September 12, 2019

What was done to HP 3000s for good in 1990

Frozen-waterfallPhoto by Vincent Guth on Unsplash

One week when two of the 3000 community's greatest icons connected with me, it drew my attention back to the start of the 1990s. To say that decade was a very different time for the HP 3000 simplifies a much richer story. What's more, there are parts of that decade's accomplishments that continue to serve the community to this day, for those customers who rely on the frozen nature of MPE/iX.

The year 1990 was galvanizing for the 3000 community. I was reminded about the year when Adager's Alfredo Rego asked on the HP 3000 newsgroup, "What were you doing in 1990?" In a brief message, he noted that 1990 was the launch date for the world's first Internet browser, created by Tim Berners-Lee on a NeXT workstation. Rego pointed at a history page from 1990 about the start of the browser era. Then Rego noted

Enjoy it (typos and all).  Be sure to click on the links to the screen shots. Ah... Memories. Fortunately, the NeXT ideas have survived (and thrived).  Just as MPE ideas have (not). Sigh.

But 1990 was a high-water mark in HP 3000 advocacy, a habit which works today to survive those three decades. The HP 3000 users formed a community in way no other computer can claim, led by Wirt Atmar, founder of report solution provider AICS Research, creators of QueryCalc as well as QCReports and the free QCTerm.

Atmar knew better than most about advocacy, for in the fall of 1990 he helped spark a charge that changed HP's business practices about the 3000 — changes which you might argue lasted until the vendor stepped away for good. Especially for the MPE users who have changed little about their HP 3000 stable environment.

In 1990, Atmar wrote an open letter to HP published in The HP Chronicle, the monthly news magazine I was editing at the time. In his letter Atmar chastized HP for the way it was relegating IMAGE to minor status among the 3000's futures and features, as well as the general treatment of a loyal customer base. Word was building in the community that HP had plans to separate the IMAGE database from the purchase of any 3000. The database had been included with the 3000 since 1976, a radical move at the time that sparked the creation of untold numbers of utilities and applications.

A programmer or development company could create an application or software for the 3000 community using IMAGE as the database, knowing that every 3000 out there would be able to make use of the creation. 3000=IMAGE was a formula close to being broken. The community reared up on its hind legs and castigated its supplier, using the Interex 1990 user group meeting as the forum for its dismay. SIG-IMAGE, a Special Interest Group of users gone dormant at the time, re-formed to organized the complaints and demand remedies.

In community lore, the protests around the meeting are known as "The Boston Tea Party," in part because they changed HP's course of conduct about customers. Adager's Fred White was the most scathing critic of HP's myopia of the time, but a row of customers also lined up behind and in front of him at the public microphones in a Boston meeting hall.

This was a time when the HP Roundtable was the highlight of the conference, a chance to quiz the top executives of the company, right out in the open, about shortcoming and problems. The national IT press of Datamation, Computerworld and Information Week, all with the HQs just up the road, were on hand that year to report on the rebellion. HP looked chagrined and embarrassed fielding customer complaints — during a time when customer communities had a different impact on their vendors.

Atmar contacted me to update a few links about him just days before Rego's message. The convergence felt profound to me at the time. Atmar mentioned he couldn't help me in my search for back issues of the Chronicle, because he had only one left on his shelves: The issue with his open letter, "which basically caused the [1990] Boston riot." (My search remains open for any Chronicle issues before 1992. Email me if you've got the good old stuff.)

In the fall of that year, the users not only stalled the separation of IMAGE from the 3000, but triggered a "Customer First" strategy HP used to retain its 3000 customers — a strategy which HP modeled in its other enterprise computer operations at the time. Glory indeed, even if it arrived at the end of a pointed stick of sharp criticism and some disgust. But as Atmar pointed out, "it was a glorious moment, yes, but as the Roman slaves told the Roman generals, 'All fame is fleeting.' "

Customer First became a mantra in a new generation of HP 3000 division managers, the idea of customer delight: unexpected features, beyond commonplace requests. But at the same time HP became serious about creating a steady stream of HP-UX customers, using the HP 3000 installed base as an easy supply of converts. At the time of the Boston uprising, Atmar noted, HP was easy to take advantage of, because the vendor was afraid of negative publicity.

One lasting benefit of the 1990 uprising was that Customer First ideal. Many vendors have excised computer systems from their lineups. Few indeed, though, are making a business model for future cancellations. When HP's virtual CSY managers said in the middle 2000s, "We need to give the system the ending that it deserves," that's a result of Customer First, the vendor's finish to the 336 months it has sold and supported your server.

Keeping HP accountable became so much more difficult in the 21st century than the 20th, however. Impossible, indeed, under the provisions of a confidential exchange with the vendor that OpenMPE had to observe while it negotiated the future of the OS. We might've seen more about OpenMPE's success with that Cone of Silence removed. I sighed along with Rego at that removal's prospect, given the leverage HP retains to this day with its stewardship of MPE/iX.

But as I said at the top of this story, the 1990s were a different time for your community. In the era when the computer was increasing its customer base and celebrating 25 years of success, I asked Atmar what the birthday meant to the customers.

Maturity: If you were a business owner or manager, I can't think of a single word that you would want to seek out and celebrate more than a mature solution, one that can easily demonstrate that it can do what it says it does. Immature solutions, on the other hand, are going to cost you an awful lot of money — and a growing segment of the business community is beginning to understand that. You can only be lead down the garden path so many times before it begins to dawn on you what it's truly costing you.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:36 PM in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 05, 2019

TBT: The Flying HP 3000

3000 Crash Test
Twenty-two years ago this month, HP thought enough of the 3000 to send it flying off a three-story rooftop. It was called the HP 3000 Crash Test. The demonstration was more like the tests conducted with safety dummies than anything from a software lab.

HP spent some of that year celebrating the 25th Birthday of the 3000 with fun stunts like this. The rooftop trip was called a skydiving event. Alas, no parachute.

A dazzling disco evening played out in Stuttgart during the same month as the Crash Test. The Europarty was held not far from the Hewlett-Packard manufacturing facility in Boeblingen. That soiree featured a saxophone player riding on a zip-line. Different times then — but maybe the 3000 was ahead of its time with a zip-line at a party.

The Crash Test was similar in its mission to make us smile. It also proved a point about the hardware that people can't seem to get rid of by now -- the boxes were built to withstand remarkable abuse. For example, Joe Dolliver told us about another Lazurus-like performance of HP's gear.

Back at Amisys in a previous life, Bud Williams sent an HP3000/957 to the Amisys Dubuque programmer office back in September of 1999. The system was there for Y2K issues testing for the staff in Dubuque. It was sent via North American Van Lines.

As the story goes, the system got crushed by another heavy skid of material and the 3000 looked like Gumby with broken sides and smashed connectors. Another 3000 expert, John Schick, got the box in place and the system ran fine. Yet another story of the HP 3000 taking a licking and still ticking.

The last line is a reference to a TV ad for Timex watches, a reference too obscure for anyone who's in charge of a datacenter today. The Crash Test lives on as a movie on the Newswire's YouTube page. When we started all of this, just about 24 years ago, YouTube was just a magic act in the mind of some wizard working for what would become Google. Instead, HP distributed the movie via VHS cassettes: perhaps another reference too old for the junior programmers on staff now, working on their virtual servers in the Amazon AWS cloud.

George Stachnik of HP narrates this video, produced in the era when HP was still marketing the server as a more reliable and mature choice than HP's Windows and Unix servers. Well, the vendor never really did make that much of a direct comparison, even though its sales force and customers were doing just such a compare.

If you've never seen this, we won't spoil the ending. But HP 3000 customers know that the hardware which makes up their system was built far beyond the survival specs of, say, a Windows 2003 server. How many servers you feel like tossing off the roof of a building is an exercise we'll leave to our readers. It's impossible toss an AWS cloud server off the roof. Those boxes, cranking away in a server farm somewhere, are in a one-story building.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:00 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 29, 2019

Hurricane season was a hit with a 3000 show

Andrew_23_aug_1992

It's late August and the hurricanes have begun to march toward Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Many of the annual 3000 national conferences -- okay, we had to call them Interex, but those shows were about the 3000's heartbeat, volunteers and vendors -- took place during this month. Several tempted the weather gods, being scheduled in places like Orlando. Only one, though, found itself astride the path of a Category 4 hurricane.

The luck of Interex luck ran aground when Hurricane Andrew made its landfall during the week that HP planned to celebrate the 3000's 20th anniversary. The storm came ashore near New Orleans, where that 3000's birtchday party was scheduled. I was reporting from Interex for the last time as editor of the HP Chronicle.

It was a week when the company's that getting a new CEO, Lew Platt, who was on the cusp of making his debut at a keynote in front of 3,500 customers at Interex '92. Platt was only the second man ever to be elected to the top job at HP. Up to that point, its founders both took turns as CEO. The next executive to hold the job after Hewlett and Packard was John Young, who didn't have an engineer's roots like his predecessors. Platt's arrival was touted as a return to HP's technical leadership. He was an HP insider who was a technologist, proud of his roots — and humble enough to have a habit of eating his meals in the HP cafeteria.

The outgoing Young had been scheduled to deliver a keynote to the Interex conference, but Hurricane Andrew changed those plans. The storm had just ravaged the Florida coastline with Cat 4 winds the day before Young was supposed to appear. His assignment was transferred to Platt, although the leadership of HP wasn't going to pass on to Platt until November.

The severity of Andrew set even the CEO-designate into flight from the show.

In the plaza in front of the Hilton Riverside Towers, Platt was trying to make his way to a running limo that would get him to the airport before all flights were grounded. But one customer after another wanted just a moment of his time on the way. After a handful of delays, his wife Joan insisted on his safety. "Lew, get in here," she shouted from the limo. One of the company's most grassroots leaders had to depart before his debut in in storm-lashed show week.

The second generation of the PA-RISC chipset for 3000s did remain at the show. The Series 987 servers were also making their debut that week. HP pushed the message that MPE/iX was an easy porting destination for applications on the move away from Unix, pointing out that General Mills had moved a third-party warehouse app from Unix to the 3000.

"It had been generally accepted that it was much easier just to buy a new platform for the application," HP's Warren Weston wrote in the HP Chronicle. "However, after further investigation, the decision at General Mills was made to port to MPE/iX." It might have been the last time the vendor promoted the 3000 over Unix in a public message.

The 3000's operating system was getting its first version that could support Berkley Sockets, technology that I reported in the Chronicle "is aimed at the same target audience awaiting Posix functionality on HP 3000s: application developers who already have programs running on Unix-based systems." Unix was everywhere and on the rise in that time, boiling up like a tropical storm off the shore of its datacenter landfall.

Sevcik at Interex 92MPE/iX 4.0 was "one of the highest-performing commercial operating systems in the industry," said then-3000 GM Rich Sevcik, who'd go on to lead HP's launch of the Itanium chip program. Itanium, of course, was destined to replace PA-RISC. It might have done a lot of that, but HP's hopes for it were so much higher. The manufacturer of MPE/iX was still certain Itanium, which was only on the PowerPoint slides at the time, was going to supplant x86. Sevcik compared the 3000's value to that of IBM mainframes. "MPE is significantly easier to use," he said, "and less costly than competitive operating systems such as IBM's MVS."

HP's 987 got the new PA-7100 chips, which made the 9x7s the next-to-fastest tier of 3000s in that summer week. The big-dog Series 980 was still outperforming the new-processor models. These were six figure 980s. The 9x7s were priced at the low end in a way to attract the rank and file of 3000 users. Incredibly, the 9x7s are still running, although few owners have them in production service.

The company was pumping its installed base to get sales numbers up for the 9x7s. The non-RISC Series 68s and Series 70s, already a decade old, could be leveraged into 9x7s for as little as $3,000 on the low end of the 9x7 line. Trading in the first-model RISC Series 950 for a 9x7 could earn a $50,000 credit.

HP was still hoping to make IBM's midrange customers take heed of the 3000. The company said that in comparing the 3000 to the AS/400, "a mid-level HP system would be 60 percent cheaper than the cost of hardware, software, and support for the comparable IBM system." 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:50 PM in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 12, 2019

Turning 35 in an HP career, with older smiles

HPCOct1984

It was 35 years ago this month that the HP 3000 entered my working life. It took several more months to say it had entered my heart and the rest of my life. I usually mark that heartfelt anniversary around December. During that 1984 winter month, I went to a Florida Regional Users Group as my first solo computer trade show. Meeting MPE pros face to face made my career a personal mission.

Stealing_Home_Front_Cover_Web_July 12_kirkusIn the steaming summer of 1984, however, I'd only begun to press the limits of my suburban newspaper experience. I'd been a sports editor, laying the groundwork for my baseball-and-boyhood memoir Stealing Home that was published this month. I'd interviewed Sonny Bono already, then wrote a feature I banged out on an IBM Selectric in an office in a room beside the presses, a story that was on a front page hours later. Small boys hawked that Williamson County Sun issue on the corners of the Georgetown square. I needed more for my familly than the romance of small town journalism, though.

Thirty-five years ago I answered a two-line job ad in the Austin American Statesman classifieds. The founders of the just-minted Chronicle needed an editor-reporter. With little more than my avid curiosity, a journalism degree with a computer science minor, and the need to find better health insurance for my 19-month old infant son, I took that $21,000 a year job. In 1984, there was an HP 3000 memory board that cost more than that. The Chronicle's founders were so uncertain of their relationship with HP they didn't even use the vendor's initials in the name of the publication.

It was a good year to bring newswriting skills to the 3000 market. HP launched its HP 3000 Series 37 Office Computer, a 112-pound gem you could run in a carpeted office, a couple of weeks after I moved into a wood-paneled office in Northwest Austin just down the street from Texas Instruments. The LaserJet rolled out that August, the HP 150 Touchscreen appeared in the spring, plus the Series 110 laptop. We called the Series 100s portable computers, not laptops, and I lusted after one. I had to content myself with a Kaypro II, a 32-pound portable that used CPM to drive programs it could only run if their floppy disks were inside that Kaypro.

I call these Grandpa IT stories, and I quip about the era of the steam-powered Internet. But I am a genuine grandpa now, so the stories are an even better fit than they were when I told them a decade ago. On that 25th anniversary of my HP 3000 reporting, I shared such stories.

HP sent its first CEO not named Hewlett or Packard to the Interex conference Anaheim in 1984, so long ago that the annual event wasn't even held in the summertime. CEO John Young had to tell customers there a now too-familiar story about the 3000's future. Crucial improvements were going to be delayed. Even worse was the multi-year program to boost the 3000's architecture from 16 to 32 bits was being canceled. Those dreams of Vision would be replaced with the Spectrum Project, but HP painted few technical details about the engineering that would launch HP Precision Architecture Reduced Instruction Set Computing (PA-RISC).

That's the same PA-RISC that Stromasys now emulates using Charon, sold more than three decades later. It can be tricky to predict how long something will be useful. MPE/iX has retained enough value to spark an emulation of that 1984 processor design. Not many people are daunted in the extreme about the coming 2028 date rollover for MPE/iX. Stromasys sells a solution for that. 

