAGE, was supposed to bring the 3000 customer a wider array of reporting tools. Maybe even more importantly, IMAGE/SQL would connect the 3000 with other systems' data. The media and analysts were calling those other systems Open. 3000 users needed that word applied to their computer to regain HP's interest.

The ardent fans of IMAGE could see the possibilities of a SQL interface. But HP had made tens of thousands of customers out of companies that found the networked TurboIMAGE worked just fine. The technical trick was to put an interface onto a successful database that wouldn't demand a migration.

This kind of backward compatibility was once religion at HP. Software created for a 1970s 3000 ran unmolested on a '90s server. It stanched the turnover rate for the computer, since an '80s model would run well into the next decade. But even with that self-imposed governor of churn -- the abiding value of investing a six-figure cost into a system -- the 3000 was managing 30 percent turnover in 1993. Almost one system in three was being upgraded.

So changing the essential database on the 3000 was no small bet. A satisfied customer base was a crucial component of the 3000's healthy profits. HP had to add connections to databases that were not locked to a hardware vendor, such as Oracle, Ingres, Informix and Sybase.

In much the same way that HP's engineers managed to launch a new hardware architecture that ran classic software in 1987, IMAGE/SQL emerged by the summertime conference as a seamless hit. The new interface was considered a gateway to wider use of IMAGE data. The chairman of the IMAGE Special Interest Group Jerry Fochtman flew the checkered flag in a letter to the HP Chronicle that year.

The new IMAGE/SQL feature will provide users with a wealth of new opportunities, using leading edge technology tools to meet ever-changing business needs. This new world of data management now opened to the thousands of existing IMAGE applications will indeed have a major impact on how we utilize the wealth of information currently maintained in existing IMAGE databases.

The tech was executed so well that HP didn't feel the need to celebrate a SQL extension at the San Francisco conference. "To HP's credit, they have again successfully added new functionality to IMAGE which is backward compatible with existing user application investments," Fochtman said. The key there was users' applications. The 3000 grew to its heights by being a general-purpose computer that companies wrote their own software for -- and those customer applications are the ones which remain running today among homesteaders.

The SQL shift didn't impress third parties like Oracle as much as HP 3000 users hoped, however. Three summers later, HP rolled out the HP DataMart Manager software for "small and midsize data warehouses." But through four pages of HP press release about the Manager, only HP 9000s running as open systems got a mention at the software rollout. Not even the list of clients could include the 3000. "It supports most popular data-access, reporting and OLAP tools that run on Unix, Windows, Windows NT, Macintosh and OS/2 operating systems."

C'mon. OS/2?

Data access was at the heart of IMAGE gaining its SQL interface, but the addition wasn't sticky enough to earn the 3000 any extra care from HP's alliances and strategy leaders three years later. SQL did its work for existing customers, however. It gave thousands of them extra years of value for data on their HP 3000s. And it continues to do so, two decades later.

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

July 25, 2013

Where Three 3000 Pros Have Gone

Jon Diercks. Jim Sartain. Jim Hawkins. Each of these pros have had a large profile for the HP 3000 community. If one of these J-Men escaped your attention, we can recap. But first, understand that all technology prowess moves on -- not just MPE's -- hungry for the next challenge.

JondiercksDiercks is the author of the only professional handbook for MPE/iX. Written during the year 2000 and published less than six months before HP's 3000 exit announcement, The MPE/iX System Administrator's Handbook is virtually out of print by now, but Diercks still has his hand in 3000 administration, on the side. He raffled off author copies of his book at the 2011 HP3000 Reunion. The book remains alive on the O'Reilly Safari website, where it can be referenced through your browser via your Safari subscription.

IPadCharonToday he's the IT director for a tax accounting and financial services firm in Northern California. In his spare time he's managed to put the console screen for the HP 3000 emulator onto an iPad for control. First time we've ever seen that done; the 3000's native MPE/iX colon prompt has been there before, but not a BYOD interface for the Stromasys product. See for yourself, above.

SartainJim Sartain became the essence of IMAGE at HP while it was adding its SQL to its name. In his final work at the vendor, he ran the Open Skies division of the HP 3000 unit at Hewlett-Packard. What's that, you may ask. In the late 1990s, general manager Harry Sterling bought a software company outright to capture 3000 business and prove the server was capable of modern IT. Open Skies offered online reservations software for JetBlue, RyanAir, Virgin Express and AirTran, among others. 

Today Sartain has become a VP again, this time at another software icon. After managing quality assurance for Intuit, Adobe and McAfee, he's leading the Engineering 4.0 Initiative for Symantec. As usual, Sartain is reaching for the big goal. The initiative will "transform Symantec Product Development world-wide," according to his page at LinkedIn. He's running an Engineering Services organization for the company's security, tools and shared software components.

When TurboIMAGE was facing a campaign of disrepute at Hewlett-Packard in the early 1990s -- one of the database's darkest times -- Sartain was in charge of sparking new engineering requests for the 3000 keystone. Sartain may be best-known in the 3000 community, however, for work he led in response to a customer revolt in 1990.

Once customers expressed their displeasure at a waning emphasis on IMAGE, the 3000 division of 1991 had to respond with improvements. Sartain was directly responsible for HP's offering of an SQL interface for IMAGE, the first advance that signaled CSY’s commitment to what the unit called the Customer First strategy. Sartain worked with a revived IMAGE special-interest group to revitalize the database. Dynamic detail dataset expansion and third-party interface work also began on his watch.

HawkinsAnother HP Jim, Hawkins, was among the last deep-technical pros to work on MPE/iX at the vendor. His name became synonymous on the 3000 newsgroup with IO expertise, and for more than six years he worked post HP-announcement to lead "various Roadmap teams to deliver on HP e3000 end-of-life roadmaps to meet basic customer and partner needs."

Hawkins can still be seen posting occassionally on the 3000 newsgroup, delivering engineering history that can be helpful for the IT pro still meeting IO issues. Today Hawkins has become HP's Integrity System Quality Program Manager, which includes programs to detect product issues earlier in the lifecycles of Proliant and rx2800 Integrity servers. He's still at the vendor after entering his 3000 era on the MPE customer and R&D support team in 1986.

These J-Men helped to build intelligence, software engineering and hardware prowess for the 3000. They're out in newer fields looking for challenges in technology. They all have worked in the era where HP wanted to be known as a 3000 customer's Trusted Advisor. You might say they're still proving that Trust Never Sleeps.

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

July 23, 2013

IT's print populace loses a weekly citizen

InfoWeek Digital WinsWord came today that the last issue of InformationWeek has left the presses. The weekly magazine that covered Hewlett-Packard's rise into an era of open systems -- and noted HP's shift to the Internet for its 3000 business -- shut down its printed edition with today's issue. InformationWeek started printing 28 years ago when there was no Web. Today it took its steps out of postal boxes by proclaiming, Digital Wins.

There was a time when that headline might've proclaimed a market victory for a computer vendor of the same name. But the realities of producing what had become a 36-page weekly, printed in four colors and mailed around the world, caught up with the advertising preferences of today. My partner Abby Lentz heard the news and said, "They contributed to that win themselves, didn't they?"

This was not the first news of an IT weekly shutdown. PC Week left the postboxes years ago. Earlier this month, PC World stopped its printed editions. Earlier in 2013, Newsweek and US News & World Report took their exits from the world of ink and paper. All were general interest magazines. Specialization is a more modern business model for information.

It's not that these information outlets have outlived their utility. But the means for news delivery has changed as much as the publishing of books. I learned the news of the InformationWeek shutdown from David Thatcher, a former HP 3000 vendor who's seen his MPE software product ADBC thrive and then decline.

ADBC is database middleware which linked the IMAGE/SQL database closely with Java. It was released in the era when Java was touted as the language most likely to succeed at crossing platform barriers. Java might be replacing something else, a technology standing on a predecessor's back as surely as the InformationWeek print issues helped lift the Web into dominance.

ADBC continues to have utility for some 3000 managers. One 3000 manager, whose clients provide a very crucial military service, runs a 3000. The system design at the shop included a tool advanced at its first release, the middleware that uses Adager's Java-based tool designs.

Twenty-eight years is a long time in an industry that paves itself over like IT does. Last summer I marked 28 years on the job writing about Hewlett-Packard, and the last 18 of those have included a print edition we've published. It's been an interesting time for print purveyors. At one time, publishing a print edition or hailing from a print staff was needed to confer competence. Today, simply writing on a regular basis with attention to the facts and exclusive reports will do the job. Look in the front of most best-selling paperbacks and see that more than half of the glowing reviews come off websites.

We're heading toward a day when printing a periodical will seem like a luxury, or even a vanity, instead of a stamp of validation. Major publications take their pages out of circulation when the economics of print take a back seat to the habits of readers. We still hear from readers who say they focus on their 3000 news once our print editions arrive in those postal boxes.

One advantage of having a weekly deadline was the ability to research a story without a need for hurling it into plain sight even faster than overnight. But research happens so much quicker than it did in 1984. Archives are online. Our own references to software created in 1997 like ADBC are just a handful of keystrokes away.

Meanwhile, that paving proceeds apace. The technology that once looked invinceable, like Unix or even C, takes its place in the back rows of the parade. InfoWorld, still printing a weekly edition, reported that Java's owner Oracle wants the language to take the place of C -- at least in spots where C's been embedded for years.

With an upgrade to the embedded version of Java announced Tuesday, Oracle wants to extend the platform to a new generation of connected devices, aka the Internet of things. Oracle also hopes that Java can supplant the C language in some embedded development projects.

The Internet of things includes devices ranging from street lights to home automation and security systems, said Peter Utzschneider, Oracle vice president of product management. "It's basically the third generation of the Internet."

Just as there's a Web 3.0 on the horizon, publication has already gained a new generation. We subscribe to the local newspaper here in Austin, because without it there would be only cursory coverage of the city's issues. (You can't rely on 150 seconds of a TV story to understand something.) But our daily is giving us fewer reasons to pick up that recyclable newsprint off our driveway, even as we still purchase it. I read the Statesman's digital edition without getting out of bed, before sunup. When the carrier missed delivery, we could still print out the puzzles to enjoy.

If print reaches out better than digital formats, it can continue to win readers. But in a world of $29-a-month 6-megabit broadband service, the unique format of paper, ink and staples wasn't enough for large publishers like the Washington Post Company (Newsweek) or UBM (InformationWeek) to keep presses running. Companies track when their tools retain their value -- like the 3000 -- and when to take steps away from established solutions. So long as someone reads, regardless of the medium, a proposition of value remains.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:49 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 02, 2013

Latest HP exiting outrage may be delayed

HP won’t leave their customers hanging, and although going through a migration may not be on the horizon, it appears that support will be around for many years to come. In many ways you can look at it as job security, because that operating system talent you have supports a vital niche market.

