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September 2020

October 2020

Upstart startup leads off with 3000 news

Good every day
Do you remember the day your first 3000 logon banner rolled across a terminal or a PC? That heady feel of stepping into something new with a promise of permanent promotions? You knew about MPE, a little, or just slid into an office chair and began to plug away at COBOL apps that tapped IMAGE data for the first time.

Starting the NewsWire, 25 years ago today, was not like that. My partner Abby and I arrived at the first issue with 22 years of publishing experience. Between us, we'd managed and launched operations for 18 news publications in the tech industry. Abby was already a publisher at four different magazines.

What was different about the NewsWire startup was its ownership. Just us, along with 10,000 or so owners of HP 3000s. Our audience owned our future. A few told us we were making something that would turn out to make us nothing. A subscription was "Not even worth $10 a year," said one 3000 veteran who'd written features at the HP Chronicle, my previous 3000 outpost. He came on to write for the NewsWire in our October 1995 issue, Volume 1 Number 1, as we say in publications.

That first technical feature, written by someone who doubted we'd sell subscriptions, was "PatchManager/iX: Maintenance Simplified." It toured the new software from HP for patching MPE/iX 5.5. That release was only forthcoming, as they call books that are promised but not yet released. In particular, one staging tool in PatchManager would improve patching. "Welcome to the 21st Century," the feature read. "MPE will go one better than most Unix systems with the StageMan/iX."

The software resolved a crying need. "Backing out a patch in today's MPE/iX environment can rival the agony of abdominal surgery—without the benefit of amnesia," Guy Smith wrote.

HP had been working on PatchManager/iX for more than a year by October of 1995. In publishing the NewsWire 25 years ago, we were picking up the trail of a business server getting a restart from its vendor. PatchManager was "created strictly to address customer issues with the patching process, not as a cost-saving measure," HP said.

Early technology

Like our readers, we were more cautious about new technology from the commodity sector. One report said "HP 3000 managers press Win95 into service—slowly" while the 3000-ready app Netmail/3000 was releasing DeskLink. The module of Netmail connected HP Deskmanager mail nodes to the outside world. "Until DeskLink came along, HP had been recommending the HP Deskmanager sites set up a Unix system to give their Desk users Internet access." The fall of 1995 was so different that email systems were thriving that didn't use the Internet—we always capitalized the word Internet that year.

We counted on those subscribers for our first revenues, but it was the advertisers and vendors who showed up first. At one point over the last 25 years, we had more than a thousand paid readers. That point arrived years after ads from sponsors—we borrowed the term from TV advertising—carried the NewsWire's fortunes. A publisher, my partner Abby stared down the daunting first months with just a few advertisers. WRQ, the biggest software company serving the 3000 other than HP itself, shook our hands on the Toronto Interex 95 floor for a full-page spread. Those pages 12 and 13, plus HP's ad on the inside front cover and Adager's ad on the back cover, were among our bedrock supporters. Full pages from MB Foster and the Support Group were also part of the starting lineup of our startup. All are serving the 3000 today. Well, not HP.

Creating the graphics files for printing was also Abby's job, tied so closely to the artwork for the ads. I came in during her first issue work to find our Macintosh LC struggling through refreshing pages. We ordered a Power Macintosh 8500 that day, but the chugger of the LC was going to have to get us through our first printing. 1995 was not a great year for Apple. In a few more months, Bill Gates would advise Apple to sell itself to Microsoft.

HP assured our readers they wanted open systems computing. The 3000 was putting on the clothing of an open system, an ill-defined term that usually meant Unix. Open was certainly not the truth about any system vendor's Unix, operating systems usually handcrafted from the standard Berkley Unix to exploit vendor hardware. Unix was open in the sense that software vendors always supported it in general. On the ground, vendor to vendor, the OS had as much support in apps as MPE/iX. If your app was having a problem, you called a vendor support line and logged your problem.

