Giving gratitude for 3000s and survival

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This holiday weekend, many of us can give thanks for surviving a year unlike any other. A pandemic is one way to learn how deep your fortitude can go. It was easier to love a business computer that was still being manufactured and sold. Even if the sales were disappointing and irregular, newer systems were still going into the world.

In love, we find out who we want to be. In war, we find out who we are. This has been a year of war for health, and it brings us close to two decades of battle to keep resources at hand for 3000s.

By this weekend, the only systems headed into the world running MPE are the new releases of the Stromasys Charon emulator and some experimental installs of a Classic 3000 emulator. The latter SIMH software runs MPE V and it has devoted hobbyists around it. That emulator is not a production asset. The one from Stromasys is proven.

On a holiday invented to promote thanks as well as outsized eating, Thanksgiving reminds us of what a 3000 user can thank the gods for — and something to envy, too.

Prolific commenter Tim O'Neill has asked, "Can you write about the current futures of other no-longer-supported systems such as HP 1000, Alpha, and old HP 9000s?"

We can write some of that. The HP 1000, a product line that HP turned off just after Y2K, still has third parties who will maintain and support RTE operating system applications. The HP 1000 got a proper emulator from Strobe Data, engineered just in time to capture the business of companies who couldn't part with RTE apps.

A similar story is true of the AlphaServer line from HP. Killed off in the last decade, Alpha is a third-party supported product. No other Alpha computers were built after HP shunted Alpha users to the Integrity line, a migration path of now-dubious future. Alpha has a good emulator in the AXP version of Charon from Stromasys. The presence of Charon also prompts thanks from companies who can't support the concept of 17-year-old HP hardware running MPE/iX.

But while the Alpha and the 3000 live on in the virtualization of Stromasys, both communities can be envious of the deal another retiring environment received from HP. OpenVMS lives on in an exclusive license to VMS Software Inc. The company got a 2013 arrangement to carry OpenVMS forward with new versions using the HP source code for the operating system.

OpenVMS futures have some tantalizing what-if's, both for the OS as well as for the 3000 users who wanted more MPE/iX future from HP back in 2002. OpenMPE campaigned for use of HP's source code for MPE and got an arrangement that was announced 13 years ago this week. That source was limited to a technical support resource, however.

If, as happened with OpenVMS, that source had been promised to a single third party, six years before HP would drop support like it was for OpenVMS, there could be more to be thankful for by now. Extensions of some third-party applications. Support for newer technologies. A replacement OS vendor, blessed by HP, to mention in boardroom meetings about the 3000's future.

Perhaps OpenVMS customers should be thankful for something else, too: lessons HP faced about ending the life of a business operating environment, delivered from the OS that had brought HP to the computing game. Third parties who love and care for a legacy computer were at the ready for the 3000. They fell short of convincing Hewlett-Packard to turn over a marketplace. It seems HP learned that leaving customers with no better choice than replacing a 3000 with Windows was not business that anybody feels thankful for.


Damages and desires got stamped from HP's decision

EFORMz flyer

Paper, printed with barcodes or mailed, still plays a role.

Nineteen years ago, Hewlett-Packard rocked the 3000 world with a fateful announcement. "No more new 3000s," the creator of the system said. "December of 2006 marks the end of HP's MPE road. Your ecosystem has been shrinking for some time." And so on.

How bad was that decision, really, in the long view from 2020? It killed companies, cratered careers, made vendors vanish. The world's landfills and scrapyards gathered tons of aging 3000 iron, over the next decade and beyond. What good came of it might be measured in how companies and experts rebuilt their prospects and skill levels.

Not many injured parties fell immediately from a mortal wound. Like COVID, though, the news attacked those whose careers or business models were already vulnerable. I was tempted, in the years that followed, to compare the HP choice as another kind of 9/11. I didn't go there, and I won't try to equate that business decision with a pandemic that's killed close to 1.5 million people worldwide.

The pain of a loss, though, isn't so easily defined. For some people and companies, November 14 was the wildfire that cleared out the old forest floor to make way for new trees. Minisoft was roaring along with its terminal emulator and middleware business. Its founder Doug Greenup summed up the firestorm and the aftermath eloquently.

"At first our business was not really affected," he says. "In fact, our sales actually trended up slightly with upgrades. We were faced with a critical decision to either let our company fade slowly away with the declining MPE business, or reinvent ourselves. I remember that 90 percent of our total business at the time was MPE."