ConnectlogoThat message was delivered from the CEO of the Connect User Group, Kristi Elizondo. She wasn't talking about MPE or the HP 3000, but you could be forgiven if you'd seen that sentiment from early in 2002, from another user group. Elizondo -- many more in the HP community know her as Kristi Browder -- has advocated for DEC systems and VMS users for much of her career. She was making her case that although HP won't extend the lifespan of VMS to what's probably the last generation of Itanium, things don't look that bad.

In fact, some users came together at last month's HP Discover conference in a Special Interest Group devoted to OpenVMS. There was no rancor or outrage at the meeting, by her blog report. The customers were in the room to learn something. Elizondo said that for the last 30 years she'd selected and promoted VMS "because I can sleep at night" knowing it's at work. Those OpenVMS customers were searching for hope that their nights wouldn't become sleepless on the way to 2020.

"Anything past 2012 is a bonus," read her post on the user group website. Some customers who may feel differently were not in that HP Discover room. So hers is a conciliatory approach to getting HP's assistance after its latest platform exit. Anyone back home who expected a leader with deep OpenVMS roots to challenge an HP business decision was observing the new user group mantra: getting along means going along, and everything goes away anyway.

Which sort of makes you wonder about the concept of a vendor-focused user group. Chuck Piercey, the executive director of Interex, asked the same question in 1998. If the IT world accepts that everything gets replaced, what's the point of coming together? If it's all paved over in favor of industry standard choices, what's the career benefit of being in a group?

Vendors used to listen to customers as a group. Now they'll listen as long as the customers aren't outraged and want to find a new way to get a good night's rest. While they don't disturb the vendor's business plans.

Just like in the HP 3000 edition of this exiting saga, the customers who could ask HP questions didn't get many answers. Or none that were reported in a 650-word blog post.

The OpenVMS SIG meeting was a small meeting of some very concerned customers and partners. This group was present to make recommendations, not attack HP about the decisions. HP was there to listen. One suggestion was to make Virtual Machine an option. There were also several questions about licensing. Will operating system licenses transfer with the hardware if bought off the gray market? When are they going to end of life the sale of licenses?

Licensing? Those are the questions that last the longest. Just ask anyone in the MPE world today, a decade later. Unlike many in the 3000 community of 2002, Elizondo can be pragmatic about what to expect from Hewlett-Packard. She has the benefit of seeing a decade of HP shedding any business which has profits on the decline.

"It is no surprise to me that there is not a lot of high margin in these systems and the lifetime of a system goes on forever and the party never ends," she wrote. "HP has to make money, and investing in systems that have no planned obsolescence forces some hard decisions. You have to applaud that the systems will be supported until 2020."

That's a glass-half-full approach, but the glass is emptying year by year in a community that was 10 times the size of the 3000 world in 2001. Even now it's likely to be more than double the 3000's size at the time HP cut its 3000 futures. None of that size is large enough to propel outrage from current era of user group leadership. Interex took a similar approach in 2002 and onward, making a platform for the "get off very soon" messages from the vendor. Then came 2004, when HP made it very clear that the roundtable whipping posts of the 1990s Interex meetings were not going to be installed at the new HP-sponsored conferences.

By that time, Interex had chosen to run in an independent direction, and walk away from a user group alliance that became Connect in a few years. Interex didn't last another full year after it chose to walk a path separate from HP's going-my-way trail.

So if the outrage manages to surface in a community like VMS, it will be delayed by months if not years. An OpenVMS bootcamp that won't happen until sometime in 2014 will bring out customers who might not restrain their attacks. They can look toward a marketplace where their specialized skills don't bring so many offers of interviews. They'll need the interviews when an organization follows HP, as well as the user group leadership, away from the computer environment which let the customer sleep well at night.

Elizondo's report was far from the top of the latest Connect Now online newsletter. But she left readers a message that would let them sleep better. Not her sign-off of "So while I expected to attend a funeral at this meeting, it was not even a wake," or even, "Keep the passion -- we can support this together." The most prophetic words came in an explanation of why HP's proprietary OS always let her sleep at night.

"And in reality, we all know that since these systems never die, they will never die." HP hasn't started to use "end of life" language to describe OpenVMS. That will come soon enough, but it will arrive later than the outrage -- which used to boil up at user group management roundtables.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:01 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 14, 2013

How 8 Years of Web Reports Changed Lives

8birthdaycakeThis week the Newswire celebrates the 8-year-mark on our blog reporting. Starting with a eulogy for fallen 3000 savant Bruce Toback -- taken too early, by a heart attack -- we wrote about the nascent and uncertain era of transition in June of 2005. The Interex HP conference was still a possibility, HP was still creating some patches for MPE/iX -- many things that had gone on for years continued to roll along.

IMAGE jumbo datasets were supposed to get eclipsed by LargeFile datasets. HP was fixing a critical bug in LFDS and needed beta testers, something that was harder to come by for HP. LargeFiles remain less robust than jumbos for most customers. LFDS repairs consumed precious resoures in the database lab, all while HP tried to fix a data corruption problem.

HP sold off more than 400 acres in South Texas as layoffs started to mount up. CEO Mark Hurd set aside $236 million in severance pay. Sun offered up a open source program for Solaris, begging the question about when open source practices could be applied to MPE/iX. This week OpenVMS managers examined what stood in the way of VMS becoming open source. 

Even though parts of MPE/iX are well outside of HP's labs, the whole wooly bunch of source, millions of lines, isn't a candidate for open source like the Sun project. But it might be, someday. 

We looked at whether a transition era demanded the same rigorous HP testing of beta enhancements and patches. "We heard HP say they'd be satisfied with one site's beta test report, a comment offered when HP engineers discussed the lack of beta-test sites last summer at HP World." we reported. "When the labs closed in 2008, software that languished in Patch Jail was bailed out. HP was seeking beta testers "who want to try out the new networked printing enhancements for the HP 3000."

June of 2005 began the period when HP said it would decide about making MPE source available outside of HP. "No source means no more patches. Is that a problem? Steve Suraci of Pivital Solutions, a third party supporting 3000s, talked about this in 2004. "Can we find workarounds?," Suraci said. "Almost always. We haven’t run into a situation yet where we haven’t been able to get a customer back up and running."

More than three years later, Suraci's shop licensed MPE/iX source code to produce patches and workarounds. Six other licensees got what the Sun customers seemed to want: source. Gilles Schipper of GSA, one of the longest-tenured support providers, said HP code was not key.

"I don't think [access to HP's source] is a necessary thing for the 3000 to maintain its reliability," Schipper told us. "I'd like to see it happen, because it may allay the concerns of some customers out there." 

That's a lesson that the OpenVMS customer might embrace, with all the direct talk of parts of the OS built by third parties or created in HP Labs.

We've been so grateful for the support of the community, especially our sponsors, in keeping the blog the leading source of HP 3000 community news and experience. Thanks for making us a pick to click in the 3000 world since before the days of a user group bankruptcy.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:07 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 12, 2013

Newest HP song of server exits same as old

Now that there's another homesteading-migration movement afoot in the HP enterprise community, it's worth studying. What's different about the shutdown of the OpenVMS operations at Hewlett-Packard, versus the tale of the last decade from the 3000? Many moments and passions are similar. Slides not even six months old like the one below foretold of nothing but clear sailing. But with HP's 11 years of extra embrace for VMS, beyond the 3000 sayonara, things may be kinder for the VMS acolytes, those whose faith HP praised in an exit letter.

OnlyABladeAwayforVMSWithin a day of posting the letter, the VMS community was trying to organize an effort to get the operating system source code from HP, re-licensed as open source. Perhaps they didn't take much heed of the 7-year quest by OpenMPE to win the rights to MPE/iX. First there was a set of legal proposals, followed by the logical proposals that the OS couldn't be worth anything to an HP which was casting it aside. I'm talking here about both the 3000 community, as well as those wounded in the world of OpenVMS.

"Is there no one who can free VMS from HP?" asked one member on the comp.os.vms newsgroup. Another member replied with an update from the group devoted to Rdb, the Digital database as vital to VMS as IMAGE is to MPE. He wanted to deal with Digital people in place before a controversial CEO served up the first sale, to Compaq, before HP.

Up on the Rdb list, Keith Parris raised the possibility of HP open-sourcing VMS.  While I would prefer VMS to come from DEC before [former CEO Robert] Palmer, that is no longer an option.  If done correctly, an open-source VMS might be better than no VMS.  Perhaps HP should pay a peanuts-scale salary of, say, $150,000 so that someone can coordinate this full time. 

Unless a revolt has pulled down the walls of HP's IP legal group, such license freedom sought by customers won't be forthcoming. HP got badgered into releasing MPE/iX source to a select group of licensees, who cannot improve upon the 7.5 release but use their code to create workarounds and patches. However, the VMS people do have the advantage of a thriving emulator company for any Digital VMS implementations which run on older, non-Itanium servers. The tech issues have been long-solved for Charon for VMS, but there are licensing issues that the Digital user will need to manage for themselves.

Here's where the HP 3000 community is a decade ahead of the drop-kicked Digital group. Stromasys reports that licensing hasn't been an issue in getting Charon HPA/3000 up and running in the early days of sales. HP's provided the MPE/iX license, and that just leaves the third party software.

Stromasys reported last month that the license arrangements for the emulator have to be left to each customer who will transition to a virtualized 3000 server. You make your own deals.

But product manager Paul Taffel said that "There have been no problems with vendors. We finally figured out who you have to call in IBM to get the Cognos license, for example." That would be Charlie Maloney, at 978-399-7341.

What the Digital faithful do not see in place yet is a license arrangement from HP for OpenVMS on every platform -- including some that may not yet exist, like an Itanium emulator. In these earliest days, they at least can point to the emulator company that's arranged for such a thing in the past. But there are doubts and uncertainty to go along with fears.

"Are these emulators a serious option?" said one customer on the newsgroup. "The emulators could be a serious option, but what of them, if HP clams up and refuses to license VMS on them?" 

The reply from another customer echoed right back to the earliest days of outrage over the 3000 transition. "This is why prying VMS from HP's clammy hands would be the first priority, and nothing else matters if that cannot be done."

Your community marshalled its forces in late 2001 and into 2002 to try to wrest the entire 3000 business from HP, at a price. Hewlett-Packard was not interested, but these are more interesting times. HP just won a lawsuit with Oracle, fighting over the future of Itanium. Oracle didn't want its software to run on Itanium anymore. Neither does HP want OpenVMS to run on Itanium. The wounded customers in the VMS world suggest that Oracle ought to sue to get back its judgement from the prior suit.

