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TBT: When 3000 Training Went Digital

Twenty-five years ago, HP was making history by integrating CBT for MPE XL on a CD-ROM, running from an IBM PC-AT. Or a Vectra. Ah, what we learned in those years by using acronyms.

CBTAt a user conference in Boston better known for a 3000 database showdown, the mashup of acronyms promised Computer Based Training for the 3000's operating system from a Compact Disc Read Only Memory drive. Here on Throwback Thursday, we're celebrating an industry first that leveraged the HP 3000, something of an anomaly for Hewlett-Packard. CD-based information delivery was still in its first steps in the computer industry, and just ramping up in the music business as well. It would be another 10 years before Apple shipped desktops with built-in CD-ROMs.

An HP official who would later come to lead half the company as executive VP, Ann Livermore, was a humble Product Manager for this combination of HP CD classes and an HP CD-ROM player. "It's the equivalent of having a system expert looking over your shoulder while you work," Livermore said. "The audio on these training product adds significant value to the learning experience." The interactive courses show users a typical HP 3000 console on the PC, accompanied by verbal instructions and explanatory text and graphics.

In an era where Bulletin Board Systems were cutting-edge information channels and web browsers didn't exist, having CD-ROM as a tool for support broke new ground for HP's enterprise business. HP sold about six hours of training on CDs for $950. The breakthrough was being able to use the training repeatedly, instead of putting each new operator or end-user in an HP classroom for a week.

"The CBT product trains end-users and systems operators in HP 3000 Series 900 operations, including account management, system backup, shutdown, and recovery," my article from the HP Chronicle reported. I noted that MPE XL was a proprietary system, something that the vendor was trying to change with another announcement. Posix, an open system interface for Unix, was headed for MPE XL.

Hopes were high. Hewlett-Packard believed a version of MPE that supported Posix would permits Unix software to run on 3000s. We didn't make it up.

"You will be able to run Unix applications on the HP 3000s," said Wim Roelandts, vice president of HP's Computer Systems Group. "For us, open systems are not just Unix." HP also announced X Window user interface support for MPE XL, along with telnet and FTP.

Posix arrived in 1992, triggering a re-naming of the 3000's OS to MPE/iX. The interface has outlasted the utility of the CD-ROM CBT, giving Unix-savvy administrators a way to comprehend and drive what MPE does. But the holy grail of Unix on the 3000 never arrived ready to serve. It would take another 20 years to deliver MPE hosted on top of Linux, when the Stromasys Charon HPA emulator arrived in the market.