Taking our shot

If MPE/iX enjoyed the popularity of Unix in 1995, we might not have taken our shot with the NewsWire. The 3000 world was a forgotten backwater of IT. Our modest venture of two publishing pros in two back bedrooms, tapping experience and a deep list of contacts and experts, never would have had much chance against the likes of publishing giants like IDC, CMP, Ziff Davis, or even Datamation. I'd written freelance for Datamation two years before our NewsWire upstart startup. In the year before we launched the NewsWire we'd both worked on contract for Interex, writing and managing subscription campaigns. One of the hardest talks we faced in that fall was telling Interex executive director Chuck Piercey we were going to sail our own ship into the rest of 1995.

Always the former sports editor at heart, I wrote an editorial for that issue that compared the 3000 to baseball legend Cal Ripken. That year, Ripken broke the record for consecutive games played without a day off. Choosing to use the 3000 represented that same pursuit of reliability. 

"All around MPE environments, other systems go down, fail, and struggle to stay online. The HP 3000 takes the field every day. If computers were baseball players, the HP 3000 would be the Cal Ripken of the league. Cal recently broke Lou Gehrigs' Major League record for most consecutive games played." The numbers matched up. Ripken had played in 99 percent of the innings across the 2,131 games in a row. "Cal is steady, productive, and not flashy—but respected by those who watch baseball closely. Those are the traits of the HP 3000."

We started up in October, a time that leads up to the World Series. In the summer of 1994, I'd toured ballparks with my 11-year-old Little Leaguer for a road trip. The journey and its fatherhood roots would become Stealing Home, after 25 years of conception, revision and writing, then publishing. Baseball felt like a natural fit for the NewsWire and our 3000 focus. Willie Mays was a baseball legend and a star. He knew it was an every day, all the time job. "It isn't hard to be good from time to time in sports. What's tough is being good every day," he said. That was the 3000 and its community and its major league of vendors: good every day.

Not without fears

We had our panic and fears during those earliest days. 3000 owners might have experienced some on the day they learned HP wasn't going to continue selling the servers. They could do little to change that. We had to ride out the fallow times in the first year, those months when some vendors wanted to wait to see who'd support the upstart news outlet.

When we traveled to our first Interex show with a full issue, in Anaheim's HP World of 1996, HP was waiting with a warning. Frankly, the state of the 3000 market was not going to earn an HP recommendation of the 3000 to the large corporations. Glenn Osaka had been in charge of the 3000 group and then moved up to managing the business server group. Hearing that HP's heart wasn't in its 3000 work sent a bolt of panic into us. Two people with ad contracts to serve and plenty of ink, paper, and postage to buy—we didn't want to hear how little the upper HP brass thought of the 3000. It was a legacy business, after all. Show some respect.

Little of that first hard summer of 1996 matched the wonder of dreaming up the NewsWire in the spring of the previous year. In March of 1995, we talked about a newsletter that would do the work of a magazine, produced on a tight budget. We'd worked for a publisher together whose purse strings were always drawn tight. We didn't need four-color printing. We'd learned to do good with two colors: black, and a fire engine red. We had to educate many a vendor on how to create artwork that required only two colors.

Then we printed the first issue and got the newsletters delivered two weeks late, produced on too-heavy paper that busted our postage budget. A new printer took us to press the very next month. Abby had to hunt down a graphics company to replace the in-house work the old printer performed.

Y2K and the rising tide of tomorrows

Like many people in our community, the approach of the Year 2000 lifted our ship. Advertising swelled as software companies added products and customers. The legacy applications and systems were going to need more attention to get them through the narrow part of the calendar, that Dec. 31 when the first two digits of the year were going to turn over for the first time in computing history.

The 3000 business seemed to be soaring by the end of 1999, a period when we posted some of our highest page counts. Interex conferences carried extra ad dollars and gave us chances to sign on new subscribers. The web site was popular enough to carry a paywall tied to subscriptions. For the first three full years, an HP 3000 hosted our web pages. Our webmaster Chris Bartram created a random passcode generator on a 3000 which assigned login passwords for subscribers. After more than three full years, another website, 3kworld.com, paid to license our content. We walked away from further subscription growth to get our stories into a wider world. 