To demonstrate there's still value in working with Itanium, HP might be induced or coerced to smooth the OpenVMS path from HP product to community asset. Just like the 3000 odyssey of the previous decade, HP was assuring the VMS user in slide decks dated as recently as December.

Despite Oracle’s  announcement to discontinue all software development on the  Intel Itanium microprocessor, we remain committed to supporting  you and your IT environment. We will continue to support  OpenVMS on Tukwila-based and Poulson-based Integrity systems beyond the next decade.

PavingAPathToVMSFutureAs if that were not enough, another message came down from the man recently promoted to head HP's Labs. Martin Fink was formerly the head of the Business Critical Systems group where OpenVMS remains for sale until the end of 2015. In 2011, while HP battled Oracle in that suit, Fink found the moxie to make a rallying statement that will sound familiar to the 3000 customer. At least any who recall the mid-summer assurances of 2001 that preceded the November shutdown notice. 

Fink told OpenVMS customers

Let me reassure you. HP plans to continue the development and  innovation of Itanium-based Integrity NonStop and Integrity server platforms with our HP-UX and OpenVMS operating systems for more than 10 years.

At the bottom of each and every slide in these decks is the standard HP disclaimer that anything can change at any time. It's just this: until the song of departure is sung for you, it's hard to believe it HP would sing it to anybody as faithful as you've been.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:33 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (1)

May 31, 2013

What Else Everyone is Doing These Days

Multifaceted-150x150Multi-tasking has been debunked, but a multi-faceted career is common in your 3000 community. We used to think we could work on several things at once. Now it's obvious that what we really need to do is work at something else, even while we all take care of the partner who brought us to the computer dance.

Take Birket Foster, for example. One of the best-known 3000 community members, he has been chairman and director of Storm Internet Services since 2003. The wireless Internet company serves customers in rural and outlying areas of Eastern Ontario. Not a small venture, either, but one built upon HP 3000 success. A recent article in the Eastern Ontario AgriNews took note of Storm's latest "freestanding wireless tower and company support centre, [raised up] on the grounds of his longtime software business on Main Street in Chesterville."

No MB Foster Associates, no Storm. The wireless venture grew up during the transition era for the 3000. This is what I mean by the "else" much of the community does. Take Richard Corn, who created the ESPUL and NP92 printing utilities for MPE, all the way back to the Classic 3000 days. Rich, a charter supporter of the Newswire, is also selling Cloud Print for Windows software today. Again, no RACC, no Software Devices LLC, where that Windows software is developed and sold. He's still supporting ESPUL, by the way.

I could include myself in the What Else Workers. My partner Abby and I established the Newswire when most people knew her as Dottie Lentz, and for years we did nothing else but 3000 information services. From the days of her Bolt Bucks giveaways at HP World conferences, we've evolved into additional ventures. My own What Else is The Writer's Workshop, where writers who range from fledglings to published novelists gather Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays and by appointment to learn and practice storytelling. They finish novels like Danuta or Lay Death at Her Door. I finished my novel Viral Times during the transition era. Without missing a day of the 3000 news from our current times, I could re-engage my fundamental skills and desire: storytelling and writing. I strut my stuff on The Write Stuff and Twitter about storytelling at @ronseybold.

Does the 3000 community suffer from the What Else work? It depends on your perspective and role. Did you sell HP 3000s and create them, or launch new customers with your applications? Adding a facet to those jobs might be at the 3000's expense. Ecometry cast away its 3000 aspirations -- although it supports several dozen MPE sites -- to create a Windows multichannel commerce version of what was once known as MACS/3000, built by Alan Gardner and partner Will Smith. Gardner and Smith never get to sell off the company for millions unless they've built up more than 300 customers using their software.

Alas, no new Ecometry sites today, but Robelle is among the companies still supporting the 3000 version of the software. Its website tells the Ecometry user "you are already a Robelle customer, even if you don't realize it, since the Ecometry application uses Robelle's Suprtool to speed up data access." For more than a decade Robelle has sold HP-UX versions of Suprtool, and even more lately, a Linux version. Not exactly a What Else, just another facet. But when we speak of Robelle, we must make a transition in this What Else tale to those who continue to dedicate themselves to the 3000. They've chosen no sort of What Else, often for reasons of strict technical focus.

Adager and VEsoft lead the way in omnipresent vendors with an MPE-only focus. What they're doing works at such a fundamental level of the 3000 that it demands full-time attention. Alan Yeo is also dedicated to the HP 3000 -- in its migrations as well as support of 3000 clients -- at ScreenJet. Pivital Solutions is an all-3000 venture, and using its dedicated focus leads to satisfied support clients. Customers are also happy at Allegro Consultants and Beechglen. Both of those support providers serve as many or more non-3000 sites today. Allegro's What Else is creating iOS applications, some that interact with HP 3000s as well as Linux and Unix servers. And if your name is the MPE Support Group, your focus is pretty clear.

Meanwhile, the Support Group serves MANMAN sites with ERP needs at the same time that it created partner Entsgo, an HP, IBM, IFS, and Openbravo solutions partner. If you haven't heard of Openbravo, you might not be aware that it's "professional open source solutions for business, offering the industry's first real alternative to proprietary enterprise software." And the Support Group is keen on Kenandy Cloud ERP, another solution related to the 3000, but evolved beyond it. Kenandy is built on the ASK Software foundations of Sandy Kurtzing. Before she became Kenandy CEO, she and her partners were working in kitchens with 3000s hooked to acoustical couplers in the 1970s, growing up MANMAN, and therefore the 3000's manufacturing heartland.

And the individuals? Jeff Vance is one of the best-known names in the world with 3000 excellence in his CV. Vance left the HP 3000 lab to join K-12 app provider QSS, a move to drive that ISV into the Linux application marketplace. Not so long ago Vance left QSS to work at Red Hat, pretty much where Linux grew up into a commercial solution.

Again, no MPE lab, no chance to work at the company whose environment will replace HP's Unix. Vance has taken the kind of What Else that becomes All Else, since his days of MPE UDC and utility development are done. Michael Berkowitz was our first paying subscriber to the Newswire, but long after Guess Jeans turned off its 3000 and turned him to other technical work elsewhere, Michael still keeps an eye on 3000 people through the community's 3000-L mail list.

Today he reported on some of the other HP lab experts gone elsewhere. Visiting Vance's LinkedIn page, Berkowitz notes

So I go to the webpage, find that he's working for Red Hat, but also notice the "people also viewed" column on the far right.  Lots of names from the past.

Mike Paivinen
Scott McClellan
Becky McBride
Craig Fairchild
Steve Macsisak
Stephen Watt

Of that group, including Jeff, only two (Becky and Craig) are at HP, the company they might have thought they'd be employed for life.

Fair enough, but HP's been shedding tens of thousands of good people for the entire period of the 3000's transition. Walter Murray went from the HP Langauges Lab to the California Corrections organization. Now he's in an All Else post, managing IBM mainframes there. As a What Else fellow, former HP Support Escalation expert Bob Chase is now at SMS, where his clients include Unix and Linux enterprise managers.

There are others, many others -- maybe the majority of community keystones -- who do a What Else today. Look around to see Fresche Legacy transforming legacy environments in the AS/400 community. Even while it's got its Speedware roots dug in at application support engagements for 3000s, and employing a surprising number of MPE veterans. Applied Technologies, a company building its engagements around open source software to help companies using 3000s, as well as those that do not. 

Of course, there's the biggest debutante of the 3000 ball, Stromasys and its virtualization emulator. This company started up serving the Digital world with Charon and continues to do so. They've added the 3000 to their facets -- and so in a rare turn, Charon PA-RISC servers became a What Else for that vendor.

This is the way of our 2013 working world. We go on to something Else, because of what created our expertise, whether it's What Else or All Else. But the 3000 remains essential to success in multiple facets or in new gems of careers. Charles Finley, once one of the stoutest 3000 resellers from his Southern California Conam base where he grew SCRUG into a user group force, commented on Berkowitz's inventory of who's gone from HP.

I'd like to give Finley, now going after transitions at Transformix, the last word -- but first say this: everybody is doing what it takes to stay busy with what's needed. And the HP 3000 is so solid that it is, as the Skin Horse said in The Velveteen Rabbit, a computer that's Real. "Becoming Real takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept." Much of the 3000's ability to make room for What Else is because it does not break easily.

Finley has it right about what makes everyone who still knows the 3000 well someone who's very Real. It's all about the relationships, the wellsprings of the computer's stories.

Those, admittedly competent, HP people only represent an era in which there was a substantial connection between HP and its loyal installed base. That was not valued by some people in power at the time. Therefore, they dismantled it. What I also believe to be true is that it is unlikely that they at HP can ever get it or anything like it back, even if someone was empowered to try. 

I would venture to guess that those same people are doing a great job at their current employer because that's the kind of people they are. However, I would also guess that it is not likely that their current employer, unless it is some subset of IBM, has a similar relationship with their installed base that HP once had.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:38 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 14, 2013

HP's 3000 virtualization was MOST-ly done

MOSTBalanceNineteen springtimes ago, HP was offering an operating system to run alongside MPE on the same hardware. To say that HP's Multiple Operating System Technology was virtualization might be an overstatement. But the unreleased product gave Unix and MPE equal footing in a single hardware system. MPE was the cradle that Unix would rest in, much like Linux is the cradle where the PA-RISC virtualization rests in the Stromasys Charon product. The only reason it was not released might have been the horsepower demands on the hardware. MOST was not starved off the price list by a lack of HP desire from the 3000 division. But the daring of its engineering was on a battleground between HP's own products.

I worked on external communications for MOST for Hewlett-Packard in the spring of 1995. It was one of the biggest assignments I took on during the months that led up to creating the 3000 NewsWire. The audacity of putting a venerated OS in as a bootstrap system for HP-UX apps led me to believe HP was exploring every prospect to win any customer who was veering toward the market's magnetic pull of Unix.

HP showed off external specifications for MOST to key partners in '95. The product was scheduled to emerge in the fall of that year on Series 9x9 and 99X PA-RISC systems. These were the highest horsepower 3000s in the HP stable. MOST was to begin with two partitions, one for MPE/iX and the other for HP-UX. Or, a customer could run two separate instances of MPE on a single server. MPE was to be the primary partition, controlling the uptime of the hardware.

