By Ron Seybold
We tell stories to propel ourselves through life. The tales can repeat what we’ve heard, invent accounts based on misunderstanding, even suture facts together like a kind of Frankenstein monster: something living at the moment, but unlikely to survive into its golden years.
Judging by the pulse of remember-when storytelling, the HP 3000 community may be entering its golden years by now. If that phrase feels like a bad fit for a computer cancelled by its maker, you might see more monsters lurking in the dark of the future. It’s okay — plenty of people make choices to avoid the unknown.
The monsters for your community include a vanishing HP 3000 ecosystem, as well as across-the-board risk for companies which still run the computer as a mission-critical tool. I’ve heard both stories in the past few weeks. I question whether either tale will stand up for many more years.
History will tell, people say. Experts and storytellers use that phrase to seal off discussions, like corking off a bottle of scotch after a few wee drams. But even when history tells, many years later, one person is telling. Like all historians, they express their views in what they choose, blending a taste of the past like a mélange of wine.
In my home’s buffet sits one of those bottles, a red that doctors say we should sip to maintain our health. The bottle calls itself Synergy, a blend of Sirah, Zinfadel and just a touch of Sangiovese. The brand is Novella (another story metaphor) offered by EOS Winery.
Okay, it’s just too obvious by now — EOS, End of Support. When is the end of support for the 3000, anyway? Long ago in 2001, when we were all more dewy-eyed about what to fear, HP assured us all that 2006 was the end of the 3000’s story.
Then HP altered the ending, like having more chapters added to a book on your nightstand while you sleep next to it. The EOS of 2006 became “at least 2008.” This is not a story with a firm ending. I know that feeling. Even with many pages written in a novel, I find its last act is changing, gathering up a different ending.
However, all that I’m doing is telling a story in that novel to entertain, maybe enlighten. I’m not trying to advise companies on how to invest in IT, or when to embrace change. Hewlett-Packard will do that for you, on some days. At other times HP says it’s up to you to decide your ending — but they have newer books ready when you finish.
An indefinite ending can enrage some people. In June, millions howled when The Sopranos ended in a stunning flash to black, at a peak of tension in a scene, with a rock anthem in mid-verse in the background. How could they do this to us, people screamed. The wrap-up episode did a good job with many loose ends, but the fate of Tony Soprano was unresolved.
As a storyteller, I admired the ending. Yes, I did have to lean forward and check if the cable box had died on us, the finish was so sudden. But as Abby and I sat there together, mute as a pair of giraffes, I understood why the storytelling stopped as it did. It’s up to us to decide the ending of something as epic. Nobody has to tie a bow on something as massive as 86 Sopranos episodes, or 35 years (so far) of HP 3000 history.
History is on my mind this month because I’ve cracked open my notes on a history of HP 3000. People have been generous with stories that can make a history, like the tale of the first ordered HP 3000 or how HP’s first rapid development tool arrived on the scene.
I’m all too happy to blend these wines, like that bottle of Synergy. But I know that I’m writing a history that doesn’t have an ending, only lessons.
You don’t have to agree about the need for a tidy ending. Abby reads mysteries, I’ve got a Orson Scott Card’s science fiction in my bookcases — all of these stories demand a resolution. Even a TV series can have a well-drawn conclusion, like the classic Six Feet Under episode, looking nearly 100 years forward in under fives minutes of screen time.
This relates to the HP 3000. Endings, and the future, loom large in the minds of 3000 customers. HP sent a signal, almost six years ago, that the computer’s chronicles will wrap up much sooner than later. But the ending appears to be much more like The Sopranos finale than any Elizabeth Peters cozy mystery.
Just a few weeks ago, Jennie Hou of the 3000’s HP business office said the vendor still hasn’t decided how long HP will support the server. The risk of using the computer continues to escalate, she says in our Q&A interview. However, the specifics about that risk “are left as an exercise for the reader.” HP can offer examples, sure.
But nobody knows which examples apply. Except you, or your migration advisors who’ve seen your IT organization, applications and processes. The next time you hear somebody say something like “I’d move heaven and earth to get off of an HP 3000 now,” try not to bounce away from such reactionary spew. Yeah, I actually read that someplace yesterday.
Sure, there are companies who need to move heaven and earth to migrate. There are addicts who shouldn’t even keep red wine vinegar in their panty, let alone red wine. Every case is a little different. Every history includes different tales from different storytellers. Just because they say it’s history doesn’t make it true.
Keep an eye out for details, specifics of authority and credibility that build a strong foundation for trust. When you hear a barb about heaven and earth, try to learn which universe the speaker hovers in today. Is it in celestial front-line experience, or an armchair at the computer screen? Idle gossip over a cell phone, or war dispatches about an IT disaster that will never make the press? (Honest and hoary stories about failure take many years to surface, I’ve learned.) Has the speaker served in active duty, or just borrowed an old service cap to pose as a modern-day migration veteran?
History is supposed to teach us how to avoid tomorrow’s mistakes. As we work into the third year of our news blog storytelling, I hope for many more tales from you about the HP 3000’s past. Looking back lets us all analyze, not just romanticize. Your community is creating new tales, even today, about how to manage a platform transition. We’re here to help spread the word. The richest stories I’ll save for that history I’m writing — with your help, I hope.