June 06, 2014

A Long Time in Passing

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 02, 2014

Looking Up, from a Vision to a Spectrum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 29, 2014

They knew what they had before it was gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 20, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 19, 2014

PowerHouse users launch enhancement run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 08, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 01, 2014

3000 mailing list notes becoming fainter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 29, 2014

Foolproof Purges on the HP 3000

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 02, 2014

Newest paper-based issue signals Spring

By Ron Seybold

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 24, 2014

40 years from a kitchen-size 3000 to 3.4GHz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

House: Correct.

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

House: But it was free time.

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

House: No, we used you to debug.

Browne: Pardon me?

House: You were our debuggers.

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

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

Browne: Yes.

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

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

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

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

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

March 21, 2014

Shadows of IT Leaders, at HP and Apple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 17, 2014

Breaching the Future by Rolling Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 26, 2014

Comparing Historic 3000 Horsepower Costs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 14, 2014

Even a classic 3000 game can get LinkedIn

Screen Shot 2014-02-14 at 9.15.11 PMLinkedIn, the Facebook for business relationships, is now the home a new group related to the HP 3000. Veterans of the system know Empire as a stragegy game that was first hosted under MPE in the 1980s. Now these game players have their own LinkedIn Group.

Johnson, who's helped to administer 3000s for Measurement Specialties (a cross-global manufacturer) as well as OpenMPE, moved the group of users off Yahoo, he reported.

Since February of 2000 I've kept a Yahoo Group dedicated to the text game of Empire on the HP 3000, mainly to announce regenerations of new games and enhancements.  Empire is piggy-backed as an account on the INVENT3K server, which is still running in DR mode. Games are free -- and unlike most Internet games today, it doesn't track your whereabouts, place cookies, install hidden apps, or seek your mother's maiden name.

The game still goes on, but since Yahoo went to NEO format last year, I've been looking for something easier to manage (and more socially viable).  Without plunging into the supra-popular mediums like Twitter and Facebook, I have decided to close the Yahoo Group and put a new one for Empire on LinkedIn.

Johnson noted that LinkedIn "has some features for discussions that seem interesting. While LinkedIn seems focused to connecting with associates and ostensibly job hunting, features designed for purposes can be purloined for other purposes, such as:

- Regular Discussions and comments.

- Permanent announcements can be posted using the "Promotions" type of discussion.  Will probably use that to announce new games.

- Temporary announcements (two weeks) can be posed using the "Jobs" type of discussion.  

He added that  LinkedIn hasn't got much bad press. Of late, Yahoo and its groups have had "near half a million passwords hacked, and total shutdown in some areas of the world," Johnson said.

Empire has a domain name, and you can put empire.openmpe.com into your Reflection, Minisoft, or QCTerm configuration. Porting the game and website was rather easy. The original site used Orbit+/iX disk to disk backups (courtesy of Orbit), and it was simply FTP'd to the new machine and then restored.  Additional assistance was provided by Keven Miller at 3kRanger to make the website fit in with the regular INVENT3K website. INVENT3K's website now has a button that links to Empire. Both sites are hosted on the same machine where the games are running.

Empire, one of the original role-playing games for computers, gained a home on the HP 3000 during the era of text-based interactive gaming. Reed College in Portland hosted the first board-game version of Empire (at left), giving the game a Pacific Northwest home that would lead it to the HP 3000.

In 1971 Empire first emerged from Unix systems, created by Peter Langsdon at Harvard. It resurfaced under the name Civilization on an HP 2000 minicomputer at Evergreen State College, where an HP 3000 would soon arrive. When that HP 2000 was retired, the source code to Civilization was lost -- but Ben Norton wrote a new version of the game for MPE, Empire Classic, in 1984. Built in BASIC/3000, Empire became the 3000's best-known game, in part because it was included in the 3000's Contributed Software Library.

EmpireWhile Civilization began to have a graphical life on personal computers like the Amiga, Empire on the 3000 is text-only, using prompts and replies designed to build eco­nomic and polit­i­cal entities, with mil­i­tary actions included. That's right, we mean present-day: the game remains in use today, 30 years after it was first launched for MPE. 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:36 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (2)

February 12, 2014

How Shaved Sheep Help Macs Link to 3000s

The HP 3000 never represented a significant share of the number of business servers installed around the world. When the system's highest census was about 50,000, it was less than a tenth of the number of Digital servers, or IBM System 36-38s. Not to mention all of the Unix servers, or the Windows that began to run businesses in the 1990s.

SheepShaverIf you'd be honest, you could consider the 3000 to have had the footprint in the IT world that the Macintosh has in the PC community. Actually, far less, considering that about 1 in 20 laptop-desktops run Apple's OS today. Nevertheless, the HP 3000 community never considered Macs a serious business client to communicate with the 3000. The desktops were full of Windows machines, and MS-DOS before that. Walker, Richer & Quinn, Tymlabs, and Minisoft took the customers into client-server waters. All three had Mac versions of their terminal emulators. But only one, from Minisoft, has survived to remain on sale today.

MinisoftMac92That would be Minisoft 92 for the Mac, and Doug Greenup at Minisoft will be glad to tell a 3000 shop that needs Mac-to-3000 connectivity how well it hits the mark, right up to the support of the newest 10.9 version of the OS X. "Minisoft has a Macintosh version that supports the Maverick OS," Greenup said. "Yes, we went to the effort to support the latest and greatest Apple OS."

WRQ ReflectionBut there were also fans of the WRQ Reflection for Mac while it was being sold, and for good reason. The developer of the software came to WRQ from Tymlabs, a company that was one of the earliest converts to Apple to run the business with, all while understanding the 3000 was the main server. The first time I met anyone from Tymlabs -- much better known as vendor of the BackPack backup program -- Marion Winik was sitting in front of an Apple Lisa, the precursor to the Mac. Advertising was being designed by that woman who's now a celebrated essayist and memoir writer.

What's all that got to do with a sheep, then? That WRQ 3000 terminal emulator for the Mac ran well, executing the classic Reflection scripting, but then Apple's jump to OS X left that product behind. So if you want to run a copy of Reflection for Mac, you need to emulate a vintage Mac. That doesn't require much Apple hardware. Mostly, you need SheepShaver, software that was named to mimic the word shape-shifter -- because SheepShaver mimics many operating environments. The emulation is of the old Mac OS, though. It's quite the trick to make a current day Intel machine behave like a computer that was built around Apple's old PowerPC chips. About the same caliber of trick as making programs written in the 1980s for MPE V run on Intel-based systems today. The future of carry-forward computing is virtualization, rooted in software. But it's the loyalty and ardor that fuel the value for such classics as the 3000, or 1990-2006 Macs.

Barry Lake of Allegro took note of SheepShaver as a solution to how to get Reflection for Mac to talk to an HP 3000. The question came from another 3000 vet, Mark Ranft.