In one sense, this product wouldn't have been a 3000 -- because half of it would be dedicated to running Unix apps and processes. Independence, a white paper on the product stated, "is especially important, as the co-dependencies between the different OS should be as small as possible."

MOST might have been ahead of its time in hardware requirements, but it reminds me of the virtualization that nearly every operating system enjoys today. The Stromasys Charon lineup, the VMware partitions which run Windows, Linux, and Mac OS all at once -- all of these flow from the concept that drove MOST. Well, there's a major difference. HP didn't release MOST, even after a beta test period and surveys that showed most of the customers saw it as an evolutionary path to heterogenous computing.

"The future path is almost impossible to foresee," HP's briefing stated. "Windows or OS/2? WARP? Unix or NT? Once proprietary, but now open systems?"

The software would have realized the founding principle of PA-RISC engineering: "Eventually, any PA-RISC operating system will be able to operate concurrently and independently on the same hardware platform."

HP delivered on some of these promises many years later, employing its Superdome designs for high-end servers with flexible partitions. This was not strictly emulation, because the native hardware remained the same. It's a sad piece of history that by the time Superdome was rolled into the markets, MPE/iX was not an environment supported on the high-priced server.

The OS came closest to its rightful place as keystone of HP's business computing strategy with MOST, however. HP said that it "is a natural complement to the four strategic directions of the HP 3000:

  • Reinforce HP 3000's strengths in mission critical OLTP environments
  • Superior integration in a multi-platform environment
  • Provide an evolution to client/sever computing
  • Deliver innovative applications and services

The Hewlett-Packard of 1995 was looking for a way to "let customers add, test and develop new applications without purchasing a new Unix box." That might have been the downfall for MOST. A successful server, steered by MPE but also able to run Unix apps, would surely have been a roadblock to more HP 9000 server sales. HP bet hard on Unix in that era, a play that now seems to have run out of step with the Windows and Linux choices of today.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:44 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (1)

May 13, 2013

The magic code for licenses HP never sold

The meeting room brimmed at the Computer History Museum May 10, where Stromasys spooled out more than six hours of technical briefing as well as the product strategy and futures for Charon HPA/3000. This emulator was anticipated more than eight years ago, but only came to the market in 2012. And that gap, largely introduced by HP's intellectual property lawyers, killed one license needed to run MPE on any Intel server.

But the good news is that an HP licensing mechanism still exists for MPE/iX to operate under the Charon emulator -- pretty much on any good-sized Intel system that can run VMware and Linux. However, you need to know how to ask HP for the required license.

Charon HPA product manager Paul Taffel uncorked the phrase that permits a customer to switch their MPE/iX from HP iron to PC or Mac hardware. It's called "an intra-company license transfer." If you don't ask for it by name, the standard HP transfer forms won't pass muster. Most SLTs happen between two companies. Who'd sell themselves their own hardware, after all?

In short HP's using its existing and proven Software License Transfer (SLT) mechanism to license emulated 3000s. It's doing this because of that delay which ran out the clock on a hard-earned path to the future. HP called it the Emulator License back in 2005. It just happened to need an emulator on sale in order for a customer to buy this license.

The Emulator License isn't quite like the mythical griffin of ancient lore. It made more sense than a jackalope. But the process to earn one of these licenses is not well known yet, which was one of the reasons Stromasys held its training and social event.

Perhaps HP's lawyers -- who certainly had to be convinced by the 3000 division at the time -- insisted on the "existing emulator" clause in the license. The license was supposed to cost $500, but HP could never collect that money without a working emulator for a 3000 on the market. Then HP stopped issuing MPE/iX licenses because its Right To Use program ran out at the end of 2008. No RTU, no emulator license: this was a moment when the 3000s in the world were limited to whatever HP iron was on hand.

However, this was not the first time HP had ever tried to make it legal to run one of its OS products on non-HP gear. By the time OpenMPE wore HP down and got that Emulator License, the Stromasys product line was running hundreds of instances of VAX and PDP emulated systems, all using VMS. Digital, even after it became part of HP, didn't care if you were emulating its "end-of-lifed" PDP and VAX systems. What Digital-HP cared about was the ongoing support revenue, and the good will, of keeping older systems running where they remain the best solution.

This time around, for the 3000, HP intended to cut off all of its business by 2006. Er, 2008. Well, certainly by 2010, even though some 3000 owners still could call on HP for MPE and hardware support during 2011. No matter. Customers are the ones who determine the life of a computer environment, and software never dies. At the Stromasys training event, general manager Bill Driest said that the natural end state for every computer is virtualization -- or what the classic 3000 customer would call emulation.

"We're here to help preserve the software investments that you've all made," Driest said. "We've always believed that the value of the system is in the uniqueness of the application. For 14 years we've had this tagline that keeps coming back: preserving the investments we've all made across these hardware generations."

So to recap, you contact HP's Software License Transfer department. You tell them you want to do an intra-company transfer. And instead of the $500 that HP said this emulator license would cost eight years ago, it's $400 -- the same fee HP wants to collect on any MPE/iX system transfer. You need to have a 3000 license to begin with, of course.

You don't get to create MPE/iX licenses for Charon systems. Stromasys cannot sell you one. But a copy of MPE/iX does exist in the freeware download, model A202. It's just not licensed, because you attest you won't use this freeware for commercial use when you run through configuration. The licensed copy of MPE/iX in freeware -- the holy grail of open source pursued by OpenMPE for more than nine years -- is as much a mythical creature as an emulator license. This isn't the first time Hewlett-Packard built an item for 3000 customers that it never did sell. But at least the previous one got into testing before it was killed off. More on that tomorrow.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:08 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 03, 2013

Goodie box delivers 3000 skills, tools

3000 KnowledgeHoward Schelin started his HP 3000 career in Miami migrating. It was 20 years ago, and The Miami Herald had to make a move -- away from IBM and onto the 3000. There was much for Schelin to teach the IT department then, and the Interex user group catalogued all of what was needed. This week a generous box of that reference material and software arrived at our office, because the offices of the Herald are moving along, just like the 3000.

In a few weeks the Miami Herald will be relocated to a new building about 15 miles southwest of 1 Herald Plaza. As in any move, there is a lot of material that gets pushed to the curb. I am sending you items that will not be making the trip to the new location.

CSLTapesThe box as big as a Ram Truck battery had a reel of tape on top, a release of the Interex Contributed Software Library from the days of the early '90s, when DAT cassettes were still a novelty to the user group. But then there were a hearty stack of the familiar boxes that contained software treasures created by fellow managers of 3000s, then given away for the community to use.

Now the HP 3000 is making its migration away from the Herald, Schelin says. "The HP 3000 stay at the Herald is drawing to a close, as its last application is on schedule to be migrated to the cloud by April, 2014. I have been an avid reader of the 3000 NewsWire for many, many years, and I hope you find a home for the enclosed material."

Considering that some of these programs and proceedings continue to be useful tools for the homesteader -- and are difficult to locate -- he's probably right. Maybe not so much that 1993 lab handbook on Managing a POSIX HP3000 System, although the lab was taught by MPE legend Jeff Vance. But the Catalog of the CSL for that year, printed and bound, is a working collector's item. 

The goodie box includes eight years' worth of technical papers on CDs, some discs so classic that the boxes advise the user to be sure to have Windows 3.1 to look at the material. But the DDS tapes -- the lingua franca of 3000 data -- start in 1997 and run through 2004. By 1998 there was a Freeware account of software, added to the Contributed Software Library. As Michael Hensley explains in the 1999 Supplement to the CSL Catalog, indexed by name and by keyword

When HP added Posix to MPE, creating MPE/iX 5.0, it became possible to port many popular "Unix" utilities to MPE. Since it was possible, many people started to do so, and then made these utilities available via the Internet. When HP was asked about providing C++ on MPE, HP suggested downloading the GNU G++ product via the Internet. I sarcastically asked if they had actually tried it, over a typical-at-the-time 9600 baud modem.

As a penance, I decided to make these utilities available via tape. Although most people now have access to fater Internet connections, the size of the downloads has grown ever larger. I think the tape will continue to be useful for some time to come.

FreewareContributorsBy the time Schelin and the Herald IT staff were gathering these resources, the HP 3000 was moving into its open source era. The specifics of CSL programs that worked for MPE V (the Classic 3000 OS) as well as XL were being supplemented by the Posix/Unix offerings. (Click on the image at the left to see who was writing the software in the era, and what's available on the tapes.) It was one of the richest times for software on the platform. Y2K was sparking interest and renewed investment in the 3000. We were growing the 3000 NewsWire on the wings of that interest.

These resources have outlasted the user group that marshaled them. In time, the hardcopy delivery seemed unneeded. The Proceedings of the final HP World Conference in 2004 remain shrink-wrapped. But Interex went out of business the following summer. And all of that Internet resource went dark. OpenMPE has gathered some of this online, but good fellows like Schelin keep adding to the community's assets.

I'd be glad to make Howard's desire come true, and let this material work its magic in other shops where 3000s will be working for, as Hensley said, "for some time to come." We can also hope that this classic resource goes to live in the cloud in the future, just like that final HP 3000 application at the Herald. Email me if you'd like more detail of the contents, and I can pass them along. Via US Mail, just like they were delivered in the 3000's classic era. 

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

May 02, 2013

Congrats, Pivital on 10 years an HP VAR

Ten years ago this month the HP 3000 community gained its final official reseller. Pivital Solutions stepped in to sell HP 3000s, even though Hewlett-Packard only intended to manufacture the computers until the end of October, 2003.

In fact the final HP sales of the 3000 crept into 2004, including deliveries and back inventory. Pivital took on the spot because the company had confidence the 3000 user base would be needing official and trained support for many more years to come. An official place in the HP authorized reseller lineup would enhance what the company had been doing for years already.

That extra service has translated into new resources, even recently. Pivital is one of the few holders of a license for the source code for MPE/iX. Support companies use that resource to create workarounds and even custom patches.

In 2003, we wrote:

Pivital Solutions CEO Steve Suraci hears the tick of a different clock than the one which HP has been counting down for 3000 sales. Less than six months before new HP 3000 sales will end at HP, Pivital is ramping up its efforts as the newest authorized reseller of the servers in North America.

Pivital has taken over the system integrator spot in HP’s 3000 hardware channel that’s being abandoned by Dimension Data. Suraci said that Dimension released much of its 3000-capable integration staff which Pivital was working with, and Pivital saw an opportunity emerging from the situation. It may seem to be late, but Pivital sees its entry as early in the lifespan of the 3000 customer 

“Strategically, we know there’s going to be long-term homesteading customers on the HP 3000 out there,” the CEO said. “Even HP is attesting to a quadrant of the market where people will homestead forever. That is a big portion of the customer base which we deal in today.”

