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October 2020

November 2020

Giving gratitude for 3000s and survival

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This holiday weekend, many of us can give thanks for surviving a year unlike any other. A pandemic is one way to learn how deep your fortitude can go. It was easier to love a business computer that was still being manufactured and sold. Even if the sales were disappointing and irregular, newer systems were still going into the world.

In love, we find out who we want to be. In war, we find out who we are. This has been a year of war for health, and it brings us close to two decades of battle to keep resources at hand for 3000s.

By this weekend, the only systems headed into the world running MPE are the new releases of the Stromasys Charon emulator and some experimental installs of a Classic 3000 emulator. The latter SIMH software runs MPE V and it has devoted hobbyists around it. That emulator is not a production asset. The one from Stromasys is proven.

On a holiday invented to promote thanks as well as outsized eating, Thanksgiving reminds us of what a 3000 user can thank the gods for — and something to envy, too.

Prolific commenter Tim O'Neill has asked, "Can you write about the current futures of other no-longer-supported systems such as HP 1000, Alpha, and old HP 9000s?"

We can write some of that. The HP 1000, a product line that HP turned off just after Y2K, still has third parties who will maintain and support RTE operating system applications. The HP 1000 got a proper emulator from Strobe Data, engineered just in time to capture the business of companies who couldn't part with RTE apps.

A similar story is true of the AlphaServer line from HP. Killed off in the last decade, Alpha is a third-party supported product. No other Alpha computers were built after HP shunted Alpha users to the Integrity line, a migration path of now-dubious future. Alpha has a good emulator in the AXP version of Charon from Stromasys. The presence of Charon also prompts thanks from companies who can't support the concept of 17-year-old HP hardware running MPE/iX.

But while the Alpha and the 3000 live on in the virtualization of Stromasys, both communities can be envious of the deal another retiring environment received from HP. OpenVMS lives on in an exclusive license to VMS Software Inc. The company got a 2013 arrangement to carry OpenVMS forward with new versions using the HP source code for the operating system.

OpenVMS futures have some tantalizing what-if's, both for the OS as well as for the 3000 users who wanted more MPE/iX future from HP back in 2002. OpenMPE campaigned for use of HP's source code for MPE and got an arrangement that was announced 13 years ago this week. That source was limited to a technical support resource, however.

If, as happened with OpenVMS, that source had been promised to a single third party, six years before HP would drop support like it was for OpenVMS, there could be more to be thankful for by now. Extensions of some third-party applications. Support for newer technologies. A replacement OS vendor, blessed by HP, to mention in boardroom meetings about the 3000's future.

Perhaps OpenVMS customers should be thankful for something else, too: lessons HP faced about ending the life of a business operating environment, delivered from the OS that had brought HP to the computing game. Third parties who love and care for a legacy computer were at the ready for the 3000. They fell short of convincing Hewlett-Packard to turn over a marketplace. It seems HP learned that leaving customers with no better choice than replacing a 3000 with Windows was not business that anybody feels thankful for.


Damages and desires got stamped from HP's decision

EFORMz flyer

Paper, printed with barcodes or mailed, still plays a role.

Nineteen years ago, Hewlett-Packard rocked the 3000 world with a fateful announcement. "No more new 3000s," the creator of the system said. "December of 2006 marks the end of HP's MPE road. Your ecosystem has been shrinking for some time." And so on.

How bad was that decision, really, in the long view from 2020? It killed companies, cratered careers, made vendors vanish. The world's landfills and scrapyards gathered tons of aging 3000 iron, over the next decade and beyond. What good came of it might be measured in how companies and experts rebuilt their prospects and skill levels.

Not many injured parties fell immediately from a mortal wound. Like COVID, though, the news attacked those whose careers or business models were already vulnerable. I was tempted, in the years that followed, to compare the HP choice as another kind of 9/11. I didn't go there, and I won't try to equate that business decision with a pandemic that's killed close to 1.5 million people worldwide.

The pain of a loss, though, isn't so easily defined. For some people and companies, November 14 was the wildfire that cleared out the old forest floor to make way for new trees. Minisoft was roaring along with its terminal emulator and middleware business. Its founder Doug Greenup summed up the firestorm and the aftermath eloquently.

