It took HP about six years to release the latest level of its support for network printing on the HP 3000. The irony in that period is that the majority of those years were in the 3000's Transition Era, when MPE/iX customers started looking at migrations once HP stepped away from the system.
This week HP made its official "general release" announcement about patch MPEMXU1A, a modification to MPE/iX 7.5. Users of that 3000 OS release can now add a couple of keywords to network printing's NPCONFIG's syntax, PCL_ENABLED and FLUSH_LAST_PAGE_WITH_FORM_FEED. These words give non-HP printers a chance of receiving print jobs from 3000s without choking up on PCL sequences. The words also give customers a look at how to get what you want from the HP labs, if you just keep asking. (You can download the patch from HP's IT Response Center today, even without an HP support contract)
Whether the enhancement is close enough to what customers have been requesting since 1999 remains to be seen. We're also interested in how people will put this long-awaited enhancement to use. We put out a summertime report on network printing just to summarize what it will do. HP's promised a more complete technical article about the enhancement on its Jazz Web site sometime in the future.
Network printing services on the 3000 have grown up, but third party companies made a good living on the shortfalls between customer needs and HP's design for some time. John Burke was one of several system advocates who pointed out those shortfalls. To Burke in 1999, it seemed that network printing to non-HP devices was a hidden value.
I can see only two explanations for this secret feature:
• It was there from the beginning, but HP pulled it at the last minute, perhaps in deference to the third parties or other divisions within HP; or,
• It was added after the fact at the behest (with possible funding provided) of one or more of HP’s top “magic 12” customers, and part of the deal was keeping the “feature” quiet.
The journey of net printing is an oddessey of attrition. Users began to ask for connection between the 3000 and non-HP devices in 1995, because they rely on the well-designed spooler in the MPE/iX OS. A limited version of net printing emerged in 1996, but users pressed for more in forums like the 3000-L mailing list and at user group meetings.
Net printing kept growing up even as HP grew away from the 3000 customer base. But the lab kept listening for at least the top half-dozen customer requests, and network printing topped the list in the last full System Improvement Ballot of 2004. HP reports that its goal with this patch is to extend the list of printer options for the 3000 user. A byproduct: A good example of how repeated, reasonable requests give a vendor repeated chances to be customer-focused — even if the drive takes longer than customers hope.