The company had built up a practice of offering the application and then extending MPE support to customers using the GrowthPower ERP application, moving on in the late 1990s to expand its customer base beyond ERP sites. “We found we were becoming more involved in the other business aspects of these companies,” Suraci said, leading to partnerships with Minisoft and Cognos, for example.

But as of late last year, “we felt we no longer had Dimension Data as an outlet to move 3000 hardware to customers. We needed an outlet to sell hardware and get the deals done.”

 National hardware partners couldn’t interest Pivital in becoming part of their folds, and HP was willing to let the 18-person firm with operations across several US states take over the reseller spot from Dimension Data. Suraci said selling 3000 systems to customers is only the start of what Pivital plans to do with its new prospect. Selling the last round of new hardware to sites which need to upgrade from older models lets Pivital position itself for support business in the future, as well as other hardware sales. 

HP has announced it will continue to make N-Class and A-Class CPUs, IO and network cards, peripherals and memory available for new sales during 2004, though Suraci said the vendor hasn’t released specifics of how that aftermarket will work with the authorized channel. The support business that flows from hardware sales looks to be a more reliable prospect for revenues for Pivital. Suraci wants HP to see the company as a contender for any third-party 3000/MPE support partnerships HP may launch in the years to come.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:28 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 24, 2013

Program for legacy with a legacy dev tool

Good tools don't always survive bad times. When HP pulled its plug from the 3000 dynamo, popular development tools began to slide. One of our favorite COBOL legends and 3000 consultants, Bruce Hobbs, was looking for ways to connect to the legacy community for such a dev tool, Programmer Studio.

"I have a vague recollection that you published something awhile back regarding the demise of Whisper Technology, and the situation for anyone now interested in using the Programmer Studio product," Hobbs said. "Could you please point me in the right direction?"

Ad1993_HP3000The genesis of Programmer Studio comes from the days when HP was still buying print ads for the HP 3000 in the general computer industry trade press. Ads that astounded the installed base -- like the one at left -- because they were so rare, and resonated so well with the established consumers. The 3000 had giant corporations using it, something HP had to admit from time to time while it labored to create a business computing market for Unix. Whisper popped up often when we surveyed the legacy developer community in December. This is unsupported software, but it's still in use at the occassional programmer's bench, such as the one that Michael Anderson operates at J3K Solutions.

I was never much for purchasing tools for development. However, since the late '90s onward, I used Programmer Studio from Whisper Technologies as a "character based" editor. In the latter years of working on MPE, the languages I used also included Java, Perl, and SQL.

To date I still use Programmer Studio to develop software on the HP 3000, HP 9000, and flavors of Unix including Linux. Now that I am using languages like JavaScript with HTML and CSS, Programmer Studio knows these, as well as COBOL, Suprtool and Quiz.

(In a bit of circular technology, the Robelle programming tool for the HP 3000, Qedit for Windows, also knows a lot about Suprtool -- since Supertool is also a Robelle product.)

"But today I don't use the HP 3000 much any more, nor Windows," Anderson added. "For years Programmer Studio kept me tethered to Windows as my favored editor. Recently I've started using JEDIT on Linux. JEDIT doesn't know how to access the HP3000, so for that I still use Windows along with Programmer Studio."

Authors and creators tend to dig in with their tools. Hobbs asked about Programmer Studio because of its reputation, but he understood the software had not survived the HP purge.

But for that matter, that kind of afterlife is where other 3000 software resides today. The developer of the Programmer Studio has moved on to other things, according to the Whisper Technology founder Graham Wooley. In 2009 he said

Unfortunately Whisper Technology is no more.  As the developer, Greg Sharp had looked after Whisper and Programmer Studio by himself for the last three years, but he has now moved on to other things and the company has now closed.

The UK's Whisper built and promoted the Programmer Studio PC-based toolset, then sold it as a development environment which understood exchanges with the 3000, but could also be used to create programs under Windows. Robelle responded promptly with a Windows version of Qedit, and for more than five years the 3000 ecosystem had a lively competition for programming tools.

Survival is one of the better measurements of quality, but good technology sometimes has to succumb to business issues and investment strengths. Such was the case for HP's business with the 3000 and MPE. Like Programmer Studio, MPE is no longer supported by its creators. Unlike Programmer Studio, MPE has third party support, as well as an emulation engine being sold this year. These things are markers of survival.

An experienced 3000 developer like Hobbs probably won't care much about support for a programmer's tool. Wooley's company was a lively bed of 3000 ardor in the 1990s. At one point, he placed a bet with Adager's Alfredo Rego. Wooley was so concerned about HP's treatment of the 3000 in 1993 that he wagered with Rego that HP wouldn't advertise the system -- mostly as a prod for HP to do so. Wooley lost his bet, happily, when Hewlett-Packard put ads in both US and European publications for the 3000 at the 11th hour of that year.

An abandoned but beloved product is usually passed along from one user to another, with each exchange marking another step into the public domain. HP's been vigilant about MPE to keep the OS out of this sort of drift. People admire it in the same way that Programmer Studio advocates praise that product.

The difference is that you'll still be able to buy support for MPE from independent professionals, some of whom have a source code license for the software. Adager is on that source code holder list. So are the indie support firms Pivital Solutions, Allegro Consultants, Beechglen Development and Terix. They are all eating their Wheaties, surviving into our new era. 

 

 

 

 

 

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

April 18, 2013

How Ending Support Might Change Things

If the above subject seems obvious, then the story of the HP 3000 and MPE has had moments to refute it, as well as prove it. Hewlett-Packard considered the end of its vendor-priced support to be the ultimate change in 3000 ownership. If HP wouldn't support MPE and the 3000, who'd use it?

That one is filed as a refute -- several thousand companies have relied on 3000s and MPE over the four-plus years since full HP support ended. Even as a government-required archival system, the computer outlasted the end of HP support.

CliffBut in proof of ending support as a trigger of change, we offer the case of the disappearing database. No, not IMAGE, still wired to this day with elegance into the MPE filesystem and 3000s. No, we're examining Oracle here. Many IT managers consider Oracle to be the industry leader. So if its support drove off the 3000 cliff, and so dropped off for MPE after Y2K, didn't that deal a crashing blow to the user community?

One manager who wants to remain anonymous, but still tends to a 3000, told us this week that he believes it was true. "I asked HP people at a trade show if they had heard how Oracle, recently in court and in the news, began the demise of MPE -- when in a previous pre-Sun business decision, they announced end of support for Oracle on MPE?"

Yes, the end of this support did change the 3000's future -- at HP. In the early 1990s HP was hoping that IMAGE would become only one of several database options for the servers, and so it tried to unbundle the custom-tailored IMAGE from MPE. This was meant to make room for the likes of high-dollar Oracle, or other databases which had not made the port to the 3000. HP wished they would do so. Hewlett-Packard's 3000 group pined for SQL Server on MPE.

But Oracle never was thrilled to be part of the 3000 ecosystem. There was so much more profit to be had in the Unix world, or up on IBM mainframes. In 1985 I was reporting on rumors that Oracle was moving to what we were still calling MPE V at the time. The Oracle VP I reached had a question for me. "Why in the world would we do that?"

About four years of market time changed this approach, but in '85 Oracle wondered why in the world any vendor would offer an MPE-ready database while IMAGE was included with every 3000. How could Oracle compete with that value? It wasn't like HP was reducing the prices for 3000s which shipped with no database. Enter, after Oracle's arrival on the 3000, the scheme to unbundle IMAGE -- and the customers' revolt at a public roundtable over this strategy.

Oracle trod its path away from MPE after many versions of the database were built and rejiggered to try to match the IMAGE advantage: speed, and the compatibility with the catalog of HP 3000 applications and tools. While that latter group of software bled away -- cut back by the vendor's forecast of an ailing 3000 ecosystem -- Oracle updated Oracle/iX less and less frequently.

That might be the same situation HP's other enterprise environment will experience with the loss of Oracle support. Oracle didn't want to continue with the successor to the 3000's hardware architecture, Itanium. The courts forced this otherwise, but the last period of that game is yet to be played. 

Will the end of Oracle support for HP-UX change things? Of course. Will it be a fatal blow? More fatal than the Oracle evaporation from MPE. Few applications ever relied on Oracle on 3000s. It didn't force a transition. Oracle never got traction as a database for in-house apps. That is a different situation than the reality for HP's Unix servers. But one third-party software platform like Oracle never sinks an enterprise ship on its own. It takes a vendor to deliver the coup de gras -- and even then, the demise can be years away.

However, for a company migrating to a new application, the existence of Oracle on that platform can be welcome news. Oracle administrators and developers are in rich supply. Replacing one who quits to become a coffee cart owner or gun-shop salesman is easy. Oracle is everywhere, and thousands of applications rely on it. In a 3000 migration situation, the absence of Oracle support is more reason to change an application from something in-house to something else. "We always wanted to walk away from those old apps," a MANMAN manager said in a user group. "HP ending support for the 3000 gave us the opening."

The ruler to measure change by: the critical nature of the element whose support is ending. Oracle isn't MPE, but it might as well be for any company that considers itself an Oracle customer first, with a few HP 3000s as outliers. As we can see today, support for IMAGE has not ended, thanks to independent companies. Oracle on HP-UX support -- like the 3000's, without new development -- might trigger changes.

How HP reacts to the eventual Oracle departure this time around, compared to its reaction in the 1990s, will determine how much support can change things. The greatest change from ending support takes place in vendor-built environments which have receding application ecosystems. What's the trend for application vendor enhancements in your target environment?

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:00 PM in History, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 17, 2013

HP hardware: bargain, but needed now?

It's an interesting time for 3000 hardware these days. Prices have dropped severely for unlicensed HP iron. Meanwhile, there's a no-cost way to use a computer to run MPE/iX, thanks to the Charon HPA/3000 emulator, Model A202, freeware edition. Times are plentiful for ways to run MPE software, if the license is not much of an issue.

The HP-brand hardware is flowing so freely that I had a reseller ask if I wanted to buy an N-Class at an astounding price. Nothing that the rest of the public couldn't get off eBay. However, in that offer anybody would have to come up with their own license for MPE/iX.

Nothing's perfect this year about acquiring an MPE server. On one hand you have the option of real HP iron, power-hungry but the genuine engine. However, the HP-badged boxes need disks and memory and components in reserve for real support, the kind of items that a system manager would scavenge from things like an $1,800 N-Class. A support contract for MPE, as well as the hardware, is part of that equation. If you've got an MPE/iX license, let's just say it's about a $2,000 investment, plus the ultra-important hardware-MPE support contract purchase. 