"We decided to take Minisoft in a radical new direction going back to our old word processing days. We originally produced a product called Miniword which competed with HPWord and TDP on the HP 3000. Based on our long lost past, we created a document management suite written in Java that was operating system agnostic. We then marketed this software suite into several new non-HP worlds: QAD, RedPrairie, Manhattan, STW, and Microsoft Dynamics."

"It was very difficult to reinvent, and it took several difficult years," Greenup wrote to us on the 10-year anniversary of the announcement. "HP's decision almost killed our company. But we survived and are stronger as a result."

A few weeks ago, Minisoft dropped a marketing flyer, full color and tri-folded, into my mailbox at the curb. The flyer updated me on eFORMz, its solution for printed forms. It emerged in the years after 2001. Minisoft says, "The world's great brands run on eFORMZ" with a list: Petco, Tiffany, Office Depot, Adidas, Victoria's Secret, Mrs. Fields. The lineup reminded me of the Who's Who list that Ecometry boasted during the year of that 2001 HP announcement. Known brands, the Ecometry sites, all using the HP 3000.

eFORMz doesn't require a 3000. If a company has one, the software integrates effortlessly. The non-HP worlds began to open up as opportunities for Minisoft after Nov. 14. The fact that a printed flyer could promote software in 2020 is a tip of the cap to the continuing power of paper. When the HP news of 2001 arrived at the NewsWire, we were as deeply invested in paper as a little business could be.

Like Minisoft, paper lined my path away from the loss. Books, to be specific, paper that's more durable than periodicals.

I think of books as the HP 3000 of communication. Steady, knowing, rich with data that becomes knowledge and then wisdom. I had to write my way out of the trouble. The Web, as we called it in 2001, became the bridge.

It's been 19 years since HP canceled its future for the 3000 and changed ours. Our lives stopped building on the success of periodical editing and publishing. We still did our 3000 storytelling, of course, and I keep doing it. But every Friday now, for six of them in a row, I write a little newsletter about writing and editing, instead of coding or managing an enterprise system. In the work of becoming a book editor, and the author of a novel and a memoir, I’m not a reporter any longer, not about the book work. I’m an author, as well as an editor and evaluator of other authors.

And Abby? Whoa — a yoga teacher who's produced three DVDs and is now in her 15th year of leading classes. Now people can attend her classes over Zoom. Students come from around the country, where they once had to show up at our address, or live in Austin for private sessions. People who don't think they might do yoga can practice Heavyweight Yoga. Thirteen retreats, too. A Fitness Magazine Fit 50 member, alongside notables like TV anchor Robin Roberts. Obesity Action Coalition's Bias Buster of the Year.

Could I see the way to this day if HP hadn’t ever stopped its 3000 business? Would our tribe instead be like the OpenVMS people who still have vendors and customers, but the latter isn’t spending much anymore, and so the former doesn't have money for ads? That all began in 2013 for VMS, when HP announced the end of its unlimited service to the Digital community. My new cattle drive toward books would’ve started 12 years later than it did. I’d have been 56, just beginning my journey. In that future, we might've had more in our retirement account. Or, we might have looted it for experiences, as we did through the years. What trip, Abby always asks, would you have not gone on?

I can think of a few, but they all promised to be delightful in the cozy run-up to each experience. Were there some lemon meringue pie slices we could have left in the San Antonio Tip Top diner’s cold case? To be sure, there were. How could we know which ones we didn’t need as comfort food for the soul, though?

There are, of course, other ways to measure how things worked out because HP lost its faith. We bet on a business that we didn’t think would last so long. You would've had to ask us on a really honest day in 1996, say, to hear me say this venture had about five good years in it. The unfettered, blue-sky time amounted to six years or so. The next 19 after 2001 have had some seasons better than others. You won't mistake technical publishing for the creative compensations of books and yoga. The satisfactions, though, are a different element to measure.

Many an MPE expert made this kind of transformation. John Burke became a mathematics professor. Some just branched out further, like Birket Foster and his Storm rural internet service company. He's still serving 3000 sites with data migration, too. Fresche Solutions waded into the IBM i Series market and held on to its 3000 work that'd begun while the company was called Speedware.

It’s an alternative history game, this one. However, it’s also a commemoration report. What did we do for Christmas in 2001, versus Christmas of 2000? I always mark what we are spending with the high water mark of the holidays. That was a time that always included the Dec. 31 birthday of my boy, the rock star who was proof I could create something warm and attractive and funny and smart. Amid my obvious failures, Nick is my durable success. And my marriage to a partner both special and true.

