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Program for legacy with a legacy dev tool

Good tools don't always survive bad times. When HP pulled its plug from the 3000 dynamo, popular development tools began to slide. One of our favorite COBOL legends and 3000 consultants, Bruce Hobbs, was looking for ways to connect to the legacy community for such a dev tool, Programmer Studio.

"I have a vague recollection that you published something awhile back regarding the demise of Whisper Technology, and the situation for anyone now interested in using the Programmer Studio product," Hobbs said. "Could you please point me in the right direction?"

Ad1993_HP3000The genesis of Programmer Studio comes from the days when HP was still buying print ads for the HP 3000 in the general computer industry trade press. Ads that astounded the installed base -- like the one at left -- because they were so rare, and resonated so well with the established consumers. The 3000 had giant corporations using it, something HP had to admit from time to time while it labored to create a business computing market for Unix. Whisper popped up often when we surveyed the legacy developer community in December. This is unsupported software, but it's still in use at the occassional programmer's bench, such as the one that Michael Anderson operates at J3K Solutions.

I was never much for purchasing tools for development. However, since the late '90s onward, I used Programmer Studio from Whisper Technologies as a "character based" editor. In the latter years of working on MPE, the languages I used also included Java, Perl, and SQL.

To date I still use Programmer Studio to develop software on the HP 3000, HP 9000, and flavors of Unix including Linux. Now that I am using languages like JavaScript with HTML and CSS, Programmer Studio knows these, as well as COBOL, Suprtool and Quiz.

(In a bit of circular technology, the Robelle programming tool for the HP 3000, Qedit for Windows, also knows a lot about Suprtool -- since Supertool is also a Robelle product.)

"But today I don't use the HP 3000 much any more, nor Windows," Anderson added. "For years Programmer Studio kept me tethered to Windows as my favored editor. Recently I've started using JEDIT on Linux. JEDIT doesn't know how to access the HP3000, so for that I still use Windows along with Programmer Studio."

Authors and creators tend to dig in with their tools. Hobbs asked about Programmer Studio because of its reputation, but he understood the software had not survived the HP purge.

But for that matter, that kind of afterlife is where other 3000 software resides today. The developer of the Programmer Studio has moved on to other things, according to the Whisper Technology founder Graham Wooley. In 2009 he said

Unfortunately Whisper Technology is no more.  As the developer, Greg Sharp had looked after Whisper and Programmer Studio by himself for the last three years, but he has now moved on to other things and the company has now closed.

The UK's Whisper built and promoted the Programmer Studio PC-based toolset, then sold it as a development environment which understood exchanges with the 3000, but could also be used to create programs under Windows. Robelle responded promptly with a Windows version of Qedit, and for more than five years the 3000 ecosystem had a lively competition for programming tools.

Survival is one of the better measurements of quality, but good technology sometimes has to succumb to business issues and investment strengths. Such was the case for HP's business with the 3000 and MPE. Like Programmer Studio, MPE is no longer supported by its creators. Unlike Programmer Studio, MPE has third party support, as well as an emulation engine being sold this year. These things are markers of survival.

An experienced 3000 developer like Hobbs probably won't care much about support for a programmer's tool. Wooley's company was a lively bed of 3000 ardor in the 1990s. At one point, he placed a bet with Adager's Alfredo Rego. Wooley was so concerned about HP's treatment of the 3000 in 1993 that he wagered with Rego that HP wouldn't advertise the system -- mostly as a prod for HP to do so. Wooley lost his bet, happily, when Hewlett-Packard put ads in both US and European publications for the 3000 at the 11th hour of that year.

An abandoned but beloved product is usually passed along from one user to another, with each exchange marking another step into the public domain. HP's been vigilant about MPE to keep the OS out of this sort of drift. People admire it in the same way that Programmer Studio advocates praise that product.

The difference is that you'll still be able to buy support for MPE from independent professionals, some of whom have a source code license for the software. Adager is on that source code holder list. So are the indie support firms Pivital Solutions, Allegro Consultants, Beechglen Development and Terix. They are all eating their Wheaties, surviving into our new era.