I've been looking for a copy of Reflection for Mac.  It is no longer available from WRQ/Attachmate. I've looked for old copies on eBay without any luck.  Does anyone know where a copy may be available, and will it still run on OSX Mavericks (10.9)?

Lake replied

It was possible to run the "Classic" versions of Reflection under OS X up through Tiger (10.4). Sadly, Apple dropped Classic support in Leopard (10.5). The only way to run Classic apps now is in some sort of virtual environment. I've been doing this for many years, and quite happily so, using SheepShaver.

But you have to find a copy of the old Mac OS ROM somewhere, and have media (optical or digital) containing a Classic version of Mac OS.

As with so many things that were once sold and supported, the OS ROM can be had on the Web by following that link above. That Mac OS ROM "was sort of a 'mini operating system' that was embedded in all the old Macs, one which acted as an interface between the hardware and the OS," Lake explains. "It allowed a standard OS to be shipped which could run on various different physical machines.

Modern operating systems simply ship with hundreds of drivers -- most of which are never used -- so that the OS (might be Windows or linux or even Mac OS X) is able to run on whatever hardware it happens to find itself on. But this of course, has resulted in enormous bloat, so the operating systems now require gigabytes of storage even for a basic installation.

The beauty of the old Mac OS ROM is that the ROM was customized for each machine model, so that endless drivers didn't have to be included in the OS, and therefore the OS could be kept small and lean.

Lake said that althought using SheepShaver to run the favorite 3000 terminal emulator "took a modest effort to set up, it has been working beautifully for me for years. And yes, it works on the Intel Macs (the Power PC instruction set is emulated, of course)."

So here's an open source PowerPC Apple Macintosh emulator. Using SheepShaver (along with the appropriate ROM image) it is possible to emulate a PowerPC Macintosh computer capable of running Mac OS 7.5.2 through 9.0.4. Builds of SheepShaver are available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:56 PM in History, Migration, Web Resources | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 03, 2014

Yours is a gathering group of users

Almost as soon as the June meeting of SIG-BAR was announced, others in your community wanted to join in. A meeting of ASK Computing manufacturing veterans and friends -- the IT managers running and developing the MANMAN app, still used in scores of companies -- want to gather in a reunion on June 14. It's just a few days after the June 12 SIG-BAR, a bit up the road in the UK.

WisemanGatorSIG-BAR, for any who don't know, is the communal gathering of HP 3000 people lately being organized by Dave Wiseman. It's named SIG-BAR because such an event usually convened at the hotel bar of the main conference hotel of Interex shows. With a beverage at hand and cocktail nuts aplenty, the HP 3000 users and vendors solved the problems of the world informally. When last call rolled around, everybody knew and trusted one another better. If they were lucky, someone had done something silly that had just made everyone who worked with machines all day seem more personal. Like Wiseman (above) posing with the inflatable alligator that he toted through the aisles at an Interex show in Orlando. Wiseman notes that "we filled it with helium at Bradmark's stand -- they were giving away balloons -- so we had high squeaky voices all evening in the bar!"

Those were the days when the bar bets could not be settled with smartphones. When the bets were about commands in MPE or model features of HP 3000s, the community's experts flexed their memory muscles.

The reunion of ASK users is just being mounted in Milton Keynes, a manufacturing town just a couple of stops up from Euston Station in London. And London is the location for the June 12 meeting of SIG-BAR at Dirty Dick's. SIG-BAR on Thursday, ASK on Saturday, all in the gentle climate of and English summer. Why go? To stay in touch with people who know how to help your continued use of HP 3000. It's the one element that always made the HP 3000 users stand out from others that I chronicled from the 1980s onward. A very social species, you've been.

Details on the ASK Reunion can be had from Sarah Tibble, formerly of ASK and one to cross the pond during those days of social travel. The networking is different by now for the Millennial generation, but Gen 3000 doesn't want to cease those days of gathering. "I was with ASK for 11 years and did about 15 US trips," she said.

Blectchley ParkMilton Keynes has some computing lure and lore of its own. The area of the UK was the site of Bletchley Park, where English cypto-wizards cracked German code in WW II using as much brain power as they could muster. The first wave of the Government Code and Cypher School moved to Bletchley Park in August, 1939. Now the buildings at Bletchley house the National Computing Museum of the UK, which includes a working reconstruction of a Colossus computer by a team headed by Tony Sale along with many important examples of British computing machinery.

As for examples of 3000 computing machinery users who have RSVP'd for SIG-BAR June 12 London, the current list, plus your host Mr. Wiseman, is

Rudi Huysmans
Ian Kilpatrick
Graham Woolley
Jason Kent
Ken Nutsford
Jeannette Nutsford
Robert Mills
Roger Lawson
Sally Blackwell
Brian Duncombe
Steve Cooper
Suzanne Cooper
Alan Yeo
Michel Kohon
Tim Cullis
Brad Tashenberg

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:13 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 31, 2014

The Final 3000 Quarter at Hewlett-Packard

LifeboatsIt's the final day of HP's Q1 for 2014, so in about three weeks we'll know how the company has fared in its turnaround. Analyst sites are rating the stock as a hold, or giving the company a C+ rating. It's instructive to see how much has changed from the final quarter when 3000 customers sent measurable revenues to Hewlett-Packard.

That would be the Q1 of 2009, including the final two months of HP's regular systems support sales of November-December of 2008. At the end of '08 HP closed its MPE/iX and 3000 lab. And without a lab, there was no way business critical support would offer much of an incentive to keep HP's support in a 3000 shop's IT budget.

The customers' shake-off of HP's support revenue didn't happen immediately, of course. People had signed multi-year contracts for support with the vendor. But during the start of this financial period of five years ago, there was no clear reason to expect HP to be improve for MPE/iX, even in dire circumstances. Vintage support was the only product left to buy for a 3000 through the end of 2010.

In Q1 of 2009, HP reported $28.2 billion in total sales. In its latest quarter, that number was $29.1 billion. Nearly five years have delivered only $900 million in extra sales per quarter, despite swallowing up EDS and its 140,000 consultants and billions in sales, or purchasing tens of billions of dollars worth of outside companies like Autonomy.

In January of 2009, HP 3000 revenues were even more invisible than the Business Critical Systems revenues of today. But BCS totals back then were still skidding by 15-20 percent per quarter, 20 quarters ago. And even in 2009, selling these alternatives to an HP 3000 was generating only 4 percent of the Enterprise Server group's sales. Yes, all of enterprise servers made up 2.5 percent of the 2009 HP Q1. But that hardware and networking is the short tail of the beast that was HP's server business, including the 3000. Support is the long tail, one that stretched to the end of 2008 for MPE, more than seven years HP announced the end of its 3000 business plans.

It's easy to say that the HP 3000 meant a lot to HP's fortunes. In a way it certainly did, because there was no significant business computing product line until MPE started to get stable in 1974. But the profits really didn't flow off the hardware using that 20th Century model. Support was the big earner, as the mob says of anybody who returns profits to the head of the organization. HP 3000 support was always a good earner, right up to the time HP closed down those labs and sent its wizards packing, or into other company divisions.

