20 years ago this month, HP took its first steps into an affordable midrange for its Series 9x9 HP 3000s. During the same March, we decided to take our initial steps toward creating a specialized newsletter to serve what showed a glimmer of becoming a revived community.
The 9x9s, known as the Kittyhawk boxes, made their debut in 1994, but the initial models were no long-term bargain for the typical midrange customer. Inside our house, we had worked for two years to serve the information needs of the vendors in a marketplace that the entrenched publications were ignoring. The 3000 was dead, or dying quickly, the editors told us. And so, despite rousing writing and media outreach for software and hardware companies, telling the stories of 3000 success, nobody wanted to devote an editor's attention or the printed space to report that news.
Our independent marketing communications work was hitting a wall of disregard in the industry about MPE and the 3000. In a meeting over coffee in March, my wife and partner Abby Lentz said, "This market might be getting smaller, sure. But some businesses thrived in the Depression, didn't they? Let's do a newsletter."
Ever the sunbeam of my life, she proposed something that seemed outlandish. A dozen issues a year? Specialized publications like the HP Chronicle and Interact knew about focusing on HP, sure, but they were reducing space for 3000 stories. What good could come of selling a monthly pub that would have to try to find more than a dozen news items each month about the legacy system in HP's lineup? Who'd pay for something like that?
But those vendors who knew us had thousands upon thousands of 3000 customers out there, though. And thousands of messages a month on the 3000-L mailing list rolled through my AOL account. The spring of 1995 uncovered a rocky field to try to put down any seeds of hope, though.
Out on the curb in front of our house, the massive oversized mailbox was full of slick tabloids that didn't charge a penny for weekly updates. In a similar way, there were low-cost alternatives to massive 3000s still on the rise. What's more, even the HP Unix systems were looking over their shoulders at a "Windows Invasion" into business computing.
But all the 3000 market really needed, as it often did, was more horsepower at a better price. "The big story technology-wise is that this doubles the performance of the 9x7 family," said HP's Andy Jolls. Selling a K-Class system was one of the easiest ways to get customers off of the 9x7s, introduced in the early 1990s.
The midrange 9x9s had a new wrinkle to power this renaissance of the marketplace. HP said these K-Class servers would accept the next-gen HP PA-RISC chips, for upgrades without replacing systems. These board upgrades were popular, but they helped the servers dig in at customer sites. Buying a 9x9 was a long-value investment. The swell of sales helped the 3000 take off again. But there was no churn in the market toward new boxes, the kind of investment protection that levied a cost in HP's plans for 3000 growth.
By the time we lifted the NewsWire into its first orbit in that summer of 1995, demand for the Kittyhawks was running well ahead of supply. A new 8-user system emerged for $55,000. We tended the first sprouts from those wan springtime seeds of our NewsWire, a few sponsors who said they'd take a chance on a newsletter aimed at a market that media companies didn't believe could grow again.