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The Afterlife, Now Stalking Its Sixth Year

Cheated The sun has set on the fifth year of HP 3000 life since its World Wide Wake in 2003. Across the International Date Line in Bangalore, India, where a few HP lab engineers still toil until December, it's already Nov. 1. All Saints Day, we used to call the date back when I was a boy in Catholic school. Some community members probably think the 3000's survival through 2008 is a miracle.

There are many saints who could claim some credit for the survival of 10,000 to 20,000 HP 3000s. There are also many systems that have been switched off, scrapped or dropped into deep storage over those five years. The HP 3000 system populace could only decline from its census numbers of 2003. However, it's easy to assert that more 3000s will be running after today — and into the sixth year of The Afterlife — than Hewlett-Packard or its partners ever could predict.

A good share of the populace is running because migration was no two-year matter, or even four-year project at some sites. In these companies the HP 3000 is earmarked for a decommission, sometime in the future, near or far. The Afterlife is a land which is rich in the unknown. We cannot know for certain who's still running, who's making migration progress, and who has put their IT futures in limbo. For some customers, they live in the Afterlife because there's no place else to go.

Oct. 31 is one of two dates burned into the memory of the community, and its shadow is smaller than Nov. 14. HP told everyone it would cease sales and manufacture of the 3000 on Oct. 31, 2003. The date was so widely known that ScreenJet's Alan Yeo organized a World Wide Wake, which commemorated the service this server delivered since 1974. (Note that the service provider above our 2003 story did not outlive HP 3000's utility.) HP sold this system over more than 30 years, counting the ill-fated launch of the System 3000 in 1972. Everyone who calls on 3000 skills and experience, or makes a living in this afterlife, wants to know how many more years of commerce remains. Approximately.

Some people lifting toasts at that wake believed the 3000s worldwide would run into the next decade. Some systems will. Others will fall off when HP stops collecting support revenues and delivering support services. So many of the still-running have separated themselves from HP's offerings, however, that there's little HP can do to nudge them along.

"Most people who have a 3000 would just as soon not change," says Bill Miller, founder of financial app supplier Genesis Total Solutions. Miller's company has helped 3000 owners move to new platforms with several new versions of the financials running in other environments. But the customers who are left today — here in Year Six beyond HP sales and the Wake — could be moving slower than a zombie picking its way across a graveyard (to use a holiday-induced metaphor.)

"They've invested time and money in it, and it's been quite a while since somebody's purchased a brand-new 3000," Miller says in our upcoming November issue Q&A. "If they've had it and it's working, and they're pretty satisfied with what their situation is, every change they would have to go through will cost them quite a bit of money, time and effort. "So they're generally not pressed to do something. HP still has service, and they can find third parties who will service the machines."

"I had one guy tell me that they'll have to pull the 3000 out of his cold, dead hands," Miller added.

There is gusto for going, but not as much satisfaction in staying. Some would say that's satisfaction only for the short term, while the gusto grows opportunity for new skills and greater flexibility and connectivity. I don't mean to insult anybody who's remaining a 3000 customer by comparing their actions to a zombie. All in fun, of course, because every manager who's being responsible knows their own timetable to tomorrow, or exit plan for the Afterlife.

But today, nearing the end of the seventh year since HP announced its exit, nobody knows all the plans, or even a modicum of them. We try to track trends here, like any journalism operation, but the evidence is more anecdotal than exacting. We don't think it will take a seance to communicate with the community. The Linked In social network just reached its 80th member of The HP 3000 Community Group. (Superdelegates, I like to consider these members. Most count more than one decade of 3000 experience, but all are welcome.) A similar number of members, with much overlap, is part of Bill & Dave's Excellent Machine group on Linked In.

We're big on Linked In because it's a way to trade skill resumes and approach members for employment, even if most of the new 3000 work by now is assisting in long-term migrations. There's a broader future out there somewhere, a specter of change for some people and an ascent into advancement for others. These days change is in the air, and it's far from rare. The only thing uncommon is a 3000 owner who is unaware of their vendor's 3000 status: on ice, starting in the cold of January. If development from the creator is evidence of death in your estimation, you're digging out instead of digging in. It may take another five years of afterlife to run the populace down another 50 percent. Our crystal ball remains cloudy on that prophecy. Welcome to Year Six.