A Memorial to 3000 Advocacy
May 25, 2015
It's Memorial Day in the US, a holiday where we celebrate those fallen in combat. There's that ultimate sacrifice in uniform and on duty for this country, worthy of a parade. But here on a day when many of us take time away from the job, it's worth a moment to remember those who've left our MPE community after good work to benefit all.
Wirt Atmar was one of those fellows. He passed away more than six years ago of a heart attack, but he's got a living memorial up on the archives of the 3000-L newsgroup. The lifespan of HP's business with the 3000 got a benefit from his work as well. It's safe to say that MPE's 1990s would've been poorer without his advocacy for IMAGE.
1990 was a high-water mark in HP 3000 advocacy. From his company AICS Research, Wirt created the report tool QueryCalc as well as QCReports and a free QCTerm emulator. In the fall of 1990 he helped spark a change in HP's business practices about the 3000 — a change that remains important to those who are changing little about a stable HP 3000 environment.
A programmer or development company could create an application or software for the 3000 community using IMAGE as the database, knowing that every 3000 out there would be able to make use of the creation. 3000=IMAGE was a formula close to being broken. The community reared up on its hind legs and castigated its supplier, using the Interex 1990 user group meeting as the forum for its dismay. SIG-IMAGE, a Special Interest Group of users gone dormant, re-formed to organize the complaints and demand remedies.
In community lore, the protests around the meeting are known as "The Boston Tea Party," in part because they changed HP's course of conduct about customers. I recall Adager's Fred White as the most scathing critic of HP's myopia of the time, but a row of customers lined up behind and in front of him at the public microphones in a Boston meeting hall. This was a time when the HP Roundtable was the highlight of the conference, a chance to quiz the top executives of the company, right out in the open, about shortcoming and problems. The national IT press of Datamation, Computerworld and Information Week, all with HQ just up the road, were on hand that year to report the rebellious talk.
HP looked chagrined and embarrassed fielding customer complaints — during a time when customer communities had a different impact on their vendors.
At the time of the Boston uprising, Atmar noted, HP was easy to take advantage of, because the vendor was afraid of negative publicity. He said that his open letter "basically caused the  Boston riot."
In the fall of that year the users not only stalled the separation of IMAGE from the 3000, but sparked a "Customer First" strategy from HP that was used to retain 3000 customers. HP used Customer First as a model in its other enterprise computer operations. As part of that, customer focused R&D mandated that every employee had to become an expert in understanding customers' businesses so they could know the customers' "pain points.” At its best, Customer First let HP anticipate 3000 customer needs in order to be able to deliver solutions that customers might not have even considered. Every engineer and manager was sent on customer visits, to spend a day or two with HP 3000 customers. HP gained insight at a new level, and refreshed its customer relationships. Customer First became a mantra in a new generation of HP 3000 division managers, the idea of customer delight: unexpected features, beyond commonplace requests.
It was a renovation for customers, even if it came at 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.' "
Even 15 years later, as homesteading advocacy talks were taking place with HP, the outcome -- a better place for homesteading 3000s -- would've been impossible without the ideals of Customer First that were sparked by that 1990 uprising. On the occasion of the 3000's 25th birthday, Atmar talked about what that birthday of the product -- which was still living on the HP price lists in 1997 -- meant to the customers.
Maturity. If you were a business owner or manager, I can't think of a single word that you would want to seek out and celebrate more than a mature solution, one that can easily demonstrate that it can do what it says it does. Immature solutions, on the other hand, are going to cost you an awful lot of money — and a growing segment of the business community is beginning to understand that. You can only be lead down the garden path so many times before it begins to dawn on you what it's truly costing you.