It had been a small business all along, this HP 3000. A billion dollars was a great quarter's worth, and the 3000 division never came close. But all of HP's business critical servers together only managed $700 million in sales -- five years ago. The profits from such customers were only significant because of support relationships. This is why those contracts were the last thing HP terminated.

This eventually became a good thing for the stalwart support companies that remained by the 3000 manager's side. At least there was no HP to quote against a company like Pivital Solutions that specializes in real MPE/iX support, for example. No vendor claims of "we can engineer a patch or software fix" that a system vendor uses to retain a customer. By January of '09, HP Support took on the remaining 3000 operations and briefed customers but offered no clue on how much contact the community might expect from support. HP's community liaison to the 3000, its business manager and lab experts departed. 

The final months of 2008, which made up that very last HP 3000 quarter, capped a year with many months of no information whatsoever from the vendor. HP didn't appear eager to address much except the migration nuances still available to companies leaving the platform. To nobody's genuine suprise, Hewlett-Packard wasn't winning much migration business from 3000 customers making a transition.

We know that's true because of a report from Stromays during 2010. Sometime during 2008, HP re-established contact with the only company that made a concerted effort to emulate an HP 3000. According to Stromasys CTO Dr. Robert Boers, three out of every four departing 3000 sites chose a non-HP environment. And without MPE/iX to support, the only money a former 3000 owner would be sending -- if they were pragmatic, and not incensed -- would've been for HP's Intel-based Proliants, running Windows.

The quarters of 2009 and 2010 might have eked out a bit of revenue from 3000 owners. Some were determined to purchase the HP support that had no hope of fixing problems via new engineering. But HP was not encouraging this by the final months of Q1, 2009

HP strongly recommends that customers request all available PowerPatches and SW Media that they may need for the remainder of the life of their e3000 systems, before December 31, 2008. Customers under Mature Product Support without Sustaining Engineering (MPS w/o SE) can still request PowerPatches and SW Media during the remainder of the Limited Support Extension, through their local HP Representative or Contract Administrator; however, processing and delivery time may vary.

The one and only source of revenue today from the HP 3000 community to HP -- something that will comprise a scant trickle of cash -- is the $432 license transfers, still in place after five years to enable an emulator to replace a 3000. 

The HP Software License Transfer process will continue to be used in the event an HP customer wishes to transfer an existing MPE/iX Right-To-Use (RTU) license from a valid e3000 system to an emulation platform of the customer’s choice that runs on other licensed HP products. It will be a system-to-system transfer, regardless of the number of CPUs on the destination platform.

Even in the situation of forcing companies off a server that was working, Hewlett-Packard attempted to keep them on hardware "that runs on other licensed HP products." Classy to the end. HP signed off in January of 2009 with a thanks for all the fish message, urging everybody to get to a lifeboat. But few of the boats would be flying an HP flag, despite these lyrical hopes.

Finally, we want to take this opportunity to thank OpenMPE, Interex, Encompass, and Connect for their dedication to customer advocacy over the years, our HP e3000 ISVs, tools, and support partners that have contributed a rich set of products and services on top of MPE/iX for our customers, and our migration service and tools partners for their invaluable services and products in assisting our customers with their migrations to other HP solutions. Most of all, our sincere thanks to our valued customers. HP looks forward to continuing to provide our customers the best-in-class services and the opportunity to serve you with other HP products.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:49 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 24, 2014

The Volokhs Find the Amazon Finds Them

AmazonmapIn 1980, a 12-year-old boy and his father began to create a beautiful expansion of MPE for 3000 customers. These men are named Volokh, and that surname has become the brand of a blog that's now a part of The Washington Post. The journey that began as a fledgling software company serving a nascent computer community is a fun and inspiring tale. That 12-year-old, now 45, is Eugene Volokh, and along with this brother Sasha the two created the Volokh Conspiracy. Volokh.com became a blog in 2002 -- something of a breakthough in itself, according to the Internet's timeline. Now the new owner of the Post, Jeff Bezos, has replaced a long-standing blog from Ezra Klein with the Volokhs' blend of legal reporting, cultural commentary, and English exactitude.

Bezos, for the few who don't know him, founded and owns the majority of Amazon, the world's largest online retailer. And so, in one of the first Conspiracy posts out on the Post, the article's headline reads

In Brazil, you can always find the Amazon — in America, the Amazon finds you

This is a reference to the Russian roots of the Volokhs, according to founding father Vladimir. He recalled the history of living in a Communist country, one that was driven by a Party relentless in its dogma and control. With the usual dark humor of people under oppression, he reported that "In Russia the saying is, 'Here, you don't find the party -- the party finds you.' "

AmazonAmazon has found the Volokhs and their brand of intense analysis -- peppered with wry humor, at times -- because it was shedding Ezra Klein's Wonkblog. Left-leaning with a single-course setting, this content which the Volokhs have replaced might have seen its day passing, once Klein was asking the Post for $10 million to start his own web publishing venture. There may have been other signs a rift was growing; one recent Wonkblog headline read, "Retail in the age of Amazon: Scenes from an industry running scared."

This is not the kind of report that will get you closer to a $10 million investment from the owner of Amazon. That running scared story emerged from this month's meeting of the National Retail Federation, a place where 3000 capabilities have been discussed over the years.

We've run reports of NRF from Birket Foster of MB Foster in the past. Those capabilities surround the need to secure commerce that runs through HP 3000s. At one point the server had scores of users of software that included Point of Sale aspects, although few 3000s ever integrated with such retail devices. But NRF isn't the point of this article. We intend to congratulate Eugene, Sasha -- and of course their proud father -- for breaking into the mainstream media with their messages, information and opinions.

"When you ask them how they feel about it," Vladimir told us this week about his sons and their blog's transition, "they say, 'We will see.' " The Conspiracy didn't need the Post and its mainstream megaphone. The compensation is slight, Eugene wrote as he explained why volokh.com will slip behind what he calls "a rather permeable paywall" in a few months. 

The main difference will be that the blog, like the other Washingtonpost.com material, will be placed behind the Post’s rather permeable paywall. We realize that this may cause some inconvenience for some existing readers — we are sorry about that, and we tried to negotiate around it, but that’s the Post’s current approach.

In exchange, the Conspiracy, with its ample roster of bloggers covering legal and intellectual subjects, is going to remain free for the next six months, even up at the Post website. "For the first six months, you can access the blog for free. We negotiated that with the Post, by giving up likely about half of our share of the advertising revenue for that time. (Six months is the longest we could get.)"

The website the Volokhs established has an avid readership. Along with that blogosphere presence, Eugene has been visible enough in places like The New York Times, CNN and NPR that I'd give him the award for Most Famous Person that MPE Prowess Ever Launched. It was back in the year when he worked as a teenaged, seasonal programmer for Hewlett-Packard that MPEX was born to become the developer and DP manager's power tool, an express lane for managing and hyper-driving an HP 3000. Vladimir and Eugene created that software, which founded VEsoft.

