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February 2020

Wayback: 3000s showed a Spectrum of hope

Thirty-six years ago this month, HP put a reboot of its business future into orbit. The project called Spectrum was the entry of PA-RISC (originally called "HP High Precision Architecture") when publicly announced in the HP Journal in 1985. HP brought the future into the light by killing its Vision project at the 1984 Interex user conference.

Stan Sieler, one of the founders of Allegro, was working at HP in the years before the HP announcement of what the company called High Performance Precision Architecture RISC. "A year or so later, when it was simply called PA-RISC (or HP PA-RISC), I asked Joel Birnbaum what happened to the "High" and I was ignored. Along with Bill Worley, these were the fathers of RISC inside HP. Birnbaum had been recruited from IBM's RISC project."

Digital was famous for raining on HP's Reduced Instruction Set Computing, as well as Unix, during the time PA-RISC rose up. Ken Olsen, DEC's founder, pulled the plug in 1989 on Prism, Digital's RISC computer design. HP struggled to get its business servers onto PA-RISC, managing to put its Unix onto the new architecture first. Digital tried to make inroads by touting its 32-bit VAX processors versus the 16-bit HP 3000 classic servers. "Digital has it now," the ads in the trade weeklies proclaimed.

Sieler says that several other companies were incensed at HP having a product called Spectrum, including Chevrolet. "I remember hearing reports of some legal actions against HP, which were reportedly dropped after HP promised to never use that term externally. That is apparently why we titled our book about PA-RISC Beyond RISC instead of Beyond Spectrum. We were told HP wouldn't buy any copies if we had "Spectrum" on the cover. But we did sneak it in: the spectrum is the photo."

RISC was designed to consolidate the development of peripheral interfaces for all all three of its computer lines: HP 3000, HP 9000s, and its real-time systems the HP 1000s. About late 1986, the real time version of HP-UX on PA-RISC —  demonstrated at the 1986 Madrid Interex conference on an HP 9000/840 — was quietly dropped. "We used to have an HP publication about real time support for HP-UX, but I think it went to the Living Computer Museum in Seattle when we gave them our manuals about two years ago," Sieler said.

Adding a naked Seagate drive to a 3000

Seagate Barracuda 31841

James Byrne reported on a way to get a Seagate disk drive to mount in a Series 918. 

We have a 918LX that we are trying to configure as a spare. The unit has three 18Gb disc drives installed, Seagate model ST31841N. We can see the drives in Mapper at 52.56.6/5/4. We can use DISCUTIL to mount 52.56.4 and 52.56.6 — but we cannot get the drive at 52.56.5 to mount.

This problem drive is a new unit just removed from its factory packaging.

Naked Seagate SCSI drives require a low level format to a sector size of 512 for the HP 3000 to mount them. We have a Windows-based tool called Seatools from Seagate that can perform this formatting from a Windows host — at least, from a host that has a suitable 50N SCSI interface card installed.

The same thing can be accomplished by doing a full install of MPE/iX from tape to such a disc. The install of MPE/iX directly to that disk which we could not mount solved the mounting problem.

3000 market maven Charles Finley dies at 70

Charles Finley, whose career in the HP 3000 community spanned eras from powerful regional user group conferences to trusted HP reseller status, then led to new success as a migration maven, has died at age 70.

Finley built a reputation with the community from his first steps in the Southern California 3000 market. Buoyed by the remarkable manufacturing community in the area, by the middle 1980s he was operating the ConAm reseller and worked to establish the Southern California Regional User Group. SCRUG hosted conferences successful enough to rival those from Interex in scope.

Finley also played an essential part in founding an invitation-only MPE developer conference, using a novel format called the un-conference. It delivered information that otherwise would not be presented if only one person were in charge of the agenda. In the early times for groundbreaking tech, the 3000 community had a forum to explore new choices. "Things that could be overlooked like NT, Linux, VMware are noticed, because one person in the group happened to notice it and think it was important," he once said. "The rest of us benefitted by it."

Once HP curtailed its 3000 futures, Finley evolved the ConAm reseller business into Transformix, owned and operated with his wife Deborah. She assumes the post of president of the firm that has created and deploys a migration suite for carrying legacy applications from MPE/iX and other environments applications onto new platforms, especially Linux.

Finley was a Vietnam-era Marine Corps veteran. His widow said the CEO of Transformix delivered his skill and innovation with a duty to the work and the customer.

"Charles was unsurpassed in his passion for the business, his drive for perfection and professionalism, and his commitment to the integrity of customer relationships," Mrs. Finley said. “I saw that every day in the way he spoke about his work."

"This is both a personal and professional loss for many of the people who have known and loved him. Everyone who knew Charles regarded him as a man devoted to his family, his employees, his customers, and his friends."

Condolences may be sent to Deborah via email. The family requests that donations in lieu of flowers can be made to the charity Charles held close: Copley-Price Family YMCA 619.280.9622. Deborah asks to please designate that your donation is in memory of Charles H. Finley, Jr.

The company he leaves in her management is an integration, reseller, and consulting organization specializing in migration of legacy systems to current hardware and software. Transformix is headquartered in San Diego.

