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June 2009

Proving An Open Future for ERP

Open source software is a good fit for the HP 3000 community member, according to several sources. Applied Technologies founder Brian Edminster plans to open a portal for such solutions next month, aimed at the 3000 site looking to modernize. What's more, complete app suites have emerged and rewritten the rules for software ownership. An expert consulting and support firm for ERP solutions is proving that a full-featured ERP app suite, Openbravo, will work for 3000 customers by 2010.

A software collective launched in the '90s by the University of Navarra which has evolved to Openbravo, S.L., Openbravo is utilized by manufacturing firms around the world. Openbravo is big stuff. So large that it is one of the ten largest projects on the open source repository, until Openbravo outgrew SourceForge. The software, its partners and users have their own Forge running today. HP 3000 support firm the Support Group, inc (tSGi) has put its Entsgo spinoff on track to deploy Openbravo. All the pieces should be ready within nine months, said Entsgo's Engagement Manager Sue Kiezel.

Kiezel and Entsgo are part of the tSGi enterprise that grew up aiding customers of MANMAN, the venerable and stable 3000 ERP app. Entsgo is proving the open source ERP concept this year in segments outside the HP 3000 community. “We’re working on a couple of deals right now that are going to be closing relatively soon,” Kiezel said. “We believe that within six to nine months, the solution will be as robust as MANMAN was at its best.”

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Ecometry migration steps beyond HP-UX

Migration to HP-UX was only the first step in the Potpourri Group's exit from Ecometry on an N-Class HP 3000. A serious bottleneck in IO forced the catalog and online retailer to migrate in a second phase, settling on the Windows version of the e-commerce software, along with new hardware.

IT manager Bradley Rish said that inefficiencies of the Oracle database design in Ecometry create a performance bottleneck. Their study of IO traffic revealed six files whose performance creates a bottleneck. And the best-performing file of those six "was still 20 times slower than number 7," Rish said, adding that Ecometry's design needs an upgrade to push the Windows edition faster than the 3000's MPE/iX and IMAGE.

Potpourri, which is a holding company that serves 11 other catalog brands, processes 3 million customer transactions a year through phone sales and the Internet. But one half of that 3 million flows in during the high-season's fourth quarter. To handle this business load, the Ecometry installation at Potpourri needed a wide spread of 76 disk spindles and four DL580 servers configured in a cluster. That hardware arrived after Potpourri had already installed and then walked away from an HP-UX RP4400 and its disks.

"Ecometry is IO unfriendly under Oracle," said Rish, "but it's less unfriendly under Windows than HP-UX. It's still not as fast as the 3000. [Ecometry vendor] Escalate need to get their act together on optimizing it."

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New solutions assist small shop migrations

Birket Foster likes to envision the world of 2012, a future that guarantees more migration experience will be in the community's consciousness. This spring we talked about this time well away from HP’s influence on 3000 ownership and migration. Foster's MB Foster is sharpening its message this year to reflect its business beyond 3000 expertise. In the years to come the company is booked to help manage migrated applications and environments running for customers MB Foster has migrated.

What has emerged—solutions, utilities, apps, IT strategy—to help the smallest 3000 shops step away?

When we look at the marketplace, it’s the small shops that are going to suffer the most. As soon as they move to Windows, there’s a lot more work to be done that what they had to do for their 3000s. HP 3000s are like a magic thing you set and forget. Moving from a 3000 to the Windows environment means you have to pay attention to things. Like putting new patches on, or some virus will break out. Or fixing the database from time to time to make sure it’s performance-tuned. Although the 3000 databases could get out of hand occasionally, it was very rare.

   The good news for these shops is that those of us who have been migrating people since 2002 have refined the processes and introduced new tools. MB Foster built nine parsers in the last seven years. Some help with moving scripts from MPE-land to Linux or Unix or Windows. Some help with changing and fixing data on the fly, like moving integers stored in a Big Endian format to Little Endian. We also have a scheduler system written for Windows, one more like the job scheduler you had on the 3000.