I arrived in the Chronicle offices with those echoes of Anaheim written into the nine back issues on the shelves.The 1984 show was the debut for Wilson Publications, the company that created the Chronicle. John and Mary Wilson told me their stories of struggling to get onto the show floor to exhibit at the conference. They'd pre-paid for the booth, but the user group didn't want to admit a competitor to the show. It was a modest affair of 1,600 programmers, vendors, and HP engineers. But it gathered a community with enough potential to spawn three publications already. By that year, Interact magazine and SuperGroup magazine competed with The Chronicle.

Coming from three years of suburban newspapering, I was used to competition. The Highlander was one of two papers on the same block of Burnet, Texas, a town of just 3,500. I started my role in HP competition by getting scooped. The 3000's biggest product rollout of the year was the Series 37, a server nicknamed the Mighty Mouse because it was HP's first minicomputer that could operate outside a specialized computer room. HP called it the HP Office Computer. I called out something else across my office when I learned about the new product, a phrase unsuitable for a family paper. Arriving without any contacts, I didn't know the Mighty Mouse existed when we sent my first Chronicle to the printers without any inkling of the 37. Interact arrived in our mail two weeks later to break the news and humble me.

Once I began to find my sources, HP news flowed faster. It was a time before Fake News. The 3000 was growing small enough to get into offices without raised flooring and computer room cooling. The hum of secrecy and hope of invention filled my first HP year. Getting people to talk meant earning their trust during a time of Non-Disclosure Agreements.

“The mid-80s were a time of transition, endless NDAs, and uncertainty in the HP 3000 world,” recalls Denys Beauchemin, a chairman of the former Interex board who already had seven years of 3000 experience by 1984. “You got in at a very good time.”

It was an era when attending a national Interex conference cost an attendee less than $100 a day. All eyes were aimed toward HP's updates, promised for 18 months after Anaheim. HP needed Spectrum desperately to keep pace with DEC, which was already selling a 32-bit minicomputer system. Within a couple of years, ads printed in silver ink told the 3000 owners "Digital Has It Now." In 1984, HP was four years away from 32-bit systems.

HP kept expanding the 3000's mission to help it get traction, selling what the industry was calling a general-purpose computer. Jim Sartain, who'd become IMAGE lab manager in the 1990s, started at HP in 1984 helping develop HP 3000 graphics products including EasyChart. “At the time, there was no easier way to create a chart that displayed business data represented as a bar, line, or pie chart,” Sartain recalled.

He described an era when most businesses needed an overhead projector for the transparencies they called foils, plastic with cardboard frames that were created with color plotters. “This was before there were any easy-to-use PC programs for this purpose,” he told me 10 years ago.

A lot has changed over these three-and-a-half decades since I began telling 3000 stories. Foils and plotters are gone, the Sun is printed miles away from its reporters' laptop-driven desks, and the paper that became the HP Chronicle is as vanished as Interact. I'm happy to still be on the scene, though, with that curiosity in my heart, plus a smile on these much older lips about this career.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 11:06 AM in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 08, 2019

Dog days were always part of 3000 summers

Stealing_Home_Front_Cover_July 12_kirkus
A summertime gift, ready to play on your ebook reader

It's August and it's quiet in Texas. Step outside any building at 3 in the afternoon and you're struck by the silences. The birds know better than to chirp, the only sounds on the street are the wind ruffling along the curbs, and the hum of AC units and pool pumps boils down from the yards with stunted grass.

It's 104 out there, a summer that tamps down just about everything until after the sun sets. Things don't move much, a situation that was usually at hand during the last three decades and more of 3000 history.

We'd all wait for the middle or the end of the month of August, or sometimes until September, to hear the beat of each others' feet down hallways. There was the national conference to attend by then, the one called Interex for many years, then HP World once Hewlett-Packard sold the idea to the user group of branding the show around the vendor, instead of the user group.

That conference, whose heartbeat pulsed on the exhibits floor, was such a landmark we'd plan vacations around it. Rare were the years when the community gathered before the second full August week. People got their kids back into school right around conference time. Then we'd appear in person to learn our trade and our tech world's future better.

There's an annual conference in my life again, now that a user event is a rare MPE experience. The Writer's League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference brings authors together with book agents. Along the way, they stop by a trade show booth where I chatter about stories like I did in spots like San Francisco (three times) Detroit (only once) and Orlando (in a Florida August we endured like a database reload, waiting for the end of the heat).

I'm an editor anew at that conference, and this year I have a book of my own to debut. It took its opening cut at the plate during that authors' show. Stealing Home: A Father, a Son, and the Road to the Perfect Game was six years in the making. It's the story of an 11-day, 9-game road trip with my Little Leaguer in the final summer before the NewsWire came into the world. It was 1994 and the annual conference was almost as late as it's ever appeared: Sept. 25 in Denver. It snowed on the last day of the show.

Earlier in that year I was a divorced dad taking my best shot at being a full-time parent. In search of the perfect vacation and overcompensating like any divorced dad, I looked at my own history of being a son of a man who was epic himself. Then he took his own life and I drove away from the memory of that loss. The summertime trip in a rented convertible with my son was my best effort at remembering my dad, answering questions about why, and finding the path to make my road ahead a more peaceful place.

We can't change the past, but we can better understand it with earnest study. Every time August arrives I think about the summers where all of us came together to try to understand MPE, or HP, or just whatever new morsel was rolling off of data sheets and publication pages.

We call these dog days out of habit, a phrase that most of us don't know refers to the first rising of the Dog Star. I have a star to lift up with my memoir. I hope my readers here will download it, enjoy it, and leave some kindnesses in the review margins. I'm still pleased to find the constellations that continue to rise in our 3000 world. Like we always did in August, I hope to bring along a few new readers and tell a new story with words and pictures. Thanks for reading, clicking, and downloading my stories.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:14 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 06, 2019

CAMUS gives the 3000 an Illinois play date

MANMAN 9 plate
The manufacturing society CAMUS is holding a Reunion Day for HP 3000 managers and owners. Since it's CAMUS, this is also a meeting for the Digital ERP users. The Computer Aided Manufacturing User Society, after all, is wrapped around MANMAN, for most of the attendees.

This is only the second meeting in as many years for MPE/iX users in North America. Last summer, the faithful and well-studied 3000 folk in Silicon Valley spent an afternoon at a famous pub across from the old HP campus on Homestead Road. There were songs and classic videos, plus a lot of talk to catch people up on their lives. A slide show caught people up with hardware maintenance.

Duke Reunion 2018

This year's event is Sunday, August 25 in 3 PM in Addison, Illinois, a town among the western Chicago suburbs. At the Dave & Buster's at 1155 N. Swift Road, Terri Lanza and Keith Krans will hold down a party room at the popular game palace and sports bar and restaurant. There's a buffet included with the $20 ticket, plus access to a cash bar. Lanza needs a count of attendees by August 19, so she can fully prepare for the buffet.

Lanza has a history of gathering 3000 folk. She started up the party in 2011 when CAMUS gathered as part of the HP3000 Reunion at the Computer History Museum. CAMUS had its event at a nearby hotel. That remains the best-attended event so far in the post-Interex era. A meeting in 2007 gathered a healthy array of anxious and resigned attendees. Vendors and support consultants are always in big number at these gatherings. Both of those post-Interex events were propelled by the enthusiasm engines of Alan Yeo and Mike Marxmeier, of ScreenJet and Marxmeier Software AG, respectively.

This year's reunion runs until 9 PM. Registration is by email or phone to Lanza ([email protected], 630.212.4314) or Krans ([email protected]). They also have advice and tips on where to stay for attendees arriving from out of town.

Meeting in person can connect you with a resource to help maintain a 3000 and forestall the ultimate migration 3000 sites face. Being in a room with others who know the 3000, the old HP which loved the server, and the legend of MPE — that's special. The 3000 was always a marketplace with a vibrant, personal community. This was a big part of our decision to deliver NewsWire to the market during a summer 24 years ago.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:28 AM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 18, 2019

Two very tough days for 3000 customers

Punch-to-jaw
July 18-19 isn't a date that lives in infamy like November 14. The latter is the date HP announced it was leaving the 3000 customers to find their own futures. The former is a pair of days in 2005 when a 31-year-old user group died, followed by HP's announcement of a layoff of 10 percent of its workforce.

That's a one-two that rocked 3000 shops still trying to concoct a transition plan toward their next computer platform. First, the storied resource of 3000 know-how switches off the lights without warning, freezing up things like a Contributed Software Library. Then 15,000 HP staff including some one-of-a-kind experts in MPE, got their termination orders.

By this July week of 2005 HP had done good work for the 3000 customer, in the form of promises, intentions, and plans, much of it by people in what was called Virtual CSY.  The layoffs didn't help any of those intentions, or reinforce the business decisions that could still make a difference to a 3000 customer.

HP's layoffs happened so long ago the vendor made the announcement before the stock market opened. That would be a post-trading news item today.

Interex, on the other hand, made an announcement that sounded like it was written standing over a terminal before someone cut out the power to the office.

Dear members:

It is with great sadness, that after 31 years, we have found it financially necessary to close the doors at Interex. Unfortunately our publications, newsletters, services, and conference (HPWorld 2005) will be terminated immediately. We are grateful to the 100,000 members and volunteers of Interex for their contributions, advocacy, and support. We dearly wish that we could have continued supporting your needs but it was unavoidable.

Interex

Your community reacted with resignation and invention. There was no panic or an accelerated drumbeat of exiting the 3000. In fact, just a few months later HP announced it was extending its exit date— and adjustment in plans triggered by the fact that customers had no intention of being done with MPE/iX by 2006.

In San Francisco, where many an airline ticket was already booked with no chance of a refund, the 3000 team decided to hold a last supper for user group conferences.

Bay Area residents in the 3000 community mounted a 3000 briefing in SF anyway, an OpenMPE meeting that included a few of HP's vCSY managers, The 3000 managers in HP often used HP World to talk to the community in person. 

Donna Garverick, an OpenMPE board director, put out the word about a prospective meeting. All that was needed was a place to meet and some interest from the community. HP opened a conference room for an MPE update meeting on August 18.

Since many people will already be in the SF Bay area (gotta do something with those plane tickets), we’d like to have a meeting for both HP and OpenMPE to provide updates to the community. We also want to provide a way for people to attend over the Internet. The board proposed using HP’s virtual classroom technology to host the on-line connectivity.

At this point, we simply cannot afford to lose any opportunity to find out what’s happening and have a forum for asking questions. Both HP and the OpenMPE board of directors want to know what you think of this idea.  We need your feedback to help us plan the meeting.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:54 AM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 16, 2019

Wayback: Security boosts as enhancements

Booster-seat
They weren't called enhancements at the time, but 13 years ago this month some security patches to MPE represented internal improvements that no company except HP could deliver to 3000s. Not at that time, anyway. This was the era when the 3000 community knew it needed lab-level work, but its independent support providers had no access to source code.

Just bringing FTP capability up to speed was a little evidence the vendor would continue to work on MPE/iX. For the next few years, at least; HP had halted OpenMPE's dreams to staff up a source code lab by delaying end of support until 2008. The vendor announced a couple more years of its support to 3000 customers.

In doing that, though, HP made an assignment for itself with the support extension, the first of two given to the 3000 before the MPE lab went dark in 2010. That assignment was just like the one facing today's remaining HP 3000 customers: figure out how to extend the lifespan of MPE expertise in a company.

FTP subsequently worked better in 2006 than it had in the years leading up to it. It's not an arbitrary subject. FTP was the focus of a wide-ranging online chat in May. Did you know, for example, that FTP has a timeout command on MPE/iX?

The connection time-out value indicates how long to wait for a message from the remote FTP server before giving up. The allowable range is 0 to 3000. A value from 1 to 3000 indicates a time-out value in seconds. A value of 0 means no time-out (i.e., wait forever). If num-secs is not specified, the current time-out value will be displayed. Otherwise, this command sets the connection time-out to num-secs seconds.

When an FTP job gets stuck, using timeout can help.

MPE/iX engineers and systems managers were working more often in 2006 than they do today. When anybody who uses MPE/iX finds a 3000 expert still available, they need to get in line for available work time. It remains one good reason to have a support resource on contract. A company relying on a 3000 shouldn't be thinking a mailing list or a Slack channel represents a genuine support asset. Even if that FTP tip did arrive via the 3000-L.

The resource of good answers for crucial questions gets ever more rare. The 3000-L mailing list has rarely been so quiet. There are information points out there, but gathering them and starting a discussion is more challenging than ever. File Transfer Protocol is pretty antique technology for data exchange. It turns out to be one of the most current standards the 3000 supports.

Before the boosts, FTP services had lagged behind the rest of the world's FTP for some time. The final patches for MPE/iX 7.5, 7.0 and 6.5 improved FTP in several areas. HP said in 2006 it made SOX compliance easier. It was an era when people cared about SOX and HP still wanted 3000 customers to be able to meet the Sarbanes-Oxley protocols.

The final security enhancements to FTP/iX are in patches FTPHDG9 7.5, FTPHDH0 7.0 and FTPHDH1 6.5. The patches include:

  • deny del, overwrite, rename
  • chroot limiting cd, dir, put, get, mput, mget
  • new enhanced semantics for 'noretrieve'

Patch IDs are:

FTPHDH1(A) for 6.5
FTPHDF5(A) for 7.0 ** note, this patch is for some general FTP fixes
FTPHDH0(A) for 7.0
FTPHDG9(A) for 7.5

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:26 PM in Hidden Value, History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 13, 2019

Was a 3000 ever a personal computer?

Screen Shot 2019-06-27 at 7.14.50 PM
The information trotlines stay in the water here. I watch for mentions of HP 3000s in the wide world of the Web, using Google to automate the surveillance. Sometimes there's a bite on the trotline that nets a real report. Other times the phrase turns up stories about horsepower in autos and other motors. Searching on "HP" will do that.

For the first time, though, the Google net trawl picked up a story about a 3000 from another dimension. This would be the realm where everything a manager wished for in a business server was delivered — and long ago. I came into this market when MS-DOS hadn't yet reigned supreme, destroying all others but Apple. HP sold a PC in 1984 with a touchscreen, something a few steps away from being a tablet.

The report from a website was wired into that deep desire that MPE could be personal. 247 WallSt included an article identifying a 3000 as a personal computer.

Once wildly expensive and inaccessible but to the very rich, computers today are one of the most ubiquitous technologies worldwide. The most basic model of an HP 3000 sold for $95,000 in 1972, the equivalent of slightly over half a million in today’s dollars, but not all personal computers released in the early 1970s cost as much.

The sentence starts off well enough, with a 3000 selling in 1972. A handful did. By the time the price is reported you can be sure the story has run off the rails, since nothing connected to computing with MPE was sold for under six figures at first. HP found a way to drive down a 3000's sticker price to about $12,000, 25 years later. That device, a Series 918 DX, was closer to a personal computer in power.

What's an HP 3000? The question is still posed, once in a while, when a redoubtable and virtually invisible server is discovered under a staircase, chugging along. It certainly is not a PC, and it has had more of a string of successes than attributed in 247 WallSt.