But more than three decades later, the 3000 and MPE have become a minority of Eugene and Sasha's work-weeks. These men are now professors of law at UCLA and Emory. When asked if the millions of dollars you'd imagine coming off a Post blog would change them, Eugene exhibited a typical pragmatic quip.

What will [we] do with all the millions we’ll rake in? We are sharing advertising revenue with the Post, but I’m pretty sure it won’t be much. Our hourly rate for our blogging time will remain pretty pathetic. We’re not in it for the money; if we were, we’d be writing briefs, not blog posts.

The HP 3000 doesn't take a turn in the subject matter of the Conspiracy. The blog's metier is the law, how the law impacts social behavior like privacy and information sharing, as well as intellectual property rights. It's wide-ranging, a lot like the 3000 has been since it began in the era of "general-purpose computer." To keep reading the Conspiracy for free after July, Eugene says, you can subscribe to its RSS feed, register at the Post with a .gov or .edu address, follow it on Twitter, or look for an imminent Facebook page.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:07 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 31, 2013

Date-based deadline looms once again

Y2khqTomorrow and Thursday, we'll be taking a few days away from our 3000 reports to celebrate the New Year. We'll return with a story on Jan. 3. But 14 years ago tonight, your world was waiting for a new year of calamity. Developers, managers, even executives had spent years planning, coding, even setting aside operations while waiting for Y2K to occur. For many HP 3000 owners, the start of our current century mandated the biggest project they'd ever accomplished: preparing an entrenched set of programs to handle formats for new dates.

For one part of the classic 3000 community, it will be happening all over again. The only break these managers of healthcare billing systems will get is a one-year reprieve. And 90 days of that is already gone.

The healthcare industry is expanding its ICD diagnostic codes in the US, a government mandate that has nothing to do with the Affordable Care Act. More than 48,000 distinct codes will be required in order to be paid by the Medicare and Medicaid systems. One story from the New York Times said that getting injured by a killer whale could be one of the thousands of new codes, a part of the fine-tuning to move from ICD-9 to ICD-10.

Virtually the entire health care system — Medicare, Medicaid, private insurers, hospitals, doctors and various middlemen — will switch to a new set of computerized codes used for determining what ailments patients have and how much they and their insurers should pay for a specific treatment.

Some doctors and health care information technology specialists fear major disruptions to health care delivery if the new coding system — also heavily computer-reliant — isn’t put in place properly. They are pushing for a delay of the scheduled start date of Oct. 1, 2014 — or at least more testing beforehand. "If you don’t code properly, you don’t get paid,” said Dr. W. Jeff Terry, a urologist in Mobile, Ala., who is one of those who thinks staffs and computer systems, particularly in small medical practices, will not be ready in time. “It’s going to put a lot of doctors out of business."

ICD-10 has already had a one-year extension for its deadline. It was supposed to be supported by Oct. 1 of this year. HP 3000 managers didn't have that kind of deadline-extending option as 1999 ran out. But they've had postponing options for their migration projects, and they've used them. Migrations off MPE are probably the only thing that could outstrip the resource levels needed to succeed at Y2K.

The Y2K story was a success story, perhaps the most shining moment of the HP 3000's history aside from going from 16-bit to 32-bit with PA-RISC without rewriting applications. Y2K was feared, misunderstood, and exploited by competitors who'd already engineered four-digit dates. Windows comes to mind; MPE was among a wave of computers that had suffered from comparisons to those low-priced alternatives. But the independent software vendors created tool after tool to help MPE/iX make it to 2000. And COBOL programmers, who'd become specters in the years since their software went to work, found themselves back in demand and in the spotlight.

The HP 3000 and its community had been serving crucial industries such as healthcare for more than two decades by the time Y2K arrived on the horizon. Established, older systems needed new hope and some re-engineering. Experts who still work on HP 3000s brought in-house and off-the-shelf software into the future. We asked some what they'd be doing at midnight of Dec. 31, 1999. Most had plans to stay close to the phone.

It’s entertaining, in a horror-flick kind of way, to consider that Y2K is an Extinction Level Event. But it’s a lot more likely to be like a snow day at school, maybe a snow week. I haven’t talked to a programmer yet who plans to fly over the New Year. Lots of them plan to be working, though. While a few programmers are stockpiling canned goods, buying armored Hum-Vees and digging shelters, most of them have been digging into programs to get things fixed. Technical experts with a respect for society aren’t worried about the end of this year. They won’t predict what will happen, but only that we’ll survive. The safest prediction? Some great prices on canned goods and used survival gear by the end of January.

As you're toasting 2014 tonight, and saying goodbye to 2013, take a moment to recall how collective work and respect for mature skills made January 1, 2000 a safe morning for information technology -- and the world which relied upon it. Some of the 3000's migrated healthcare information customers will be facing a similar deadline, based on a date. Amisys/3000 became Amisys Open while the vendor moved off 3000s. Now the customers are hoping ICD will have the same kind of ending as Y2K.

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

December 23, 2013

2013 makes a new migration definition

GoldfishmigrationsIn our interview with Allegro's Stan Sieler, we asked the veteran developer what has changed about 3000 options for the future. His answer identified a significant shift in the definition of migration. He also spoke about Allegro's own season of considering an emulator project, the tech challenges that will be outside of the system's capability, and how his practice of magic has shaped his exemplary technical career. On the occasion of his 30th year with Allegro Consultants, we spoke via iPad in November, just as the US was switching to back off Daylight Saving Time.

In the first year after HP's 3000 announcement, there were a list of options of what could happen to the community over the decade to come. Is there anything new on that list?

There are the same options but with one difference. Migration means something different now. It's not migrating your app with a 3000 lookalike shell on a Unix machine. It's migrating to Stromasys. It's a variation of 3000 Forever.

We still see people coming out of the woodwork that we've never heard of, using 918s, 928s or newer machines. They have no intention of leaving because they have no funding to leave, and now they've encountered a problem and they're reaching out to the rest of the community. We see people who tend to be on bigger machines, who are either running into limitations, or they're worried about the continued maintainability of the hardware. They are looking at high-end Stromasys solutions.

More than a decade ago, Allegro was considering the prospect of creating its own HP 3000 emulator. The issues involved HP's permission, the economics of creating a product, and more. What happened?

We were concerned that at the time, in addition to not yet having HP permission, that we'd face potential legal action if we did anything. We didn't want to open that door to HP. I kind of regret that now, because I would have approached an emulator a little differently than Stromasys, and I think that might have had some payoffs. 

We've certainly reached out to Stromasys several times to help them with performance limitations that they're encountering with their implementation. I'm hoping that with some of the other 3000 vendors in the process, they may be able to put economic arguments in place that will help convince Stromasys to still pursue that help.

What do you think of the prospects for this emulator making a lot of difference for customers staying on the HP 3000?

I think if they can solve their high-end performance challenges, then they might be able to make some big sales to those kinds of customers. The problem: I don't know how many of those people there are.