   We built these kinds of power tools to assist us in migrations. We’ve been moving data since 1985, so we know a lot about the context of data. Our team put a tool together for the datamart team that pulls an IMAGE database into Oracle or SQL Server. This saved people from having to write all the scripts to do that. By the time HP decided to phase out the 3000, we had a tool that got tweaked to generate a few new things to help migration to Unix, Linux and Windows.

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Trust in the Future, Through Experience

BirketHeadshot We think of Birket Foster as the community’s futurist. HP has made it clear to the community that the future of the 3000 won’t include Hewlett-Packard. Since the company is now counting down its last two years of support, we wanted to look beyond that coming initial year of post-HP operations. Seeing into that future, with more migrations and fewer homesteaders, seemed a lively exercise for Birket Foster, leader of the HP Platinum Migration Partner MB Foster and a forward thinker. His company has been in this market since 1977, and a Migration Partner since 2002. He wanted to envision the 3000 market 10 years after that date.

   We talked about the world of 2012, three years from now and well away from HP’s influence on 3000 ownership and migration. MB Foster is sharpening its message this year to reflect its business beyond 3000 expertise. In the years to come the company is booked to help manage migrated applications and environments running for customers MB Foster has migrated. Foster calls this mission “providing the knowledge and experience to earn your trust.” We interviewed him just after he returned from fresh field work in the 3000’s e-commerce community.

Now that the HP MPE/iX lab has closed, will it affect the timeline for migrations?

If you’re already determined to stay on the 3000, the closing of the lab means nothing. The HP lab was doing less and less over the last five years anyway. It’s really about the applications, not about the 3000’s technology.

   The correct answer to the question “When do I migrate” is “when the rest of the world changes over to the next major new technology.” When that technology gets introduced, and it cannot be incorporated into the 3000 in any way, then you end up with the 3000 unable to integrate.

    I sat in a meeting with a CFO this month who said, “I’m going to be the last guy standing in the management team. Everybody is moving except me, because I’m the youngster. So guess what? I don’t want this on my watch, so I want to get the process ready. I’d like to start the process to mitigate the risk.” The people in the IT trenches don’t always understand that from a risk-mitigation point of view, management may vote differently. In this company, they brought somebody back from retirement to run the 3000. Does that tell you anything?

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Persevere like print people to migrate

NewsWire Editorial

    Rather than get an early start on the transition process, your community has worked like print journalists. Taking time to get it right, releasing nothing until it’s been proven. In a world where Wikipedia and Twitter and bloggers give us instant gratification, print reporters and old school IT pros say, “People can tell the difference between an apt enhancement and a new solution.”

    The newest choices were not on our menus when we started our careers. Radio and TV told stories in chunks of 30 minutes or far less. News reports that could deliver insight surfaced on the pages of magazines, written weeks earlier, or in newspapers crafted by writers on long deadlines. That was the miracle of creating with slower tools: the sight of polished work rolling off trucks or streaming out of minicomputers onto terminals.

   Before this becomes a bald paean to print and line-by-line programming, let me be clear. The superior tools of today create a better, richer life. But that’s most often true when they are used by seasoned craftsmen. On our May issue’s “inside back,” as we call pages 22-23, I preened a bit about the 1,000 blog articles now on our site. But each time I sit to write one of these, I express thanks for the ability to think fast and write tight, because print would permit us journalists to do nothing less. Maybe you feel the same way when you call on end-user interview skills or testing to deploy a helper app with Linux and open source.

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Pages stay open in state of play

NewsWire Editorial

   The story finished with shots of film across the movie screen. Close ups of negative film, getting prepped to make a newspaper, something to offer the world facts and ideals to live up to. Print publishing stands at the heart of State of Play, this spring’s movie about journalism, newspapers’ age, and speaking power to truth. Abby and I sat and watched the printing montage roll over the credits as she said, “The same way we still print the NewsWire.” I squeezed her hand and blinked back a tear, because print journalism remains stamped in my heart.

    I entered journalism in 1980, an era when the only outlet for a deep story was pages of print. Pages created with the same method we use to make this newsletter you hold. Layout images become negatives, the negs become metal plates, the metal carries ink onto paper, the folded paper rolls onto a truck at the back door and into the world. Old school, like HP 3000 computing, built around old ideals.