The original 3000 was generally considered a failure, but the company would go on to make 20 different versions of the 3000 through 1993.

In some places the server still working at Fortune 500 corporations is considered a failure by now, because its vendor gave up on it. That understanding is as off base as thinking that computer in the picture above could be a PC. It was Hewlett-Packard's "first foray into smaller business computers," except for the smaller part. Making a mainframe's computing available in a minicomputer size might have been smaller than IBM's 360s. The 3000 is the first step HP took into business computing, full stop.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:16 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 27, 2019

Third parties take over HP's OS support

Aircraft-instrument panel
The above headline doesn't describe a new situation for MPE/iX. HP gave up on its 3000 support, including MPE/iX, at the end of 2010. Even allowing for a few shadow years of 3000 contract completion — the time when some support contracts were running out their course, and HP ran out the clock — it's been a long time since the 3000's creator supported a 3000 system.

That's a situation that's about to kick in for the hundreds of thousands of VMS systems out there. HP's official OpenVMS support ends in December of 2020. A third party company, VMS Systems Inc., has earned a license to support VMS using its internals knowledge and experts. The company, VSI, will also become, by July, the only outlet for an OpenVMS customer to buy OpenVMS.

The 3000 customers already know how well third party support can succeed. VMS customers in the US government are going to learn how well it works for them. The Federal business in VMS was big.

This third party stewardship and development was the spot the 3000 community could never reach. The OpenMPE movement began as a way to get a third party group the access required to advance MPE/iX with features and new patches. That ground along for more than three years until HP announced it was extending its 3000 "End of Life" in 2005. The air quotes are needed before the only life that was ending was HP's life serving 3000 owners.

So any takeover of MPE/iX internals for extension and future customers' needs was out. So it then fell to the community to ask for enough access to do deep repairs and issue patches. Ultimately that license was created, sort of. Not the kind of access that VSI got for VMS. Just enough, for the seven special companies with an MPE/iX source license, to repair things for existing support clients.

It amounted to a CD with the millions of lines of internal MPE/iX code. The documentation was limited to what was inside the source file, according to some who saw the CD. One report said it was a $10,000 license.

That MPE/iX source goes above workarounds. Lots of the potential from extra source access has not been tapped after all of these years. But good customer-specific fixes have been built.

This is so much less than what the VMS community — which was in the final analysis what helped end HP's 3000 life — is getting now and in the years to come. Lots of years, because like the 3000, the VMS systems have Stromasys virtualization.

Because the VMS community was so much larger than the MPE community during 2001, and VMS had extensive government installations including Department of Defense sites, VMS won out. VMS got the engineering to support Integrity-Itanium servers. In the long run, we can all see how that mattered. Intel announced the final Itanium build this year. Some wags call the architecture the Itanic.

Many, many VMS sites remain. Everyone estimates, but it's easily a group bigger than the 3000 community ever was. Third party support is all that the OS will have in about a year and a half. That support resource, from independents like Pivital Solutions, been good enough for the 3000 for more than eight years since HP's support reached its end of life.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:08 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 17, 2019

Wayback: HP sues insurer for MPE defeats

Logo
Fifteen years ago this month, HP was working to prove MPE was a rich asset. The vendor had already shucked off its futures for selling the 3000, saying in 2001 the server would be kaput by 2006. The 2004 lawsuit was a last resort to get money for servers that HP did not sell.

Confused? The marketplace was in the know about HP's attempt to recover $31 million from an insurance policy it took out against losing sales to system counterfeiters. In 1999 HP began its campaign to arrest, or sue out of business, a stable of companies selling 3000s outside of HP's control. The '99 lawsuits were aimed at Hardware House and several other 3000 resellers. Those companies were charged with selling 3000s whose MPE licenses had been faked.

After more than two years of those legal attacks — HP concocted a High Tech Task Force out of a few California law enforcement agencies, raiding suspect companies — the 3000 division walked away from its 3000 sales beyond 2003. As far as HP was concerned, it was still entitled to money it lost from faked sales in the years leading up to 1999. It didn't matter to the vendor that it was ending its 3000 business and putting 3000 software vendors on the ropes. It wanted to be paid for those unlicensed servers sold by third parties. MPE was the prize HP was claiming, since the hardware itself was officially useless without an MPE license. 

Los Angeles legal firm Anderson, McPharlin & Conners went to the 3000 newsgroups in 2004 to beat the community’s bushes, working to discover prices for used HP 3000s sold between 1994 and 1998. Paralegal Laurie Moss said HP wanted to levy a claim for the full software price on every server sold to Hardware House.

During the legal firm’s discovery search, Moss said many 3000 community members who were contacted wanted to help. The Brunswick, Ohio-based reseller Norco, which eventually closed its doors three years later, was eager to tell the truth about the 900 Series systems genuine value.

“You wouldn’t believe how many people said, ‘I sure do wish I could help you in this,’ “ Moss said. The law firm’s attorney Lisa Coplin deposed John Adamson, former owner of Hardware House, in the case, as well as Deborah Balon, an HP resales employee who aided Hardware House. HP settled within a week of the legal firm's discovery depositions. The vendor settled for five percent of its original $10 million claim.

“We were afraid that some of the hardware brokers wouldn’t want to come up against HP,” Coplin said. “One of them, Norco, said, ‘We’ll give you everything we have.’ "

Things also went badly for HP throughout its march on the reseller businesses. One broker was sentenced to house arrest for awhile, but one of the biggest players in the incident had his wire fraud conviction reversed on appeal in the US Ninth Circuit court.

John Adamson's brother Richard was convicted of wire fraud and money laundering in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1343 and 18 U.S.C. § 1956(a)(1)(A)(i). "He appealed, contending, inter alia, that the district court erred by (1) restricting his cross-examination of a key government witness and (2) broadening the scope of the indictment," said the court documents hosted on the website Leagle.

Richard Adamson's conviction was overturned about six months after HP had announced the end of its 3000 operations. The vendor-authorized top used system reseller also employed a scare tactic about used systems by the Year 2000, warning customers their systems might be seized by the FBI if they were sold fraudulently.

While HP was obviously missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars when a system got sold without legal HP licenses, its effort to crack down kept thousands of such used servers out of a market that was waiting on an HP hardware refresh. HP had to engineer MPE for Year 2000 compatibility at the same time it was trying to put a new PCI-based server line — the N- and A-Class systems — into a market that needed more horsepower.

Customers who could not justify the cost for licenses on bigger systems had to limp through Y2K. The delay of the faster systems clipped the wings of some 3000 growth during the year 2000. The new PCI systems didn't ship until 2001.

The HP business model that applied serious price hikes to multiuser systems only because they served a greater number of users — 64-user 3000s cost more than the same hardware and software serving 8 users — had help spark the reseller revolt. There was greed and deceit at work, too. At the end of the HP campaign, it only had $1,500,000 in a settlement to show for its crackdown that took more than two years to conclude.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:44 AM in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 10, 2019

Wayback Wed: Sizable drives for 3000s

Supersize
Ten years ago this month, we celebrated the fact that Hewlett-Packard created a forward-looking feature for the HP 3000 before its lab retired. One of the biggest enhancements gave MPE/iX the ability to use drives sized up to 512GB. Getting this size of drive to work involves going outside of the 3000's foundation, both literally as well as strategically.

External disc drives supply any storage beyond the 73GB devices which were fitted inside the HP 3000 chassis. This Hewlett-Packard part, numbered A6727A, was an off-the-cuff answer from Client Systems to the "how big" question. Client Systems built HP 3000s with this part installed while the company was North America's only 3000 distributor. But nothing bigger ever came off a factory line before HP stopped building 3000s in 2003.

Outside of HP's official channel, however, a drive twice as large has been installed on a N-Class with a pair of 146GB drives inside. The Seagate ST3146855LC spins at 15,000 RPM, too, a faster rate than anything HP ever put in a 3000. These Seagates are still available; just $95 today at Amazon.

Older 3000s, however, need single-ended drives for internal use. Allegro's Donna Hofmeister says the 3000's drive size limit is controlled by two factors: internal versus external, and HP "blessed," or off-the-shelf specified.

Hofmeister came to her work at Allegro from Longs Drug, and said the Longs systems accessed disk clusters, called LUNs, of many hundreds of GB.

When I was at Longs, I was able to effortlessly mount a very large LUN on one of my systems. I wish I could remember how big it actually was, but I reckon it must have been several hundred GBs. The LUN would have been comprised of many physical mechanisms -- but the system never saw that level of detail.

The "blessed" question was debated from the late '90s onward between HP engineers and 3000 consultants and veterans. HP would only support disc devices that passed its extraordinary reliability tests. Nobody was surprised that only HP-branded discs ever got this blessing for the 3000. Once disk storage got inexpensive, drives from the same manufacturers who sourced to HP gained a following with the veterans.

"There’s the whole supported/blessed/holy aspect to the question," Hofmeister said. "[The Client Systems] answer is technically correct. On the other hand, my current favorite MPE system to torture has a 400-plus GB drive attached to it, and it works great. I certainly wouldn’t classify this disc as falling into the supported/blessed/holy category."

HP released patches to MPE/iX 7.5 to make this possible. The project the vendor called "Large Disk" gives 3000 users "the ability to initialize an MPE/iX disk volume of up to 512 GB on SCSI-2 compliant disks. SCSI-2 Disks that are larger than 512GB will be truncated at the 512GB limit and the space beyond 512GB will not be usable by the MPE/iX Operating System or any user applications running under MPE."

HP started the engineering to release the patches for the 6.5 and 7.0 versions of MPE/iX, but never finished testing for those versions of MPE/iX. The 7.5 patches are

MPEMXT1        FSCHECK.MPEXL.TELESUP
MPEMXT2        [ALT|LIST|NEW][ACCT|GROUP]
MPEMXT3        SCSI Disk Driver Update
MPEMXT4        SSM Optimization (>87GB)
MPEMXT7        DISCFREE.PUB.SYS
MPEMXU3        REPORT
MPEMXU6        CATALOG.PUB.SYS
MPEMXU7        CIERR.PUB.SYS, CICATERR.PUB.SYS

HP sold a disk of 300GB that might qualify for "blessing" if the labs had ever put the device through the 3000 tests. But the vendor has always erred on the side of caution about larger drives, even in an era when disk had become cheaper than $2 a GB. HP's Jim Hawkins offered a white paper on Large Disk that advised caution for using 3000 disks larger than 36GB.

MPE/iX transaction throughput increases when MPE is allowed to spread IO across disks. Even though newer disks are faster than older disks, there are limits to disk speed and bus speed which must be taken into account. Moving from, say, nine 2GB disks to one 18GB disk will often create a Disk IO bottleneck. For best performance we recommend that the number of MPE LDEVs never be reduced -- if one has nine 2GB disks then they should be replaced with nine 18GB disks to ensure no loss of throughput.

HP never did support the full drive bus speed for the larger disks. 3000s get only Ultra-160 throughput, while HP-UX supported Ultra-320 on the very same devices.

The larger disks offer a significant value over the blessed drives. It's important to order a parallel SCSI version (LC) when purchasing a drive. SAS drives replaced the LC drives and cost much less.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 05:04 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 03, 2019

Wayback: Oracle embraces Sun and Solaris

Hurd-Ellison
Current Oracle CEO Mark Hurd (left) at a conference with Oracle founder Larry Ellison (far right) in 2010

Ten years ago this month, Oracle announced it was purchasing Sun Microsystems. The move led by CEO Larry Ellison ended the independence of the one company that nudged the world, including HP 3000 customers, into the realm of dot-com and fully networked servers.

HP lost the march on Internet growth to Sun, and those setbacks led to the departure of HP CEO Lew Platt, the final leader of the full Hewlett-Packard who'd grown his career from HP upward. In the late 1990s, the 3000 division moved heaven and earth to integrate the Internet services for MPE/iX that HP-UX had. But not even the HP-UX technical leg up could outrun the Sun rocket launched by its CEO Scott McNealy in 1982.

The 2009 deal dialed down the competition to HP's Unix solution. IBM was near a deal to buy Sun in March of that year, but talks fell through. Oracle said its $7.4 billion acquisition brought it the most important piece of software Oracle ever purchased: Java. But the world's biggest database supplier said the Solaris operating system, key to Sun's server solution, was an important prize, too.

There are substantial long-term strategic customer advantages to Oracle owning two key Sun software assets: Java and Solaris. Java is one of the computer industry’s best-known brands and most widely deployed technologies, and it is the most important software Oracle has ever acquired.

Oracle's statement went on to place the Solaris-Oracle combination of OS and database as the best possible for a company choosing Oracle. The future seemed to hold special features for Unix customers who chose Sun's hardware.

The Sun Solaris operating system is the leading platform for the Oracle database, Oracle’s largest business, and has been for a long time. With the acquisition of Sun, Oracle can optimize the Oracle database for some of the unique, high-end features of Solaris.

Solaris is an asset that one 3000 ally counts upon today. Oracle has given Stromasys the ability to transfer Solaris licenses as a part of installations of Charon for SPARC. HP still requires a separate transaction if a customer will be preserving the official status of an MPE license while moving to Charon for the 3000.

HP 3000 customers who were migrating to one of the Unix or Linux solutions — HP's, IBM's, or Sun's — had seen IBM display egalitarian strategy toward the operating systems in its solutions. According to migration service supplier Charles Finley, Solaris was on an equal footing with Linux at IBM.
We have one very large customer that we migrated from the HP 3000. We had been working with the customer for at least one year before the customer decided to use SUSE Linux with Virtualization instead of one large [IBM] AIX box. They were offered both by the same IBM sales team who seemed to us to be totally indifferent to which OS was chosen. Perhaps that offers a clue about what they will do with Solaris if the acquisition actually happens.

Moreover, IBM is so committed to Java that you would swear that they already own it.

Today Oracle owns Java, technology that ran in a few HP 3000 sites but never was a big hit in the MPE community. The fact that the leading database provider to HP-UX sites then came to own a competing OS and hardware platform posed problems for HP — as well as extra study for its customers. Market share growth stalled on HP-UX. Seeing a competing OS land in the hands of a company that Hewlett-Packard then tried to retain as a software partner — well, it had never happened before in the market.

The year after Oracle's Sun purchase, HP's replacement CEO Mark Hurd — the one who followed Carly Fiorina after Lew Platt — went to work for Oracle. HP had forced his retirement in the wake of  accusations about a business relationship Hurd was alleged to have had with a reality show actress. Hurd started at his new job selling Sun hardware for Oracle, stinging HP with an insider knowledge of how Unix wins could be had at enterprise levels. He's the CEO of Oracle today, more than eight years after joining the company.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:53 PM in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 20, 2019

Celebrating a Software Salvation

Winston Kriger
The 3000 community in Austin laid an icon to rest last weekend, and Winston Kriger was well-remembered. The chapel at Cook-Walden on Lamar Boulevard, deep in the center of a busy city, was full of friends from as far back as his childhood, his family including his wife Ruth of 52 years, and more than a few colleagues from a 3000 company once called Tymlabs.