It's true: managers are moving off the 3000, and so are moving away from IMAGE. Out of all the SQL databases you've seen, which one is the smoothest in replicating what IMAGE does for MPE apps?

Eloquence. I really like Eloquence. Michael [Marxmeier] has done amazing things with it. Tech support from him is immediate and reliable. He doesn't have problems with you publishing benchmarks. Eloquence has a lot of nice features in it. It has more features than any other SQL database — plus the IMAGE compatibility. It's a win-win situation, it seems to me. 

Do you consider the 3000 has always had a tech boat anchor that made it obvious HP would leave it behind? Is it the equivalent of an unsupported system by now?

It's certainly true about CPU speed and amount of memory, stuff like that. That doesn't mean it won't run perfectly fine.

Are there a set of new tech challenges the 3000 is never going to meet, important challenges?

That would imply that this is going to be a new product you write, and nobody is ever going to write a new product for the HP 3000. If you are doing a new application, it's probably going to talk to a database. Almost anyone you hire will know how to do SQL stuff, not IMAGE stuff. It's just too far behind the times for a new application.

Of all the many projects you're worked on, which stand out at the most fun for you?

For projects, creating SPLash!. I worked with Jacques van Damme. In the very early days, Jason Goertz was helping out. But I remember sitting with Jacques in the HP Migration Center and there was a LaserJet sitting there between us. We had Post-It notes that said things like "tree building" or "generate code." Each was a name of the 20 modules that made up SPLash!. Our source code control system was that if you wanted to modify something, you took the Post-It note off the printer and put it on your terminal. It worked well because you had instant communication with the other developer.

There was that, and then our work with Alfredo Rego on repacking detail datasets. That was Steve and me working with Alfredo, and to some extent Fred White. That was something where data integrity was of absolute importance. Yet it still had a lot of opportunity for using interesting technology, doing things efficiently and fast. 

How do you think practicing magic over the last 15 has had an impact on how you approach your day job?

I've always tried to think outside the box, and with magic it's easier to do. If you're developing a magic effect, you tend to look at the end result and work backwards. That the way I've done a lot of my 3000 stuff — like when I think I was the first person to propose intercepting disk IOs  — I remember sitting down with Joerg Groessler and outlining how it could be done. And so basically giving him the idea for the online backup on the Classic HP 3000s. You could do it behind the operating system's back by intercepting disk IOs.

You don't start out by saying, "what can I do, and where will that lead?" You take the end result, intercepting disk IOs, and work backwards. Sometimes that's the same thing with magic. You say "I want you to be able to look at the card in your hand and see it's not the card you thought it was, but it's a different back, and a bigger card than you thought it was." 

Sometimes a technique comes out for the 3000 and you think of what you can do with them. Like procedure exits came out, and you say, "What can I do with these things?"

If you could talk to the Stan of 30 years ago, what would you tell him to pay attention to?

[Laughing] Buying Apple stock. I would say pay more attention to the Internet and how to link computers together. About 20 years ago, my ophthalmologist asked me where the future of computers is going. I said the future is with computers working together. And I think that's still the answer. We're beginning to get there, but we're not there enough yet. I can't leave this iPad and walk over to my desktop, and resume this conversation yet, like nothing has changed.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:34 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 20, 2013

Climbing a Tech Ladder to Newer Interests

When Allegro's Stan Sieler announced he'd completed 30 years of employment at the firm, it seemed to spark our curiousity about how things have changed over that period for the creator of so much MPE software -- and parts of IMAGE/SQL, for that matter.

StanMugHe joined HP in 1977, after working on Burroughs systems. Over the years both with HP, and then later, he’s left many fingerprints on the 3000 identity. He proposed multithreading that HP finally implemented for DBPUTs and DELETEs. Wrote STORE on the Classic 3000s, plus can see various aspects of MPE/iX because of his work on the HPE operating system [the MPE/XL predecessor using an instruction set called Vision] before he left HP. A lot of the process management stuff that was his code is still running today. Sieler assisted on Large Files. IMAGE/3000 on the classic systems has intrinsic-level recovery he designed. A week after he left HP, they canceled the Vision project and ported 95 percent of his work to MPE/XL.  

Then came the Allegro work during the era when the 3000 division called the company Cupertino East: Jumbo datasets in IMAGE/SQL. Master dataset expansion. B-trees. By that time he was already in the Interex User Group Hall of Fame. We interviewed him for the Q&A in our November printed issue, and spoke via Skype. Stan used his iPad for the chat.

Second of three parts

How are you coming to terms with being really well-versed with a work that fewer people not only know about, but even use?

Yes, that’s a hard question. I know the two places I’d go if I wasn’t doing Allegro anymore. In both places I think I’d be applying knowledge I’ve learned. It may not specifically be MPE, but it’s things like being careful about maintaining data structures of filesystem and the users’ data. These are lessons we’ve learned for 34 years on the HP machine. I think as we get older, we ought to be able to go up the technical ladder. The problem is that there isn’t enough of a ladder, in most places.

What makes the higher rungs of the corporate ladder hard to reach for someone who’s as experienced as you?

I have a friend who’s a fellow magician, and a senior scientist at Apple. I eat in their cafeteria and we talk magic, and I look around and they’re all young enough to be my kids, except for a smattering of people. He agrees that Apple needs more older people, because we’ll point to things and say, “See this? That shouldn’t have happened. We saw that kind of problem 20 years ago. We’d know better than to do that.”  Apple is one place I think I’d want to work, except I don’t think I could stomach their policies. I could see going to Google, too.

My dream job? Being CTO of Tivo. They have the best DVR, and it’s crap. But everyone else’s is worse. It’s so easy to look at theirs and say they could do this and this better, and they haven’t. I’d like to improve it, so I could use it. It’s a lot like the 3000. A lot of the things I’ve helped push over the years are things that I wanted: The ability to properly handle bigger disk drives, and things like that. But sometimes you don’t get your way

What is the current mix of MPE work in your week, versus all other work?

It varies from day to day, and sometimes it’s hard to tell, because there are a few things that I do that run on MPE as well as HP-UX, three or four products plus a couple of internal tools that run on both platforms. There there are things like Rosetta — where all of the work is done off the 3000, but it’s supporting reading from STORE tapes, so it’s 3000-related. But definitely more than half of the work I do is off the 3000. We’ve got a proposal or two out to enhance our 3000 X-Over tape-copying product for them, and then we could use the enhancements ourselves. We’ve identified a relatively major new feature we could add.

People can see Apple seems to be losing its steam. Does it seem like an echo of what happened to HP and the 3000 in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s?

I remember when HP was first abandoning the 3000 in favor of Unix. To some extent, Apple’s doing the same thing with touch computing and changes for the interface on the Mac to be more tablet-like. Also, Apple is putting in more restrictions on what your apps can do if you buy through the App Store. In terms of hardware, Apple’s very quick to roll things over. At least with the 3000, things tended to be backward-compatible for a lot longer time. You didn’t really have a problem with a new version of an OS using more resources and rendering the older machines useless.