   But just like printed news, the costs to maintain these old ideals keep rising. This quarter the US Postal Service raised our rates to mail, and last year our ink and paper got a hike. Print journalism has no cost path to follow but upward. Experience with HP 3000 environments follows a similar track, since the resource of experts is becoming more rare. At the same time as old school economics creep up, online reporting and open source computing costs less. You may discover, if you have a wise eye, that you get what you pay for.

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3000s to depart Longs after long life

Longs Drug, the Western US drug store chain which once ran as many as 450 HP 3000s in the world's biggest 3000 network, will be turning off its last system this fall. The migration away from the 3000 began nearly a decade ago when the retail chain started moving a everyday applications onto HP-UX. The systems were located in every store, housed in an enclosure so foolproof only a slot for backup tapes was needed for access. Now HP 3000 manager Jim Alexander reports the last machine will be switched off sometime in October.

Longs was such a large HP 3000 customer that the company had its own dedicated HP 3000 rep.The company's history with the platform goes back so far that its IT manager Bill Gates chaired the HP 3000 Users Group Planning Committee -- in 1975. The company's dedication to volunteer support for the 3000 community has been continued through the 1990s and this decade by Donna Garverick, who left Longs last year to join the support staff of Allegro Consultants. Garverick, who remarried and became Donna Hoffmeister while she was volunteering for OpenMPE, is best known for Internet messages typed in lowercase only, because of her dedication (at Longs) to Posix under MPE.

Alexander, who's losing his Longs job next month, said in a weekend posting that a third-party firm will be administering the last Longs HP 3000 until this fall. He added that system will be in familiar hands.

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Ongoing sales suggest panic has slowed

It's a dubious fact you'll hear among community members and partners: Practically just about everyone has migrated from the HP 3000. But 3000 resellers report that their continued sales suggest much less urgency to move this year than in 2005 or earlier.

"I sell 9X9s and e3000 N4000's every month," reports Bay Pointe Technology's Bob Sigworth. "The migration panic has slowed considerably. Are we selling to new MPE users? No. But there are many, I repeat many, large, companies that are adding to their infrastructure and have no plans to migrate. Why? MPE is solid as a rock and the third-party support people are better than ever."

The topic surfaced recently when options beyond the HP 3000 came up in the 3000 newsgroup. "What is OpenMPE fighting for?" said one community volunteer. "Some version of MPE that sits on a Windows or Linux box. What's the point of that?"

The point is the same as the data point of continued sales of 3000s and good third-party support suppliers. There's life beyond HP, and a life beyond the 3000. Companies make a case every day for both kinds of life. Nobody's in a panic by now, more than seven years after HP started its 3000 exit.

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Support Group partners with Blue Line for solutions

Offerings from the Support Group inc. (tSGI) gained scope and depth recently, when the HP 3000 outsourcing and support company announced a partnership with Blue Line Services. The companies, which are both headquartered in Texas, will share marketing and resources for on-site and support center operations.

"We have partnered our expert services to bring complete end-to-end coverage to the HP 3000 community," said tSGi Account Manager and Business Systems consultant Donnie Poston. "With our combined services you can now have HP 3000 hardware, software and MPE operations support and management under one roof."

Poston said the companies started talks about working together early this year, when engagements with HP 3000 customers gave the firms some common group. They plan to share customer lists and use each other's support teams to back up one another's client lists. Marketing and sales support are also on the combined efforts list.

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OpenMPE list tracks unresolved challenges

    The OpenMPE advocacy group worked with HP for almost seven years on post-HP support issues. The volunteer work was hamstrung from the start by two conditions dictated by the vendor. First, discussions directly with HP were confidential. Second, the volunteer group had no leverage with a vendor which was leaving a marketplace behind. In leaving the development lab business this year, HP's best effort still left unresolved challenges for homesteaders.

    In source code matters, the vendor has not revealed which parts of MPE/iX code can be licensed for read-only access. It also offered no assistance in license talks with companies that own rights to internal parts of the OS such as the streaming module, Posix interface or basic-level ODBC middleware. (The last piece of software has rights owned by MB Foster Associates, whose chairman Birket Foster sits on the OpenMPE board, so talks should be uncomplicated on that module.)