Beyond the 35 minutes of tender memories from Winston's best boyhood friend — they flew wire-controlled model airplanes together, experimented with making nitro, and worked as teenagers at the TV and radio stations of Baton Rouge — someone spoke about salvation. Morgan Jones wasn't talking about the grace that Winston had earned after a full life full of curiousity. Jones talked about the time that Winston saved Tymlabs.

It was a splashy company in the 1980s of Austin. I came to know it as a lynchpin of a software vendor down on Seventh Street, full of incredibly bright people and building stout and innovative products. Tymlabs was the first and only place I ever saw an Apple Lisa, the Mac's predecessor. Tymlabs employed Marion Winik, who was wearing purple hair when I first saw her, developing marketing copy before she became a celebrated memoirist with eight books. Tymlabs employed Denise Girard, a woman of endless cheer who had a Patsy Cline impression she sang at user group meetings. The punch line on Denise's performance once included pulling a golf putter out of her dress at the end of a song.

Gifted, unique people worked there. Winston Kriger kept those doors open, said Jones, by saving the future for the software that butressed the company. Backpack was invented by Jeorg Groessler at Tymlabs, and the backup software saved untold companies' data. Then Groessler left Tymlabs and there was no one to keep Backpack in good health. When things got dire at Tymlabs in 1985, only "one really smart guy at Houston Instruments" could save the company. "He was supremely confident he could find and fix the problems" with Backpack, Jones said. 

Jones and Tymlabs needed Winston. It took some coaxing to get someone that brilliant to come to a software company with less than five years of existence on the books. Tymlabs started out like a lot of MPE software companies, built around the work to create custom software, then developing products for sale in the 3000 market. The products made the company a keystone advertiser for the HP Chronicle where I was editor in the 1980s. They built a 3000 emulator that ran on the Macintosh just a few years after Apple launched the Mac. 

Jones said he began to hire Winston's colleagues to work at Tymlabs, hoping it would convince him the vendor was real. Winston was 45 when he joined the company, a man already ensconced in a successful career for Houston Instruments. "He basically saved our company," Jones said at the ceremony last weekend. "He was a force of nature, and I don't mean like a tsunami or fusion. He was like gravity. When we'd be running around frantic, he kept us all grounded."

People in the room at Cook-Walden were nodding. This was the Winston they all knew, steady and with a dry wit. Jones said that Winston was "an intellectual giant and a gentleman who was always at his best — and who had a slight, wry smile at parties." Jones' co-founder Teresa Norman sent regards that said she gave thanks "for having the confidence to join us. We've always respected the courage that took."

In these waning years of the Teens, it can be hard to imagine a time when MPE and the 3000 were a calculated business risk. Backup software made the servers a bona fide choice for what the industry called data processing in the 80s. When it came to saving an innovative company making bedrock software, a fellow who was "genetically inclined to always tell the truth and do the right thing" was the right person for the job.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:08 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 13, 2019

Finding the Drumbeat to Differ, Decades Ago

Drummer
LinkedIn likes to remind you about work anniversaries of the people in your network of contacts. Sometimes the reminders can be unfortunate, celebrating entry dates for jobs people no longer hold. That's not the case for my own anniversary this month. Twenty-four years ago in March, the first seeds of the NewsWire were being planted in the heart and soul of my family.

HP has been at hand for most of my fatherhood. I grew up as a dad editing the HP Chronicle for PCI, an Austin company specializing in trade monthlies. One tradition at PCI was a video produced by the staff of editors and ad reps. The movie always appeared at the Christmas party. One year my son Nicky, who was all of four years old, sat in my London Fog trenchcoat and wore my reporter's hat in a bit where my chair spun around and there he was, in place of me. I'm short enough that the joke was on me.

Years later I'd gone out on my own to freelance, still keeping a hand in writing HP news for one publisher or another. Nobody was covering the HP 3000 much, though. The action was all with Unix, either HP's or the systems from Sun, or in the swelling majority of Windows. Digital and IBM had big swaths they were carving, too.

My wife and I had plenty of publication experience from our days in Texas publishing companies. I looked at the growing lines of posts on the 3000-L mailing list, right alongside the precarious nature of marketing and freelance writing. Dreams of a publication about the 3000 were soon on our lips at my house. Nicky was 12, and the NewsWire was on its way to delivery.

We had our realism bridles on for awhile. There was a reason the 3000 news appeared infrequently in the likes of Computerworld. The pages of Open Systems Today where I was freelancing made a little room for MPE, but nobody really wanted to acknowledge future growth for HP's original business server. Not anymore, not with the drumbeat of Unix so loud and HP's ardor for the 3000 so withered.

Then Abby said what many others who wanted to fly in the face of business trends say: "Hey, people made money in the Depression." I had maiden aunts who did just that, mostly on the strength of shrewd stock trades and a little high society retail commerce. I only worried how we'd find out enough to fill a newsletter month after month. Even if we filled it, more than a few key advisors thought the NewsWire would be worth less than a dollar a month. This month a few kind LinkedIn followers called me a legend, or maybe they meant the NewsWire, when that 24th anniversary notice popped up. I know there would be no legend without Abby.

We flew in the face of a trend. We saw plenty of companies doing just that in stories nobody was telling. Change must overcome inertia. Those of you who own 3000s know about staying stalwart about unneeded changes. We could only celebrate this anniversary because of you—plus the companies that made your 3000s reliable. Those advisors of ours were wrong about the one dollar a month. But Abby and I were wrong about what would drive the NewsWire. Sponsors came through when the top end of the subscription pricing was just $99 a year.

Abby and I built extensive spreadsheets in March of 1995, projections that showed where the advertising in the newsletter would no longer be required. She was a wizard of circulation from those Texas publisher days. Give us enough $249 subsciptions and we could rule the world.

She also sold advertising for those publishers. We were overlooking the real current in the market: innovators and caretakers who built and sold what HP's 3000 was missing. Better support. Software that HP couldn't risk building. Pricing that let the smaller companies who'd built the 3000 as a superior business tool make the best use of MPE.

Nobody knew exactly how many 3000s were out there. Those sponsors believed in the promise of a focused newsletter about MPE systems. We chose to call them sponsors because "advertiser" didn't describe a company that drummed to a beat that differed from trends — and was ready to invest in that beat with a message for the market. We even tried calling those ads messages, but like the subscription-only prospect, we had to bow to what people knew.

Those sponsors, who buoyed up the Newswire beyond its readers' support, made the difference to lead us into our Year 25. They did business in the 3000 marketplace while explaining to themselves and the markets why they weren't into Unix more, or how those choices to back HP's proprietary hardware made more sense than servicing millions of PCs.

Sponsors would only arrive if readers were engaged and discovering news. I'm thankful for those 24 years of connection and support. LinkedIn knows where to find you, too. Joining the HP 3000 Group at LinkedIn is a simple and rewarding way to connect. You will be able to reach out when an anniversary rolls by. Perhaps it will lead to experience you can put on your LinkedIn resume.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:19 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (1)

February 27, 2019

Wayback: MPE joins the land of the Internet

Whole-Internet-Catalog
In a February of 23 years ago, HP brought MPE/iX into the Internet era. During that year, Sun was already running roughshod over the computer industry by selling servers built for use on the networks that were exploding around the World Wide Web. The 3000 community knew how to call the Internet the WWW, thanks to early guides like the Whole Internet User's Guide and Catalog. Modeled after the Whole Earth catalog of the 1970s, the early O'Reilly & Associates book covered basic Internet utilities like telnet and FTP, rudimentary search tools like Gopher, plus a quick reference card to remember essentials like the commands for Archie, an FTP utility. The book boasted nine pages of Internet Service Provider listings.

Five years after those ISP listings were printed, they remained in the pages of the Catalog, unaltered. Putting books onto the Internet was still out in the future, some five years away. That's not the Amazon start date, because that distributor was selling only paper books until 2004.

The O'Reilly guide was recommended to 3000 managers by David Greer of Robelle. In the pages of that February's NewsWire, Greer shared the basics of being a 3000 manager who used the WWW to "get you online and finding information that helps you manage your HP 3000." The finding was taking place via Unix or PC systems, not HP 3000s. HP had a set of CD-ROMs it sold with the electronic versions of its documentation.

In that same issue, the 3000 market learned that HP would be releasing a Web server that would run under MPE/iX. Delivery of the OpenMarket Web Server was supposed to start in July. HP had to port the third party product, working with code from an OpenMarket product already released for HP-UX systems. HP was selling such a wonder at prices starting at $1,650. While the rest of the world was working with open source Apache for Web services, HP was tier-pricing a Web server. Hopes were high among Web experts, who said "even the smallest HP 3000 can be used to handle lots of Web requests, especially since the Open Market product is about five times more efficient than freeware alternatives."

A stutter step was the best that HP could do for the Open Market introduction. By summertime the server's porting was called off, making the 3000 look even further away from Internet-ready. In a couple of years HP was using a port of open source Apache to make a secure Web server for MPE/iX. HP would be so confident of the 3000's Internet suitability that it renamed the server the e3000. That e was for e-commerce, we were told.

In the same month as the Web server news, HP announced it was putting its MPE/iX patches online. Delivering OS patches for a computer whose roots were in the minicomputer era felt splashy, even if 14K modems were doing the work.

HP was bringing its 3000 patch distribution process up to par with HP's Unix systems.

If you can get online to the Internet, you can take delivery of the latest patches from HP's World Wide Web server (the address of the Web site is http://us.external.hp.com), The online services also include proactive notification of patch availability through e-mail to your site, plus access to information about the patches. If you don't have World Wide Web access, you can get what you need through e-mail. HP says you can send a message to us.external.hp.com to get more infor mation. In the body of the message type: send guide. Then on a separate line type: send mpeguide. No subject is required. The easiest way may be to use the Internet Express or America Online WWW browsers to travel to the above Web address. 

Jeff Kell, curator of the HP 3000 Internet mailing list, said that "while it beats nothing, it isn't exactly pretty—but it's a promising start to a great resource." In 1996, most 3000s online patches were accessed over dialup lines, so file size had a big impact on how useful managers found the service. Kell went on to say "if the online patches follow the same format as patches have in the past, HP should supply common files as part of the MPE/iX FOS, so they won't have to take up so much space in the patch trucks."

"The online patch delivery era is already under scrutiny for improvement," we wrote in a FlashPaper article, "a signal that it can be of immediate use to HP 3000 sites. If nothing else, it can be the leverage you need to get your HP 3000 connected to the Internet." That direct connection to the WWW would be rare in the years going forward, especially for delivering Web services. Wiring MPE/iX into telnet and fitting it with domain services was far more useful.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:12 PM in History, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 25, 2019

Itanium, we hardly knew ye, aside from HP

Titanic
Earlier this month, the computer community learned how late in life Itanium was living. The chip architecture was going to rule the world when HP and Intel first announced it in 1994 as a project called Tahoe. Intel ruled the world with x86 architecture then in the lion's share of PCs. Literally, as in the true definition of lion's share: all of it. 

It's taken 25 years, but Intel has called Time's Up for its design it co-created with HP. Intel told its customers that the final order date for Itanium 9700 series processors is January 20 of next year. The final Itanium processor shipments end on July 21, 2021.

Itanium was essential to the HP decision to stop manufacturing HP 3000s. Itanium was going to be the future of all enterprise computing, the company figured right after Y2K. There was not enough money in the R&D budget at HP to fund the redesign of MPE/iX for a new processor. VMS, sure, HP would do that for a market that was four times the size of MPE/iX.

By now HP has split in two and Itanium is nowhere but in the HP Enterprise servers, the ones running VMS and NonStop. HPE says it will support its Itanium-based Integrity servers until 2025. A superior article in the the EE Journal includes this summary.

Itanium’s developers sought a path to much faster processing. Unfortunately, the theory behind Itanium’s development was just plain wrong. While VLIW architectures do appear to work well for specialty processors running well-behaved code, particularly DSPs, they’re just not appropriate for general-purpose applications thrown willy-nilly at server processors.

And so, we remember the fallen.

It's taken awhile to understand the inertia that occupies the energy of the computer industry. HP seems to have a side of itself that learned such lessons more slowly than most enterprises. HP was late to Windows (who needed GUIs?) and got well behind the pack on the Internet (Sun crowed over HP's sluggish pace by the late 1990s.) After creating its own RISC chip in PA-RISC, HP figured that another chip developed along with the creator of the x86 was a slam dunk. 

There was a time for dictating the way forward in computing with a new architecture for chips. That time passed well before Y2K. HP hung on for more than a decade in full denial, even as it revved up the ProLiant enterprise servers using x86.

It's not easy to see a clean future in the years beyond 2025 for the companies which are invested in Integrity systems. But no one could see how the PA-RISC servers of the 3000 were going to be anything but a write-off for their users, either. The strength of the operating environment, as well as a long history of efficient computing, gave the 3000 a longer lease on life. Now's the time to see if the HP-UX and NonStop environments are going to make the jump to x86. We're also watching how well they leap and what the HP of the 2020's will say. 

You can expect HPE won't say the Itanium ecosystem is in trouble and that the company is predicting 80 percent migration in two years' time. The 3000 community heard that from HP in 2002. Ten years later MPE/iX had a home on — wait for it — x86. Charon made that a reality, giving everyone who'd tramped away from PA-RISC and MPE/iX a moment of regret. You mean we didn't have to adopt Itanium and retool our environment into Windows, or HP-UX?

Not so long ago, in the months before HP had to do its split-up, the company announced a project to create a computer with a clean slate. It was simply called The Machine, an echo of the hubris from the era that built Itanium after a too-long construction period.

No customer who cleaned house of their MPE/iX investment will feel much vindication at the news of the Itanium demise. Industry wags started to call the architecture the Itanic when the chip fell well short of expectations right off the bat. The lifeboats are out in the water now for the latest survivors of the great HP business server purge. The torpedos were first launched in 2001. VMS futures are now in third party hands. World domination turned out to be a very long shot for the Very Long Instruction Words of Itanium. Investing such faith in a single vendor's vision feels foolish now. During the 1990s, sailing on the Itanic looked like a smart berth indeed.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:46 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 06, 2019

Wayback: MPE's Computer Scientist Expires

Kick Butt Poster

Wirt Atmar conceived and lead The World's Largest Poster Project (shown above) with the help of hundreds of volunteers on a Southern California football field.

Ten years ago this week the 3000 community was reminded of its mortality. Wirt Atmar, founder of AICS Research and the greatest scientist to practice MPE development, died in his New Mexico home. Wirt was only 63 and demonstrated enough experience in the 3000's life to seem like he'd been alive much longer.

Atmar died of a heart attack in his hometown in Las Cruces, NM. It was a place where he invited everyone to enjoy a free enchilada dinner when they visited him there. He once quipped that it was interesting to live in a state where the omnipresent question was about sauce: "Green or red?" He gravitated to new ideas and concepts and products quickly. Less than a month after Apple introduced the iPhone, he bought and tested one, praising its promise even as he exposed its failures from the unripened state of its software to the cell signal unavailability.