And you need that MPE/iX software support no matter what you're doing, unless you've got enough experience to be selling those services yourself.

The bottom line on an emulated, virtual HP 3000 is higher, unless you're freewaring it. You can expect there are nominal consultants -- retired but available -- who'd use the A202 to discover bug fixes and workarounds. The better ones will have the real HP iron, running tiny, 9GB LDEV 1 disks. The beefiest drive you can put in a 3000 is 146 GB.

But I have to admit, I thought for awhile about that offer of an N-Class for under $2,000. It was a kind of a "get it while you can, the price won't be better than this" sort of decision. For a production or a development shop, it's likely to be different. A manager could figure that a 5-figure cost to acquire Charon emulator software, plus support for it, could be balanced against the cost to maintain a stable parts depot. Emulation installs mean that hardware support goes way down, to about $100 a year for a typical Intel-Linux box. But adding any kind of 3000, emulated or iron, to our offices would be news. Operating my own MPE system has never been a part of my 28 years of working in our community.

People who know MPE very well might say they're not surprised. I have generous readers who correct the flubs in syntax that show up here. But in those decades of writing and reporting about the HP 3000, I have never worked for a company which owned one, including my own company (since 1995). However, that doesn't mean that there haven't been days when I felt I could make use of one. Just the other day, Vladimir Volokh said "you wouldn't have written that, if you'd had a 3000 to use and test that command."

As close as genuine 3000 iron ownership ever came, I think, was when used 9x7s were everywhere and the Newswire was roaring along in the Y2K era. Our net.digest tech editor John Burke bought one of those 9x7s -- for a song -- and since he was an editor of ours at the time, that was enough for me.

My first 3000 publisher, Wilson Publications, used dial-in timesharing access to a Series 42 in 1984 to produce The Chronicle. The terminal access came via PC 2622, the software later known as Reflection. It ran a typesetting program that generated our printed galleys down at Futura Press in Austin. But within four years we worked on the bleeding edge of desktop publishing, using tiny Macs and a LaserWriter and a 5GB shared disk that crashed as often as MPE/XL 1.0. And so the HP 3000 became a subject, rather than a tool we used ourselves. 

I am a little surprised that nobody has yet picked up that N-Class 220, even unlicensed, that Cypress Technology offered via eBay. It seems quite the bargain for somebody who wants genuine HP iron. But for a tinkering editor, or someone who wanted to check a command or syntax or filesystem processes, the freeware A202 might do.

We're still here if any owner or reseller wants to spread the word about hardware, via a modest ad. I'd love to hear when that N-Class sells. It's the lowest price I've ever seen for one of these models. Only something free, but without the ability to work in production, could be considered less expensive. 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:57 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 29, 2013

Hope floats today for a 3000 resurrection

As a former Catholic altar boy, I learned a lot about resurrection during Springs in the 1960s. But the headline above isn't early April Fool's blasphemy. Some 3000 users -- more than a dozen, like disciples -- believe that an emulator in their market is a reason to believe in the server's revival.

RolledrockThey're somewhat correct, but how accurate is a revival of MPE/iX, versus the hardware to host it? Stromasys has accomplished the latter miracle with Charon HPA/3000. Servers as common as bottled water are running MPE/iX today, in production environments or proving the concept that PA-RISC systems have come back from a state of doom. Some are even succeeding with untested chips from AMD, somehow, rather than the approved Intel processors.

We've just approved a comment here on our blog that invests the emulator with these regenerative powers. HP would need a revival of its spirit to start to sell proprietary servers again, but at least there's powerful spirit among a few customers. None of them are paying HP any longer for the 3000. We'll get to that in a minute, and how it affects the salvation of critical MPE/iX applications. But to that prayer:

I say that with the advent of Stromasys and the interest from application developers who wrote for the HP 3000, there is now the opportunity for the community to form a company to begin marketing MPE/iX. The world is ready for a stable, secure, alternative to the out-of-control Linuxes and the costly well-known operating systems.

This manager doesn't want his name or company mentioned, but I assure you he's real and in charge of several HP 3000s. Third parties provide MPE and 3000 support at his site, and he runs HP's final low-end model of 3000, an A-Class. Although this is the season of miracles for hundreds of millions, marketing MPE/iX would demand a change of ownership at Hewlett-Packard. To kick-start it, people like our manager above would have to become customers of HP once more. The company took a conservative view of "customer" and "owner" five years ago this month. Nothing's changed there yet.

 

The issue of enabling Intel hardware to host MPE/iX is settled. Over and over, we've heard that the emulator runs the 3000's OS just as well as HP-built iron, the boxes HP stopped building nearly 10 years ago. The big rock to roll back is the status of software ownership. Many of the largest software companies take a dim view of operating their programs on fresh hardware. At least without any notice of the shift in platform.

Some companies -- and the 3000 veterans know who they are -- want a license fee upgrade if there's significant performance boosts on the new platform. The change that triggers this is the HPCPUNAME. Unless it still reports "Series 929" or somesuch, this emulated installation is a newer 3000.

Other software vendors are simply delighted their products will continue to work at customer sites. A customer site, however, is often defined as a company which pays a regular fee to maintain a relationship with the vendor. There's a lot of dropped-support software running out in your community. Vendors always have to live with this. Now there's a new wrinkle with the change of platform.

"If I was a paying customer of a software vendor, I'd keep quiet about using the emulator," one vendor said. He added that he's got no problems with his own customers using Charon. Any company prohibiting a switch "would be stupid, because you'd be losing revenue."

Earlier this week, however, I heard a statement that's true. "There's no application company yet which has approved a license for running software on the emulator." There's one story of Cognos permitting Quiz to run on a production emulator at an Australian insurance corporation. Warren Dawson, who plunged into the emulation pool, got it arranged by his Cognos reseller. Who's dealing with IBM these days, since Big Blue bought Cognos long ago.

IT managers can be lured into beliefs that run afoul of the computer vendor's catechism, however. Some managers believe they own their software once it's abandoned by the vendor. HP made its case that MPE/iX will always belong to HP, and always did, even while people were buying support from HP in 2008.

At a user meeting that year, the business manager of 3000 operations at HP Jennie Hou made HP's position clear.

Hou confirmed the clear intention that HP will cede nothing but "rights" to the community after HP exits the 3000 business."The publisher or copyright owner still owns the software," Hou said when license requirements beyond 2010 were discussed. "You didn't purchase MPE/iX. You purchased a right to use it."

Several years ago, a European Union judge gave an advisory on a case about PC software. The judge said if a company walks away from a product, anybody has any right they'd like to use it in any way. There's a lot of defining to do to arrive at "walks away." It was only one judge. But things are changing very quickly in the world of intellectual property.

To see the cross that such hopeful disciples bear, look at what I wrote five years ago, after hearing HP's statement and seeing the slide below.

Whoownsmpe

We were writing about independent support and source code -- which at the time wasn't released. Now MPE/iX source is in the hands of seven companies. One recently reported they'd used their source to create workarounds for support customers -- just the limit HP hoped for the use of its MPE/iX source.

I wrote in 2008

It's a mystery how HP can give any significant use of MPE/iX to third parties in the years after the vendor won't offer services for the 3000 community. A third party owns nothing under these rules, but should build a business model and employ experts on this basis? Risky business, that.

A third party will just have to hope to rely on access to MPE/iX source. And nothing else but hope. In any contract no better than a typical customer's, a support firm would own nothing but that Right To Use what HP owns. Support for the third party support supplier for MPE/iX from HP? Shut down, by 2010. Support suppliers could consider that deal a sketchy foundation to build a business upon.

The 3000 community can only hope that's not HP's intention for support providers: To make any alternative support for the 3000 community remain sketchy. HP retains its ownership, but the intention of this 2005 announcement was to "help partners" do support business. Here's that HP 2005 statement, as a reminder of Hewlett-Packard's intentions. 

"When HP no longer offers services to address basic support needs of e3000 customers, HP intends to offer to license HP e3000 MPE/iX source code to one or more third parties — if partner interest exists at that time — to help partners meet the basic support needs of the remaining e3000 customers and partners."

You generate partner interest with customer purchases, now that HP's made hardware emulation legal. Then you step out of the way and let licenses evolve. For the disciples, the back half of that resurrection is a revelation they must arrange on their own.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:29 AM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 28, 2013

OpenMPE's afterlife lives on a live server

AfterlifeEleven years ago this spring, OpenMPE was calling itself OpenMPE Inc. and proposing a business around the HP 3000. The organization was just getting on its feet, led by Jon Backus, a consultant and systems manager who ran his own business and took the first steps toward advocacy for the computer HP was cutting from its futures.

The hopes and dreams of a shell-shocked community of 3000 lovers came to the window of OpenMPE. But even in 2002, the group of volunteers' founders knew the holy grail was hardware to replace the boxes HP would stop selling in about 18 months.

A petition, in the form of customers' Letters of Intent, got presented to HP during that year's Interex 3000 Solutions Symposium. 

The document is asking customers if they would support the new organization’s mission to enhance and protect the HP 3000 community’s lifespan, though software development and creation of an emulator that mimics the HP hardware on Intel processors.

And after a decade, the community got its emulator. The software that's now making ripples in the calm pond of 3000 use emerged from hard work at Stromasys, to be sure. But OpenMPE laid the first tracks to demonstrating user interest, as well as an MPE license for emulated 3000s. The HP license is one of the few that were written specifically for the emulator. (Minisoft has announced another.) The other evidence of OpenMPE's work is an HP 3000, hosted at the Support Group in Texas, where it holds software that still matters to MPE managers.

OpenMPE pays a nominal amount to maintain this server inside a hardened datacenter. That's evidence there's still a trace of business going through OpenMPE, although the Support Group volunteers more than a payment can cover. (That's the way volunteers roll, after all. Nobody got paid a dollar for working with OpenMPE, although there was plenty of pay-outs of public scorn.)

But host software on an HP 3000 and you become one of the beacons across the inky landscape of MPE in 2013. One customer wanted a copy of GCC, the Gnu C Compiler that's the bootstrap code for all 3000 open source riches. Mark Klein created an MPE/iX version of GCC to enable printer and file sharing, Internet addressing and advanced networking, perl and so much more on a 3000.

One source for GCC is on Brian Edminster's MPE Open Source server, a repository of free software. But he tipped his hat toward the OpenMPE beacon while answering a question posted on the 3000 newsgroup.

There are several third-party software support providers that could help -- you can find 'em through searching the 3000 newsgroup. And there's also a few of us that are keeping copies available for download on sites of our own.   

