Historic facts can expire, their sell-by dates causing what we know to become untrue. Take the history of the HP 3000's advances. In 2000, HP's pledge to take MPE/iX onto the Itanium architecture was already history, since the vendor made the promise several years earlier. Then in late 2001, well, that history became invalid, and to some customers, simply untrue. But some artifacts of history hold facts that remain true no matter what their date, especially if you own or operate a 3000 of any vintage.
Durable truth is hard to come by in the computer industry. So much is paved over every year that knowledge becomes arcane quickly in the name of advances. But consistency is also a value worth preserving, and so a good share of the 3000 community is still using the system HP built, then dropped from its 21st Century sales plans.
That constant use is what makes a recent addition to our archives more than a relic. Today we received a copy of the Using The HP 3000 "an introduction to interactive programming," circa early 1979. (Thanks to Roger Smith, IS Director of Tulare County Office of Education, for the addition; click on any photo here for a larger version.) In that springtime of 1979, the HP 3000 had two means of interactive access: the 2645A terminal and a hardcopy-only cousin, the 2635. But the commands from that MPE III version of the OS still run today, nearly 30 years later.
That's more than historic. It borders on legendary — but it's also why HP had to admit the 3000 business was too big for it to maintain. Too large in time-span, anyway.
HP wrote this book for the "professional computer programmer" as well as "someone who has never seen a computer before. And we know from experience that both categories are well represented in the HP 3000 user base."
To be sure, the last part of that sentence will be viewed as history. You may not be able to find someone who has never seen a computer before. However, it's not that hard to find someone who has never seen a business server before, and that's what kind of computer the HP 3000 remains today.
The manual is fun, and full of reminders of how much easier programming has become in 29 years' time. The sections on how to delete a line or characters within a line make me wonder how anyone had time to compete a project. But then projects deadlines were measured in months instead of weeks for most customers. Plus, completing a project on the first attempt was a genuine measure of success. Still, all that control-X and control-H had to slow down the creative process. Maybe it was like learning to finger the keys before you compose the concerto.
This document had some unfortunate choices of layout, the worst being the use of yellow type to indicate the HP 3000 responses to commands. Like everybody in 1979, HP was learning how to teach its customers about the use of this new tool. Interactive computing was the reason that the HP 3000 took off in an era dominated by IBM mainframes, and HP probably wanted to show how lively the interactive experience could appear. Later on, you could actually see yellow letters in HP responses, on certain types of terminals.
Each year from 1979 to the present, HP has worked to ensure the largest number of HP 3000s could run the programs crafted with the help of this manual and successors. That makes the 3000-using universe unparalleled among any computer launched in the 1970s. Rogers said that the software written in the 1980s ran during this century.
When I started here 1985 we had a Series III and a Series 44. We then upgraded the 44 to a 48 and changed the III to a Series 70. The next step was changing both to a 960. The last one we got was the 969KS/200.
We still had software we wrote on the Series III that was still running on the 969. Amazing.
When it adopted a go-go grow business mantra in the 21st Century, HP couldn't find the motivation to keep up anymore with its 3000 legend. Perhaps a dedicated base of users, full of expertise and experience, can carry on into a fresh decade of the 21st, starting in 2010. Whether it's a manual for an HP storage device, or a programming aid written before Ronald Reagan took office, nothing seems to expire altogether in your community. How many others can claim that kind of history?