If I go outside and stand under one specific tree, I can talk to anyone I want. In only one week, I have felt on multiple occasions like just heaving the phone as far as I could throw it -- if it weren’t so damnably expensive. The iPhone currently resembles the most beautiful cruise liner you’ve ever seen. It’s only that they haven’t yet installed the bed or the toilet in your stateroom, and you have to go outside to use the “facilities” — and that’s irritating even if the rest of the ship is beautiful. But you can certainly see the promise of what it could become.

He was not alone in predicting how the iPhone would change things, but being a scientist, he was also waiting on proof. The postings on the 3000-L mailing list were funny and insightful, cut sharp with honesty, and complete in needed details. A cruise through his postings on the 3000 newsgroup stands as an extraordinary epitaph of his passions, from space exploration to environmental science to politics to evolution and so much more. He was a mensch and a brilliant polymath, an extraordinary combination in any human.

Less than 24 hours before he died, Wirt posted an lively report on migration performance gains he recorded after moving an MPE/iX program to faster hardware running Linux. It was an factual observation only he could have presented so well, an example of the scientific practice the community loses with his passing.

One of the 3000 founders who was best known by his first name, Wirt was respected in the community for his honest and pragmatic vision of the 3000's history and potential, expressed in his countless e-mails and postings to the 3000 newsgroup. But alongside that calculating drive he carried an ardor for the platform.

Wirt was essential in sparking HP's inclusion of SQL in IMAGE, a feature so integrated that HP renamed the database IMAGE/SQL. In 1996 he led an inspired publicity effort that brimmed with a passion for possibility, conceiving and leading The World's Largest Poster Project (shown above) with the help of hundreds of volunteers on a Southern California football field. He quipped that after printing the hundreds of four-foot rolls of paper needed for the poster, loading them into a van for the trip to California represented "the summer corporate fitness program for AICS Research."

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:25 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

January 09, 2019

Wayback: 2009's emulator hopes, proven

PA-RISC-clock

In 2009 in this month we made a case for why the time was ripe for a product to emulate HP's aging hardware for MPE/iX. Time has only reinforced those talking points. It's worthwhile to review them while figuring what your plan is going forward. If you're among the managers in the double-digit futures club -- those planning for 10 years and more of MPE -- consider what was true then, and just as true now.

Early in the transition era the homesteading advocates in the community pumped up the ideal of an emulator, hardware that would make up for the 3000s which HP would be stripping out of its product lineup. The market learned that the final generation of 3000s was better connected and faster, but few in number. HP's late delivery of N-Class and A-Class systems hampered production. If you needed a faster 3000 than the top-end 900 Series, you hunted for N-Class servers that the customers were returning once they migrated.

• Staying with MPE/iX solutions means a customer needs to keep planning for more connectivity and speed. An emulator can leverage the latest Intel chip designs, rather than stay native on the familiar PA-RISC architectures of HP.

• There's nothing built upon PA-RISC that can network and integrate like an Intel-based server. The irony of that reality is not lost on the 3000 customer, who saw the Intel+MPE generation first promised, then denied to the community.

• Emulator vendors need MPE/iX expertise to make a product of any use to the 3000 market. There's exactly one that's got it, and they've had it now for at least eight years. We've seen more hopes become realities since then.

The idea at the time in 2009 was that MPE/iX would somehow need to be modified. "The paradigm must be the PA-RISC machine’s HP 3000 Compatibility Mode," said one veteran, "which lets users of Classic systems port applications at the binary level and with the absolute minimum of change, often none, to PA-RISC." No revision of MPE/iX has been needed to create fresh hosts for the OS.

Here's a better reason, one that's been fulfilled. "For an emulator to attract existing HP 3000 business users, it must aspire to that level of compatibility. Even if the underlying processes handle things quite differently, the goal must be that every invocation of an openly documented MPE process is accepted, and produces effectively the same results as it would have on a real HP 3000." Exactly done, and the reason the market never lost all hope for an emulator.

We predicted part of the future back in that January of 2009. "First, the product must boot up a Linux distro to demonstrate its capabilities. Then a seasoned MPE/iX development team must test the hardware design with MPE/iX tasks to give it HP 3000 capabilities."

We knew that HP would take no further steps to link advanced storage devices and networking protocols to HP 3000s. Few customers ever reported using the SCSI Pass Through driver, one of the last lab projects finished for the 3000, in order to connect bigger and faster drives to the HP iron. We saw a future where the vendor holding the hardware would be "The Intel Marketplace."

A honking-big Intel-based server which already has those connections ready can deliver more than horsepower to a 3000 homesteader. That kind of emulator delivers the future.

2009's economy was in a stall and migration plans stretched out in some places. Selling an emulator to extend a 3000's life looked like a better offer than it did seven years ago. The passage of a decade has made that choice easier.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:41 PM in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 24, 2018

Gifts given, 11 years after a Christmas

Gifts-under-tree
Eleven years ago we wished for nine things that would help 3000 users in the years to come. At the close of 2007 there was no virtual HP 3000 product like Charon. We didn't even allow ourselves to wish for such a thing.

But here on the last office day before Christmas, it's fun to review our holiday wish list. Let's see what we got and what HP withheld until it was too late for the vendor to supply what the community requested.

We've heard these desires from HP 3000 customers, consultants and vendors. Some of the wishes might be like the Red Ryder BB-Gun that's at the center of the holiday epic A Christmas Story. As in, "You don't want that, you'll put your eye out." If you're unfamiliar with the movie, the line means "I don't want you to have that, because I worry what you will hurt once you get it."

1. Unleashing the full horsepower of A-Class and N-Class 3000 hardware
2. Just unleashing the power of the A-Class 3000s (since every one of the models operates at a quarter of its possible speed)
3. Well, then at least unleash the N-Class systems' full clock speeds
4. HP's requirements to license a company for MPE/iX source code use
5. A way to use more than 16GB of memory on a 3000
6. A 3000 network link just one-tenth as fast as the new 10Gbit Ethernet
7. A water-cooled HP 3000 cluster, just like IBM used to make
8. A guaranteed ending date of HP's 3000 support for MPE/iX
9. Freedom to re-license your own copy of MPE/iX during a sale of an 3000

HP finally supplied Numbers 4 and 8. The first created the Source Code Seven, vendors who hold licenses that let them create workarounds and custom patches for MPE/iX issues. Number 8 arrived during the following year. It can be argued HP didn't end all of its MPE/iX support for several years beyond that official Dec. 31, 2010 date.

Some of the more inventive indie support companies have devised ways to use 32 GB of memory for 3000s, too. Ask yours about Number 5.

The last two items seem like real BB-Guns. But they have a chance of helping the community see the 3000 future more clearly, instead of putting its eye out.

A guaranteed ending date for HP's 3000 support is something both homesteaders and migration experts desire. By moving the finish line twice already, HP has kept customers from finishing migrations, or even starting them, according to migration partners.

What's more, the "we're not sure when support is really done" message keeps the 3000's service and support aftermarket in limbo. Customers tell us that they will be using their HP 3000 systems until their business demands they migrate away. HP plans to change its business practices someday for the HP 3000. But nobody knows for certain what day that will be.

That brings us to No. 9, the freedom to re-license your own MPE/iX. HP development on this software ends in one year. That's the end of changes to the operating environment, a genuine Freeze Line for MPE/iX. HP should be able to compete on a level field with the rest of the community. HP Services seems to need those special 3000 licenses.

Number 10? A wish for a long life and continued interest in MPE/iX from the HP 3000 gurus of the community. Someone can bring some these gifts after there's no one inside HP to cares about the 3000 community.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:40 AM in History, Homesteading, Newswire Classics | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 12, 2018

Source code for MPE/iX: Security, by now

Blanket-Ad
Ten years ago this week the 3000 community was in a state of anticipation about MPE/iX. HP had an offer it was preparing that would give select vendors the right to use the operating system code. The vendors would have a reference-use-only license agreement for MPE/iX. No one knew whether the source would have any value, said Adager CEO Rene Woc.

Adager, the company whose 3000 products are so omnipresent they held a spot on the Hewlett-Packard corporate price list, believed there was potential for independent support and development vendors. What was far less certain was how far HP would let source go to solve problems for the 3000 community.

"Source code is important whenever these kinds of [vendors] have support from HP, which most of them do," he said in that month of 2008. But HP engineers can look at source, just as third parties will do, "and the answers won't come instantaneously. In the meantime, you have to get your business back on track, and I think that's what the customer is eventually interested in. It will be nice to have that additional [source code] resource — especially in the sense that it will not be lost to the community."

There was a chance that HP's source licensing terms would be too restrictive, "to the point where you say that you are better off not knowing, because then we're free to use all the methods we've worked with while we didn't have source." After getting a license to source, Woc added, "you might have to prove that you got your knowledge through a difference source than HP's source code. We will see."

That sort of proof has never been required. Not in a public display, at least. Source code, held by vendors such as Pivital Solutions and others, has been a useful component in workarounds and fixes. HP never gave the community the right to modify MPE/iX. This turned out to be a good thing, as it kept the 3000s stable and made support a manageable business for application vendors.

There was also the wisdom that the resource of HP's code would have to prove itself. At least it held a chance for rescue and repair.

The source code "is probably a security blanket," Woc said in 2008. "In that respect, it's good that it will be available, that they're starting to offer some things. We'll have to see what kind of conditions HP will offer in their license agreements." 

Having source access though a license did not automatically make license holders better providers of products and services, he added. "You cannot assume, even with good source code readers, that the solutions will pop up," he said. "A lot of the problems we see these days are due to interactions between products. So the benefit for the customer would be based more on the troubleshooting skills that an organization can provide."

"The basic resources [of source] won't make things better by themselves," Woc said. "It's a matter of troubleshooting." 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 02:18 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

December 03, 2018

HP 3000 dream tracks close to virtualization

Railroad switches
An HP 9000 HP-UX virtualization product is in development. In that kind of design, a single Intel server with enough computing power (concurrent threads) could host both HP 3000 and HP 9000 virtualizations. HP had the same objective almost 20 years ago for its largest enterprise platforms.

Early in 1999 HP's Harry Sterling spoke at an all-day user meeting in the UK hosted by Riva Systems. Sterling, who'd retire before the end of that year, said a multi-OS server was within HP's vision for the 3000 and 9000 customers.

Sterling’s mentioned the possibility of running MPE, NT and Unix concurrently on the HP 3000 "sometime in the future." There was even the possibility of a “hot-swap” version of MPE alongside the production system. John Dunlop reported for us at the time.

The passing mention indicated that separate processors in one box would be able to run different operating systems. Sterling did suggest that a hot-swap version of MPE might be a valid use, so that there would be some redundancy with the live operating system.

This seemed to lead to the subject of more uptime. From these comments, it’s possible that HP is looking at allowing online changes to a hot-swap system and then just switching it over to achieve the so-called “magic weekend.” This is a system upgrade that occurs seamlessly and transparently to both the users and management.

That would be a dream not realized. Hot-swap didn't make it any further into the customer base than architect discussions. Sterling noted that in 1997 customers expressed concern about the future of the 3000. To counter that feeling and give the customers more confidence, he outlined in 1999 a five-year roadmap for the 3000.

Marketing was on board as well in that year that led to Y2K. It would take another 13 years before a multiple OS host for MPE/iX would emerge.

Marketing Manager Christine Martino told that crowd about HP’s commitment to the 3000 by hiring more MPE engineers and setting up of new centers of expertise. There was also to be a higher investment in training and education. Finally, she stated that HP was running over 650 HP 3000s to power core Hewlett-Packard corporation business applications.

By now it's going to be 20 years on to the promised land of one host for Unix and MPE. A big enough Intel server — and it might well be one that will evoke enterprise iron costs — could do what Sterling proposed before he retired. All it took was the cooperation of HP's engineers to release internals to emulate PA-RISC systems for Unix and MPE/iX. Those are legacy systems by today, but at least there's an independent software vendor to make the twin-OS dream a possibility.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 01:28 PM in History, Migration, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 19, 2018

Suggested servings of Unix, ignored

Waiter-plates
Long ago the HP 3000 was faced with a problem at HP. The vendor wanted the system to fit in. Fit with customer expectations of compatibility. Fit into the ecosystem of open systems, those touted like HP-UX as uniform enough to accomodate many applications.

Stromasys applied itself to this issue to make the MPE/iX hardware more open. Charon takes a well-powered Intel server and gives it the ability to host the 3000's OS. Linux, such as Red Hat, is essential.

People outside of HP were thinking about this problem, too. Not long ago after we published a story about overlaying Red Hat onto MPE/iX, we examined possible ways to make a 3000 more Unix-ready. We referenced the HP MOST project, which invited customers to try a system that ran both HP-UX and MPE/iX. It wasn't the only concept HP scrapped without much of a field trial.

That Red Hat overlay onto MPE/iX from our article "is somewhat misleading jargon," according to Stan Sieler of Allegro. "HP could probably have made the Posix stuff cleaner—closer to say HP-UX." The Posix extensions that turned MPE XL into MPE/iX were licensed from MK Systems and were to have made the 3000 more compatible with open systems.

"HP also could have said, 'Let's junk our networking and grab the code from HP-UX with some changes,' " Sieler said. "That's particularly so because they'd been saying for years that the two systems had 'shared drivers.' "

I had proposed to HP managment (and key engineers) a different solution, albeit one that probably required more HP-UX-like networking support: Allow HP-UX binaries to be transparently run on MPE/iX.

Because of a key (but minor) difference in the ABI (Application Binary Interface) for the two platforms, you could fairly easily support running both kinds of binaries at the same time with relatively few changes. If I recall correctly, I received no response.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:08 AM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 14, 2018

It's always a red letter day today

You can use shorthand and say "November 2001." Or you can say the day that HP's 3000 music died. November 14 still marks the start of the post-HP era for MPE/iX as well as the 3000 hardware HP sold. It took another two years to stop selling the PA-RISC servers the company had just revamped with new models months before the exit-the-market announcement. PCI-based N-Class and A-Class, the market hardly knew ye before you were branded as legacy technology.

For a few years I stopped telling this story on the anniversary, but 12 years ago I cut a podcast about the history of this enterprise misstep. (Listen by clicking the graphic above) HP lost its faith in 2001 but the customers hadn't lost theirs and the system did not lose its life. Not after November 14 and even not today. Not a single server has been manufactured since late 2003, and even that lack of new iron hasn't killed MPE/iX. The Stromasys emulator Charon will keep the OS running in production even beyond the January 2028 date MPE/iX is supposed to stop keeping accurate dates. 

Red Letter Days were so coined because they appeared on church calendars in red. They marked the dates set aside for saints. In 1549 the first Book of Common Prayer included a calendar with holy days marked in red ink; for example, Annunciation (Lady Day), 25th March. These were high holy days and holidays. The HP 3000 came into HP's product line on a November in 1972. November is a Happening read the banners in the HP Data Systems Division. No day of that month was specified, but you might imagine it was November 14, 1972. That was a Tuesday, while the 2001 date fell on a Wednesday. A total of 1,508 weeks of HP interest.