    Other aspects of creating an emulator — which would extend the lifespan for MPE/iX on newer hardware — haven’t gotten any public response. The HPSUSAN number for HP 3000 systems, wired into stable storage on HP’s gear, will need an equivalent in software for any emulator to use third party applications. HP will sell an emulator license for MPE/iX whenever an emulator hits the market. But such an emulator would provide no mechanism for app vendors to enforce licenses, unless HP opens up technical details.

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Retired HP lab leaves issues behind

    HP’s 3000 operations closed out development this year with assurances the vendor had addressed all issues around exiting the community. But while a 3000 issues list logs many HP decisions, some key items remain unresolved.

   The OpenMPE advocacy group worked with HP for almost seven years on post-HP support issues. The list of items which has grown and shrank has been maintained by group director Matt Perdue most recently. The board has signed an official Confidential Disclosure Agreement this year with HP, which curtails the information OpenMPE can share.

   But the list the group could share with the NewsWire shows some missing procedures and unspecified dates for issues such as modernizing security software and receiving OS tapes during 2011. The uncompleted issues present a sizable array of projects and puzzles the community must complete or solve with other resources.

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Thanks for reading for four years

This week I'm grateful for four years of your attention on our blog. In June of 2005 I took the first steps into the media that was called Weblogs at the time, and your support of us has kept the news business lively, fun and a-pace of the action in 21st Century computing.

Fun comes most obviously on April 1, when journalists follow the tradition of the faux news story. We talked about a Treeware Project, and a development mission to rewrite MPE/iX as social networking software. On our first two blog Aprils the Fool's Day fell on a weekend, so we had to set the comedy aside. We've also reported on a $7 HP 3000, which was no joke, and how HP blew up Unix and NonStop servers with C4 to prove how good they were.

There's also been fun in reporting the news people would rather not have made public. It usually requires public sources, people who are willing to take a chance on speaking up. The stand-up, on-the-record sources have become tougher to find over the 25 years I've written about the HP computer environment. The trend might seem safer for those who don't speak up. But it puts everybody who needs adaptation and new ideas at risk.

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IBM takes a swing at 9000 migration

HP employees who once attempted to sell HP 3000s now promote HP's Unix servers as a mainframe replacement. But talking heads in the Big Blue community are pushing back in the other direction, using a hardware transition as an example of migration.

Over at Mainframe Executive, an article by analyst Joe Clabby details an IBM mainframe capture of an HP-UX installation. The software and IT services company KMD decided to leave move its software off an HP 9000, Clabby's article says, because HP left the company no choice but to migrate to HP's Itanium Unix servers.

The story is puzzling in its tone of accomplishment as well as sketchy on the details. The software company already operated an IBM z Series mainframe for many years. They decided to move the HP 9000 apps, including some software services business, to an in-house server. There's not nearly as much skin in the game when an IT director consolidates onto an in-house platform. The only risk is whether your flavor of Unix can be moved onto another variation, in KMD's case Linux on a mainframe partition.

We don't know what database powered the HP 9000 apps and services, a significant missing fact for a case study. But that's not surprising when reading Clabby's reports. Early in this decade he was moderating an HP Management Roundtable for the Interex user group. Then he was advising a company to adopt Itanium. Two-plus years ago he began to tout IBM products on the vendor's Web site. Has he been learning, adapting, or just finding another nail to fit the Big Blue hammer? Tossing around the word "migration" even has him mentioning the HP 3000.

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Will PCI standards kick 3000s out of service?

The answer to the question is being researched by HP 3000 customers today. Those who accept credit cards for payments, and process more than 20,000 Visa sales a year, are preparing for new standards from merchant banks to meet the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Data Security Standard (DSS).

All major credit card brands collectively adopted PCI DSS in 2006 as the requirement for organizations that process, store or transmit payment cardholder data. Ecometry's HP 3000 customers know their e-commerce software vendor will not be certifying HP 3000s for the 2010 standard. But it appears that Ecometry's owner Escalate isn't qualified to certify PCI compliance anyway.

