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What day is it? Oh, it's THAT day

14thCalIt's November 14 in the US for awhile longer. If the date isn't significant to you anymore, or you never knew why the middle of this month represented a visionary cliff for HP, let us bring you up to speed. HP announced a five-year plan to the HP 3000's end of life on this date. Eleven years ago.

I know, you must be confused. You've probably looked over at the 3000 in your server closet or the office and had a thought. Hey, this machine has already had it's end of life. How can I still be using it? Didn't HP promise dire consequences and risks galore for anybody using that computer after December, 2006? If the maker didn't kill it off, who's in charge of that anyway?

To assist in marking the anniversary of HP's jump off the cliff, we've assembled a short FAQ.

Who was in charge at HP when they made this decision?

Good question, although it doesn't matter much because everybody's moved on. The CEO, Carly Fiorina, wrote a hardcover book and ran for US Senate after leading HP around for six years. She had a "it's growing or it's going" mantra once the company wanted to buy up Compaq. The high-growth march left HP's 3000 plans on the cutting room floor.

Wasn't it some general manager who decided to end HP's 3000 life?

It was, but don't let anybody tell you it was anyone but Winston Prather. On the strength of a promise to preserve the jobs of people in his division, he told the world "it was my call" to chop off the futures of the HP 3000 at Hewlett-Packard. He might have been the first GM in the company's history to kill off his own product line without any involvement from above. Or, there might have been a series of elaborate PowerPoint slides presented to the VPs who had some access to Fiorina. The CEO wasn't fond of giving much authority away. Prather took the credit for the hit, but he wasn't the single shooter. It's tough to imagine a 28-year-old product line with 25,000 servers worldwide, including some inside of HP's own datacenter, being slashed by a general manager who'd held his job for less than two years.

Prather has taken on work outside of product general management at HP. Christine Martino, the marketing manager whose job involved selling 3000s in marketing, has hung on in something you might have heard of called cloud services. The HP Cloud is up against Amazon's, so there's got to be some real deja vu going on there against another Goliath.

The last general manager who tried to grow the 3000 was Harry Sterling, and the last marketing manager to truly try to sell it was Roy Breslawski. His successor told us that putting Oracle 8 onto the 3000 wasn't going to help, because IMAGE was enough, and advertising wasn't part of her job, either. Things didn't get better for new business on the 3000 from there -- unless you count the dot-com boom that created scores of new high-profile customers in retail and catalog sales. You hadn't heard about those? That doesn't come as a surprise. Nordstrom's just turned off their HP 3000 last year.

I heard the 3000 was dead anyway, and the Nov. 14 stuff just killed it. Doesn't it die in 15 years because of its software?

There are a lot of things that will be dying in 2027, but that 3000 isn't one of them. What will happen depends on how much you need a correct calendar year representation in your software. On Jan. 1, 2028, very novel things will happen to the 3000's timekeeping. But it will continue to keep 60 seconds to the minute, 60 minutes to the hour, 365 days to the year. You just will have to get used to the year looking like "1900," even though it's 2028.

So it doesn't have 15 years or so left?

There's some disk drives that won't survive into the start of the next US Presidential campaign. But what we know as the HP 3000 is really MPE/iX and TurboIMAGE. Aside from that odd calendar year, there's nothing else that's broken enough to consider this a mortal wound. Sorry to say it, but the computer whose life HP was eager to begin finishing off is going to outlive some of the people who tried to kill it.

What about that decision to not move MPE/iX to Itanium -- didn't that doom the 3000?

You probably have heard a lot about Itanium from Oracle. HP's spent a lot of money calling Oracle a liar about its Itanium promises. But in 2012, Itanium doesn't look like it would have provided much help for the HP 3000. OpenVMS got an Itanium port by 2005 or so, but pack a lunch and thick hiking shoes while you look for a VMS owner who feels good about their Itanium protection.

Wasn't there an ecosystem HP was worried about in 2001, so they wanted to warn us?

HP certainly did warn everybody about that shaky ecosystem. Except for some of the biggest software vendors who made up the friendly forest of 3000 tools and apps. There was a problem with the 3000's ecosystem at the time. The real trouble began on Nov. 14, when HP took a public sip of the system's growth prospects and yelled out, "This milk's gone sour." The company had lost its taste for the nectar of the cash cow that was tens of thousands of companies paying for support they didn't use.

What's the big deal about all this anyway? Isn't what HP says about a software's future the way it goes?

Let us refer you to WebOS, from just last year, powering the now elusive HP TouchPads. HP's history in predicting the value of software, and ensuring the same, is not exactly spot-on. Just as the company has promoted and invested in software that didn't stand a chance against entrenched competition, it has also let good technology wither to satisfy larger partners who want to operate smaller development staffs. 

So if I have an HP 3000 today, am I running on borrowed time? Whatever happened to that five-year plan?

It became a nine-year plan, with exceptions for customers who still wanted HP to support the 3000. The ecosystem suffered because software companies lost customers who'd lost faith in HP. But a wider array of support providers emerged over those nine years. HP predicted a bubble that would burst. It turned out to be the company's valuation. R&D, the kind of magic that built the 3000's innards, was not a favorite line item in the budgets of HP's CEOs for more than a decade.

Now you're back on years again, so I still don't get it: what keeps that 3000 year machine from running as expected? I heard there was a "sheer volume of application and store data" relying on it.

This is a phenomenon known as the Spectre Temporal Memory Displacement. The 3000 is just a spectre by now, goes the theory. So by the time its calendar runs out of genuine years, it isn't supposed to matter. Except for that "sheer volume" of data, which all will somehow remain crucial and vital. You're supposed to remember at one moment the 3000 is evaporating. At the same time, there's a massive volune of data still important to customers.

Humans are extraordinarily bad at predicting future happiness. It's not a malady that's limited to planning offices in Cupertino, California -- although by the time 2028 arrives, those HP offices will be replaced by already-aging Apple headquarters offices.The only thing keeping the 3000 from running a business in 2028 is a desire from a customer who will pay a wizard to adjust time. Around the year 2000 a product emerged that acted as a Time Machine. Or an HourGlass that you could tip over. 

Never mind 15 years from now. About 15 years ago, companies sold products exactly by those names to adjust HP 3000 dating for Y2K testing. If the same wizards eat their vegatables and exercise and take plenty of naps, there's a fair chance that dating will become an online nirvana in the land of the 3000. One 3000 veteran, Terry Simpkins, suggests that if the MPE CALENDAR base year could be changed from 1900 to 1950, that might do the trick.