"At first our business was not really affected," he says. "In fact, our sales actually trended up slightly with upgrades. We were faced with a critical decision to either let our company fade slowly away with the declining MPE business, or reinvent ourselves. I remember that 90 percent of our total business at the time was MPE."

"We decided to take Minisoft in a radical new direction going back to our old word processing days. We originally produced a product called Miniword which competed with HPWord and TDP on the HP 3000. Based on our long lost past, we created a document management suite written in Java that was operating system agnostic. We then marketed this software suite into several new non-HP worlds: QAD, RedPrairie, Manhattan, STW, and Microsoft Dynamics."

"It was very difficult to reinvent, and it took several difficult years," Greenup wrote to us on the 10-year anniversary of the announcement. "HP's decision almost killed our company. But we survived and are stronger as a result."

A few weeks ago, Minisoft dropped a marketing flyer, full color and tri-folded, into my mailbox at the curb. The flyer updated me on eFORMz, its solution for printed forms. It emerged in the years after 2001. Minisoft says, "The world's great brands run on eFORMZ" with a list: Petco, Tiffany, Office Depot, Adidas, Victoria's Secret, Mrs. Fields. The lineup reminded me of the Who's Who list that Ecometry boasted during the year of that 2001 HP announcement. Known brands, the Ecometry sites, all using the HP 3000.

eFORMz doesn't require a 3000. If a company has one, the software integrates effortlessly. The non-HP worlds began to open up as opportunities for Minisoft after Nov. 14. The fact that a printed flyer could promote software in 2020 is a tip of the cap to the continuing power of paper. When the HP news of 2001 arrived at the NewsWire, we were as deeply invested in paper as a little business could be.

Like Minisoft, paper lined my path away from the loss. Books, to be specific, paper that's more durable than periodicals.

I think of books as the HP 3000 of communication. Steady, knowing, rich with data that becomes knowledge and then wisdom. I had to write my way out of the trouble. The Web, as we called it in 2001, became the bridge.

It's been 19 years since HP canceled its future for the 3000 and changed ours. Our lives stopped building on the success of periodical editing and publishing. We still did our 3000 storytelling, of course, and I keep doing it. But every Friday now, for six of them in a row, I write a little newsletter about writing and editing, instead of coding or managing an enterprise system. In the work of becoming a book editor, and the author of a novel and a memoir, I’m not a reporter any longer, not about the book work. I’m an author, as well as an editor and evaluator of other authors.

And Abby? Whoa — a yoga teacher who's produced three DVDs and is now in her 15th year of leading classes. Now people can attend her classes over Zoom. Students come from around the country, where they once had to show up at our address, or live in Austin for private sessions. People who don't think they might do yoga can practice Heavyweight Yoga. Thirteen retreats, too. A Fitness Magazine Fit 50 member, alongside notables like TV anchor Robin Roberts. Obesity Action Coalition's Bias Buster of the Year.

Could I see the way to this day if HP hadn’t ever stopped its 3000 business? Would our tribe instead be like the OpenVMS people who still have vendors and customers, but the latter isn’t spending much anymore, and so the former doesn't have money for ads? That all began in 2013 for VMS, when HP announced the end of its unlimited service to the Digital community. My new cattle drive toward books would’ve started 12 years later than it did. I’d have been 56, just beginning my journey. In that future, we might've had more in our retirement account. Or, we might have looted it for experiences, as we did through the years. What trip, Abby always asks, would you have not gone on?

I can think of a few, but they all promised to be delightful in the cozy run-up to each experience. Were there some lemon meringue pie slices we could have left in the San Antonio Tip Top diner’s cold case? To be sure, there were. How could we know which ones we didn’t need as comfort food for the soul, though?

There are, of course, other ways to measure how things worked out because HP lost its faith. We bet on a business that we didn’t think would last so long. You would've had to ask us on a really honest day in 1996, say, to hear me say this venture had about five good years in it. The unfettered, blue-sky time amounted to six years or so. The next 19 after 2001 have had some seasons better than others. You won't mistake technical publishing for the creative compensations of books and yoga. The satisfactions, though, are a different element to measure.

Many an MPE expert made this kind of transformation. John Burke became a mathematics professor. Some just branched out further, like Birket Foster and his Storm rural internet service company. He's still serving 3000 sites with data migration, too. Fresche Solutions waded into the IBM i Series market and held on to its 3000 work that'd begun while the company was called Speedware.