Mrs. Finley said the passing was unexpected. Charles Finley is listed as a speaker at next month's SCALE 18X technology conference. His seminar, Transforming Legacy Applications to an Open Source Modern Technology Stack, was the latest in a line of talks at the Southern California Linux Expo.

This year's seminar would "provide attendees with an understanding of the steps involved to transform legacy applications by retargeting them to an Open Source Java Framework. The seminar shows how the CUBA-Platform framework—which was designed for development of modern web application—is also well suited to enhance and extend legacy applications."

Finley was a significant voice in the migration community. While outlining differences between legacy migration, modernization, and transformation,
his experience smoothed the way for legacy applications to use modern technology stacks, including Java.

His SCALE seminar for this year was "a hands-on workshop transforming a legacy application for those who want to know more."

"If you have a PostgreSQL database already, you can generate a working Java web application in minutes using the CUBA-Platform. Moreover, you can do this without knowing any Java! Also of interest is the fact that professional developers and 'citizen developers' can use the platform for development."

Chicken, egg: First the 3000's OS, then chips

Editor's Note: A technical paper from the DEC world asserted that VMS was the first operating system designed before the chipset that it ran upon. MPE's earliest designs were just as innovative. We asked Stan Sieler for some history.

By Stan Sieler

I'd assume that the 16-bit Classic instruction set architecture and the original MPE were designed at about the same time — probably with the architecture being mostly ready/running (real or simulated/emulated) before the software was ready. Once MPE was up and running, some years later there were arguably one to three architectures designed for it (exclusively or not).    


A group of about 12 of us (labs, chip people, me for the OS lab) designed a 32-bit architecture for the next generation HP 3000.        

The architecture was an evolution of an earlier FOCUS used by Ft. Collins for some HP 9000s (after the 68000 models, before the PA-RISC models), and it (the earlier) was either used by the Amigo (HP 300) and/or was inspired by the Classic 3000 architecture. The project got dropped in favor of the VISION architecture.


This was the object-oriented architecture (with 64-bit virtual addressing) that was going to be the next-gen HP 3000, running what was going to be called HPE. We had HP 3000/4x computers with rewritten firmware emulating it, and there were a couple of hand-made real CPU boards beginning to run when I left HP in September 1983 to start Allegro. 

At that time, I had a crude command interpreter running on it under my process management code (I was in charge of process management). VISION was very very interesting.  If I had access rights to an object (say, a record from an IMAGE database with an employee name, a date-of-hire, and other information), I could send another process a "descriptor" (virtual address) that would give them access to precisely the subset I wished (e.g., read access to date-of-hire field of the record). But, that concept is gone now.  No one can do that :(        

VISION was dropped in favor of PA-RISC about a month or so after I left. I commented to Joel Birnbaum that it was dropped because I'd left HP. His reply was, "If I knew that, I'd have gotten rid of you sooner."    

About 1982-1983 I began to hear about an architecture that HP Labs was working on that would allow you to run MPE, RTE, and maybe even HP-UX simultaneously.  It was code-named "Rainbow." I think Rainbow turned out to be PA-RISC.


In the 1980s, RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer) was all the rage. People thought it meant quicker execution due to less complex instructions. I am still dubious. I think they underestimated the types of computations and instruction/memory interactions needed — and, indeed, you can see people throwing more and more and more cache towards RISC in an effort to address the speed imbalance between the CPU and memory.

HPE, essentially an extended version of MPE, was designed to run on PA-RISC. To the extent that the virtual memory (and IO) was quite different, that part of the OS was designed for the architecture.

Most of HPE, later MPE XL, then MPE/iX, doesn't care what the architecture is, any more than  Linux/Unix/Windows cares what the architecture is. I seem to recall that a few aspects of the memory protection mechanism (including the Protection ID registers) may have been influenced by HPE's needs.  

Of course, at the same time, HP-UX was being ported from 68000 / FOCUS to PA-RISC, so there may have been interactions there, as well. Note, however, that HP-UX never fully utilized the PA-RISC architecture — particularly the memory addressability, where HPE / MPE XL / MPE/iX had it beaten by far. I don't think HPE, HP-UX, or Netware (which was on PA-RISC briefly, circa 1993) used all the capabilities, including the ability to, in controlled circumstances, let user code directly access some IO instructions.

Itanium (IPF)  

I think I heard that a basic MPE/iX kernel of sorts had been successfully ported to Itanium before the HP 3000 was killed. Obviously, HP-UX was also ported to IPF.   The primary influence MPE/iX and HP-UX probably had was the Itanium ability to run in either little-endian mode (Intel X86 style for Windows) or big-endian (Class, and PA-RISC style, for MPE/iX and HP-UX).

Other operating systems running on Itanium — which have been released in some cases, not released in others — include Windows, Netware, Solaris, OpenVMS, and Tru64 Unix. This list of systems tends to imply that the architecture was not specifically oriented towards one particular operating system.

In short, I think most operating systems exist (perhaps in an earlier form) prior to the chip architecture, but that most architectures are mostly independent of the operating system design/features. The memory addressability mechanism almost always affects major aspects of the internals of the operating system (as it would with VISION).

Photo by Ashes Sitoula on Unsplash