We got the Nov. 14 news a few days ahead of the vast majority of our customers. Some of the bigger vendors knew about it days or weeks ahead of us. I've written about hearing about the 3000's end of HP days while holding a payphone receiver with a cord on it. Fitting, considering how classic the 3000 was then and remains today. Wherever Nick and I were headed in Switzerland that night, we kept our appointment. A train station with a payphone on the platform led me to this New Tomorrow. We're all headed there by now because of COVID. Survival is going to be the outcome for so many of us, just as it was after 2001. 


HP pays $1.45 million to settle female pay charges

Hundred dollar bills
Served from a deep cup of irony comes the report that HP, both Enterprise and PC-printer arms, will be paying $1.45 million in a penalty for illegal treatment of its female employees.

The US Department of Labor levied the fine, which will cover back pay for 391 California women who suffered "systematic pay discrimination" while employed at HP.

The irony bubbles up because HP's two longest-serving CEOs this decade were Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman. The fine includes interest, to be paid to the affected female workers.

Under the settlement, in addition to the settlement payment, the two arms of HP agreed to analyze compensation and take steps to ensure their employment practices follow US law. That accounting will include record-keeping and internal auditing, all to ensure HP's compensation practices are legal.

A Labor Department news release says HP has cooperated. But the arm that sells servers that replaced HP 3000s, Enterprise, says it disagrees with the allegations.

HPE has "settled in the interest of putting this matter behind us.” This enterprise HP, whose HQ address is now San Jose rather than Palo Alto, says it is “committed to unconditional inclusion, including pay equity regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation.”

The other HP, headquartered in Palo Alto, says "the charges in this case are without merit. We felt it was in the best interests of all involved to resolve this matter as quickly as possible through a voluntary settlement agreement. HP does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”

The Hewlett-Packard that developed the HP 3000 might not have hired as many women as the newer HP arms. However, the classic HP never was investigated by the US government about hiring misdeeds.

The Labor Department alleges that through routine checks for compliance with employment laws, it found “disparities in compensation between male and female employees working in similar positions.” HP offices in San Diego and Boise, Idaho — the latter where HP board kingpin Dick Hackborn headquartered himself throughout the 2000s — as well as HPE offices in Houston and Fort Collins were the sites where illegal compensation was discovered.


How a 3000 news blackout helped preserve owners

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I’m writing to you from a blackout. It’s a willful one, because I’m staying clear of the election vote totals until later today. It’s too soon to tell what the results might mean to people like me, hoping for change, or at least trying to hold back the chaos.

HP 3000 owners were in blackouts back at the start of this century, the last era we had a contested election. It wasn’t all that rare to hear about somebody just learning, quite late, about the November 2001 HP decision on the 3000. A few years later, even into 2005, a vendor would tell me they’d run into another site where time had stopped at the early-2001 marker.

They were so isolated we might have called them willful in their blackouts. They self-maintained, so the greatest source of news, from people like any indie support company on first response, was outside their view. These blackout customers had long ago left HP in all but spirit, buying hardware from the used market. The newer stuff would’ve returned their investment faster, considering parts and repair time they’d spend on their own. They shopped as if it was the Depression and they were strapped for cash.

Their software vendors hadn’t heard from them in a long time. Not because the support from the vendors had lapsed, although it often hadn’t been renewed. When you buy support as if it’s insurance you never use, not much changes in the viewfinder.

While I didn’t expect this blackout to last as long as it did, the lack of death march music helped preserve all of us in the 3000 world longer, so we could grow stronger. I stood on the train platform in Switzerland with a phone in my hand on the 2001 night when Abby told me what HP was about to do. “Don’t worry quite so much,” I said in the dark. “Lots of people are going nowhere soon.”

I then applied the term "homesteader" to those who would choose to push back migration. Eventually HP adopted the term, because their customers started using that. Once in awhile, something from the press sheds a new light on a decision.

There was a virtual blackout, too. Those who knew that HP’s tastes for MPE had run dry didn’t think that would alter their career or their company. HP said most would be migrated in five years. It was more like 10. At the end of that blackout run, lawyers might have become involved. Companies needed valid support contracts from HP, some of them. I guess leaning on lawyers at the end, and then judges, is the endgame for lots of important decisions and turning points.

