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September 10, 2015

TBT: The End of the HP 3000's Beginnings

HP moved toward its RISC future in small steps. The hardware was first released in 1987's fall. It took another 11 years, but in September 1998 MPE V, the OS that lifted the 3000 into the highest systems count, fell off of HP's support radar. The CISC hardware such as the Series 70 fell away from HP's care, too.

Series70MPE V was the last of the 16-bit operating systems for Hewlett-Packard. DEC had gotten a leg up in the middle '80s by promising that Digital Has It Now, with the now being 32-bit computing. Removing MPE V from the support tree at HP didn't remove the systems from the field. Paul Edwards, the trainer, consultant, and user group director exemplar, used to note that a Series 70 MPE V system was still running in the Dallas area even after HP announced its end-game for the entire line in 2001.

Calling the products its "vintage" software and systems, HP's Customer Support organization announced end-of-support-life dates for all MPE V products running on CISC-based HP 3000s, as well support for what the community called "Classic" HP 3000 computers. 

Series 70 with Disk FarmClassic HP 3000s continued to operate in companies around the world after 1998, even though HP had stopped selling them 10 years earlier. A Classic-to-RISC trade-in program was still underway in 1992. HP estimated that it had shipped more than 20,000 Classic 3000s as of 1986. The Series 37, 37XE and Micro 3000 systems left support in 1997, and Series 39 through 70 systems went off support in January, 1998. By September of that year, HP turned out the lights on the last of the Classics -- the LX, RX, GX and XE models of the Micro 3000.

HP also pulled support for Compatibility Mode software products that had a Native Mode equivalent under MPE/iX systems. Stalwart products like Edit/V and NS/3000 V had equivalent NM counterparts, for example.

Two longtime HP 3000 developers, both now passed away, suggested that HP donate the use of the MPE/V versions of its compilers as teaching aids and freeware. In particular, Basic and SPL came in for praise from Wirt Atmar of AICS, who noted that "If HP has abandoned Basic, it would be an extraordinary gift to the MPE user community to make it as well as SPL legal freeware. Basic still remains the easiest language to build complex, easy string-manipulating software that must interact with IMAGE databases."

Atmar noted that HP originally expected that the vast majority of the application programs written for the HP 3000 would be written in Basic. Therefore, he said, HP invested heavily in 1973 to put together an extremely well designed language.

Bruce Toback, a developer of HP 3000 software, added that Basic/V "is an incredibly useful API scripting language. If it's no longer of any value to HP, either placing it in the public domain or releasing it with a GPL-type license would be a no-cost way of providing a substantial benefit to the user community."

Chris Bartram, whose company continues to host HP 3000 technical papers, software, and MPE resources, said in 1998 that donating the MPE V versions of Basic and SPL would mesh with HP's then-new policy of relying on shareware for its HP 3000 customers.

"It certainly doesn't hurt anything at this point to make it freeware," he said at the time, "and it fits in well with the wealth of other freeware programs that are becoming available on the platform — almost all without "official" support or significant investments from HP."

Bartram and the next generation of 3000 OS software have survived long after HP missed that chance for source code donation. The source of MPE/iX was put up for licensing for a brief period — but only the old hardware has even been offered as a donation. One HP 3000 Series 70 was for sale in 2011 on eBay, but lately the newer N-Class servers have been seen at nearly the same price.

06:00 PM in History | Permalink

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