On the flip side, a lot like the 3000 came out with the A-Class machines and you’d ignore their crippling, that was pretty cool hardware. Apple’s doing the same kind of leap. I used to bring people into the office to see my Mac Pro, and I’d say, “this is technology aliens dropped down to Earth, it’s so advanced.” The Mac Pro black tower? That’s a more advanced race of aliens.

HP’s been through more than a decade now of no futures for the 3000. How much worse has that been for you than the decade leading up to the 2001 announcement? What have we really lost?

It’s a lot worse in terms of number of customers, income, the ability to fund doing interesting projects. That’s why we’ve branched out to do other things. 

Do you handle Unix support calls, for example?

Allegro does. I tend to get pulled in when they’re hard problems. Same thing goes for the 3000, where I tend to not handle the frontline call. 

For next time: redefining 3000 migration, Allegro's emulation considerations, and how practicing magic can impact a tech career.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:19 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 10, 2013

Google's doodle touts COBOL's relevance

Google COBOL DoodleYesterday was the 107th anniversary of the birth for Dr. Grace Hopper, inventor of the world's most widely distributed business language. That's COBOL, which might puzzle Millennials who manage the world's IT. COBOL's historic ranking won't surprise anyone who earned IT stripes in MPE, of course.

DrGraceHopper worked in the US military before her years developing what we call Common Business-Oriented Language. The US Department of Defense provided shelter for researching what we now call the Internet, another technology that's going to have a lifespan longer than its creators'. Dr. Hopper died on New Year's Day 1992, by which time 30 universities had presented her with honorary degrees.  From 1959 to 1961, Hopper led the team that invented COBOL at Remington Rand, a company that swelled in size while it built 45-caliber pistols during WW II.

The last COBOL compiler ever developed for the HP 3000 didn't come from its system creator Hewlett-Packard and its language labs. Acucorp created a version of its AcuCOBOL in 2001 that understood MPE/iX and IMAGE nuances. Bad timing, of course, given the business-oriented decision HP made about the 3000 later that year. But while Acucorp eventually became a cog in the Micro Focus COBOL machine, there are still Acucorp voices out there in the IT market. And they speak a business argot that's being celebrated now in this holiday season.

Micro Focus has been posting a 12 Days of COBOL feature on its website this month. One of the alerts to the information -- which points at new COBOL capabilities and features -- came from Jackie Anglin, the long-time media coordinator for Transoft. She joined Micro Focus several years ago after her service to migration-transformation supplier Transoft.

The 12 Days items on the Micro Focus blog were up to No. 9 as of yesterday.

Say 'hello' to 21st Century COBOL

COBOL hasn't lasted this long by standing still. As well as its rich OO extensions, take a look at the new XML, SQL and Unicode features in Visual COBOL. They’re there to help you bring apps bang up to date with industry standards.

Migration-bound IT directors might roll their eyes at any message that COBOL is keeping up with newer languages. But according to the online technical publisher Safari Books -- where the ultimate MPE/iX administrator's book is still for sale -- COBOL rules an overwhelming share of the world's information for business. "Applications managing about 85 percent of the world's business data are written in COBOL," it reports on a listing for COBOL for the 21st Century.

Micro Focus likes to say that 35 percent of all new business application development is written in COBOL. That fact may not be as objective as Gartner's 85-percent figure -- but even if it's close, Dr. Hopper should be toasted this week. Few inventions have retained their relevance for more than a half-century, especially ones that are based entirely on brainpower. Dr. Hopper dismantled seven clocks in her home before the age of seven. She also set a language to ticking that hasn't run out of time yet.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:56 AM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 03, 2013

When MPE's Experts Vied at Trivial Pursuit

Pursuit1As the range of expertise on MPE and the 3000 continues to wane, it's fun to revisit a time when knowing commands could make you a leader in a community. The archives of the Newswire run rich into an era before MPE's RISC version, when MPE V was the common coin of data commerce. In those times, regional user group members gathered in person once a year. One such group, the Southern California Regional User Group (SCRUG) mounted a conference so elaborate that it hosted its own Trivial Pursuit version for MPE. Six months before anybody could boot up a PA-RISC 3000, I reported on a showdown between the leading lights in March, 1987 -- a contest moderated by Eugene Volokh in his heartland of SoCal.

PASADENA, Calif. -- It took 10 of the sharpest wits in the HP world to provide it, but entertainment at the SCRUG conference here became a trivial matter for an hour. The prizes were limited to bragging rights, laughter from insiders, and a useless bit of plastic which everybody had and nobody needed.

PursuitwriteringsVesoft's Eugene Volokh moderated the first all-star HP Trivial Pursuit at the conference, as nine top programmers matched wits with each other and Volokh's list of questions. Correct answers drew a small, round reward: mag tape write rings. "Because," said Volokh, "there is no other use for them."

Pursuit 2Competing on four different teams were some of the better-known names from HP's history. Adager's Fred White and Robelle's Bob Green were on hand; local developer Bruce Toback of OPT and Bradmark's David Merit represented the Southern California contingent; Fastran's Nick Demos was on hand from the East Coast, along with Vesoft's Vladimir Volokh adding his Russian wit; and SPLash savants Stan Sieler, Steve Cooper and Jason Goertz made a prominent showing from Allegro and Software Research Northwest.

The questions, like all good trivia, covered HP's most arcane and obscure knowledge of the 3000's OS. Several stumped the teams. For example, "What's the highest alphabetical MPE command, with A as the lowest and Z as the highest?" Green offered VINIT as an answer, but he was told WELCOME was correct.

"No fair," Green said in protest. "They didn't have that one when I started on the 3000."

There were others more obscure, but less difficult for the panel. The product number of MPE (HP 32002). The distinguishing feature of the 2641 terminals (an APL command set) and the product which preceeded V/3000 (DEL/3000, for Data Entry Language).

Non-technical trivia was also included. One that had to be answered by the audience was "What does the HP stand for in HP Steak Sauce?" (House of Parliament). And on one question, Eugene himself was humbled by an overlooked answer. He'd asked what four MPE commands can only be executed by the file's creator. The panel found RELEASE, RENAME, ALTSEC and SECURE. But a crowd member said, "There's one more."

"One more?" said Volokh.

"Think about it -- BUILD," came the reply from the crowd.

HP's history offered some political wit in one question. After asking what post David Packard held in the US government (Assistant Secretary of Defense) Volokh added, "and what years did he serve?"

Green, a Canadian, quipped back "In the Nixon administration, which was too long, to be sure."

As the laughs subsided, the Soviet-born US citizen-moderator chided back, "Now, we'll not have foreigners commenting on our government."

But it was an exchange including father and son of that Volokh family that showed the beneficial byproduct of the contest -- expanding the knowledge of HP's engineering roots. Eugene asked the panel, "What is the earliest date of the century the DATELINE intrinsic works with?" A first answer came from the panel, and then Vladimir answered with March 1, 1900.