Something important happened in that other November of 29 years later. Hewlett-Packard sent its customers into independent mode. Those who remained faithful have had a day to mark each year, logging the number of years they've created their own future. It's 17 and counting as of today.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:51 AM in History, News Outta HP, Podcasts | Permalink | Comments (0)

November 07, 2018

Wayback: A month to download 3000 Jazz

Jazz-announcement
Ten years ago this month HP was advising its customers to get free software while it was still online. HP said that its Jazz web server was going dark because its 3000 labs would end operations on Dec. 31. Maintained by HP's lab staff, Jazz was being unplugged after 12 years. The software played an essential role in getting the 3000 into the Internet age. Eventually HP learned to market the server as the e3000.

Bootstrapping development fundamentals such as the GNU Tools, the open source gcc compiler, and utilities ported by independent developer Mark Klein had a home on Jazz for a decade. More than 80 other programs were hosted on the server, some with HP support and others ported and created by HP but unsupported by the vendor.

The software is still online 10 years later. Fresche Solutions, which began as Speedware, continues to host Jazz programs and papers at hpmigrations.com/HPe3000_resources. HP was clear in 2008 that customers had better grab what they needed before Jazz went unplugged. HP wasn't going to move the downloadable programs onto the IT Resource Center servers to doc.hp.com.

"Anything that people will need they should download before Dec. 31, 2008," said business manager Jennie Hou. "That's our recommendation."

The list of programs online is long and worth a visit for a 3000 manager looking for help to keep MPE/iX well connected to their datacenter. HP created more than a dozen open source programs which it even supported as of 2008. The list is significant.

• Apache
• BIND
• Many command files
• dnscheck
• Porting Scanner
• Porting Wrappers
• Samba
• The System Inventory Utility
• Syslog
• WebWise

Open source software produced or ported as unsupported freeware by HP includes

• JServ
• NTP
• OpenSSL
• Perl
• Sendmail

Open source software produced/ported by individuals:

• Analog
• autoconf
• bash
• gdbm
• Glimpse
• ht://Dig
• mmencode/sendmime
• MPE::CIvar
• MPE::IMAGE
• NetPBM
• OpenLDAP
• Ploticus
• Python
• SAURCS
• SLS
• texinfo
• Tidy
• TIFF library
• wget

Binary-only software produced/ported and "supported" by HP:

• CRYPT
• DBUTIL
• Firmware
• Java
• LDAP
• LineJet Utilities
• Patch/iX
• VERSION
• VT3K

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:03 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 31, 2018

Another If-Only Salvation, this time Linux

John Young Lulu
This man launched Red Hat out of a sewing closet, a firm that just sold for $34 billion. HP had a shot at buying Red Hat, too.

IBM announced it's buying Red Hat, paying an all-cash price of $34 billion to help make Big Blue relevant in cloud computing. While investors hated on the deal in the markets, others like Robert Cringley said it makes sense for Big Blue to own Red Hat. It's a color wheel that's spinning around IBM's enterprises. The ones that are the oldest might be those that stand to gain the most. It's the word "most" that reminds us how HP might have salvaged the future of MPE, if only with a deal to bring open source to enterprise customers.

One of my favorite readers, Tim O'Neill, sent along a message about RedHat + IBM. He said that this acquisition could have been done long ago—so long, in fact, that Hewlett-Packard could have executed it before the company stopped believing in MPE/iX. That would have been in the late 1990s, happening to a company that was deeply invested in two technologies just about played out today: Itanium and HP-UX. HP had faith enough in Itanium to stake its enterprise future for its biggest customers on the chips.

As for HP-UX, the OS that HP set out to devour 3000 opportunities, it remains to this day an environment that runs only on HP's architecture. HP used to snicker at Linux and open source options in those late 1990s. One presentation that sticks in my memory has an HP manager presenting a slide of a cartoon drawing of an open source support expert. He's a guy in a goatee slouching in a bean bag chair, mouthing "Dude" in a cartoon balloon.

HP meant to tell the audience that getting Linux support from HP was much more professional. Another message the cartoon sent was that Linux really was something dominated by open source nerds. Just about 20 years later the Revenge of the Nerds moment has arrived with a $34 billion payday. For some reference on that number, recall that HP gave up about $25 billion to purchase Compaq, a company with factories as well as labs.

HP used to have a slogan in the 1980s for advertising its PCs: What If? The IBM acquisition triggers the what-if thinking about Linux as in, "What if HP might have purchased the leading distro for Linux and used it to improve its proprietary environments' futures?" Would it have helped in any way to have a true open source platform, rather than just environments that were called "open systems?" The difference between an open source and an open system matters the most to developers and vendors, not to system makers. If Red Hat Linux might have helped MPE/iX look more open, at a source level, who knows how the 3000's prospects might have changed.

The melding and overlay of operating environments as different as Linux and MPE/iX had been tried before at HP, more than eight years before the company made its way away from the enterprise computing HP Way. In 1993 the project was HP MOST, one where I did some writing for Hewlett-Packard about a world where everybody could live together. Cats and dogs, Unix and MPE XL, all working together.

1993 was also the year that Bob Young, working out of his wife's sewing closet, started Red Hat. By the time HP hired a CEO who made a beeline to buy Compaq, Red Hat went public and Young retired. (To the publishing industry to do something called "self-publishing." Wonder how that worked out?) A forward-looking HP might have decided to invest in software by 1999 rather than more hardware in that Compaq purchase. Then armed with the technology that matters the most to applications — the OS platform — the 3000 vendor could have used Linux as a means to bring together proprietary power like MPE/iX with open source access.

MOST wanted to do just that, with MPE being the command module and HP-UX being the excursion module that would bring in the applications. It was a project that acknowledged the strengths of both kinds of technology, something open and something efficient. It ran dog-slow in the few spots where HP beta tested it. HP MOST had no serious love in a salesforce selling Unix everywhere that MPE/iX was installed. "If you build it, they will sell it" was an HP concept at the time, but the amount of sales in that formula were usually disappointing.

Now IBM has donned its Red Hat and some of its least open-sourced projects have a chance to benefit. I know an engineer inside IBM who's a lifelong AIX support expert. AIX is the equivalent of HP-UX, and much like HP's Unix, that OS runs best on IBM's proprietary architecture. This Red Hat deal "will be really good for POWER," the engineer said to me. We were both wearing costumes at a Halloween party while he said it, but there was no trick in his thinking. When a vendor is entrenched in its own inventions it can lose sight of what's succeeding better. IBM might have bought Red Hat too late. It's the kind of daring move that has kept that company in one piece, though. 

HP invested deeper into being a commodity computing company when it bought Compaq, adding nothing but the VMS legacy to its software assets. That legacy lifted VMS into the lead in investing in Itanium. The smaller customer set of 3000s was put aside so VMS could get its technical makeover for the proprietary Itanium platform. Now that Itanium has cratered and VMS has been sold off to VMS Inc. and Linux is ruling the future of cloud platforms, it's time to wonder — if only Linux could have been married to MPE/iX and PA-RISC, what might have been?

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:01 PM in History, News Outta HP, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 24, 2018

Wed Wayback: India rises, California rests

HP-3000-lab-Bangalore-1995

As we rolled out the NewsWire 23 years ago this month we tracked a new element in the HP engineering lineup. Resources  Sterlingwere being added from India. By the time a couple of Octobers rolled past in 1997 we published our first Q&A interview with Harry Sterling. He'd just assumed the leadership of the 3000 division at HP, bringing an R&D lab leader into the general manager's post for the first time. Sterling was the best GM the 3000 ever had because his habits flowed from customer contact. The labs developed a routine with customer councils and visits as a major part.

SartainThat Indian element was integrating in earnest by 1997. MPE/iX development was a serious part of HP's work in Bangalore, India. It was becoming common to see India engineers giving technical talks at user group meetings. IMAGE lab manager Jim Sartain, who worked for Sterling, was essential in adding Indian engineering to keep the 3000's lab headcount abreast of customer needs.

Bangalore is more than twelve hours ahead of the time zone in California, the state where the 3000 labs were working in 1997. We asked Sterling about how he was integrating the Indian workers with his Cupertino CSY labs.

So the actual head count in CSY's California labs doesn't matter?

No. Our solution teams are made of engineers in Bangalore and in Cupertino. It's a virtual team. It's not like Bangalore does this set of solutions and we do that set of solutions. We don't carve it up that way because we have mirror images of the different projects.

Why is the Bangalore connection working as well as it is?

We've created an environment where our engineers have been able to establish personal relationships with the engineers at Bangalore. For example, they've often been there. One time or another over the last 18 months most of the engineers from Bangalore, at least certainly all of the leads, have been to Cupertino for some period of time. We have pictures of their whole organization in our hallways so we know who they are. We know what they look like. We know, in many cases, we know about their families and it's like another HP employee just happens to be on the other side of the world.

They're real people to us, a part of the team. And that's what's made it work for us. We don't just treat them like we've subcontracted some of our work to a team in India. There are some HP organizations that treat them that way, but we've had a much greater success. They are so proud to be a part of CSY. They have a big sign that says CSY Bangalore.

They don't view themselves as being part of HP's Enterprise Systems Organization structure. They view themselves as being part of CSY. We've effectively carved out 70 people that we fund and are considered HP employees. Administratively, they report up through ESO because of local country culture things and that kind of issue. But, effectively from a working relationship, we view them as part of our organization.

You've been with HP a long time, long enough to remember when there used to be development of HP 3000 solutions in places other than the United States.

As a matter of fact, when I worked on the materials management product, in parallel they were working on the financial equivalent -- FA, if you remember, in Germany. We worked very closely together. I spent four months over there when we were mobilizing products.

How does that differ from what's happening today between Bangalore and Cupertino?

Back then we carved out a chunk of the charter. They did the financials. We did the manufacturing. We kind of shared the tools, and that part of it didn't work really well. I think the difference is, with this model it's a joint ownership. And I think there's a lot of sensitivity on our part to the cultural differences, and there are some. As a matter of fact, we're sending our managers through a special training class in the next couple of weeks focused specifically around India. And the differences and the cultures and the things that we need to be aware of. And we're going to do the same thing for them about the American culture. There's more sensitivity to the differences.

I understand the division will be able to call on some people in India who are reaching architect status, some a little faster than you've been able to grow an architect for the 3000. Why do you think that is? Is there a difference in the way that they approach problems?

I believe part of it is cultural. There's a real commitment to their work. I think that the other part of it is that there is some very, very strong talent in Bangalore. We have a former college professor working on our file system. It's pretty amazing.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:07 AM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

October 10, 2018

Wayback: Charon kicks off with freeware

Free-beer-case-computer
Six years ago this week the HP 3000 emulator Charon had its debut among the masses who wanted to kick the software's tires. 2012 was the first year when a downloadable version of the PA-RISC emulator, the first of its kind, could be pulled off an FTP server in Switzerland. Stromasys called the freeware a Demo Package.

This was an offering that illustrated the famous gratis versus libre comparison. Something that can be free, like demoware, was also restricted in its use. You paid nothing but had to abide by the rules of use.

One of the more magic portions of that demoware was HP's own software. Since Stromasys had a long HP relationship, tracking back to the days when HP bought Digital, the vendor was able to include mpe75a.dsk.gz, an MPE/iX 7.5 Ldev 1 disk image that contained the FOS and most HP subsystems.

But wait, said the offer, there's even more. The file mpe-tape.img.gz was also available via FTP, a virtual HP 3000 SLT, generated on Stromasys' A Class 400 test system. "You can configure Charon to boot from this virtual tape file," the demo's read me advised, "and perform an INSTALL from SLT."

Whoa, that was all a leap of Web-based advances. For the price of some disc space, a 3000 owner could have PA-RISC hardware (slapped onto freeware Linux, running on an Intel server) plus the 3000's OS (on a limited license) and a file which could become an SLT. HP had never made MPE/iX a downloadable up to that point. The 3000 was beginning to look like a modern server again, empowered by files from an FTP server.

The freeware propogated through the 3000's universe, with each download promising a purchase of the full Charon. It was supposed to be a demonstration of an emulator. A few bad actors in the market tried to make the A-202 model a production version.

That first version of the A-202 freeware emulator was limited to two users. Stromasys has already managed a similar program for the VAX and Alpha hardware emulators in the Digital community. The Personal Alpha demoware was downloaded 10,000 times, Stromasys said, and ran at about 15 percent of the speed of the full AXP Stromasys emulator.

After two years the A-202 started showing up in support calls. These were calls from companies who were not on any Stromasys list, either prospects or customers. The freeware was downloaded and installed and running a production installation in some places. If the A-202 was supposed to be freeware, libre as well as gratis, it might've been alright. 

The A-202, just powerful enough to permit two simultaneous users to get A-Class 400 performance, was always tempting to very small sites. Stromasys was generous enough to permit downloading of the software, as well as the bundled release of MPE/iX FOS software, with few restrictions. But the instructions were explicit: no use in production environments.

The appearance of an emulator in 3000 production shops who hadn't purchased it proved two things. The obvious one was that some people will ignore licenses and rules and take whatever they want. The second thing the A-202 proved was that small 3000 shops would do just fine with an emulated 3000. The only thing left to work out was pricing in a market where HP had declared the OS a relic. As it turned out, the word relic meant holy object infused with powers. The power to drive MPE/iX came in a bundle along with Charon. For a few years it was available for the cost of a download.

Enthusiasts had unlimited personal non-commercial use. Commercial use was limited to evaluating the product.

The Freeware Edition only loaded up after a user configured it with a legal HPSUSAN number. "You must agree to respect these license restrictions before you will be able to download the Freeware edition installation files from our website," the terms of the 1.5 version stated. Stromasys freeware continued to be distributed to prospects who contacted the sales force. By now, a 3000 Charon installation arrives by way of Doug Smith, the 3000 product manager at Stromasys.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:14 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 19, 2018

Wayback: HP's prop-up in a meltdown week

TradersTen years ago this week the HP shareholder community got a slender boost amid a storm of financial crisis around the world. While the US economy was in a meltdown, Hewlett-Packard -- still a single company -- made a fresh promise to buy back its stock for $8 billion. Companies of HP's size were being labelled Too Big to Fail. The snarl of the banking collapse would be a turning point for a Presidential election. A Wall Street Journal article on the buybacks called HP's move a display of strength. HP wanted to ensure its market capitalization wouldn't take a pounding.

HP was electing to pump a smaller buyback into its shares compared to a competitor's effort. Microsoft was announcing a $40 billion buyback in the same week. At the time, the two companies were trading at about the same share price. Hewlett-Packard was working through its final season with a 3000 lab, tying a bow on the final PowerPatch of the MPE era. One customer recently called that last 2008 release "MPE/iX 7.5.5."

The company was looking to get into a new operating system business in September of 2008, though. HP would be developing a server of its own built upon a core OS of Linux. HP closed down its Nashua, New Hampshire facility just a few months earlier. The offices where VMS was being revived were going dark. At least HP was still selling hardware and growing. We took note of the contrast between selling goods and shuffling financial paper.

Not all of the US economy is in tatters, despite what trouble is being trumpeted today. HP and Microsoft and Nike still run operations which supply product that the world still demands, product which can't be easily swapped in some shadowy back-door schemes like debt paper or mortgage hedges.

