HP’s best efforts to curtail rogue thinking led to the system’s database, Fred White reported at this summer's HP 3000 seminar at the Computer History Museum. “If I hadn’t been kicked out of the file system lab, Image would have never existed,” he said.
HP's founders had no ardor to create computers. HP killed off its Omega project, which would have created a mainframe competitor in the early 1970s, because Hewlett and Packard didn’t want to go into computing, said HP's Chuck House, director of engineering at the time.
But even when the 3000 first shipped, it was saddled with problems in its first two releases. The computer crashed every 24 hours on initial shipments, then every 24 days on a second rollout. Only by the time the System III was selling, said Adager's Rene Woc, could HP compete with IBM. “There was still the small matter of making it work,” he added. Rumbles of laughter rolled around the room.
HP benefited from its relations with these vendors in the days of 3000 growth. Harper Thorpe, retired from HP after his work in the channel, said that “There was no ecosystem for this system, and to a great degree, I think our partners led us there.”
The opportunities were exciting enough to drive brilliant engineers back into their college-day habits. Adager’s Alfredo Rego talked about how he took the bus as a university professor and “I had no money whatsoever, so [Allegro's] Steve Cooper and the AMS guys invited me to Thanksgiving. I packed some food, and it was all done totally informally with no financing whatsoever.”
Rick Berquist of AMS passed along the story that “they said that Alfredo guy came and fixed our database and slept on our sofa.” One pioneer after another confirmed that the HP Way and the excitement of leaping into a new kind of computing led them to the 3000 software world.
“The HP culture circa 1972 and for the next five years was impeccable,” said ASK’s Elder. “Dealing with HP was a real joy,” added Martin Gorfinkel of LARC Computing, “compared to dealing with almost every other company.”
Rego said a forced stay in Boston showed him that Data General and Digital isolated their engineers in a way that made Hewlett-Packard and the 3000 fascinating. “Bits and bytes have always been my focus, and I was able to talk to Fred White at HP in 1978 about them. So my reason for choosing HP was Fred White.”
The history museum intends to have complete transcripts and a video available of the one-day meeting — plus its oral histories with pioneers like Rego — in less than a year. Many pioneers remain to be interviewed — legends such as Orly Larson, Robelle’s Bob Green, Ed McCracken of HP and the leaders of VEsoft and WRQ and Tymlabs.
Nearly every story told in the history session about the 3000 had an HP angle or reference, an element which Allegro’s Cooper put in accurate perspective. “What bothers me is talking about HP in the singular,” he said. “You almost have to talk about which HP you were dealing with.”
Cooper's annotation of "which HP" merits special attention today, so many years after the system's launch. One familiar HP 3000 group still works, at least through the rest of this year, in HP offices on the last bits of sustaining engineering. Another HP, ensconced only in support contracts and services, controls the future of the vendor's 3000 business.