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Throwback: The Hottest 3000 Conference

1988 ProceedingsLooking back, Central Florida in August would've been a hot choice no matter which conference was on tap. But in 1988's first week of August, the Interex annual North American show set up to welcome 3000 users who could not believe they'd landed in the jungle heat of a Southern summer. What was hottest was the prospect of the first hardware revolution in 3000 history, the initial Spectrum-class Series 950 servers.

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Users, vendors, and HP's experts lined up to speak and find air-conditioned refuge in the first conference since the newest PA-RISC HP 3000s shipped. It was an era when a user group conference brimmed with user papers, written by customers sharing their experience. One paper looked toward migration trends, the kind that would shift a 3000 site to Digital or IBM systems because things were changing too much in the evolution of MPE and its hardware.

Some HP Precision Architecture machines will have been in use for several months. Also, we will have moved closer to the date when the Series 955 (or some other larger machine yet unannounced as of this writing) will be available. Are HP 3000 users moving to other manufacturers' systems? Did any HP users start to leave and change their mind or leave and come back?

Chronicle Aug 88 O'BrienAnother kind of migration was underway already: the move from MPE V to MPE XL. The 1.0 version of the new OS was all that HP could sell by this Orlando show. Dave Elward of Taurus Software presented a paper about how to succeed in that kind of migration. Everything had changed at the new hardware's fastest level, even though HP had built a little miracle called Compatibility Mode to let existing applications run at a much slower pace.

The first step towards a successful migration is education. MPE XL contains many new things that at first can be overwhelming. What is comforting is that when you begin to use MPE XL, you don't even need to know you're using it. All of the commands you are likely to use perform just the same, and programs moved to MPE XL in compatibility mode just run. Only when you are ready to maximize the benefits of your new machine do you need to have a good understanding of the migration process.

The technical proceedings of that era are focused on the Classic MPE V version of the OS, in largest part. The OpenMPE website is the archive for the period when a national user conference could be held in a city half the size of today's Omaha. The world of the 3000 seemed larger, though, as Unix was only starting to break through as an IT alternative. "UNIX is a vendor-independent operating system," went the paper "Comparing Unix to Other Systems." Vendor independence would be available with Windows and eventually Linux, but the Unix that would assail HP 3000s in the late '80s had as many variations and dependencies as vendors who sold it.

Interact Aug 88On the lineup for Interex '88 — a conference that soon sported buttons that bragged I Survived Orlando in August — papers covered "Pitfalls of Offloading Applications to PCs" and "How to Train a Terminal User to be an Effective PC User." One tech talk outlined the transfer of dial-up facilities for a raft of HP 150 Touchscreen PCs that were connected to HP 3000s, bragging that 9600-baud service was well worth the investment. 

"Each of these 150s call our HP 3000 twice each night: once to upload the day's transactions, then later to download a newly updated customer file," the IT manager reported. "We use HP AdvanceLink as our communication software." In another paper, the merits of that HP terminal emulator were debated versus WRQ's Reflection software.

The Interex user group selected a venue like Orlando because of an active Regional Users Group in the state. FLORUG provided volunteers, like the other conferences of the era, but there was nothing to be done about the weather. User conferences were scheduled to hit vacation months, but Orlando in August features 95 percent humidity, nighttime lows that don't fall out of the mid 70s, and enough rain to convince anyone it's prime hurricane season.

Once the sun went down, users found ways to keep cool while they enjoyed warm technical exchanges. The MPE legend Eugene Volokh presented two papers at the conference, and at the tender age of 20, held court for an evening with 22 of us at a local restaurant. Volokh's paper detailed programming for the nascent MPE XL, and he had a confidence that belied his years. It was time when FedEx was still Federal Express and papers were printed on fixed-width fonts using the then-novel LaserJet.

Thanks especially to Gavin Scott for letting me test out all the examples on the computer in the two hours between the time I finished writing it and the time I had to Federal Express it up to the Bay Area RUG. Finally, any errors in this paper are not the fault of the author, but were rather caused by cosmic rays hitting the disc drives and modifying the data.