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An HP Museum That Could Use Your Help

People accuse the HP 3000 community of being rooted too deep in history, reaching back to a Hewlett-Packard experience that no longer exists. But there is an organization devoted to that HP, and it could use the help of the 3000 manager who might be cleaning house.

HpcomutermuseumThere's housecleaning going on all the time in the community. Nordstrom's decommissioned its 3000 servers, for example. Newer systems, but there's bound to be something genuinely antique tucked away behind a closet door. The HP Computer Museum doesn't take up much space, but its doors are always open, from all the way down in Australia. A message from volunteer Jon Johnston.

Just a quick heads up on the HP Computer Museum, in case you don't already know us (www.hpmuseum.net). Our objective is to preserve the first 25 years of HP computing history (1966 to 1991). 

We are always looking to acquire things we don't have and often looking for help on things we're not very smart about. So, please keep us in mind if you come across some old HP stuff (hardware, software, documentation, promo items, videos), and be sure to forward our URL to any old HP contacts you may have.

We are especially interested in hearing from anyone who may have an HP-IB hard disc with the MPE system loaded.

We talk about history as an instruction to the future. One item out on the Computer Museum site shows how imagination and innovation didn't get rewarded at HP. This was a Hewlett-Packard of almost 30 years ago, in an era when the dominance of PCs wasn't yet complete. HP's answer was the HP 150, later known as the Touchscreen 150. The 150 was frequently found paired up with HP 3000s. Some say it was just about the only place the system appeared. In the first year, HP sold 40,000 of the Touchscreens.

HP's entrance into the 1980s PC marketplace was based not on MS-DOS, but CPM. The rival OS had been popular until Microsoft rolled out MS-DOS, but CPM and the computers that relied upon it just could not compete for the attention of software developers. HP did its best to include some name-brand software with the Touchscreen. The $3,995 computer was introduced in 1983 and advertised in the same era as Apple's new Macintosh and the Compaq luggables. The latter was a 35-pound system touted as a portable, while the former was designed with a handle molded into its back.

Touchscreen editingLike the Mac, the Touchscreen had a nine-inch screen. Its interface was often driven by softkeys across the bottom of that screen, an echo of the HP 3000 terminal interface. A Touchscreen could be hooked up as a terminal only, never seeking external storage. The Computer Museum's entry says that HP dreamed of nabbing more than 20 percent of the PC market, selling a computer that was $1,000 more than IBM's PC, or the Compaq systems which sold for even less.

Touching a computer's screen as an interface was way ahead of the computing times of 1984. A video from the Computer Chronicles TV show of that year shows how HP was using touchscreens to mimic the behavior of a Rolodex.

The 20 percent of the PC market became so elusive so quickly that HP seemed to drop its marketing after just a few months. There were TV ads, some of the only advertising HP ever purchased for broadcast until more than 15 years later, again for its PC products. "Even though Hewlett-Packard technology has produced a number of firsts, some of you still don't know who we are," said one ad. "Maybe now, you will." A caterpillar becomes a butterfly in the ad. HP's innovation with interfaces was not as important as its connections with the software ecosystem. Lotus 1-2-3, dBase II for databases, VisiCalc for spreadsheets and WordStar for word processing were there at introduction. It wasn't enough.

Handshake cartoonWhy is the HP Touchscreen an important part of the HP 3000's history? HP advertised the computer as "fully compatible with the big HP 3000 computers." It might be the only time the 3000 ever made its way into the consciousness of a consumer audience. But this was a Hewlett-Packard that was certain it could trade on its reputation from the business marketplace -- where the 3000 was its only success -- while introducing what everybody was calling a "personal computer."

"The Touchscreen Personal Computer is a Hewlett-Packard product. This, after all, could be the most important thing you need to know about it," one ad in Forbes read. "Is your office operating at a crawl, when it could be flying?"