The standard is broader than just software design, covering practices and processes as fundamental as whether and how to store cardholder data. (Don't, unless you must; encrypted plenty if you do.) Escalate wants to convert every Ecometry site to the Unix/Windows versions of the app, which Escalate will be glad to assure as PCI DSS compliant.

But security vendor Paul Taffel, who's just rolled out new features in IDent/3000, says Ecometry is far from the only place to have compliant standards implemented. A Qualified Security Assessor (QSA) can perform an audit to verify compliance — so 3000 sites can continue to process credit card transactions. Or so it appears. Merchant banks will decide.

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New PCI utility adds 3000 compliance tools

HP 3000 software doesn't get much updating these days. I don't mean applications running business on 3000s. Those have to be enhanced and upgraded regularly. But 3000-based off the shelf apps, or vendor utilities, haven't seen much new code since 2005 or even earlier. The exceptions to that situation are starting to work together.

Last week the community got notice of a new feature for IDent/3000, a PCI compliance utility written, sold and supported by Paul Taffel. He's developed numerous solutions for 3000s over the past two decades. At one time he was developing for Orbit Software, and most recently he's been in the development team at Quest Software.

Taffel's IDent/3000 added the ability to detect file changes by means of "of a cryptographically-secure state-of-the-art checksum algorithm, Whirlpool. Whirlpool creates a 512-bit message digest for each monitored file; IDent stores these signatures, and uses them to detect new, changed, and deleted files."

3000 sites in the e-commerce community have deployed IDent over the past year. Taffel is looking for more traction for a tool that appears to have many unique security features. He says he created IDent when Adager's CEO Rene Woc put him in touch "with a couple of Ecometry sites who realized that there was no way to meet PCI requirements with existing MPE features. These sites fed me with requirements, and I came up with a collection of solutions to take care of each requirement."

His current duties extend the security of a 3000 server which processes many late-night purchases from Americans watching television.

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HP educates on virtual servers today

The HP user group Connect gave us notice late yesterday that HP will offer instruction in an hour-long Webcast today. Virtual servers offer a potential upgrade for HP 3000 sites who are migrating, but the concepts differ from 3000 fundamental architecture. Andy Schneider of HP will talk at 2:30 PM CDT (19:30 Central Europe time) on Mission Critical Virtualization Solutions with HP Integrity Blades and HP Virtual Server Environment.

Registration for this free GoToWebinar is open online at the Go To Meeting Web site. Schneider, who's with HP's Software Virtualization team in the Enterprise Storage and Servers unit, will show the latest deliverables for HP Integrity Blade server environments,"including processing capabilities, network/storage interconnect technologies, and their interaction with HP Virtual Connect capabilities." This Virtual Server Environment (VSE) is one driver toward migrating to the HP-UX environment.

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Escalate steps up e-commerce compliance

HP 3000 shops which accept credit cards face a July 2010 deadline for compliance with new credit card security. These PCI regulations got addressed at the recent Escalate Retail users conference, the meeting of what the 3000 community once called Ecometry sites.

MB Foster Associates has prepared a PDF briefing document on the e-commerce/retail meeting, held during May in San Diego. Escalate said that Ecometry installations — there are now more than 400 — make up about a third of the Escalate revenues. The software has been available on Windows and HP-UX since 2005. Officials added that 25 HP 3000 sites migrated to other Ecometry versions during 2008. A backlog of more than 25 sites are "pending go-live" onto other platforms from the 3000.

There are also 75 Ecometry 3000 sites, out of 2002's high-water mark of 325, who haven't planned a migration, or engaged with Escalate to migrate.

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Unix celebrates 40 years of choices

Integral This summer the Unix operating system celebrates its 40th anniversary. The HP 3000's OS won't roll over to its 40th until 2012, but any Unix use back in 1969 would have to be labeled experimental, considering the environment was built for colleges, laboratories and government defense. HP's Unix, HP-UX, came onto Hewlett-Packard's product lineup in 1983. HP built its version upon the System V release from Bell Labs

Unix has survived at HP because of its popularity around the IT world. But being chosen often doesn't always confer superior technology. Unix holds the dubious distinction of having a book written about its shortcomings, The Unix Hater's Handbook, perhaps the only book ever dedicated to deriding an OS. But HP, along with vendors like Sun and IBM, have pumped decades of engineering into Unix to make it a business solution.