It’s an alternative history game, this one. However, it’s also a commemoration report. What did we do for Christmas in 2001, versus Christmas of 2000? I always mark what we are spending with the high water mark of the holidays. That was a time that always included the Dec. 31 birthday of my boy, the rock star who was proof I could create something warm and attractive and funny and smart. Amid my obvious failures, Nick is my durable success. And my marriage to a partner both special and true.

We got the Nov. 14 news a few days ahead of the vast majority of our customers. Some of the bigger vendors knew about it days or weeks ahead of us. I've written about hearing about the 3000's end of HP days while holding a payphone receiver with a cord on it. Fitting, considering how classic the 3000 was then and remains today. Wherever Nick and I were headed in Switzerland that night, we kept our appointment. A train station with a payphone on the platform led me to this New Tomorrow. We're all headed there by now because of COVID. Survival is going to be the outcome for so many of us, just as it was after 2001. 


HP pays $1.45 million to settle female pay charges

Hundred dollar bills
Served from a deep cup of irony comes the report that HP, both Enterprise and PC-printer arms, will be paying $1.45 million in a penalty for illegal treatment of its female employees.

The US Department of Labor levied the fine, which will cover back pay for 391 California women who suffered "systematic pay discrimination" while employed at HP.

The irony bubbles up because HP's two longest-serving CEOs this decade were Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman. The fine includes interest, to be paid to the affected female workers.

Under the settlement, in addition to the settlement payment, the two arms of HP agreed to analyze compensation and take steps to ensure their employment practices follow US law. That accounting will include record-keeping and internal auditing, all to ensure HP's compensation practices are legal.

A Labor Department news release says HP has cooperated. But the arm that sells servers that replaced HP 3000s, Enterprise, says it disagrees with the allegations.

HPE has "settled in the interest of putting this matter behind us.” This enterprise HP, whose HQ address is now San Jose rather than Palo Alto, says it is “committed to unconditional inclusion, including pay equity regardless of gender, race, or sexual orientation.”

The other HP, headquartered in Palo Alto, says "the charges in this case are without merit. We felt it was in the best interests of all involved to resolve this matter as quickly as possible through a voluntary settlement agreement. HP does not tolerate discrimination of any kind.”

The Hewlett-Packard that developed the HP 3000 might not have hired as many women as the newer HP arms. However, the classic HP never was investigated by the US government about hiring misdeeds.

The Labor Department alleges that through routine checks for compliance with employment laws, it found “disparities in compensation between male and female employees working in similar positions.” HP offices in San Diego and Boise, Idaho — the latter where HP board kingpin Dick Hackborn headquartered himself throughout the 2000s — as well as HPE offices in Houston and Fort Collins were the sites where illegal compensation was discovered.


How a 3000 news blackout helped preserve owners

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I’m writing to you from a blackout. It’s a willful one, because I’m staying clear of the election vote totals until later today. It’s too soon to tell what the results might mean to people like me, hoping for change, or at least trying to hold back the chaos.

HP 3000 owners were in blackouts back at the start of this century, the last era we had a contested election. It wasn’t all that rare to hear about somebody just learning, quite late, about the November 2001 HP decision on the 3000. A few years later, even into 2005, a vendor would tell me they’d run into another site where time had stopped at the early-2001 marker.

They were so isolated we might have called them willful in their blackouts. They self-maintained, so the greatest source of news, from people like any indie support company on first response, was outside their view. These blackout customers had long ago left HP in all but spirit, buying hardware from the used market. The newer stuff would’ve returned their investment faster, considering parts and repair time they’d spend on their own. They shopped as if it was the Depression and they were strapped for cash.

Their software vendors hadn’t heard from them in a long time. Not because the support from the vendors had lapsed, although it often hadn’t been renewed. When you buy support as if it’s insurance you never use, not much changes in the viewfinder.

While I didn’t expect this blackout to last as long as it did, the lack of death march music helped preserve all of us in the 3000 world longer, so we could grow stronger. I stood on the train platform in Switzerland with a phone in my hand on the 2001 night when Abby told me what HP was about to do. “Don’t worry quite so much,” I said in the dark. “Lots of people are going nowhere soon.”