I have a site that has it as part of a 'OpenSSH sftp client' install (which also happens to include perl as well). But at the moment, probably the best place to get GCC for MPE/iX is from a site that's a partial copy of the old 'Jazz' server at HP.

The direct URL is: http://www.openmpe.com/jazz/MarkK/gnuframe.htm

As the page notes, GCC was ported to MPE by Mark Klein. The community owes him a debt of gratitude for this, even thought the latest version available isn't quite so current anymore. In spite of that, Mark's work has made it possible to port quite a bit of software to MPE.

Klein volunteered his hours to create the MPE GCC, and more than 30 people volunteered their hours through nine years to make OpenMPE a player during the darkest era of the 3000 -- those springtime months of 2002 when it was so easy to hear the HP user group Interex trumpet the "migrate, and soon" message that HP was hawking. Plenty of sites did, although not nearly as soon as HP hoped. During that era, however, HP got to be instructed about how to curtail business for a business computer community -- hearing all the things it overlooked for the transition, denoted by OpenMPE's volunteers.

March was the time of year when OpenMPE volunteers ran for elections, starting in 2002. Although there are just three directors at the group now, it still has its friends in places like Measurement Specialties, where former director Tracy Johnson manages 3000s and a shadowed OpenMPE server. Or at Applied Technologies, where Edminster supports the ideal of free software that drove OpenMPE during its first year. Or out at the datacenter building in Texas, where the live 3000 still dishes out software that homesteaders find useful, once they search for it.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:35 PM in History, Homesteading, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 20, 2013

One decade later, change remains complex

I just retired the pages and stories of the latest Newswire printed edition, our 137th. It's always a celebration day when the pages go onto the press for each print edition. But print, plus one monthly Online Extra email update, used to be all there was to the 3000 Newswire. There's been so much change since February of 2003 -- in your community, not just in the Newswire -- that I went back to look at what was crucial one decade ago.

Feb03FrontTo my surprise, the message from HP was mixed with migration as well as emulation. HP held a Webcast for C-Level staff at their customers' companies. About 70 people arrived online, but it didn't look like a lot of them were CFOs, CIOs, or any of the other Cs. There was a lot of talk to explain how HP got to its decision to drop the 3000 off its lineup. In 2003, every HP message was based upon future directions they believed customers would take. But the company also acknowledged some sites wouldn't ever migrate -- or take so long that HP would not be supporting the server by the end of a migration.

Yes, migrations are still underway. HP predicted that correctly.

In 2003's February, 18 print articles got the reporting done, along with another three articles' worth of Online Extra. In the month of 2013 that led to our printed date, we published 22 articles. A decade later we're one article up on our report count. But the news appears five days a week now, instead of once every 30 days, with one extra day of Online Extra.

How could the news stay so constant, given the reduction of installed 3000s over 10 years? Well, this has been an era full of migrations, as well as the transitions to sustain which the homesteaders have pursued. The migrations are as complex as ever. The homesteading has new wrinkles to write about, like that emulator. But like the change factor of migrations, it turns out we were writing about emulation during 2003, too. 

  

Here's a current report from a customer who's been working on a migration for about six years now. We just heard this on the day we sent off February, 2013 -- or as we say in publishing, Volume 18, Issue 2. The launch date for this project was 2007.

We worked on system configuration and data clean-up/migration during all of 2008, and went live with the first module (H/R and Payroll) in January 2009. We went live with the Finance module (my area of support) in July 2009, and with another critical module in January 2010. A very aggressive implementation schedule. The modules still on the HP 3000 are our telecommunications system and our computer user tracking system.

"Of course," our correspondent added, "the general economic meltdown that occurred in  2008 affected our entire process. It affected the ERP budget as well as the organization's general budget." He went on to say the organization had to stop hiring temp workers to do office tasks while regular workers were in training. "It made an already hard process even harder."

When I thumbed through our pages of 2003, I didn't find any reports like that. Nobody had a current migration project to summarize. Early 2003 was a planning and deciding era, one that would last about another two years before projects genuinely began. Although building 3000s and selling them was going to end eight months later, everyone figured they had at least until December 31, 2006 to get projects finished. 

And as it turned out, HP's support end date was extended another four years. Like a lot of migration projects. We talked to the Interex Advocacy Manager Deb Lawson in that issue, and the user group estimated 25 percent of all companies had not made a decision to migrate by early 2003. "Many [of that group] aren't going to migrate at all," she said, "while some will eventually migrate, just not in the short term."

It was a much larger pool in that year, of course. 25 percent of the customer base would've represented 5,000 servers that hadn't decided to migrate yet, if at all. Interex estimated that out of a 25,000-machine base (as estimated by IDG), 77 percent would be underway in a migration by the end of 2004. Nothing moved nearly as quickly as expected. Including the arrival of an emulator.

A hardware replacement for the 3000 boxes was a keen need, according to Lawson. "The biggest need for the 3000 base is a hardware emulator and getting the 2006 date extended," she said. I know HP is aware of those two huge needs."

A decade later, the Stromasys emulator is only now marking its first year of availability. Just like migration got extended or stalled, key elements of Charon HPA/3000 were delayed. 

Hewlett-Packard could only go to the brink of devising a license for MPE/iX on any unbuilt, unstarted emulator. A plan to have Intel-based emulator license terms announced in February, 2003 had slipped from the “early in 2003” promises made in the fall of 2002. We believed "HP’s commitment to its homesteading customers shows no apparent signs of slipping."

But that depended on what part of HP you could see. The 3000 division was doing what it could, although it was 2004 before any license plan emerged. But in the HP legal division, decisions were made that held up key technical data that could have made a 2004 license relevant in a few extra years, at most.

And for anyone left in our community who believes OpenMPE didn't have an active role, they can look to our story about that Webcast's homesteading message. HP's Mike Paivinen, working out of the 3000 division, said "We’ll continue to work with OpenMPE to understand the needs of the users they represent.” HP said it would hold teleconferences with some of the homesteading community, to “better understand how customers expect to use their 3000s after HP’s end of support date." The division's last GM, Dave Wilde, said he wanted OpenMPE "to have the lead on this" emulator license issue.

Migrations got compared to homesteading, especially their costs, during that Webcast. Staying versus going was a choice that triggered an HP statement that "many HP 3000 owners have discovered those two curves have already crossed, or will be crossing very shortly." But out on the migration road trip three months earlier, HP said that migrations would cost hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, unless customers were moving Powerhouse or Speedware apps to HP's Unix. Nobody could say they were spending that much to homestead.

For the HP 3000 customer hiring their first Oracle DBA in a migration effort, HP was advising that a sharp question ought to be asked. "Ask them about data structure differences [between IMAGE and Oracle], automatic masters, have them draw the map for you," said a manager from one of HP's Platinum Migration partners in 2003. " If they don't understand, you don't want them working for you."

That's because just like the situation in 2013, the migration changes were going to be costly enough to trigger scrutiny from the C-level. Birket Foster of migration partner MB Foster said back then that customers "need to start planning from the end, like on what date does it become too risky to say on the 3000? You probably should have started last year. A lot of folks haven't got a grip on when they should have actually started."

A decade later, some people still want to know about how to manage MPEX use, track the latest improvements to Suprtool, or even get support for 9x7 systems. We reported on all of that, too. The complexity of changes led me to advise in an editorial that even measuring twice, before taking one cut at migration, might not be enough. Carpentry experience was a pretty apt allegory, until we mentioned that getting a fresh piece of wood to create a baluster rail was easier than a restart on any migration.

I looked back on our Volume 8, Issue 5 with a fond gaze, admiring a list of more than two dozen sponsors and 50 percent more pages. But there was no blog in that February, or its sponsors, to keep everybody up to date. A lot less was available to report on migrations. But the conclusions about change weren't going to shift. It would take longer than expected and cost more than planned, most of the time. The 3000 story is no less complex today, even after we've all taken a decade's leap in expertise and technology. 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:50 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 18, 2013

When Bigger Isn't Better for Commerce

JDA product lineupThere are at least 60 companies in the world that are still using Ecometry direct commerce software on an HP 3000, according to members of that software's community. Perhaps four times that number have already made a migration off MPE/iX, many taking the road to Ecometry Open on Windows.

But that path might have become steeper than the migrated sites expected since Ecometry's owner RedPrairie decided to join JDA Software. JDA is to logistics software as Infor is to manufacturing: a company with a practice of purchasing other companies. Bigger is better to these kinds of entities.

A deal announced in November to combine the two companies says that RedPrairie is acquiring JDA by purchasing JDA stock, but it's a reverse takeover. RedPrairie is the smaller entity, buying up JDA stock to plow through the regulatory scrutiny if the deal was the other way around. The merger was announced as complete about six weeks later, during the Christmas week where news gets dumped because nobody is supposed to be looking.

A larger owner can sometimes not be looking at the best of interests of smaller, acquired customers. It matters enough that some users say say they're freezing Ecometry projects until they get convinced the software will still exist in a year. The 131 products that are now part of JDA, post-merger, suggest something's got to give -- at least in the software development resource derby. At Infor, plenty of software checks in with an ability to continue to pay for support. But development often slows for these acquired products, such as MANMAN.

There was a time -- and not so long ago -- when Ecometry was the sole focus of its ownership. Those owners included people who'd grown the customer base from its HP roots while the server was rebranded the e3000.

It's not easy to remember what the "e" was supposed to stand for in e3000, but HP added the vowel as a way of trying to brand the server as a web resource. (Okay, you'll read something about Enabling growth, Enhancing app partner and solutions focus, and Embracing new technology. Less than two years later, Hewlett-Packard was using the little "e" to mean "extinguish," as it shut off HP futures for the server.)

Ecometry, named to draw upon the new e-commerce strategy, was a flagship app partner in that e3000 era. Even as recently as 2005, Ecometry was just taking its first departure into the realm of equity capital ownership.

The founders of the company, Will Smith and Allan Gardner, retired and sold off their firm in 2004, but that transaction didn't change things for customers as much as another retirement. The equity firm Golden Gate Capital, guided by Ecometry executives led by CEO John Marrah, mothballed a strategy that all Ecometry HP 3000 customers had to leave the platform by HP’s Dec. 31, 2006 support deadline.

Even though that deadline was extended twice by HP, that timetable never mattered as much as establishing a continuing support business. That's the strategy at Infor and JDA, too. MANMAN and Ecometry sites, regardless of their platform, buy support for their applications from the current owners.

Question 17 of an FAQ about the merger explains how a customer would know if their product had been terminated.

JDA’s general policy is that products are not sunset, and that customers are not forced to upgrade to specific versions of our products. Our customers are our top priority and we are committed to continue to provide customers value for the maintenance fees that they pay.