HP certainly did not start selling the OS with business in mind. The first versions in 1983 through 1985 were written strictly for engineering workstations, relics such as the HP Integral portable PC (above) and the Series 500 desktops. When HP bought Apollo Computer in 1989, advances such as Unix sockets were being integrated into HP-UX.

HP's Unix got the jump on MPE/iX in the first generation of the Precision RISC hardware releases (Series 800 and 900). In 1986 HP had to double back and revise its MPE port for the new hardware, while HP-UX, created using the same base MODCAL language as MPE XL, was ready first.

HP shipped Series 840 Unix systems to business customers before the HP 3000 Series 930 was ever ready. The 930, underpowered to start, had to be replaced with the Series 950, causing more delay. Some say the  3000 never retained any edge in HP's business computer line ever since.

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HP releases newest 3000 patch

Hewlett-Packard posted notice of a new patch for the HP 3000 late last month. While the repair covers only an obscure problem, the release indicates the vendor continues to test and post minor engineering for 3000 owners.

HP said it would not be creating this type of software for the HP 3000 starting this year. But MPENX21 was built in response to "an obscure security hole" which was reported by Allegro Consultants co-founder Stan Sieler some time ago. While he's not sure when he requested the fix, he has installed and tested the new code — which seems to be the only way to tell what HP has repaired.

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IT manager turns to homesteading 3000s

Homestead3000 Independent 3000 support continues to grow as a cottage industry. Hewlett-Packard imagined that commerce in the 3000 community would rise as the vendor fell back from the system. But HP didn't have visions that former chiefs of 3000 shops could turn their skills into dollars the open market.

At least not by 2008, when a raft of small-shop supporters have surfaced. One of the latest to bob onto our charts is John Bawden, running Homestead3000. He's the former IT manager for QualChoice, a third party administrator of health plans in Ohio which ended its business in 2007, selling off 68,000 Medicare subscribers to WellPoint. In addition to a new full-time IT job elsewhere, Bawden continues to do remote management of the remaining QualChoice HP 3000.

Using a signature line of "HP 3000 Forever," Bawden reports he's allied with hardware reseller and service supplier Black River Computer in the Cleveland, Ohio area.

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HP, Dell show caution to the winds

Hewlett-Packard is a bellwether for the world's economy, but the vendor won't toll the beginning of a recovery anytime soon. HP's stock is one of the 30 Dow Jones Industrials blue chips, so its fortunes have a direct impact on the world's perception of economic rebound. CEO Mark Hurd expressed caution last week while he briefed financial analysts in HP's semi-annual presentations.

According to the HP chairman, it's been years since the IT marketplace enjoyed a robust round of purchasing. It was sometime in 2005 when the sales flowed for HP's products, including the servers which HP sells to replace migration-bound 3000s.

"The buildup now of four-year-old desktops, four-year-old notebooks, four-year-old servers, this is creating quite a bubble," Hurd said at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.'s Strategic Decisions conference. "There's going to be a time when there's going to be some real opportunity here."

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HP's Unix rebuffs Java security exploit

A new critical patch for the HP-UX operating environment — a key element in many HP 3000 transition plans — has closed the door on the latest security hack.

Java can be forced to execute rogue code on HP's Unix, as well as many other flavors of the OS from other vendors. Versions B.11.11, B.11.23, B.11.31 of HP-UX are affected, running the Java Runtime Engine 6.0.03 or earlier, or RTE or earlier.

The problem's details, scant as they are, are on the HP IT Response Center Web site page dedicated to the security breach. (You'll need a password and user handle to log in. These are free.) The patch is HPSBUX02429; the service number is SSRT090058.

HP says "you could be at risk of a serious recoverable error if action is not taken." The HP 3000 version of Java doesn't use these more recent runtime engines. But Java on the 3000 isn't a fully functional tool, either.

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