In a few hours, I’ll wire back in and see what has happened in the election. So far, anyway — it's easy to believe this one will have a long road to settlement. Things will change a lot less than we think, no matter what the courts give us later on. Come to think of it, for quite awhile, 3000 things changed a lot less than Abby thought.

Customers didn't get a vote in that 2001 decision. Democracy promises everyone's voice will be heard. Capitalism and commerce doesn't operate by democracy, though. We'll see if we can manage our government any better than HP handled its 3000 endgame.


November is a month for 3000 owners and nonstop regrets

NonStop News

NewsWire Classic

We've marked the end of HP's passions for the 3000 many ways and many times over the last 19 years. The month of November is upon us again, and once again filled with changes. From 10 years ago, the story of the 3000's could-have-been fate, reflected in NonStop and its then-current division leader, rubbed some salt into an old wound.

November is a month filled with memory for many a 3000 owner and user. Some of the sting of watching HP stop its futures for the 3000 is sparked by the enthusiasm offered by HP's NonStop general manager, Winston Prather. NonStop enjoyed its first exclusive conference this fall, while Prather is finishing up his fourth year as GM of the server's Enterprise Division.

Prather held the very last post of General Manager for the 3000, a job where he said it was his decision alone to announce the "end of life" (as HP loves to call it) of the server still running more than a few  major firms. You can pretty much see the retread from his 3000 talks in his message in the NonStop bimonthly magazine, The Connection, from his intro for this Fall's issue (pictured above; click for details).

With all the changes we've made... we've stayed true to the what NonStop has always done best: delivering the scalability, availability and integrity you rely on to run your business. It's a NonStop, not a Tandem. The difference is real, the fundamentals remain.

Fundamentals remain on duty at many HP 3000 shops which Prather predicted would be long ago migrated. But the struggle continues to eliminate an IT asset as quickly as he eliminated 3000 futures. One customer wrote us -- and didn't want their name used, for fear of risking a severance package -- about a second attempt to replace a custom-built application. "The packages that we’ve been sold, complete with rosy allegations of full asset management functionality, simply don’t have it," he said.

Some kinds of applications are custom-written all over the world, the manager added, and "whole concepts of our line of business are obviously brand new to the programmers."

This manager retired a few weeks after the organization's “conversion staff was only now asking for descriptions of the old database. They’re obviously not converting anything; they’re just going to archive the data and hope they can refer to it later."

In the meantime, the company's management dropped all support for the HP 3000s, even though one lost a disk drive and failed to boot from it. Other than a daily full backup, there's not even a shadow of support for the systems. Without a tool like Adager to rely upon, "the database will overfill (work order lines keep on coming!) in about four weeks." Of such high-level organization's decisions -- running a 3000 until it careens into a ditch -- are a system manager's nightmares conjured.

"I’ll return to the fray seeking work," said this 3000 pro. "But what I’ll do is in the air -- obviously not much 3000 development going on, but I may be just the ticket for maintenance projects, or I can probably be valuable in a conversion. I know I’m employable and there are a few 3000 community residents who know I’m reasonably smart; I’ll be okay."

HP's hubris hovered on the dream that any 3000 app could be moved or replaced. NonStop made it to the other side of the 2002 merger with Compaq, and the 3000 didn't. Along the road, the scalability, availability and integrity relied upon by some businesses fell into in the hands of the migration and conversion companies assigned to muck out the mess.

Perhaps the product name of the NonStop line will keep its customers from looking backward at the last business decision which HP put in Prather's hands alone. That's his story of your November history, even to this day. The buck stops at his GM's desk, right up to when he decides to dismantle the furniture that might still have a future.


SAP destination achieved at last for 3000 owners

Geese migrating
Close to 30 years ago, a fresh software vendor included the HP 3000 in its targeted platforms. The hopeful mission was to help level the HP playing field for Unix and MPE/XL business computing. In the years when mainframe stability was the IT standard — and MPE still hadn't locked in its iX suffix — SAP chose the 3000 alongside the HP 9000 servers.

The announcement about the software suite already changing ERP standards came from SAP's world headquarters in Walldorf, Baden-Württemberg. SAP was trying to expand its beachhead in the US. The Internet played a minor role in corporate computing. "The company is going to SAP" wasn't a strategic cliche, because unless that company operated IBM mainframes, there was no widespread target platform for the manufacturing and ERP keystone app.