More than two years later, HP's managers looked at the prospects for selling these servers in a post-2000 world. Maybe legacy computing became more vulnerable after the classic apps cleared the Y2K hurdle. We'd only been publishing for about six years when the fateful November 2001 news arrived. I developed the Homesteading label for the thousands of customers who'd be going nowhere soon. I was in Europe vacationing with my son when the call from Abby arrived. In a burst of hubris and desperate hope, I rewrote a front page of the Flash Paper that handed the shutdown news from HP to a readership stunned at the prospects of fewer tomorrows.

For some of our readers, HP's intentions of almost 19 years ago mattered little. Their companies were always going to follow their own counsel and were devoted to a full return on their 3000 investment. Many more had careers derailed or sidetracked, saw fortunes dwindle, made plans for different tomorrows.

The NewsWire was never built to become a massive operation with offices, staff, and benefits. Things were lean enough in the Nineties that no one here carried health insurance. Organizing for a small footprint—though not so small that healthcare didn't ever arrive here—gave us a plan for survival long term. Here at the end of 25 years of publishing, 20 of those years have unfurled in the shadow of HP's certain departure from 3000 life.

Those earliest months when we could believe in HP's 3000 faith were still tinged with wry, sometimes dark comedy. Citizen Kane is a favorite film here, and we'd often quote one of its lines at each other when times got tough. Kane is replying to his trust manager when he's asked why he'd want to buy the New York Examiner. "I think it would be fun to run a newspaper," Kane said.

It's been fun. We look forward to more, bolstered by support from companies with a long-term view of 3000 usefulness, like Pivital Solutions. We have enjoyed support from readers and owners and veterans of the 3000 world, too. Here's to a fresh quarter-century, however it looks. The Tampa Bay Rays are looking like a good prospect to get into the World Series, winning on a pittance of a payroll. Little things that are built smart can surprise you with their ability to be good every day.

 


MPE/iX networking flaw has workarounds and a fix

Network switch
Gilles Schipper, our Homesteading editor who's shared so much advice and instruction, wanted network help. Along the way to answers, an MPE/iX flaw was uncovered. There's a fix. But first, the problem.

Schipper writes, "All of sudden, two HP 3000s (running MPE/iX 6.5) are unable to accept VT sessions from terminals on same network. Network administrators unable to point to any network configuration or equipment issues that could explain the problem.

Further investigation shows that one or two IP's associated with PRINTERS (usually 1, but sometimes 2) have appeared in the "GATELIST" command within NETTOOLS.NET.SYS (along with the IP address of the router).

It seems that the inability of network terminals to log on to either system is always due to this bizarre situation that I've never seen before.

Currently, the solution is to run a job every five minutes or so that issues a NETCONTROL NET=LAN; UPDATE=ALL, which results in ONLY the correct router IP address in the GATELIST, and after which everything is okay. How can I fix the problem permanently without requiring the running of the UPDATE job?

Craig Lalley says he's seen this before.

"I suppose you will probably want to know how I resolved it. I don't remember... but, network redirects come to mind. Are they getting network redirects at the console? Do they have the correct gateway in NMMGR? Have you looked at the buffers?

NETTOOL.NET -> RESOURCE -> DISPLAY?

Of course, what does LINKCONTROL @,A show? Finally, look at the Name Resolution."

Mark Landin puts the blame on a routing table.

"Sounds like your routing table is getting polluted with bad RIP updates. Doubt it’s coming from the printers themselves. Not sure how you’d track that down. Maybe if you put a PC running Wireshark on the same LAN you could find the source of the bogus updates."

Billy Brewer thinks the router redirects cause the problem.

"What you are seeing most likely is ICMP Redirects (normally coming from a router). I don't think I've ever seen where you would get a printer IP address showing in your gatelist in Nettool as that doesn't make any sense. Basically the culprit is sending out an "alternate" gateway and the HP 3000 unfortunately listens and updates the gateway (Gatelist).