His son then gave the correct answer: Feb. 29, 1900. "It incorrectly assumes that 1900 was a leap year," Eugene said. "I should know, since Feb. 29 is my birthday."

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

November 15, 2013

Newer-comers looked forward for us all

Yesterday I wrote about the group of companies who supported this publication at the time of Hewlett-Packard's November 2001 pullout from the 3000 -- and how many of them have survived that numbskull HP strategy. I don't want to overlook another set of stout community members -- those who showed up to help out and spread the word on keeping up with 3000s, well after HP said the party was supposed to be over.

Pivital SolutionsPivital Solutions comes to mind first. They were HP 3000 official resellers, the last ones to claim a spot for that, more than a year after HP pulled out of the futures business. Started print advertising, became sponsors of the Newswire's blog. All to freshen up our world with another resource to keep 3000s online, running long after HP figured the ecosystem would become toxic.

ScreenJet Logo MarxmeierLogo
I'd also like to tip my hat to ScreenJet, another supporter who arrived in our media after November 2001. First in print, then as one of three founding sponsors of the Newswire blog. With a blog not being a thriving commercial concept in 2005, ScreenJet, Marxmeier Software and Robelle were first to the table to ensure we could afford to report and tell stories online as our primary communication. Robelle was with us from our very first year in print, but ScreenJet and Marxmeier joined in after HP said there was no future in 3000s.

Applied Tech logoAnother new face has been Applied Technologies, a modest consultancy which has been a source of articles as well as financial support. You can get surprised by such good things that happen in the wake of something challenging -- like humanitarian acts in the face of natural disasters. If you clicked on a link to help typhoon victims over the last week, you're that kind of person.

Add to this list of newer-comers here the MPE Support Group, Transoft, DB-Net, Unicon, Allegro Consultants, Can-Am Software, Bradmark, Viking Software, Acucorp, PIR Group, Comp Three, Ordina Denkart, ROC Software, Blueline Services, Core Software, Printer Systems International, Tally Printer, Managed Business Solutions. All arrived after November 14, 2001. Honestly, the list of companies who've been part of our community by supporting the Newswire, whether for one month or for 216, is long. At our last count there have been 146 companies who've had enough of a yearning for the 3000 that they'd be a part of our blog or print issues.

I'm grateful for every one of those commitments, gestures of looking forward for us all -- to a future of deep changes, or to a tomorrow that preserves the heritage of our yesterdays. This will be the last year I'll recall that sudden dagger of November 2001 with a story and an essay. If you want more stories of that day, leave yours to the comments fields below, or send them along via email.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:35 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 14, 2013

4,383 days for an ecosystem to slip, survive

FlyingpagesIt's November 14 once again, a date plenty of people don't consider special. I was part of a telephone-only CAMUS user group meeting today. While we chatted before our meet began, I asked if anyone knew the significance of the date. It took a few minutes of hinting before someone -- Cortlandt Wilson of Cortsoft -- said this was the day HP ended its future vision for a 3000 business.

At the time HP said it was worried about the fate of the MPE and 3000 ecosystem. It had good reason to worry. It was about to send a shock wave that would knock out many denizens in that ecosystem. The losses to customers can be counted many ways, and we have done that every year since that fateful day. This is the 12th story I've written about the anniversary of the HP exit. The day remains important to me when I count up what's been pushed to extinction, and what has survived. 

2001 VendorsCompanies come to mind this year. The photo at right shows the vendor lineup for our printed November 3000 Newswire in 2001. (Click it for details.) It was a healthy month, but not extraordinary. Almost 30 vendors, including three in our FlashPaper, had enough 3000 business to make budget to advertise. We'll get to the ones who remain in business after a dozen years. But let's call the roll to see what HP's ecosystem exit pruned or hacked away.

3KWorld.com was a worldwide 3000 website operated by Client Systems. It was large enough to draw its own advertising and used all of the content of the Newswire under a license agreement. It's gone. Client Systems has hung on, though.

Advanced Network Systems (web software circa 2001) and Design 3000 (job scheduling) and Epic Systems (hardware resales) are all gone, too. Interex went out of business in 2005 in a sudden bankruptcy; OmniSolutions (MPE interface software) and TechGroup (consulting) and WhisperTech (a programmer's suite) and COBOL JobShop (programmer services) are all gone, too.

Believe it or not, out of a list of 29, those are the only complete extinctions. Some of the rest have changed their colors like a chameleon, blending into the IT business of 2013. And many have gotten too pared down to consider the broad business outreach they felt confident about in 2001.

Still serving under their same flag after all these years? Count on 3K Associates, Adager, Computer Solutions, Genisys, Lund Performance Solutions, MB Foster, Minisoft, Nobix, Open Seas, Orbit Software, RAC Consulting, Robelle, ROC Software, Robust Systems, and The Support Group.

A few others have evolved but remain alive after being absorbed. WRQ is now deep inside Attachmate, so deep the WRQ name is no longer part of the corporation. Quest Software slipped into Dell this year. Both of these acquired companies still sell, or support, MPE clients. The same is true of Speedware, which rebranded as Fresche Legacy while it's now honing in on IBM AS/400 clients.

And then there's Hewlett-Packard. Ah, the hand that threw the switch that sent a shock to the ecosystem. Within six months of November 14, the dominant Compaq managers were led by a CEO in her third year to erase HP's Way. Bill Hewlett's son Walter lost a proxy fight so legendary that it's the example used on the Wikipedia entry for proxy fight.

It's coincidental that the departure of 3000 products from HP's future happened at the same time as the vendor's decade-plus slide. The company has reported profits each year. HP became Number 1 in sales by adding billions in PC business. But the rest of the company's heritage has become a specter. Some community members take some bitter solace in knowing that the HP which believed in their computer died its own death less than a year later in a courtroom, where that proxy fight had its finale.

People must weather change as a regular part of life. One friend of mine took note a personal shift in business opportunity, on the heels of a decline, and uttered the prayer of the pivoting hopeful player: "The only constant is indeed change."

The tally of 3000 pros and resources pushed into extinction after these 12 years isn't limited to the Newswire's November 2001 lineup. Other extinguished companies from the Interex side include Hi Comp (backup software) plus the lineup of Interex conferences including HP World, the HP e3000 Solutions Symposium, and one of the hardest-working technical meetings, SIG/3000. A meeting in person is a high-risk opportunity to learn and grow. The Web filled in, at a rate we couldn't imagine in 2001.

Nov 14 01 coverOh, the irony of that November. We wrote a lead story for our Flash Paper that reported a record month for 3000 sales at the US distributor of the server. We then had to fold over another sheet of paper at presstime, an Extra, to explain that HP said it only started a two-year period of "business as usual," to quote the impossible spin of the vendor's marketing chief. "There really was no other choice," said the company's general manager of the time about the exit scheme.