Additionally JDA has a comprehensive solution investment policy available online that outlines JDA’s industry-leading policy for supporting legacy versions of products. This policy will carry forward to the merged company.

JDA established that investment policy in 2011, after it acquired Manugistics and i2. These company brands like Ecometry, Escalate and even RedPraire all become integrated, running behind the shield of JDA. Some of the largest retailers in the world are being served by the combined product roster now, according to the FAQ. The combination of the two companies creates a customer list of more than 3,200. At its height of direct commerce focus, Ecometry had less than 400 companies in its client base.

What JDA now calls an impressive customer roster includes 82 of the STORES Magazine global top 100; 87 of the Consumer Goods Technology global top 100; and 22 of the Gartner Supply Chain Top 25. If that sounds like a mismatch against smaller retail customers such as Seeds of Change, TLA Video, Stumps and Diamond Essence, its because these smaller companies believe they're entitled to some assurances. One problem is the preferred system integrators for JDA, CAPGemini, Tata, and Wipro, can't work on projects of under $5 million. There's too much overhead to start the integration engines for less than that figure. Integrations figure large in the customer experience of "omni-channel" retailers like the Ecometry sites.

Smith and Gardner retired after building up their company to the point where they renamed it Ecometry. As it moved into equity capital ownership, it represented one of the biggest single groups of HP 3000 packaged application customers. There were the best-known brands in the 3000 base there as well, such as M&M/Mars, Brookstone and Title Nine.

The buy-up plan began in 2005 with the Ecometry doing the acquiring. It grew its customer base off competitors through purchases. Marrah said that Ecometry, bolstered by Golden Gate’s $2.5 billion wallet, "would pursue an aggressive acquisition strategy, buying companies to both extend its customer bases and advance its technology."

But in the meantime Ecometry was spreading the word that 3000 sites could expect application support of its MPE-based software during 2007. The 3000 sites can still buy support, six years later.

Customers say they want to know more than support plans for the lifecycle of a retailer app. The JDA Focus conference is scheduled for May 5-7. If there's one thing in common with those classic Ecometry days for these customers, it's the location of Focus. The show is held in Florida, the state where Smith and Gardner founded their company. RedShift, the RedPrairie conference, was to be held in Las Vegas -- where HP is opening its Americas Partner conference tomorrow.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:18 PM in History, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 13, 2013

Where they've gone: TV George, on from HP

NewGeorgeFor awhile in the 1990s, George Stachnik was the equivalent of Ed McMahon for the HP 3000 world. He hosted the first set of telecasts, via satellite feed to HP offices, directed at improving the HP 3000 customer experience. You were likely to see him at Interex user group events. And then he had a reprise as HP's voice of migration advice in a series of Webinars, back when that was still a new medium.

This year Stachnik has made his exit from HP, after more than 29 years of service. He has joined the staff at Porter Consulting in the Bay Area. The company develops marketing programs, collateral material such as articles and white papers, enterprise marketing management, and content delivery via websites and mobile channels.

CookingGeorgeIn summary, it's the same kind of work Stachnik did for HP for the past two decades and more. He made a transition from HP support engineer to marketing in 1991 and never looked back. After the era of educating customers via satellite and videotape ended, he trained customers for HP's NetServer Division. These were Windows enterprise servers. To the last of his HP days, Stachnik was an enterprising face in the 3000's cast. One of his wilder moments involved destroying an HP 3000. Or attempting to do so.

To be fair, it wasn't Stachnik who pushed an HP 3000 off a two-story building's roof during the 1990s. But he narrated the stunt that the marketing group had designed to prove the system's durability.

3000DropMovieIt's part of HP 3000 lore, and a simple 7 MB download that opens in the world's tiniest web video player window (as a Quicktime file). We scooped it up when the Web was a lot newer and that 7 MB seemed like a big file. His audio, however, is bigger than the movie looks.

Stachnik was also a prolific writer, penning a series of more than 30 articles for Interact magazine that educated the novice IT pro on using the HP 3000. The articles first appeared in 1997, at the 25th anniversary of the system. The full extent of that series is available at Chris Bartram's 3k.com website, in the papers section.

We say congratulations to him for landing in a new spot after taking leave from HP. He was one of the last lights from the 1990s 3000 group who'd remained at the company, at least in a very public job. Some engineers remain, working in other divisions. But nobody who could narrate a Parachute Event for the HP 3000 Games is wearing an HP badge anymore.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:36 PM in History, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 02, 2013

Unix's Future: How much does it matter?

FutureofHPUXA group of HP's Unix users figure Linux is their next stop

At the LinkedIn HP-UX Users Group -- as friendly a spot as you'll find on the Web -- users are deciding that the future of the environment won't matter much to them. As users, of course, and administrators and developers.

Naturally, Linux is talked up as the replacement for HP's proprietary OS. Plenty of HP 3000 migrated sites went for HP-UX over the last decade, although nothing close to what HP desired or the number of Windows replacements for MPE/iX.

But if an admin who's loyal to the OS isn't bothered much by this evolution, why should a company concern itself about the decline of another Hewlett-Packard OS? In this case, the vendors selling off-the-shelf applications will decide how severe the pain of change will be over the next several years. Be sure to ask your app provider about their plans for Linux. If you're astute, like the school districts using the QSS K-12 apps that grew up on MPE, Linux was always the migration target away from the 3000.

Unlike the transition away from MPE/iX, however, a migration off HP-UX to Linux represents little change for the IT pros and their skill set. Nobody is suggesting that HP-UX is the same as Linux or IBM's AIX or Solaris. But in a world where Linux is so ubiquitious that it acts as the cradle for the 3000 hardware emulator, the Little Penguin that Could seems to have almost chugged to the top of the mountain of enterprise choices.

HP 3000 users and vendors remember what happens when new sales fall off in an HP product line. The company cares for its installed base as best it can, all while it keeps its eyes trained on the business figures.

One member of the Linked In group knew his history. "I guess open systems and the Open Software Foundation weren't such a bad idea after all," said Martin Anderson. The OSF, formed two decades ago, supposed that every Unix was alike at its roots. MPE never had a chance at joining those Open Software ranks in the market, not even after HP added Posix extensions and renamed it from MPE/XL to MPE/iX. The technology trench-workers knew the differences. The differences made MPE better in many cases, but bigger mattered more to system suppliers.

Anderson, a former Compaq technologist, belongs to two Red Hat Groups. And so it appears that Linux is the cradle of all virtualized servers, and the graveyard for any OS not named Windows or Mac OS X. The latter seems headed toward its mobile progeny iOS, from the signs I saw this week at the annual Macworld/iWorld show this week. The name of the conference tells the future well.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:15 AM in History, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 03, 2013

Panel producer pursues PDF processes

NorbordNorbord, an international producer of wood-based panels, runs some of its operations on an HP 3000. This $1 billion company with 13 operating sites around the world needed to create PDFs on its 3000, a task assigned to John Pickering of the company. He went to the 3000 newsgroup for advice on how to do this, working to discover free, online resources already stocked away by indie support companies.

Pickering began by pursuing shareware, which is can sometimes be the budget choice for 3000 shops. (There's a superior and tested PDF-creating solution from Hillary Software, byRequest, which does this for 3000s as well as other enterprise systems.) But if a site wanted to bale together shareware like the txt2pdf software, a manager like Pickering needs Perl to run.

I'd be happy to use the shareware txt2pdf, but I don't know where to begin. The Sanface web site indicates that Perl is required, but that isn't on this 3000, either.

Allegro Consultants, supporting 3000s and crafting MPE software even in 2012, ponied up the Perl that Pickering needed to run txt2pdf.

You can get perl from Allegro," said veteran 3000 expert Donna Hofmeister at the company. "You'll want to get a copy of our SFTP PDF whitepaper as well, since it discusses how to install perl."

Keven Miller of 3K Ranger, another support provider and consultantcy, put the code for txt2pdf online at his site.

I've placed TXT2PDF.c version 1.1 from Phil Smith onto my site (It's MPE Software item #13) for those that might want to review it.

It's most likely not as advanced as the Sanface product. Probably need to change its name also.

Finally, Robert Mills reported that while he managed 3000s at Pinnacle Entertainment from 2001 to 2008, txt2pdf version 1.1 never gave him many problems in production use.

I had to increase the size of either the pageObs and/or locations arrays, because some of our reports were causing an abort (think that I doubled the size of them).

We didn't have HP's C compiler, so I downloaded GCC and it worked fine. Also, I had some other utilities that were only available in C source, which also compiled and worked when using GCC.

The Gnu C Compiler (GCC) Mills mentioned is the public domain bootstrap software of the 3000's open source software era. It was first forged in the 1990s by Mark Klein, whose DIS International hosts the compiler's software. The latest versions of GCC and related tools may be downloaded from DIS.

An open document format such as PDF was once locked away from HP 3000s until such open source options appeared. We chronicled the other aspects of PDF techniques for HP 3000 use in a story almost two years ago.

The longer that HP 3000s remain online worldwide, the more these updated features will need to be added to the MPE toolbelt. The community is not shy about sharing its experience, and it seems to be well-stocked in what's needed to use open source solutions.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:31 PM in Hidden Value, History, Homesteading, User Reports | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 11, 2012

Robelle adds to history with its horse tale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 14, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 01, 2012

November wasn't a-happening for 3000s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 29, 2012

My Life with HP, Top to Bottom

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

By Terry Floyd
The Support Group

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 23, 2012

Never Happy, Even With the Advances

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 12, 2012

3000's cells seem simpler to retrained vets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

September 28, 2012

3000 Memoir Project: Wins from Easy Use

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

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

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

I was sold on ease of use, and fun. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 27, 2012

3000 Memoir Project: Jousts with IBM

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

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

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

By the HP 3000

My easy magic made mainframes look hard.


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

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

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

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

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

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

Next time: Ease of use, compared to IBM iron

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

September 18, 2012

Staying on the road: Job 1 to own a classic

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 12, 2012

The Actual Size and Start of the 3000 World

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 06, 2012

Core memories spark a cold start for 3000s

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

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

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

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

By Tom Harbron

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. IMAGE will be further delayed to January 1974.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 29, 2012

What's Overlooked or Lost: Test Disciplines

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 21, 2012

First 3000 steps: chasing HP's Mighty Mouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 16, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 10, 2012

Community sage tracks HP's historic dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 03, 2012

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 01, 2012

Just how good were those good old days?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 30, 2012

Security patches still floating HP-UX cloud

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 20, 2012

Apache helped 3000s live to serve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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