Why we were there, and are still here
November 30, 2007
It has only been two weeks since the first HP e3000 Community Meet, but I already miss the mates I met there. We were all serious about being in that hotel meeting space on a Saturday morning, a time when soccer games and family activities could call lots of people away. Keynote speaker Jeff Vance had to duck out after lunch to coach a game. Donna Garverick and her husband James Hofmeister had similar Saturday duty, but the well-known couple of 3000 advocates showed up the Friday night before for supper.
Many people might wonder what we were all doing in one place, talking about a computer HP canceled so many years ago, with a serious share of its community already migrated or on its way. We gathered to be thinking together, learning and sharing ways to steer the future forward, toward our desires.
See, through that sharing we could hope to transform that ledge the community feels — even now, more than six years after the worst November news most community members would hear — to turn that ledge into an edge, and see what might be, to grab the advantage of imagination.
People misunderstand each other easily these days, especially in the enterprise computer business. Early on in the weekend I saw a series of pictures of shoes, taken in a factory which uses HP 3000s, snapped by Birket Foster. Then we saw our commemorative shirts, handsome with a nerd-style pocket on the front. I must have been putting the shoes and the shirt together, because when somebody climbed into the car on the way to the supper, they announced that "now we have a socks expert on board."
I was delighted to be confused. "Hey, socks," I said. "Now that's a great commemorative for the next Community Meet." Imagine the howls of laughter when I realized out loud it was SOX standards, not the footware, where our newfound expertise was riding.
After lunch I asked those who remained at the meet to imagine the first day they began with the HP 3000. (I'm still after those stories for the history book.) That first day, I noted, was also the day when your 3000 career began to end. The ending has taken decades, really, with enough time for legacy and legends. I entered this marketplace when running an office computer on carpet, rather than a raised floor, was a new feature. The Mighty Mouse System 37 didn't even need special AC, something new for 1984.
Even then HP was pushing toward its Spectrum project to implement RISC, a technology IBM had already given up on. Meanwhile, Digital had 32-bit computing that Spectrum was still years away from giving the 3000 world. "Digital Has It Now," crowed the silver ads in the trade weeklies of the era. Now HP has Digital. You never do know how things will turn out.
Later we saw the Multiple Operating System Technology take its first turn as an HP 3000 project to put Unix and MPE together on a single system. HP never finished or released the project, at least not until the Superdome systems emerged to deliver the same kind of multiples — minus MPE. At least at the same time the 3000 was entering a renaissance with open source and network and Internet capabilities, plus a general manager in Harry Sterling who was serious about making a stab at new business. The end of the 20th Century still found HP as a vendor that wanted more 3000s in production.
HP's effort at attracting the new and retaining the current community culminated in the PCI-bus systems. There's still video in my archives of HP's Dave Snow waltzing down the aisle at an IPROF conference with the first A-Class server under his arm. He walked with the grin of a bridegroom escorting something lovely.
At the end of this November I am more certain that ever that yours is a community unique among the computer world. HP's exit announcement in November was anticipated, but still as unscheduled as the indictments against baseball's Barry Bonds. That's another controversy with an undefined conclusion, although like the 3000's future, attracting lots of forecasts of doom.
Jailing a baseball legend might prove as difficult as keeping people away from a meeting room on a Saturday. You are a curious, connected community, not an ecosystem. The difference is that a community has more intelligence and more heart than an ecosystem. It can be more enduring, too.
We are clever in the face of unsolved problems. A week after a tanker dumped 60,000 gallons of oil into the San Francisco Bay, we were reading about how the Oiled Wildlife Care Network was helping in the cleanup. Maybe as disrespected as OpenMPE, but the Network was surely as unforeseen as OpenMPE too. A network dedicated to cleaning spills off birds and sea mammals? A group of volunteers who talk with HP about the future of a product the vendor has already canceled?
But there are always going to be new solutions appearing to solve old problems even better. The march to migration has made great strides in products and services, not withered away according to some promises. Besides, a good deal of time remains before every migration must be completed. Twenty years and one month, as of today, the moment the CALENDAR intrinsic will render the 3000 incapable of knowing what day is today.
So we gathered in that room and connected in our community to bet on the value of those future years, whether we go or stay, homestead or hope to move away. In the next several months we will hear more about HP's new SCSI-pass through driver and how hard or easy it might be to use; HP's new business model, being crafted with every OpenMPE meeting, for retiring HP's other proprietary products; and what HP has to share about open source updating methods, to keep the late 1990s renaissance from growing stale.
One of the longest-tenured solution suppliers in the market believes in 10 years time most of the world's computing will be done from server centers far removed from the companies using them. Owning a server will be rare, as rare as owning a telephone switching system is today. It's hard to tell what will be "survivor technology." People might have figured radio would be dead by 2007, but in fact it's the entertainment and information source most used by most people. All that time in the car, listening. Maybe even more waiting at a railroad crossing, as those other survivors, rail lines, still do their service.
Could we gather in San Francisco to promise a 3000 future? Yes, but no promises on how long that future will run. Keep thinking for yourself, I told the post-lunch attendees, to turn that ledge into an edge. Then I stole a departure line from Garrison Keillor's "The Writer's Almanac" to make my exit from the speaker's stage: "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch." All three were reasons for why we were there: to show we were well, share our good work, and keeping in contact as a community.