Twenty-eight years later, SAP has carried its clout to a fresh destination. The target may even dislodge some of the most staunch customers using ERP alternatives like MANMAN. SAP is already the replacement system at TE Connectivity, once the largest HP MANMAN user by system count. The final MANMAN database goes offline this month. SAP will complete its occupation in the TE campaign.

The new platform isn't TE, of course. A company doesn't represent a platform for an application. Even State Farm Insurance, with several hundred HP 3000s during the Nineties, wasn't an MPE platform. The new SAP platform is Suse Linux 15. The Suse Linux world considers SAP adoption a milestone for its customers.

Suse says the majority of SAP customers in the late Nineties "didn’t take much note of SAP’s 1999 announcement that SAP R/3 had just been made available to run on Linux." The 2020 media release from Suse last week reported a historical footnote. "Despite the establishment of an SAP Linux Lab, Linux was a wallflower in the SAP community."

The German vendor was as resolute as any military general about winning a space in the US market, though. Hewlett-Packard was going to be an ally in the assault. The app was so new to datacenters that 1992 coverage included an explanation of what SAP stood for. Systems, Applications, Product was in R/3, "mainframe-class software" headed to HP 9000 and HP 3000 users. The R/3 version had gained client-server abilities to reach beyond mainframes.

In 1992, "the foray into the US market has yielded big fruit in the shape of an agreement with Hewlett-Packard to offer SAP’s R/3 mainframe-class software to its HP 9000 and HP 3000 users." As part of the agreement, SAP and HP opened a joint development center at SAP’s headquarters in Walldorf, staffed by full-time engineers from both companies.

German soil already had a HP 3000 development lab. Down the road in Böblingen, the European HQ for MPE/XL systems was battling the push of Unix. The 25th anniversary of the 3000 was celebrated best up the road in Stuttgart, where a disco party roared with a sax player on a trapeze cable. SAP’s first new products for the North American market were expected in first quarter of 1993.

The software was building its legend of an infinite and sometimes maddening range of customization. That made the concept a good match for the 3000 strategy of robust customization. Business rules for accounting, personnel, manufacturing, materials management, sales and distribution, and plant maintenance — they all were executed in custom modules for most ERP.

Suse said in its 2020 announcement that in the Nineties, "customers already installed other operating systems like IBM AIX, HP-UX, OS/400, and Windows that worked just fine. Back then, SAP even still supported a combination of HP 3000 machines and operating system MPE for R/3."

The lab in Walldorf turned out an HP-UX version of SAP. The MPE/XL edition failed to embed itself in the combat unit of HP's 3000. Böblingen HP engineers were fighting the good fight against migration to Unix.

Linux had such blue skies ahead that it's eventually replaced Unix at many datacenters. Carrying around the proprietary versions of Unix like AIX and HP-UX was extra baggage for a platform: Suse is the second most often used Linux in the world among the branded distros, behind RedHat.

"Suse deployments/transitions for business-critical workloads and applications have been made available for public cloud environments," last week's release says. "Furthermore, major release 15 is the first version to take multi-modal principles into consideration." The names of the distros alone spell the coming change. Vendor specific operating systems were once named as acronymns. VMS, MPE, HP-UX, AIX: these ruled the corporate datacenters.

SAP modified its application to stand on the Linux platform. That represented the strategy beginning in the 1980s. On-premises computing was complemented by time sharing data processing. Everything needed a footprint in corporate offices, even if that footprint was no more than HP 2622 terminals or PCs that emulated them.

Linux won over the acronyms. The Suse report says, "Thanks to valiant efforts by SAP and partners like Suse, customers were able to see the benefits that highly efficient and optimized Linux systems have for mission-critical SAP systems."

There are new acronyms by now, like software-defined infrastructures (SDI), and application-focused architectures. IT is still run on acronyms. The emulation and virtualization of hardware and machines is a modern solution. The Stromasys Charon emulator replaces VMS and MPE servers. What's old, like the Nineties era servers, can become new again.


Final N-Class units at TE return to the markets

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TE Connectivity is closing down its HP 3000 operations by the end of this year. The company uses MANMAN to manage its manufacturing operations, including IT leadership from Terry Simpkins. This veteran of the community threw his light into my life when he called with a tip on disk drive failures that became an epidemic in 1985. It was a widespread problem HP was keeping quiet. Management at HP had to announce a recall and repair blank check, so companies could get their storage hardware bulletproof again.