A decade later, much has changed and yet not enough to help HP's enterprise OS customers. VMS development has been sold off to a third party firm, OpenVMS Inc. That move into Linux has created a low-cost business server line for HP which doesn't even mention an OS. Meanwhile, Microsoft's stock is trading above $120 a share and HP's split-up parts sell for between $15 and $27 a share, covering the HP Enterprise and PC siblings.

Last week Microsoft announced an impressive AI acquisition, Lobe. For its part, HP Enterprise announced it was refinancing its debt "to fund the repayment of the $1.05 billion outstanding principal amount of its 2.85% notes due 2018, the repayment of the $250 million outstanding principal amount of its floating rate notes due 2018, and for general corporate purposes." A decade ago financial headwinds were in every corporate face. By this year the markets have sorted out the followers from the leaders. HP stepped away from OS software and has created a firm where sales of its Enterprise unit has gone flat. 

Stock buybacks offer a mixed bag of results. Sometimes the company doing the buyback simply doesn't have the strength and bright enough future to hope to reap some benefit—for the company. Shareholders love them, though. The customers are a secondary concern at times.

The $8 billion probably seemed like a good idea at the time, considering it was in the Leo Apotheker era and its misguided acquistions. (A deal for 3Par comes to mind, where a storage service vendor recently noted that it was Dell that drove up the 3Par acquistion price by pretending to bid for it.) The trouble with stock buybacks is just about nobody can stop them. Shareholders are always happy to have shares rise, either on the news of the buyback or the upswing over the next quarter.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:39 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

September 12, 2018

Wayback: DX cuts new 3000 price to $7,077

Field-of-dreams
The Series 918DX was going to deliver the 3000's Field of Dreams

If only the HP 3000 were less costly. The price of the system and software was a sticking point for most of its life in the open systems era, that period when Unix and Windows NT battled MPE/iX. HP's own Unix servers were less costly to buy than the 3000s using the same chipset. Twenty-one years ago this season, the cost of a 3000 became a problem HP wanted to solve.

Cheaper 3000s would be a field of dreams. If a developer could build an app, the customers would come.

Now, Hewlett-Packard was not going to cut the cost of buying every HP 3000 in 1997. When developers of applications and utilities made their case about costs, the HP 3000 division at last created a program where creators would get a hardware break. The Series 918DX was going to help sell more 3000s. It would be the only model of 3000 HP ever sold new for under $10,000. A less costly workbench would attract more application vendors.

The list price of the DX was $7,077. Still more than a Unix workstation or a Windows PC of 1997. The thinking of the time came from a new team at the 3000 division, where marketing manager Roy Breslawski worked for new GM Harry Sterling. Removing a cost barrier for small, startup developers was going to open the doors for new applications.

HP simply adjusted its pricing for hardware and software on a current 3000 model to create the DX. The product was a Series 918/LX with 64 MB of memory, a 4GB disk, a DDS tape drive, a UPS, and a system console.

HP included all of its software in the bundle, such as compilers for C, COBOL, FORTRAN, BASIC, Pascal and even RPG. It was all pre-loaded on that 4GB drive: a Posix Developers Kit, ARPA Services, Workload Manager, Glance Plus, TurboStore, Allbase/SQL. No 3000 would be complete without IMAGE/SQL. The harvest was rich for the small development ventures.

The size of the bundled HP software created one of the drags on the DX. HP automatically billed for the support on every program. When developers started to evaluate the offer, the $7,000 hardware came with $14,000 worth of support commitments.

HP leasing wasn't an HP option for such an inexpensive server, however. Rental costs would amount to buying it more than once. The vendors who were sensitive to hardware pricing didn't have strong sales and marketing resources. They could build it, but who would come?

So the DX reduced the cost to purchase a 3000, and buying support was always optional for any acquisition of a 3000. But self-maintainers were not as common 21 years ago. Developers learned the way to get the low-cost development tool was to order it stripped of support and then add HP support only for the software they needed.

The 3000 vendor community of 1997 was excited about the prospects, both for new customers who might buy a 3000 as a result of a new app — as well keen on prospects for their own products. Within a few months, 14 third-party companies offered 30 products either free or at rock-bottom discounts to developers buying the 918DX. The idea was noble and needed because the 3000 had fallen far behind in the contest to offer apps to companies. One developer quipped that HP would need to equip the system with a bigger disk drive to handle all the available software.

The number of available third party programs might well have been greater than the number of DX systems ever sold. All HP required of a company was to sign up for the SPP developer program, a free membership. The roadblock didn't turn out to be a cheaper 3000 for smaller vendors. Although the DX was thin on storage, RAM, and horsepower, the one thing that would've moved the computer to the front of development plans was customers. The 918DX was not going to make orders appear, just the software for them.

In 1997 the ideal of a startup was still new, surrounded by some mystery. The Internet still had a capital letter on the front of the word and keeping costs low was important to savvy developers. Low hardware costs were a benefit. Sterling said the package was designed to draw out development efforts from sources with high interest in the HP 3000 market. "You guys have been telling us this for two years," he said. "I say it's time we try it, and see what happens."

"It was like Christmas in August," said Frank Kelly, co-chair of the COBOL Special Interest Group in the earliest days of the DX offer. Birket Foster, SIGSOFTVEND chairman, said "HP has come forward and done the right thing. We expect this will be a very good developer platform and the right tools will show up for it."

Developers delivered the tools and some showed up to purchase the DX. The dead weight of not being Unix or Windows, with their vast customers pools, is what pulled down 3000 app availability. By today, those 21 years have delivered a market for a 3000 where an N-Class server, 60 times more powerful than the Series 918, sells for about as much as the DX.

The Field of Dreams doesn't get its future told in the classic 1989 film of the same name. The field does exist, however, a stretch of Iowa farmland near Dyersville where the baseball faithful pay $10 to relive that movie magic. It's a beautiful field, and people do come.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:17 PM in History, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

August 22, 2018

Wayback: 3000s boot mainframes out of HP

Heart Story 1996
In the summer months of 1996, HP was plugging 3000s in where mainframes were serving. Jim Murphy, program manager for the mainframe replacement project, told the 3000 community that IBM mainframes from 30 years earlier were getting the boot because HP was building servers better than the Big Blue iron.

The company was finally using 3000s to do the work they were built to do. An order fulfillment system called Heart was driving every sales fulfillment. Payroll for HP in North America was also performed using MPE/iX.

1996 was a hard year for the 3000 in some places. The spots where HP's reps felt that only a Unix solution — mistakenly called an open system — would win a sale were no-3000 zones. As a separate division, GSY's 9000 group never wanted to give any ground to HP's commercial computer line. At times, 3000 sites would be encouraged to get a open computer from HP. Plenty of the mainframe replacement in HP involved HP-UX systems.

By the time the August 1996 conference gathered in Anaheim, California, Murphy had a paper in the Interex '96 proceedings. HP IT Program to Eliminate Mainframes explained to a conference full of 3000 owners and managers that it was all HP systems inside the corporate data center by May 17, 1996. The 3000 was a key element in HP's modernization.

The role of the HP 3000 in HP's mainframe elimination process is important from two perspectives. First, as the number of data centers within HP rose, the reliance on IBM-style mainframes did not: the HP 3000s carried a fair amount of the increasing processing loads. Second, as IT began rewriting IBM-based COBOL applications for the 3000 platform, many of the re-writes included moving to client/server architectures. This meant HP IT was becoming familiar with client/server as early as the late 1980s.

The paper is archived at the OpenMPE website.

The Anaheim conference was notable for another big announcement. The World's Largest Poster was unfurled in the winds of a nearby high school's football field. "MPE Kicks Butt" was the slogan on those acres of paper. Inside the HP IT datacenter, the 3000 had kicked sand into the face of some of the company's most critical mainframe systems.

PosterProject

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:18 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

July 18, 2018

July's IA-64 news, delivered by the Sandman

IA-64 Sequel t-shirt copy
Twenty years ago this month the 3000 community got its biggest assurance of a long future. The system's lab manager said that the IA-64 architecture would be fully supported in future 3000 models. New compilers would be built for a new MPE/iX. Channel partners and resellers got the news from the labs two months earlier at a swell retreat.

The man delivering the news for that July article is a familiar name with 3000 customers. He was Winston Prather, head of R&D at the time—and three years later, the person who decided the 3000 community didn't need the computer. A weak ecosystem was supposedly the reason Prather could be the Sandman and help put HP's MPE/iX business to sleep.

Three summers earlier, all the news we could report in the NewsWire was good. 

"The 3000 customers who experienced the move from Classic to MPE/XL know exactly what they’ll be looking at as they move forward,” Prather said. “One thing that makes me feel good about it is that it’s something we’ve done before. I think we pulled it off pretty successfully, and we learned quite a bit. We’ll use some of the same learning and techniques as we move to the new architecture."

Prather said that by early in the 2000s, 3000 customers would be able to buy and use an operating system to run with both PA-RISC and IA-64 processors,  "Customers who need the additional performance of IA-64 will then be able to buy IA-64 processor boards to plug into HP 3000 processor slots on the new systems." It was an audacious design. HP bragged of the bold move.

“Prior to the IA-64 boards or chips," Prather said, "there will be complete new boxes available at the high end and the midrange, and then potentially at the low end.” The new 3000s would use new IO systems, giving customers a way to step into new hardware technology incrementally. The IO arrived, late out of those labs, in the form of new PCI bus architecture. IA-64 on MPE was put to sleep.

Watching the whiplash as HP first promised a future, pre-Y2K, then took away the hope of 3000 site, in 2001, baffled a lot of us. The system deserved a big tech investment. Then it didn't.

The 1998 IA-64 report sounded very real, much more so than the announcement from Prather's 3000 leadership in late 2001. HP's MPE futures were going dark. In 1998 there was even an admission that some "forking" of the operating system — a la MPE V and MPE XL — would have to take place.

Although CSY is working to delay it, a time will come in the next decade when there will be two versions of MPE/iX, one for the PA-RISC systems and one for the IA-64 boxes. Customers work in such an environment today if they support Classic (CISC) HP 3000s running MPE V alongside MPE/iX.

HP has already been working on bringing 64-bit features such as large memory space and large files to MPE/iX long before IA-64 is ready for the 3000. The technical discussions taking place over the last year inside CSY include methods to keep from dividing MPE/iX into two camps.

“We don’t want to fork the operating system,” Prather said. “We have had internal debates about how we could provide all of this new functionality, the 64-bitness, and in the future avoid forking the operating system. We have a strong desire to avoid that. I’m not sure we’ll be able to avoid it forever.”

The departure of HP from MPE/iX futures is a fact that changed thousands of careers. Now the future demanded costly migrations for many firms. Everyone could be forgiven for being flummoxed by the leadership flame out, considering how certain the 3000 lab leader sounded in 1998 about building for the future.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:22 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 25, 2018

Meet shows veterans never too old to learn

2018 3000 Reunion

The number of people in the pub was not noteworthy. The weekend's HP 3000 Reunion added up to something more than a body count, though, a remarkable and lively turnout for a computer whose vendor declared it dead more than seven years ago.

IMG_3840The veterans of MPE and the 3000 showed a spark of curiosity during the afternoon-to-evening gathering at the Duke of Edinburgh pub and Apple Park in Cupertino. In the late afternoon they held iPads to see a virtual reality view at Apple's Visitor Center, peering at the insides of the Apple HQ building. Earlier, a support talk about the care and feeding of the 3000 sites with aging hardware prompted questions and opinions about homesteading. That strategy was the only one that remained for the men and women crowding a cozy pub room flocked with red and gold paper.

The gold matched the sponsorship banner from CAMUS International. The group sent $200 to cover bar and lunch expenses, showing that manufacturing interest still surrounds companies using a 3000. Terri Lanza, who arranged the banner and the contribution, wished she could attend. Like dozens more, she has to rely on her colleagues who made the trip.

IMG_3841
They came from as far away as England and Toronto, and some from five minutes' drive away. Orly Larson tooled over from his house on a quiet Cupertino street. Dave Wiseman came from England and Gilles Schipper crossed the continent from Toronto.

Tom McNeal, one of the engineers who helped create the memory manager in MPE/XL, attended to represent the Hewlett-Packard 3000 lab. He left HP after Y2K to join a Linux startup. While that was fun, he said, the energy didn't outlast the funding. He came to reconnect and even to see a lineup of hardware for MPE XL that prompted him to observe where multiprocessing came into the product line.

IMG_3832

Vicky Shoemaker, Dave Wiseman, Gilles Schipper, Stan Sieler and Harry Sterling giggle at a video of George Stachnik's 12 Days of Christmas parody. The video from an HP party hailed from the late 1980s, when the struggles of building an MPE for PA-RISC were finally overcome.

People learned at the meeting, more about one another and their 3000 afterlife than something to use in 2018. McNeal was joined by ex-HP stalwarts Harry Sterling, the final GM of the division, and Larson. They made up almost 20 percent of attendees. There was hearty laughter coming from them and the rest of the crowd while everyone watched a video from another 3000 notable. George Stachnik was singing a 12 Days of Christmas parody on a recording from the middle 1980s, when Sterling was running the 3000 labs.

When Stachnik's parody came to the five golden rings line, he'd changed it to Rich Sevcik giving him "every engineer." Sterling chuckled. "It was just about that many," he said.

The room was rich with a sense of that kind of sweet survival across the day. Many of those in the room and later at the tour of the Apple Park headquarters -- the site of the former 3000 division's offices -- counted the server as just a memory. There was some everyday experience still in the room, though, more than 40 years after HP introduced the 3000. Vicky Shoemaker of Taurus Software still counts 3000 customers among her base at the company she founded with Dave Elward. Ralph Bagen still sees 3000s for support, as do Stan Sieler and Steve Cooper. 

The same goes for Gilles Schipper, counting on a California 3000 site to help him leverage the trip from Canada. With the exception of an editor from a blog who was on hand, all others were remembering past efforts and survivals, and celebrating their thriving on the current day. "How many grandkids now?" or "What college did you send them to?" and "How long have you been retired?" were common questions.

The Hewlett-Packard that was represented was the benevolent HP Way company. Sterling has built a thriving real estate practice in Palm Springs. McNeal hailed from the 3000 labs that built MPE to exploit the then-new PA-RISC. Larson taught IMAGE and spread the word at customer events and site visits, sending the message that the 3000's database was better than most. An intimate pre-party at his house in Cupertino included stories traded back in his tiki hut bar.

The dinner table at the pub had two of the three most famous beards from the 3000 community, too. Larson's and Bob Karlin's were wrapped around smiles over the likes of scotch eggs, Cornish pasty and Newcastle Ale. Bruce Hobbs, the other bearded veteran, wanted to come. Dozens more wanted to come, some so urgently their RSVP'ed name tags were already printed up but unclaimed. Deep into the night the talk turned to religion and politics, because everyone knew one another well enough to remain friends through those subjects.

Wiseman counted on that friendship as he brought together people who hadn't seen each other in decades but fell into conversations as if it were only yesterday when they last spoke. It takes a social computer system to open hearts to a reunion after more than 40 years. Nearly everyone at the Duke could count that much experience with the 3000.

