Making Headway with a Static OS
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Six Years of Insight on the Afterlife

HellSix years ago this month I revisited the site where I first heard of the "death of the HP 3000." HP wanted to call its exit from the 3000 community by that phrase in November, 2001. Instead we're thinking about the afterlife this month, in the wake of the North American sales force opening for the Stromasys Charon HPA emulator. Who needs this? At the Stromasys event, I heard from third party support companies that Hewlett-Packard continues to use MPE/iX applications -- which must be pretty crucial and costly to migrate.

It's a safe to say that the Worldwide Reseller Agreement for the emulator could be a benefit to HP's own operations. Such systems are usually scheduled for migration. But as Stromasys GM Bill Driest said at this month's Training Day, "I'm a quota-carrying salesman, and the phrase we use is "Liars are buyers.' "

In other words, a customer who says they'll migrate has a chance of being on the server longer than they expect. Does that make them liars when they say they'll be off the 3000? Maybe, but more likely it's a matter of timing and degree -- the same things that tamped down my panic when I heard in a phone booth in Lausanne's train station my distraught partner Abby telling me, "HP says the 3000 is going away. They're not going to make it anymore. They need to talk to you, before they announce."

I ponder the afterlife that's emerged because that's where I think my mom is today. We sent her off in a memorial service on Sunday, when three of us eulogized her with imaginations of her dancing in heaven, catching up my dad in the afterlife, or asserting, like I did (at 12:00 in the YouTube video), "They say nothing dies if it lives on in the hearts and minds of those who love it."

The MPE/iX OS, apps and IMAGE are doing more than living in hearts and minds. They live in companies like HP. The ecosystem was supposed to be the death of the 3000, according to the HP speaking in 2001. Instead, it's becoming a place where the customers who need help are getting supported. Even if they need an interim emulator to buy, so applications can remain where they lie.

The afterlife has a way of entrancing us all. I knew that HP's five-year time-frame for getting customers off the 3000 was outlandish, knew it even before I hung up the phone in that train station. But HP was writing the song that could've been presicent lyrics for the Squirrel Nut Zippers' song "Hell."

In the afterlife
You could be headed for the serious strife
Now you make the scene all day
But tomorrow there'll be Hell to pay

On that tomorrow in 2001, I bought a new notebook and rode the train back to Paris. I began to write 50 questions for my briefing with HP. At the top of the first page I wrote the seminal query, the one that fueled 49 more:

Tell me why it's going away.

Some of those 50 questions I wrote in a fever of inquiry, roaring onward to London on the under-the-Channel Eurostar train. Things like open source or sharing of MPE code with third parties, or a delivery channel of HP-driven 3000 services beyond 2008 — those got resolved. An emulator -- pretty much unheard of in HP's business line of computers -- was still four years away from being licensed and more that 11 years away from having a sales kickoff in Mountain View. The third parties didn't get much of HP's direct help for a homesteading customer -- unless you count the limited-use release of MPE source, and the concessions like that emulator license, wrenched from HP by OpenMPE.

Let's review how some of the 49 have shaken out, six years after I passed that phone booth where the afterlife started to emerge for 3000 owners.

Will the customers and development community get access to HP's internal compilers, to make changes to MPE/iX? Absolutely not, and they probably never will. MPE is as polished as it will ever be. However, seven companies do have source code to MPE/iX. They write patches and workarounds for the OS and the database. It's a compromise, but that source code is something to keep MPE/iX from having Hell to pay.

What are HP's plans for its own 600 internal HP 3000 systems? Five extra years into the afterlife, there are still some 3000 systems running HP company functions.

Are the PA-RISC customers in the HP 9000 customer base being given an obsolescence date as well? Not only is PA-RISC obsolete now, but HP's own expert witness in the Oracle lawsuit said the HP-UX processor's successor, Itanium, has about seven more years of life.

In 1998 HP committed to Itanium for the 3000. What has happened in the market to change that commitment? 
We heard of a decline of "the 3000's ecosystem." What declined was sales from HP and its resellers, working on a 2003 sales cutoff. But replacing hardware is not the name of the game anymore in 2013. Sustaining applications is the essence of the ecosystem. Virtualization is the end state of every hardware system.

Will there be a planned reduction in Response Center staff trained in MPE?  There certainly was, but how planned is a matter of perspective. HP offered two Enhanced Early Retirement programs, plus moved its MPE staff onto concurrent support duties for other operating environments. Then sent most of the remaining support team away. Today, even 16-year vets like Bob Chase of the 3000 Escalation Center are out working for SMS Systems Maintenance Services as a Senior Technical Support Engineer. If you issue the magic transfer code 798 on an HP call, it gets 3000 sites to Response Center folks who know the 3000 is not a printer. You call for free patches. That's about all.

What are the possibilities of having solution providers take over some parts of MPE source, like the spooler or ODBC? Nobody is going to take over development of these parts of source, unless HP gets picked clean for parts in a takeover. Highly unlikely.

Is there any possibility of reviewing this decision? Customers still wish this was possible. Fewer all the time, though. Of those who wished for a reprieve, the ones who need a long-term MPE engine will look at the Stromasys emulator. The others have bitter memories and no hunger for anything HP-centric. Windows or Linux will do. 

Is this decision in the best interest of the 3000 owner, and if so, how? HP said back then that ending its 3000 operations was in the customers' best interest, because HP felt it was risky to remain a 3000 customer. That ongoing ownership of a 3000 was influenced by the vendor's leadership and plans, however -- so HP's decision started the clock on the afterlife. 

The Squirrel Nut Zippers' song does croon some hope for the afterlife, though. The truth and a clear picture emerges there -- like my mom dancing circles around my dad, scolding him for leaving too soon to see the great stuff to come.

Beauty, talent, fame, money, refinement , job skill and brain
And all the things you try to hide
Will be revealed on the other side.

Tomorrow afternoon HP will release its financials for its second quarter of 2013, a year when its CEO said "The patient is showing signs of recovering." People who wrote off HP as a split up company, PCs and enterprise IT, might turn out to have an outlook as hazy as HP's own about the 2013 ecosystem of the 3000. Of Luke Skywalker's friends's future in The Empire Strikes Back, he asked, "Will they die?"

"Difficult to tell," Yoga replied. "Always in motion is the future." As is the afterlife, from the way I see it in my seat this week, beyond that eulogy.