About 35 years later, Simpkins and those N-Class servers at TE are retiring. One of the databases in the 3000 cluster at TE had been running since 1978. Now that set of servers is available for sale.

"As we wind down the last remaining MANMAN database here at TE, it’s time to think about the ‘new home’ for our HP 3000s. Therefore, we have 4 N-Class machines, all of them 8-way 750Mhz, that are for sale. Two are available immediately; the other two will be available in early December. Anyone interested, please contact me via email or by phone at 757-532-5685."

Simpkins says he started managing the MANMAN operations at TE in 1993, when the company was Lucas Control Systems. It's been 27 years with the same phone number and mailing address," he says. "My HP 3000 time started at HP in 1981. That's over 39 years on the same platform, not a bad run. I started on MANMAN in 1985 at Spectra-Physics."

The last MANMAN database at TE is scheduled to convert to SAP over the Thanksgiving weekend. "Our legacy begins in the mid 1970's, but I can't quote an exact year — way before my time. That said, the 3000 was turned on before 1978.

Before the corporation became TE, the company names where the 3000s operated were

Shaevitz Engineering
Lucas Control Systems
Lucas-Varity
TRW
Measurement Specialties
TE Connectivity

The 3000 closeout puts two other veterans into the markets, Al Nizzardini and Tracy Johnson. Releasing good talent and assets into the wild is one of the upsides to shutdowns. Experience in the 3000, so rare these days, becomes available once more.

Photo by PxHere


HP 3000s play like the Rays, without stars

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The World Series is on stage this week, seven games of baseball as rich in legend as anything the 3000 represents. In midsummer, the Series appeared to be a longshot to be played. COVID and its threats were reducing the baseball season to a mere 60 games, and even those were in question. Big stars were driving the Players Association, which had to approve the limited schedule.

The stars must have seen a better outcome in playing fewer games for less money, because now we have a Series pitting a mighty payroll against a tiny one. The LA Dodgers have the second-highest payroll in the game. The Tampa Bay Rays sit three slots from the bottom of the payroll rankings. The mighty Yankees lead the list. The Rays spend more than $80 million less per year on players, developing talent and making wise trades and signings.

The no-stars approach is far from old-school baseball. But one classic supporter of the old-school HP 3000 likes what he sees in the Rays and the Series. Steve Suraci says, "Old schoolers do not appreciate what the Rays do on the field. I am not in that class! I find the no-stars approach refreshing. Every player's willingness to put the team ahead of self is unheard of in this day and age."

That fits a professional who runs Pivital Solutions, an HP 3000 support company that was the last distributor to sign on with HP to sell the servers. That was back in the early Nineties, an era when salaries began to explode after the horrific 1994 strike that wiped out that year's Series.

The concept of the 3000 itself has always been everyday goodness. We saw that during the first year after the strike, when we launched the NewsWire. Within a year we were spreading the word about everyday excellence. We used a Willie Mays quote to describe the 3000. "It isn't hard to be good from time to time in sports. What's tough is being good every day."

Steve and I are betting on the Rays to make the team concept a winner in this Series. The Rays are the underdogs, but they ran up the best record in their league during those 60 games, avoiding COVID troubles even though they play in Florida. That kind of resilience echoes what the 3000 has amassed in its many innings of the IT game.


Indie 3000 expert keeps national spirits flowing


Upstart startup leads off with 3000 news

Good every day
Do you remember the day your first 3000 logon banner rolled across a terminal or a PC? That heady feel of stepping into something new with a promise of permanent promotions? You knew about MPE, a little, or just slid into an office chair and began to plug away at COBOL apps that tapped IMAGE data for the first time.

Starting the NewsWire, 25 years ago today, was not like that. My partner Abby and I arrived at the first issue with 22 years of publishing experience. Between us, we'd managed and launched operations for 18 news publications in the tech industry. Abby was already a publisher at four different magazines.

What was different about the NewsWire startup was its ownership. Just us, along with 10,000 or so owners of HP 3000s. Our audience owned our future. A few told us we were making something that would turn out to make us nothing. A subscription was "Not even worth $10 a year," said one 3000 veteran who'd written features at the HP Chronicle, my previous 3000 outpost. He came on to write for the NewsWire in our October 1995 issue, Volume 1 Number 1, as we say in publications.

