Ed. Note: We're running a series of remembrances from members of the HP 3000 user, vendor and advisor community, each marking the year 1984. Today in the US we mark Labor Day, a holiday that celebrates the earliest efforts to build a working-class labor force. On this day it seems fitting to share the state of the 3000's world in '84, a time when the deepest roots to serve your labor, IMAGE and the tools to wield it, were taking hold.
By Charles Finley
By 1984 the accepted definition of best computing practices had evolved into using systems that employed interactive terminals and databases. Applications were usually written in languages like COBOL, RPG, PASCAL, PL/I and FORTRAN. In mainframe environments, the most widely used applications were batch, datacenter-oriented applications. For mainframe users, online interactive database-oriented systems were extremely expensive.
The datacenter structure for these mainframes consisted of developers (programmers and systems analysts), network and database systems programmers, data entry (keypunch) personnel and computer operators. These systems required paid staff in attendance at all times.
Smaller and medium-sized companies during that time, who would only purchase what IBM offered, were mostly relegated to the IBM System 32 and System 34. which were designed to replicate the kind of capability that was available to mainframe users. However, some IBM customers were using the System/38, which had something like a database and was somewhat more terminal-oriented.
For medium-sized customers, there was another class of minicomputer such as the HP 3000, Prime, Perkin Elmer, or Data General Eclipse that offered terminal-oriented applications with languages such as COBOL, BASIC, FORTRAN and RPG. These were mainframes competitors. However, the HP 3000 was the only one of these systems that included its own database, IMAGE.
What the HP 3000 offered, in addition to this built-in database, was a number of tools and utilities and a style of operating that did not require traditional mainframe staff. Compared to the IBM mainframe environment, it also offered a relatively simple means for application development. I came from a mainframe background and noticed that a developer without much experience could develop an online interactive database application, in some cases in maybe as little as one hour. A similar mainframe application would take much longer. Also, to this day I don't believe I have ever met a TurboIMAGE database administrator.
By 1984, the HP 3000 had been around for long enough that it had an established third-party software community. This included companies such as Cognos, Robelle, Vesoft, Adager and, also importantly, it had attracted applications ISVs such as Smith Gardner Associates (Ecometry), ASK (MANMAN), and more. By 1984 many companies who were formally thought to be only candidates for mainframes - such as State Farm, 3M, Ford Motor Company and Rolm - were using the HP 3000 in very business-effective and cost-effective ways.
I heard one story in 1984 that illustrates the value and sharing in the community 25 years ago. I overheard it at lunch at a SCRUG conference. One developer was talking about a dog licensing system that he developed for a local Southern California city in one afternoon. He offered to give it to another city. I had been involved in the mainframe development of a CICS/IMS dog licensing system that cost a local city $200,000! The developer described an afternoon when he had no assigned tasks, and he had heard a user request the dog licensing system -- so he just built it in his spare time.
Charles Finley founded HP 3000 reseller ConAm and headed the Southern California Regional User Group (SCRUG) for 3000 users