There was another choice, but HP didn't make it for the 3000. Get over it, or forget it, or take the time to make a good transition -- these were all responses that changed tens of thousands of lives and careers. We don't know of many people who left IT altogether for another career since then. Some have retired, or at least planned to do so.

Through those dozen years I've tried to put the most reasonable face on the inevitable trend that HP started. The vendor said its decision to talk about its walkout on this market was "about concluding it's time to advise customers about the long-term trend." It's certainly been a longer term than HP could imagine in 2001. More than twice as long if the remaining vendors and customers count for anything. I believe they do -- representing sage management of a resource, or the prospect for a transition-migration services company and vendors of products for the same.

If 20 out of those 29 advertising partners are still in business, the impact of that trend is limited to what two-thirds of them have done next, or what they've done with what's left. Downsized with layoffs and canceled projects. Consolidated product lines and froze enhancements. Launched new products into different, crowded markets. Found a buyer or a senior partner to infuse cash and new commerce in a new direction. Timed their own exit with enough fortune to retire.

Unlike these companies -- some so small their operating budget wouldn't buy coffee service for a single HP sales region -- Hewlett-Packard didn't want to be the last person to leave the MPE party. Lead onward to Unix, it figured, telling customers on Transition Day No. 1 that free licenses for HP-UX were available. Six years later, according to Dr. Robert Boers of 3000 emulator vendor Stromasys, HP told them that 75 percent of former 3000 owners were using something other than HP servers.

It's a story with potential to be a rousing case study by business graduates, the exit of a vendor that could bank on more than 25 years of business selling a proprietary product. But it can be debated that a simple roll call of survivors tells just the most public part of the story. The career changes and chameleon shifts, the evolution of the elder generation of computer wizards can only be told one story at a time. If there are any less than 4,383 stories like that to tell, I'd be surprised. But we've all lived though a dozen years of surprises throughout that inevitable trend. I'm still here to tell stories, about survival as well as slippage. Try to permit next year's November -- the 40th year of MPE -- contain a memory of the day your ecosystem changed.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:37 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 11, 2013

Emulator's transfers trigger shopping fees

Shopping cartAt the IT shop up at Boeing, Enterprise Hosting Services manager Ray Legault reports that he's getting quotes for the transfer of his MPE/iX software licenses to the Stromasys CHARON emulator. At the end of the process, the HP 3000s that have been running at Boeing in Legault's shop will have their ERP software transferred to an Intel-based server -- one which boots up and runs the 3000's OS and all subsystems.

HP's end of the process is well-defined and costs $432. The Software License Transfer request form requires information including

• Current License Owner details
• New License Owner details
• Proof of Ownership (SAID)
• List of Licenses to be transferred
• SLT fee payment information 
• Current Owner signature relinquishing ownership 

HP also requires the 3000 owner to sign their own SLT form, as the New License Owner. "Once the full documentation is received, we will aim to process your request within 10 business days," said the confirming email from the SLT operation. In spite of the fact that a 3000 owner already has paid for an MPE/iX license, the fee still applies.

That's the last segment of the process with certain costs for licensing. Legault has been looking into his independent software vendor list to discover what each will charge to run on the emulator.

"I think we are too late in the year to get the hardware needed," Legault told us today. "We may get the software, though." Since Cognos software runs at Boeing, Legault has contacted them about a transfer fee. Cognos, now a division of IBM, said "they wanted to know how many cores we will use," Legault added.

Cognos -- where the director of sales is Charlie Maloney -- might care about is how many HP 3000 CPUs are being emulated. The PowerHouse user license is totally independent of the machine it's running on. Maloney has offered to help out any user who is having problems getting pricing from their local [IBM] reps. There are supposed to be relatively new licensing options, which not all IBM reps might know about.

While one other vendor has already hit the highest mark for transfer fee demands, Legault added that Robelle and RAC Consulting (makers of ESPUL) "will charge zero, for being a long time customer." Maintaining relations with reasonable companies -- which might involve keeping up support contracts -- will earn a customer that kind of consideration.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:04 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (2)

October 31, 2013

Looking Forward from a Peaceful Wake


Ten years ago today, scores of HP 3000 users, managers, vendors and devotees gathered in pubs, cafes, back yards and offices to celebrate the end of something: HP's finale to creating new HP 3000 servers.

On our separate photo gallery page, we've collected some images of that day. But the people in those pictures were holding a wake for Hewlett-Packard's 3000s (and a few for MPE/iX). Even today, it's hard to make a case that the server actually died on Halloween of 2003. What ended was the belief that HP would build any more 3000s. 

I cheated deathThe gatherings ranged from "The Ship" in Wokingham in the UK, to Vernazza, Italy, to Texada Island off British Columbia, to Melbourne, to the Carribbean's Anguilla, and to a backyard BBQ in Austin -- where a decommissioned 3000 system printer and put-aside tape drives sat beside the grill. At a typically warm end of October, the offices of The Support Group gave us a way to gather and mourn a death -- the official passing of any hope of ever seeing a new HP 3000 for sale from Hewlett-Packard.

Company employees chatted with several MANMAN customers under those Austin oaks, along with a few visitors from the local 3000 community. Winston Krieger, whose experience with the 3000 goes back to the system’s roots and even further, into its HP 2100 predecessor, brought several thick notebook binders with vintage brochures, documentation, technical papers and news clippings.

HP, as well as the full complement of those October customers continued to use the server during November. And while the creator of the Wake concept Alan Yeo of ScreenJet said, "the date does sort of mark a point of no return, and it will be sad," Birket Foster had his own view of what just happened.

“The patient’s not dead yet," he said at the time, "but we did pass a milestone.”

One software vendor announced new products at the gathering. Steve Quinn of eXegySys said that "We will not be mourning the death of the HP3000 as much as celebrating the birth of two new products." Both ran on Windows but had deep roots in MPE. Almost 40 people signed in at the company's HQ in Salt Lake City.

The Wake drew the interest of mainstream media in the US and the UK, including some of the first notice from the business press in several years. But no outlets devoted mainline coverage to the impressive array of parties and commemorations; instead, Web-based reports of the Wake appeared from print publishers and ABC News. The Wall Street Journal, Computerworld and the website The Register also reported on HP’s end of sales. 

On the website where Yeo first hosted the photos, Gary Stead of the UK reported in a note he was "looking for a job 1st Nov!" 

But Duane Percox, Doug Perry, Steve Cooper, Rick Ehrhart, Ric Goldman, Mark Slater, John Korondy, Tom McNeal, and Stan Sieler joined HP’s Cathlene Mcrae,  Mike Paivinen, Peggy Ruse, Jeff Vance and Dave Wilde to raise glasses in salute at the pub The Dukes, just down the street from HP’s MPE labs. Everybody went back to work on 3000s the next day.

Quinn of eXegySys said his company's new products, while running on non-3000 servers, "both extend far beyond the capabilities of their forefathers." The same can be said of everyone who attended a wake for an HP Way business and an ideal. Moving onward is natural in a lifecycle. The Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu said "New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings."

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

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)