That first technical feature, written by someone who doubted we'd sell subscriptions, was "PatchManager/iX: Maintenance Simplified." It toured the new software from HP for patching MPE/iX 5.5. That release was only forthcoming, as they call books that are promised but not yet released. In particular, one staging tool in PatchManager would improve patching. "Welcome to the 21st Century," the feature read. "MPE will go one better than most Unix systems with the StageMan/iX."

The software resolved a crying need. "Backing out a patch in today's MPE/iX environment can rival the agony of abdominal surgery—without the benefit of amnesia," Guy Smith wrote.

HP had been working on PatchManager/iX for more than a year by October of 1995. In publishing the NewsWire 25 years ago, we were picking up the trail of a business server getting a restart from its vendor. PatchManager was "created strictly to address customer issues with the patching process, not as a cost-saving measure," HP said.

Early technology

Like our readers, we were more cautious about new technology from the commodity sector. One report said "HP 3000 managers press Win95 into service—slowly" while the 3000-ready app Netmail/3000 was releasing DeskLink. The module of Netmail connected HP Deskmanager mail nodes to the outside world. "Until DeskLink came along, HP had been recommending the HP Deskmanager sites set up a Unix system to give their Desk users Internet access." The fall of 1995 was so different that email systems were thriving that didn't use the Internet—we always capitalized the word Internet that year.

We counted on those subscribers for our first revenues, but it was the advertisers and vendors who showed up first. At one point over the last 25 years, we had more than a thousand paid readers. That point arrived years after ads from sponsors—we borrowed the term from TV advertising—carried the NewsWire's fortunes. A publisher, my partner Abby stared down the daunting first months with just a few advertisers. WRQ, the biggest software company serving the 3000 other than HP itself, shook our hands on the Toronto Interex 95 floor for a full-page spread. Those pages 12 and 13, plus HP's ad on the inside front cover and Adager's ad on the back cover, were among our bedrock supporters. Full pages from MB Foster and the Support Group were also part of the starting lineup of our startup. All are serving the 3000 today. Well, not HP.

Creating the graphics files for printing was also Abby's job, tied so closely to the artwork for the ads. I came in during her first issue work to find our Macintosh LC struggling through refreshing pages. We ordered a Power Macintosh 8500 that day, but the chugger of the LC was going to have to get us through our first printing. 1995 was not a great year for Apple. In a few more months, Bill Gates would advise Apple to sell itself to Microsoft.

HP assured our readers they wanted open systems computing. The 3000 was putting on the clothing of an open system, an ill-defined term that usually meant Unix. Open was certainly not the truth about any system vendor's Unix, operating systems usually handcrafted from the standard Berkley Unix to exploit vendor hardware. Unix was open in the sense that software vendors always supported it in general. On the ground, vendor to vendor, the OS had as much support in apps as MPE/iX. If your app was having a problem, you called a vendor support line and logged your problem.

Taking our shot

If MPE/iX enjoyed the popularity of Unix in 1995, we might not have taken our shot with the NewsWire. The 3000 world was a forgotten backwater of IT. Our modest venture of two publishing pros in two back bedrooms, tapping experience and a deep list of contacts and experts, never would have had much chance against the likes of publishing giants like IDC, CMP, Ziff Davis, or even Datamation. I'd written freelance for Datamation two years before our NewsWire upstart startup. In the year before we launched the NewsWire we'd both worked on contract for Interex, writing and managing subscription campaigns. One of the hardest talks we faced in that fall was telling Interex executive director Chuck Piercey we were going to sail our own ship into the rest of 1995.

Always the former sports editor at heart, I wrote an editorial for that issue that compared the 3000 to baseball legend Cal Ripken. That year, Ripken broke the record for consecutive games played without a day off. Choosing to use the 3000 represented that same pursuit of reliability. 

"All around MPE environments, other systems go down, fail, and struggle to stay online. The HP 3000 takes the field every day. If computers were baseball players, the HP 3000 would be the Cal Ripken of the league. Cal recently broke Lou Gehrigs' Major League record for most consecutive games played." The numbers matched up. Ripken had played in 99 percent of the innings across the 2,131 games in a row. "Cal is steady, productive, and not flashy—but respected by those who watch baseball closely. Those are the traits of the HP 3000."

