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TBT: When Poetry Sang the 3000's Story

Our extended report on the occasion of Fred White's death let a memory of a poem float to the foreground of collective consciousness. The HP 3000's fans and fanatics have dreamed up verse to go along with the acres of prose written about the computer. One of the youngest fans of all time owns the copyright to three such poems. There has been other verse in song, as well.

SashaComputer poetry -- that is, poems written about a computer -- goes back to the tradition of IBM's company songbooks. Orly Larson of Hewlett-Packard was the chief bandleader for such music about White's creation, IMAGE. A rousing medley of Larson's compositions became part of HP conferences during the mid-1990s. But on another end of the age range, Alexander "Sasha" Volokh (at left, at an HP conference of the day) penned a poem celebrating the Boston Tea Party protest led by White in 1990.

Sasha's The Unbundling of IMAGE (full text at the Adager website) was an account of the SIGIMAGE meeting during that show, "In the style of The Man From Snowy River by A.B 'Banjo' Paterson"

Now Fred White had written IMAGE and was sad, as you can guess.
He said the word "unbundling" was a lie.
IMAGE isn't like a product, but is part of FOS
And that's why you get it when HPs you buy.
But IMAGE, it has always been mistreated by HP
And I wouldn't like to think the end is near.
And I'm working with Alfredo, but in this, I speak for me,
'Cause if not for me, you wouldn't all be here.

There was more, plenty more to protest about at that meeting of 24 years ago. Some of the poem included a reference to an open letter, this one written by a 3000 legend also deceased. That letter of Wirt Atmar's was another means to dispute the vendor's plans for the 3000's future. MPE systems have retained their value to homesteading users, in large measure because the unbundled database scheme was shouted down.

In his letter, Atmar was defending the classic pairing of the IMAGE database with the 3000, a move that brought the first HP minicomputer into the limelight in the middle 1970s. Sasha's poem celebrated Atmar's rally cry, too.

And Wirt Atmar had a letter to the people who're in charge
Of the marketing of those HP machines.
The unbundling, he said, was a mistake, and it was large,
Since about the user, HP don't care beans.
It used to be that users, they came first in HP's thought,
And the vendors, then, were happy campers too;
To make pricing-based decisions — that is not what HP ought!
Engineering plans are what HP should do.

In the fall of that year the users not only stalled the separation of IMAGE from the 3000, but launched a "Customer First" strategy that HP used to retain its 3000 customers — a strategy which HP modeled in its other enterprise computer operations. Glory indeed, rolling off the end of a pointed stick of sharp criticism and some disgust. But as Atmar pointed out, "it was a glorious moment, yes, but as the Roman slaves told the Roman generals, 'All fame is fleeting.' "

But the fame was not so fleeting that it wasn't also commemorated with a song of its own. At a Greater Houston RUG meeting of the middle '90s, Terry Floyd of The Support Group and others pounded on guitars together to belt out a ballad with the chorus of "We're not gonna take it." I'd love to see those lyrics, if anybody's wayback files might let them swim to the surface of our memories. 

Years later, in the aftermath of HP's 3000 exit announcement, Atmar tried to lead a rally to retake the future of MPE. "I believe that it's time for the community of users to stand up and stake their claim to MPE," he said in The Future of MPE. "It is a product that exists in its current state only because of the long-term, deep abiding interest in its success that the users have exhibited. The users have been the faithful shepherds in all of MPE's history, not HP."

But from time to time, even such inspired prose was not enough to punctuate the ideal of customers leading the way in the future of the products they owned.