I then applied the term "homesteader" to those who would choose to push back migration. Eventually HP adopted the term, because their customers started using that. Once in awhile, something from the press sheds a new light on a decision.

There was a virtual blackout, too. Those who knew that HP’s tastes for MPE had run dry didn’t think that would alter their career or their company. HP said most would be migrated in five years. It was more like 10. At the end of that blackout run, lawyers might have become involved. Companies needed valid support contracts from HP, some of them. I guess leaning on lawyers at the end, and then judges, is the endgame for lots of important decisions and turning points.

In a few hours, I’ll wire back in and see what has happened in the election. So far, anyway — it's easy to believe this one will have a long road to settlement. Things will change a lot less than we think, no matter what the courts give us later on. Come to think of it, for quite awhile, 3000 things changed a lot less than Abby thought.

Customers didn't get a vote in that 2001 decision. Democracy promises everyone's voice will be heard. Capitalism and commerce doesn't operate by democracy, though. We'll see if we can manage our government any better than HP handled its 3000 endgame.


November is a month for 3000 owners and nonstop regrets

NonStop News

NewsWire Classic

We've marked the end of HP's passions for the 3000 many ways and many times over the last 19 years. The month of November is upon us again, and once again filled with changes. From 10 years ago, the story of the 3000's could-have-been fate, reflected in NonStop and its then-current division leader, rubbed some salt into an old wound.

November is a month filled with memory for many a 3000 owner and user. Some of the sting of watching HP stop its futures for the 3000 is sparked by the enthusiasm offered by HP's NonStop general manager, Winston Prather. NonStop enjoyed its first exclusive conference this fall, while Prather is finishing up his fourth year as GM of the server's Enterprise Division.

Prather held the very last post of General Manager for the 3000, a job where he said it was his decision alone to announce the "end of life" (as HP loves to call it) of the server still running more than a few  major firms. You can pretty much see the retread from his 3000 talks in his message in the NonStop bimonthly magazine, The Connection, from his intro for this Fall's issue (pictured above; click for details).

With all the changes we've made... we've stayed true to the what NonStop has always done best: delivering the scalability, availability and integrity you rely on to run your business. It's a NonStop, not a Tandem. The difference is real, the fundamentals remain.

Fundamentals remain on duty at many HP 3000 shops which Prather predicted would be long ago migrated. But the struggle continues to eliminate an IT asset as quickly as he eliminated 3000 futures. One customer wrote us -- and didn't want their name used, for fear of risking a severance package -- about a second attempt to replace a custom-built application. "The packages that we’ve been sold, complete with rosy allegations of full asset management functionality, simply don’t have it," he said.

Some kinds of applications are custom-written all over the world, the manager added, and "whole concepts of our line of business are obviously brand new to the programmers."

This manager retired a few weeks after the organization's “conversion staff was only now asking for descriptions of the old database. They’re obviously not converting anything; they’re just going to archive the data and hope they can refer to it later."

In the meantime, the company's management dropped all support for the HP 3000s, even though one lost a disk drive and failed to boot from it. Other than a daily full backup, there's not even a shadow of support for the systems. Without a tool like Adager to rely upon, "the database will overfill (work order lines keep on coming!) in about four weeks." Of such high-level organization's decisions -- running a 3000 until it careens into a ditch -- are a system manager's nightmares conjured.

"I’ll return to the fray seeking work," said this 3000 pro. "But what I’ll do is in the air -- obviously not much 3000 development going on, but I may be just the ticket for maintenance projects, or I can probably be valuable in a conversion. I know I’m employable and there are a few 3000 community residents who know I’m reasonably smart; I’ll be okay."

HP's hubris hovered on the dream that any 3000 app could be moved or replaced. NonStop made it to the other side of the 2002 merger with Compaq, and the 3000 didn't. Along the road, the scalability, availability and integrity relied upon by some businesses fell into in the hands of the migration and conversion companies assigned to muck out the mess.

Perhaps the product name of the NonStop line will keep its customers from looking backward at the last business decision which HP put in Prather's hands alone. That's his story of your November history, even to this day. The buck stops at his GM's desk, right up to when he decides to dismantle the furniture that might still have a future.