We started up in October, a time that leads up to the World Series. In the summer of 1994, I'd toured ballparks with my 11-year-old Little Leaguer for a road trip. The journey and its fatherhood roots would become Stealing Home, after 25 years of conception, revision and writing, then publishing. Baseball felt like a natural fit for the NewsWire and our 3000 focus. Willie Mays was a baseball legend and a star. He knew it was an every day, all the time job. "It isn't hard to be good from time to time in sports. What's tough is being good every day," he said. That was the 3000 and its community and its major league of vendors: good every day.

Not without fears

We had our panic and fears during those earliest days. 3000 owners might have experienced some on the day they learned HP wasn't going to continue selling the servers. They could do little to change that. We had to ride out the fallow times in the first year, those months when some vendors wanted to wait to see who'd support the upstart news outlet.

When we traveled to our first Interex show with a full issue, in Anaheim's HP World of 1996, HP was waiting with a warning. Frankly, the state of the 3000 market was not going to earn an HP recommendation of the 3000 to the large corporations. Glenn Osaka had been in charge of the 3000 group and then moved up to managing the business server group. Hearing that HP's heart wasn't in its 3000 work sent a bolt of panic into us. Two people with ad contracts to serve and plenty of ink, paper, and postage to buy—we didn't want to hear how little the upper HP brass thought of the 3000. It was a legacy business, after all. Show some respect.

Little of that first hard summer of 1996 matched the wonder of dreaming up the NewsWire in the spring of the previous year. In March of 1995, we talked about a newsletter that would do the work of a magazine, produced on a tight budget. We'd worked for a publisher together whose purse strings were always drawn tight. We didn't need four-color printing. We'd learned to do good with two colors: black, and a fire engine red. We had to educate many a vendor on how to create artwork that required only two colors.

Then we printed the first issue and got the newsletters delivered two weeks late, produced on too-heavy paper that busted our postage budget. A new printer took us to press the very next month. Abby had to hunt down a graphics company to replace the in-house work the old printer performed.

Y2K and the rising tide of tomorrows

Like many people in our community, the approach of the Year 2000 lifted our ship. Advertising swelled as software companies added products and customers. The legacy applications and systems were going to need more attention to get them through the narrow part of the calendar, that Dec. 31 when the first two digits of the year were going to turn over for the first time in computing history.

The 3000 business seemed to be soaring by the end of 1999, a period when we posted some of our highest page counts. Interex conferences carried extra ad dollars and gave us chances to sign on new subscribers. The web site was popular enough to carry a paywall tied to subscriptions. For the first three full years, an HP 3000 hosted our web pages. Our webmaster Chris Bartram created a random passcode generator on a 3000 which assigned login passwords for subscribers. After more than three full years, another website, 3kworld.com, paid to license our content. We walked away from further subscription growth to get our stories into a wider world. 

More than two years later, HP's managers looked at the prospects for selling these servers in a post-2000 world. Maybe legacy computing became more vulnerable after the classic apps cleared the Y2K hurdle. We'd only been publishing for about six years when the fateful November 2001 news arrived. I developed the Homesteading label for the thousands of customers who'd be going nowhere soon. I was in Europe vacationing with my son when the call from Abby arrived. In a burst of hubris and desperate hope, I rewrote a front page of the Flash Paper that handed the shutdown news from HP to a readership stunned at the prospects of fewer tomorrows.

For some of our readers, HP's intentions of almost 19 years ago mattered little. Their companies were always going to follow their own counsel and were devoted to a full return on their 3000 investment. Many more had careers derailed or sidetracked, saw fortunes dwindle, made plans for different tomorrows.

The NewsWire was never built to become a massive operation with offices, staff, and benefits. Things were lean enough in the Nineties that no one here carried health insurance. Organizing for a small footprint—though not so small that healthcare didn't ever arrive here—gave us a plan for survival long term. Here at the end of 25 years of publishing, 20 of those years have unfurled in the shadow of HP's certain departure from 3000 life.

Those earliest months when we could believe in HP's 3000 faith were still tinged with wry, sometimes dark comedy. Citizen Kane is a favorite film here, and we'd often quote one of its lines at each other when times got tough. Kane is replying to his trust manager when he's asked why he'd want to buy the New York Examiner. "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper," Kane said.

It's been fun. We look forward to more, bolstered by support from companies with a long-term view of 3000 usefulness, like Pivital Solutions. We have enjoyed support from readers and owners and veterans of the 3000 world, too. Here's to a fresh quarter-century, however it looks. The Tampa Bay Rays are looking like a good prospect to get into the World Series, winning on a pittance of a payroll. Little things that are built smart can surprise you with their ability to be good every day.