The network guys (at least in my experience) are never wrong or guilty until you prove it to them. Anyway, if this is the case, you can watch your console and if you get the result below, it will tell you the IP address of the equipment sending the ICMP Redirect.

SYS-A:** NETXPORT IP : NETWORK PROBLEM; Gateway redirects severe

Loc: 215; Class: 2; Parm= $A1C37920; PortID: $FFFFF972

If you convert the PARM= value from hex to decimal you get the IP 161.195.121.32, which should be the router that your system is having trouble with.
A1 = 161
C3 = 195
79 = 121
20 = 32

Finally, Doug Werth pointed out this is a flaw in MPE/iX which introduced a security hole. That's significant, because 3000s don't often exhibit those. The continued use of these servers on modern networks, pretty remarkable for a server first built in 1972, will expose such stuff.

Werth says, "What you are seeing is in fact caused by ICMP redirects. It has nothing to do with printers or DNS or network resources of any nature. Simply put, a router on the network is inspecting packets and believes it knows a better gateway for the HP3000 to route to use and tells it so via a gateway redirect. The HP 3000 dutifully updates its routing table accordingly.

"If the redirect packets occur at a high enough rate the 'ICMP redirects severe' message is written to the system console. This makes identifying the culprit fairly easily whereby one can ask the network administrator to disable that feature. Yet it only takes one redirect to mess things up which won't reach the threshold of 'severe.' and thus making identification much more difficult. The offending packets can be located by formatting a link trace directly on the HP 3000, or with a packet sniffer like Wireshark externally.

"And how to fix the problem permanently without running the UPDATE job? Beechglen has a patch for all versions of MPE/iX to permanently ignore ICMP redirects. Contact us on how to track down the offending gateway and patches."

"I have long considered this a significant security hole in MPE, as well as all operating systems that accept and act upon ICMP redirects. Turning them off permanently is a must. No server should allow for the possibility of a rogue piece of equipment getting on the network and rerouting its packets. That is a job that should be left solely to the configured default gateway."


25 Years: Java promise yields Go e! app

Let's Go e Enhydra app
It's November of 2000, close to a year past the harrowing Y2K milestone. The HP 3000 is now renamed the HPe3000, adding a letter to remind customers and prospects that the 36-year-old server is ready for the Web.

HP Europe is running a "Let's Go e!" conference. The event is so multilingual that a set of translator booths sits at the back of an Amsterdam hotel conference room. The presentations will convince customers from France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and the UK that tge 3000s in their datacenters can connect data with remote customers.

Amsterdam translation booths
I'm in the audience and look back to see a UN translator setup worthy of a scene in Judgment at Nuremburg. In real time, the genuine capabilities of a Java-driven app are being demonstrated. It's a proud moment for people like me who invested in the future of the 3000 world.

In a way, the conference is multi-lingual for technology, too. Java made its debut in commercial markets just a few years earlier. In that room we're being told that MPE/iX can speak Java right alongside Unix and Windows NT. It's an important point, that similarity with an open Unix environment, or the omnipresent Windows. The 3000 deserves a seat at the table, HP believes. It's especially important in Europe, where they've had a tough year selling against Unix. HP-UX and Sun Solaris are well dug-in across the continent.

An IT manager from Dornier, which makes custom looms for the fabrics sector, explains how their Enhydra web app server built upon Java/iX runs as fast anything. An outside team built them the app for Windows NT, then moved it to the 3000. At the time, that would've been a 3000 before the ultimate generation. 

Not especially fast compared to what would be announced four months later: PCI-based 3000s of the A-Class and N-Class. Still, for Dornier's business clients, fast enough.

Java earned a reputation over the next year or so as being significantly slower on MPE/iX than open system implementations. In almost one year's time, HP decided the ecosystem of the 3000 didn't have a strong future. Despite the translation magic in that Amsterdam meeting room, the place the e3000 was going to go was away from HP's futures.