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January 29, 2015

TBT: 3K Stands, and a UK Bridge to late '90s

HP User Cover Sept 98Each time we produce a printed edition of the Newswire here — there's a very special one on its way in the mail today — I usually reach into our archives for some research. While writing about the progress of hardware in the 3000 line I revisited 1998. This was a year with conference expo stands and an Ironbridge in the UK for HP Computer Users Association members. The occasion was the annual HPCUA show, offered in a time of 3000 and MPE growth. 

HP 3000 sales were on the rise, thanks to the Internet. The strong catalog-sales customer base was deploying web sites for e-commerce, and the servers of the day were finally getting Web hosting software. HP considered it important to offer just as much for MPE/iX as was available on Unix and Windows NT. Yes, NT, that long ago. Java was supposed to enable cross-platform development of applications. HP's labs had ported the language once touted as "write once, deploy everywhere" for use on MPE/iX.

Watts resignsAs we arrived to man our first overseas stand for the Newswire, one man had stepped away from his HP futures. Dick Watts, an executive VP whose departure was "a great blow to the interests of user groups worldwide," had resigned in a surprise. He was in charge of the salesforce that directed the business futures of the 3000, HP 9000s and more. The departure was so sudden that the HPCUA's magazine was left with a feature interview of an executive who was no longer employed by HP. He'd made promises to user groups about HP's help for their initiatives. The magazine called him suave.

The conference was held at Telford in the UK's Shropshire, notable as the site of the first arched iron bridge erected in the world, more than 200 years earlier. Most HP 3000 shows were being offered in larger cities like Birmingham, or on the seashore in Brighton. Telford and the conference wanted to remind us about foundational technology, the kind like the 3000 had established in the age of business computing.

Telford Mag Ad NewswireThe exhibition offered 22 HP 3000-allied stands in addition to ours (touted at left by General Manager Harry Sterling), including one from a company called Affirm that would eventually become the ScreenJet of today. As unique as shows of that day were also personal, HP Systems User 98 gave commemorative plates of the Iron Bridge to all attendees. Ironbridge plateThey also heard talks about a Grand Prix team, a Microsoft marketing pitch on a scheme called the Digital Nervous System, and "How IT Helps HP's Success." That last included a peek into how much HP 3000 systems still drove the Hewlett-Packard of 16 years ago. As with much of the era, it purported to be an accomplishment served off the plate of Unix.

Some clouds on the vendor's horizon were already growing clear in that September. CEO Lew Platt would be holding his job for less than a year more -- he agreed to help select a successor early in '99 -- and he blasted the company's sales force for a disappointing quarter. HP closed its offices over the Fourth of July and would do a shutdown over Christmas, too. The cuts were in response to a quarter Platt called dismal. HP was being outflanked over dot-com opportunities by Sun and IBM.

In industry-wide concerns, the Confederation of British Industry was warning that "there is little time left for firms to make sure their computer and electronic systems -- which control the air conditioners, lifts and safes -- can cope with the Year 2000 date change."

MPE V had finally come off HP's support -- only 11 years after HP introduced its successor MPE/XL. Plotters were still a valid output device in some engineering companies, the first generation Series 925 and 935s were being replaced by 9x9 systems, and one UK 3000 vendors said "from here on in, Client/Server technology is accepted as a standard component within the HP 3000 Enterprise Environment." Meanwhile, Oracle was saying "We think the platform switch now is to the Internet as a computing platform." Oracle was to swallow up Sun a dozen years later, acquiring the company that was saying in the late '90s, "we put the dot in dot-com."

1998 TechnologiesMeanwhile, HP was telling 3000 users that the technologies being "developed or investigated" for the server included Itanium processor chips (then called IA-64); multi-CPU systems from 16- to 64-way, 1 Gbit LANs, and the faster PCI IO bus. That last would not be delivered for another three years, a better record than the first two technologies, which never left investigation. A 16-way N-Class was recently discovered in the wilds of the homesteading world, but that configuration was never on HP's 3000 model lineup.

07:37 PM in History | Permalink

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