"When you're back in town, drop by," Shoemaker and Cooper said to me as they left. They were not counting the numbers in the room. They were counting on our return in the years to come. After the afternoon ended, that hope for a return seemed to add up.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 03:50 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (1)

June 22, 2018

We're raising a glass in your honor

Lifted-beer-glassesIn a few hours I'll be back home. Well, one of my homes. There's the one in Texas. The one I visited this month in Toledo where I grew up, and the one in my heart for my bride and my boy and my grandkids. Later today I'll be home in Silicon Valley, along Wolfe Road next to the place where the HP 3000 was born. 

Before I unload my Livestrong Foundation backpack (no checked luggage this time)  I'm going to Orly Larson's house in Cupertino. The man who taught developers and software engineers about IMAGE, and then fronted his own small roadshow to spark Hewlett-Packard's customers with songs and talks, is partying with some of us. He's putting out a spread and some smiles like anybody in their 70s would, doing it because he remembers when we were all young.

You probably remember too. It was an era from the Seventies when a lot of you started working with a computer designed to let people work together. It's not gone, although the people who know it well aren't working together with it much by now. But we remember, our community does, and this weekend I believe many of you want to be remembered.

We're raising a glass at a pub across from the old Hewlett-Packard campus. We're raising it to the people who wanted to be here but couldn't make it. Raising it for those who are only an afternoon's drive away, people who live in Silicon Valley but are absent. It'll be a Saturday, though, and the weekends can be full of family, or that perfect summer afternoon for golf or skiing, or just that World Cup thingy.

There will be a lot of looking back tomorrow and lot of looking away, too. The looking back is easiest. We'll amble back down a path of stories and career stops, seeing people for the first time in years. We'll tell stories about giveaways on show floors and inflated alligators and the thick rows of blue binders of 3000 manuals. We'll look away at what's become of the heartbeat of innovation by now, because remembering what faded away reminds us we're aging and change is everywhere.

One thing hasn't changed, though. We still like to meet in person, even after a long separation. That was the raw glory of the Interex conferences, shaking hands for the first time in a year, each year. The 3000 customer base has always been a social one. I saw the distinction once I started editing other magazines early in the Nineties. Meeting in person, enjoying groups of users, didn't feel as commonplace. Unless you're talking about Digital VAX users, or the IBM AS/400 folks. For a generation of computer people, being together makes it all more real.

We're men and women of a certain age. It's something we can see with our own eyes when we meet this weekend. The winkles are laugh lines. We're all smiling for you, because like us, you've survived the changes and enjoy looking forward to life—whether it's got an MPE computer in it or not. If you're not here, just know that you're in our hearts. I'll lift a glass in your honor once I get home.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:36 AM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 13, 2018

New DL325 serves fresh emulation muscle

DL385-Whiteboard
Hewlett-Packard Enterprise has reintroduced its ProLiant workhorse, talking up the server in connection with next week's HP Discover conference in Las Vegas. The DL325, when it ships in July, will be a newer and more powerful model of the DL380 server — one suitable for powering a virtualized HP 3000 driven by the Stromasys Charon HPA system. The DL325 is a single socket system, a design that's disrupting the server marketplace.

HP has posted one of its whiteboard walk-throughs on YouTube to cover some of the DL325 advantages. There's also a performance comparison for the system, ranked against a Lenovo alternative as well as an energy efficiency measure against a server from Dell. 3000s never got such industry benchmarks for performance.

But HP 3000s once got this kind of spec treatment from Hewlett-Packard. The 3000 division's product manager Dave Snow gave such product talks, holding a microphone with a long cord that he would coil and uncoil as he spoke. With his pleasant Texas drawl, Snow sounded like he was corralling the future of the hardware. He spoke in that era when "feeds and speeds" sometimes could lure an audience "into the weeds." Breakdowns like the one below once lauded the new PCI-based 3000 hardware.

DL385-Chassis-Overview
The ProLiant line has long had the capability to put Linux into the datacenter. Linux is the cradle that holds the Charon software to put MPE/iX into hardware like the 325. The DL325 (click above for a larger view) is a single-processor model in the company's Gen10 line, adding horsepower for an application that's always hungry for more CPU: virtualization. The DL325 gets its zip from the EPYC chip, AMD's processor built to the x86 standards. EPYC designs mean the chip only needs to run at 2.3 GHz, because the system's got 32 cores per processor.

"This server should deliver great price performance for virtualized infrastructure while driving down costs," wrote analyst Matt Kimball in Forbes.

Even way back in 2014, the DL380 ProLiant server was driving virtualized 3000 systems, fired by a 3.44 GHz chip. That was plenty fast enough to handle the combo of Linux, VMWare and the Stromasys Charon 3000 emulator. The DL385 was 17 inches x 29 by 3.5, just 2U in size. HPE's shrunk the power down to a 1U chassis for the DL325.

During the era when the DL380 was first being matched to virtualization work, Stromasys tech experts said that CPUs of more than 3 GHz were the best fit for VMWare and Charon. Putting MPE/iX onto such a compact AMD EPYC-based machine is a long way from the earliest year of the OS. In 1974, MPE would only fit on a 12,000 BTU server, the HP3000 System CX

The newest Generation 10 box retails for one-tenth of the cost of that CX server. The plodding CX was all that ASK Computer Systems had to work with 44 years ago when it built MANMAN. HP needed to assist ASK just to bring MPE into reliable service on the CX. "It didn’t work worth shit, it’s true," said Marty Browne of ASK at a software symposium in 2008. "But we got free HP computer time."

In the current IT architecture, the feeds and speeds of individual systems are usually in the weeds. A vendor like Stromasys though, working as it does to implement Charon in every customer site, cares about the speeds.

Employing hardware that's newer, like the DL325, brings support to block cutting-edge attacks on the datacenter. HP said this server is not exposed to this year's Masterkey CPU vulnerability, because it uses the HPE Silicon Root of Trust functionality. Root of Trust, HPE says, is "a unique link between the HPE Integrated Light Out (iLO) silicon and the iLO firmware to ensure servers do not execute compromised firmware code. The Root of Trust is connected to the AMD Secure Processor in AMD's EPYC System on a Chip so that the AMD Secure Processor can validate the HPE firmware before the server is allowed to boot."

With exploits like Masterkey on the march this year, HPE has released a patch to update the system ROM with a patch for Linux anyway to mitigate the vulnerability. Current hardware gets that kind of attention from a vendor.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:13 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 11, 2018

Making a 3000 Reunion a Personal Affair

With the Duke of Edinburgh pub set aside for June 23d's 3000 reunion, this year's event has now become even more personal. Orly Larson, the affable creator of Hewlett-Packard songs about the 3000, is holding a garden party at his home near the old HP campus on Friday the 22d.

HP 50th Anniversary Song

Lyrics to Orly's 50th Anniversary HP song

Reunion kingpin Dave Wiseman sent out a notice to the community, asking "can you join us the previous day, Friday, June 22nd for a visit to Valhalla for a social get together late afternoon/evening?"

For those of you who don’t know, Valhalla in Norse mythology is a majestic, enormous hall where Viking heroes slain in battle are received (also known as Viking Heaven). Located in Asgard, ruled over by the god Odin, and is used for partying. Or, to put it another way, Orly Larson’s back yard.

Complete with swimming pool, hot tub, dart boards, table tennis, bean bag toss and a sound stage (not really). This yard is the same place Orly had a pre-San Francisco INTEREX ’89 Conference dinner party for some of the 75-plus HP 3000 users who helped him sing HP and Interex songs together at local, regional and international conferences.

The plan is to chip in for some beers and pizza and chill out.

Orly at Reunion
Orly Larson

Pizza and beers, chilling out in an colleague's backyard and catching up on what's happened to everyone since we last worked together. It's a very personal aspect to a reunion that may seem like a memorial to some. To register an RSVP and a pizza preference, contact Wiseman at [email protected].

To RSVP for the afternoon at the Duke, head over to the webpage of the event's Jot signup form. You might have chip in for the pizza, but the drinks at the Duke are on CAMUS, the MANMAN user group, for at least the first few rounds.

By the late 1989, when the songs were being crooned by customers at user group meetings, the greatest champion of that edgy IMAGE database was Larson, who wrote and led the music a cappella. An SQL interface had been added to IMAGE. Paul Edwards reports that "that we, employees and customers who called ourselves The Sequals, used the HP song book all over the world to sing with Orly." Singing about the HP 3000 became a tradition. HP marketeer George Stachnik extended the singing with a guitar and eventually a band at user group events. Larson led his choruses a capella—complete with ensemble kicks at the close of the song New Wave.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:09 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 06, 2018

Wayback: HP's 3000 Conference Sign-off

HP's June months have been populated by nationwide conferences for more than a decade. Ten years ago in June marked the last known appearance of Hewlett-Packard's 3000 experts at the HP Technology Forum show in Las Vegas. It was an era marked by the soaring expectations from CEO Mark Hurd and the soon-to-plummet economy crashing around the American lending and banking markets. HP was emptying its tech wallet at a show that would soon be called HP Discover instead of a Technology Forum.

HP had a meeting for 3000 customers at that 2008 show, the final expression of support for the owners who launched HP's enterprise business computing prowess. Jennie Hou was in the final year of managing the 3000 group at HP. The vendor had a history of awarding one community member — people like Alfredo Rego, or Stan Sieler — with a Contributor of the Year Award. The 2008 award was renamed a Certificate of Appreciation and given to the full 3000 community. Being thanked, as HP retired the customers, was a sign of HP's final sign-off.

Appreciation certificate
The 2008 edition was the last public event where HP presented news about the platform. It was the last year when the server owners could employ the services of HP's labs. HP's Alvina Nishimoto, who'd been leading the information parade for third party tools and migration success stories, gave an outstanding contributor award of sorts at an e3000 roadmap meeting. The award shown in the slide above had a commemorative tone about it, like a fond farewell to the days when something new was part of the HP message to 3000 attendees.

In that June, the new Right to Use licenses were proving more popular than HP first imagined. The licensing product placed on the price list for 2007 let customers upgrade their license level on used systems. Of course, it only applied to the 3000s designed before 2001. It says something when servers almost a decade old could be a popular upgrade item in datacenter.

Just two HP speakers addressed the 3000 at the conference — Nishimoto and Jim Hawkins, the latter of whom spoke for five minutes at the end of the OpenMPE update. The Tech Forum had become a great place to learn about technology that HP would never put into a 3000.

I asked Hou about HP's participation in the conference and what I should expect in the years to come. The vendor would only discuss migration by 2008, after completing the final PowerPatch and delivering some whitepapers to the community.

HP was saying so long, and thanks for the fish.

The e3000 community has always been and will continue to be an interesting place.  It truly is one of a kind. This year, at Alvina's talk, HP will thank every e3000 partner and customer. HP recognizes that the e3000 community wouldn't be what it is without so many people's ongoing involvement and contributions. This also includes all your dedication in bringing the e3000 news to the user community over the past decades.

Hou was gracious in acknowledging the role we'd played up to that point a decade ago. Neither one of us knew the Newswire would still be tracking the fate and future of MPE/iX, ten years later.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:49 PM in History, Homesteading, News Outta HP | Permalink | Comments (0)

June 04, 2018

Being first is about serving customer needs

During the 1990s the 3000 managers at HP started an enterprise revolution. Instead of creating computing systems built upon marketing research and technical breakthroughs, the division devoted to MPE/iX started a movement it called Customer First. It meant that to develop something for a 3000 owner, management had to be listening to the customer first, instead deferring to the business development mavens at the vendor.

HP got in close enough touch with its customers that it sent employees from the factory, as it called its system development labs, out to customer sites to interview the customers. HP's Unix division took note and started to follow suit.

Customer First doesn't sound that revolutionary today, but it put the 3000 leadership in the spotlight at HP's enterprise operations. In the 1990s HP was more of a computing company than anything else. Printers were important but computing was still earning the highest profits and paying for everything else. HP understood that while proprietary computer environments differ, they've got one thing in common: the customers who know what they need better than the vendors themselves.

Stromasys is picking up the concept with every quarter it sells products to support legacy environments like MPE/iX and VMS. Sustaining legacy investments makes sense when the system delivers what's needed. Customers needs come first.

Sue_Skonetski"I do think that customers know what they want and need," said Stromasys' Sue Skonetski, "and no one else knows their mind as well. One of the things I am looking forward to at Stromasys is working with customers from so many different areas. Hopefully I will be able to help when questions come up, as well as post information as I see it."

Harry-sterling-realtorHarry Sterling, who was the general manager at the 3000 group in those revolutionary time, passed praise on to Skonetski. "Taking care of customers based on their needs, and not the sole ideals of engineers, is key—and from your remarks, I know you believe that." Key concepts can get a revival just as surely as a good Broadway play gets another production after enough time has passed.

Customer First got its first mission in 1991. After 3000 customers expressed their displeasure at HP's waning emphasis on IMAGE, CSY had to respond with improvements. Jim Sartain of the R&D lab was directly responsible for HP’s offering of an SQL interface for IMAGE, the first advance to signal the division's commitment to a Customer First strategy. Sartain worked with a revived IMAGE special-interest group to revitalize the database.

Gathering voices from differing platform bases was once important to HP. The vendor embraced the idea so much it published a Customer First Times, a PDF document that carried information about HP 3000s, along with HP 9000, OpenVMS and Itanium-based market products. It was the first assembly of the legacy ecosystem of HP.

In 2004 HP closed up Customer First Times. That was the first full year HP didn't sell a new HP 3000. The OpenVMS community was by then fully assimilated into HP's product plans, receiving the technology shift it needed to get the OS onto the Itanium computers.

Customer First was a mantra that the CSY division promoted to the rest of HP's server businesses. The legacy systems of VMS, MPE/iX, and even Sun are still in production mode at companies that know what they need. Assembling them to hear their voices is what Customer First is all about—as well as posting information about what they all need.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:56 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 16, 2018

Wayback Wed: Charon's coming out, at a pub

Tied House 2013Springtime in the Bay Area is a good time to gather in support of MPE/iX. Five years ago this week Stromasys hosted a social mixer at the Tied House pub, a Mountain View venue just 10 minutes away from next month's 3000 reunion at The Duke of Edinburgh pub. There's something about good beer in cold glasses that seems to go along with the veterans who still have 3000 know-how.

In that week of 2013, a meeting room also bubbled at the Computer History Museum, a place where Stromasys spooled out more than six hours of technical briefing as well as the product strategy and futures for Charon HPA. The market needed an emulator to carry on from the end-game of HP's MPE/iX hardware, a need that began as early as 2003. HP stopped building new servers that year. The clock started running on HP's hardware aging. By ten years later the wraps were completely off Charon HPA.

By the time the emulator sparked those pours at Tied House, an HP licensing mechanism was in place for MPE/iX to operate under the Charon emulator. Then, as today, you needed to know how to ask HP for the required license.

Charon's HPA product manager uncorked the phrase that permits a customer to switch their MPE/iX from HP iron to Intel hardware,"an intra-company license transfer." If you don't ask for it by name, the standard HP transfer forms won't pass muster. