Editor's Note: This month marks 25 years of my career covering the HP 3000. From a company that posted just $6 billion in sales in 1984 to the juggernaut that now sells that much in less than a month, HP and its customers have been a delight, passion and challenge to chronicle. I'm happy to still call this task a big part of my life's work.
Over the next few Fridays (and a Monday or two) I'll be chronicling the history of 1984 in the 3000 world. I began to report and edit on the HP 3000 in a busy year, when the first office-sized 3000 was unleashed (I got scooped on that Mighty Mouse release), the HP LaserJets first appeared, and HP had to re-start its project to create a 3000 system that could catch up with DEC VAXes.
Now HP owns DEC, the PA-RISC goal of that mission is aged technology, and LaserJets run far behind InkJet business that generate HP profits in consumables. What has not changed is the dedication to business IT skills that your community holds dear. By seeing what HP 3000 life of 1984 looked like -- as told in forthcoming stories by 3000 veterans -- you can set a bar at a reliable level for future IT environments you choose.
1984's summer started this young journalist on 3000 road. After a quarter-century covering your community, my 25-year gold watch is getting to keep my job. Since 1984, HP 3000 users have taught me they're not a retiring bunch.
They've also schooled me on how the computer industry works, starting in a summer when HP's printer and PC business was just growing up while HP 3000 computers were growing smaller than ever. I brought three years of newspaper reporting into the offices of the monthly HP newspaper The Chronicle on Aug. 21 of that year, but I knew nothing about HP computers. A handful of college courses in Pascal, BASIC, Fortran and RPG let earn a computer science minor. IT work was called data processing back then; one course titled “Introduction to DP” filled out my University of Texas degree. To replace the slide rule that I retired along with my designs on an engineering degree, I bought a flowchart template.
I came to your community at age 27, so my 25 years of reporting and editing in the 3000 world has spanned nearly half my life. The year 1984 was a milestone for me, but it was a watershed for your community as well. No commemoration of my quarter century would be complete without your contributed memories. You've already been generous, but I invite you to reply with even more.
The year was important for your communication as well your cradles of community. The user group nurtured by customers as well as Hewlett-Packard was changing its name from the International Users Group for HP3000 to Interex. The annual conference was held in Anaheim, Calif. to take advantage of two resources: Hundreds of manufacturing and distribution customers using 3000s in Southern California. And there was Disneyland, too.
HP sent its first CEO not named Hewlett or Packard to the conference in 1984, and John Young had to tell customers a familiar story about the 3000's future. Improvements were going to be delayed. The plan to boost the 3000's architecture from 16 to 32 bits was being cancelled. The dreams of Vision would be replaced with the Spectrum Project, but HP would paint few technical details in 1984 about the engineering that would launch HP Precision Architecture Reduced Instruction Set Computing (PA-RISC).
I arrived in the Chronicle offices with those echoes of Anaheim written into the nine back issues on the shelves. Anaheim's show was the debut for Wilson Publications, the company that created the Chronicle. John and Mary Wilson told us stories of their struggle to exhibit at the Anaheim vendor show that spring. It was a modest affair of 1,600 programmers, vendors and HP engineers. But it gathered a community with enough potential to spawn three publications by that year, as Interact Magazine and SuperGroup Magazine competed with us at The Chronicle.
Coming from community newspapers I was used to competition, but I started my part of that competition by getting scooped. The 3000's biggest product rollout of the year was the Series 37, HP's first minicomputer built to operate outside a specialized computer room. HP called it the HP Office Computer and the users called it the Mighty Mouse. I called out something else when I learned about it. Arriving without any contacts, I didn't know it existed when we sent the latest Chronicle to the printers without an inkling of the 37. Interact arrived in the mail two weeks later to break the news.
Once I began to find my sources, HP news flowed faster. There was plenty to learn in a year when HP rolled out the InkJet, the LaserJet, its first portable PC, and a Touchscreen PC along with the Mighty Mouse. The 3000 was growing small enough to get into offices without raised flooring and computer room cooling. The hum of secrecy and hope of invention filled that first year. Getting people to talk meant earning their trust around a time of Non-Disclosure Agreements.
“The mid-80s were a time of transition, endless NDAs and uncertainty in the HP 3000 world,” recalls Denys Beauchemin, a chairman of the Interex board who already had seven years of 3000 experience by 1984. “You got in at a very good time.”
It was an era where attending a national Interex conference cost less than $100 a day. All eyes were looking toward HP's updates promised for 18 months after Anaheim. HP needed Spectrum desperately to keep pace with DEC, which was already selling a 32-bit minicomputer system.
HP kept expanding the 3000's mission to help it get traction as a general purpose computer. Jim Sartain, who'd become IMAGE lab manager in the '90s, started at HP that year working on HP 3000 graphics products including EasyChart. “At the time, there was no easier way to create a chart that displayed business data represented as a bar, line, or pie chart,” Sartain recalls. “This was before there were any easy-to-use PC programs for this purpose.”
There would be no 25th anniversary for me to celebrate with you without my 14 years at the NewsWire - and no NewsWire without my partner in life and creativity Abby. Together we're thankful for all the fun and learning that began in the storied year of 1984, a year full of 3000 milestones.
“There were so many things going on that it's hard to pinpoint individual events,” recalls Adager's Rene Woc. “You certainly started covering the 3000 world at an exciting time.”