As part of a celebration of my first 25 years of HP 3000 coverage, we invited community members to talk about what their 1984 experience felt like while working with the 3000. Here's our first installment to show how far the community has evolved -- and what sorts of challenges we've left behind.
User groups plus the press lifted the 3000
By Steve Cooper
I started my career on the HP 3000 in 1977. At that point, the Series II was mature enough to build “real” systems on, but reliability, performance, and bug-free software were attributes we could still only dream about. Much of our dream did slowly get realized, and by 1984, we reached a point where the HP 3000 family of computers truly represented a viable platform as a general-purpose business computer. Now an actual family of computers, one could select from small to large systems, finding the price-point that one could justify (and afford). Systems that used to only stay up for days were now staying up for months at a time. And, one could build complex business systems in COBOL and Image on top of MPE, and not run into insurmountable bugs.
But equally important was the emergence of the rest of the infrastructure necessary to confidentially choose that platform for your company. Third party software companies continued to spring up, but now they were showing the strength and perseverance needed to convince companies that they were in it for the long haul. “Maybe we can actually trust this Guatemalan with a privileged-mode program that manipulates databases,” we believed, “and maybe we can trust this Canadian company with an editor that makes the 3000 so easy to use.”
Of course, an essential part (perhaps THE essential part) of this infrastructure was an active and vital user community. This took shape in two forms: First was the User Group, eventually called Interex, and the affiliated RUGs (Regional Users Groups). Now, kindred spirits could get together and meet face-to-face, to share best practices, horror stories, and programs they had written, to learn about these new third party products, and to present a common front to advocate to HP on the direction we hoped they would take the 3000 and MPE.
Second was the press. The 3000 and its community had reached a point where things that happened here were actually “news” and we had “reporters” reporting on them. And not just snippets in ComputerWorld. We had entire publications devoted to the HP 3000, and journalists like Ron Seybold, reporting the news and sharing their observations on it. These two additions to the community gave a legitimacy and empowerment to the community that can't be underestimated.
1984 was also the year that Stan Sieler decided to leave HP and join me in forming Allegro Consultants. I wanted to keep doing what we were doing at my old company, even though that company now wanted to go in a new direction. I thought we had an understanding of “things 3000” that would allow us to tune systems around the world, and produce software products that could make the 3000 do things that had it had never done before. We must have done something right; we're still doing it 25 years later.