HP keeps rolling Unix security patches
Can Google Go Where 3000s Went?

What's Missing This August

KickButt Late summertime once signaled face-time in your community, the opportunity to network at an Interex user group conference. The user group has long since folded, in part because it became a pulpit for the people who purchased HP 3000s when HP still sold the system: small and mid-size companies and partners, for the most part. Some voiced displeasure in conference sessions that HP grew to deplore.

Conference sessions today are without contention at HP's meetings. The candor has been replaced with civility, but summertime used to be prized for its hot exchange with the vendor. It's unlikely we'll ever see a civil demonstration like the football-field-sized poster above, unfurled in August, 1996. This month used to be hot in more than climate. HP customers could reclaim this heritage to get action from their vendor.

This part of August has a lot of memory attached to it, something like a 3000 internal drive with most of its sectors filled. With the summertime's quiet now well upon your community, it's easier to hear those echoes of input from customers. During one week of August in 1990, and another 12 years later, 3000 customers spoke their truth to HP's power. The 1990 week marked the turning point for Interex, a shift from communication to advocacy. The 2002 August included a rising tide of protest over HP's decision to exit the 3000 business -- a strategy then nine months old that had to endure its first customer response at Interex's HP World conference in LA.

August of 1990 brought a Interex meeting of the IMAGE Special Interest Group, a session with HP that came to be known as your community's Boston Tea Party. HP had announced its plan to sell 3000s with no IMAGE included to try to capture new customers -- but that plan would orphan 3000 vendors and customers dedicated to 14 years of bundled IMAGE. The Party has been celebrated by some of the system's homesteaders as a victory over unbundling. HP changed its mind about the strategy for 11 years, but ultimately tilted its game table toward Transition. A leading -- and now late -- advocate for the 3000 wanted the system and MPE/iX to roll off HP's plate and into independence in 2002.

Wirt Atmar of AICS Research stood at the center of both August incidents. 1990's Tea Party flowed from two years of despair about enhancing IMAGE, in constant use on more than 50,000 systems at the time. Unbundling IMAGE would have kicked the database into a ghetto, an act that would damage both the third party community as well as customers who relied upon it. Atmar wrote "An Open Letter to HP" and "The World's Oldest Enhancement Request" for The Chronicle and Interact magazine respectively, articles timed to coincide with the Interex Boston conference. He recalled the revolution in a 2002 Internet posting:

These two articles ...  played some significant part in creating the ambience of the Boston Tea Party, an event celebrated in song by Sasha Volokh, the younger brother [of Vesoft's] Eugene Volokh. HP's reaction to the users' demands, from quotes overheard at Boston, was, "We'll rebundle IMAGE over my dead body," and "This is just a bunch of noisy vendors trying to save their own asses." Again, I was surprised by the vitriol and vehemence of HP's reaction.

But the revolt succeeded in getting new management at the HP labs as Jim Sartain took over IMAGE. A renaissance of features followed for IMAGE that protected the installed base, even while HP groped for new 3000 customers. The lack of new sites and slow growth of 3000 customers led to the 2001 HP exit plan. Just in time for the following year's Interex 2002 conference (by now renamed HP World), Atmar was cooking up another evolution for HP's oldest business computing product.

Csylogo HP ought to part with the 3000 business that it was leaving, he offered. A spin-off division from HP could provide the least amount of operating room. (Atmar even mocked up a logo for the spin-off entity, above). Even more independence for 3000 customers was available if the 3000's operating system could be ruled "abandon-ware," he said, and move into open source status. After citing an article from Wired about game software slipping into abandon-ware, Atmar wrote in an August post called "The Future of MPE"

As a vendor, a creator and manufacturer of software, I am extremely concerned about intellectual property rights. But I don't see MPE as the exclusive province of HP. Because HP has always considered MPE a bastard stepchild, the evolution of MPE has been at least as much a community-based effort as it has been one designed and built from internal directives from within HP itself. In the case of the "abandon-ware" games mentioned in the Wired article, no outside user contributed materially to the creation or manufacture of any of the now-abandoned games, thus the legal rights of the creators seems more clear. But things aren't nearly as clear in the case of MPE.

Atmar pointed to a half-dozen contributions of his own to IMAGE. They were examples of a 3000 community that partnered with HP to create the 3000's success with such contributions of time and technique. August's conferences (the Interex shows were usually held that month, including one torrid meet in Orlando) offered advocacy in their angst. This sometimes was not the exchange that HP desired to air in public. But it was good for the future of the system. As to what was said to incite the Tea Party, Adager's Alfredo Rego recalled the moment of highest revolt.

Fred White (co-author of IMAGE and at the time Senior Scientist at Adager Labs) addressed Bill Murphy (HP’s Director of Marketing) from the floor and complimented Bill on his tie. Fred then explained how stupid it was for HP to unbundle IMAGE. Fred continued by describing the negative effects in products that depended on having IMAGE on the HP 3000. Fred also provided some historic background by relating how Ed McCracken (a previous 3000 General Manager) had made a success of the HP 3000 by bundling IMAGE in the mid '70s. Fred was firm but courteous. No tomatoes (err, tea bags) were thrown. Perhaps the whole “Boston tea Party” legend started because Fred used the word “stupid” in public, applying it to HP’s management, with no apologies.

This summer includes no August conference with controversy, no more Wirt Atmar, no SIG-IMAGE. Nobody would bother to call HP management stupid in public, in part because the vendor's management might struggle to understand what they might do to rectify it. But Atmar noted that Harry Sterling, who went on as HP's 3000 GM to champion the system through the advent of Y2K, was grateful for the another August showdown, The World's Largest Poster Project. HP could behave like a company without monolithic practices, he wrote in August of 2002.

HP has never been a monolithic organization. It’s always been populated by people who have cared about their customers as well. In the end, Harry Sterling vigorously shook my hand, grinning ear-to-ear, and said “Thanks, Wirt.”

August used to be about advocacy in the 3000 community. The concept still remains ripe and ready for those HP customers who migrate to and use environments controlled by HP, the HP-UX and OpenVMS operating systems. In an era when system vendors rarely mention hardware or operating environments,  and train their eyes on the clouds, customers who need to see product enhancements might study what a community of savvy rebels did in Augusts gone by.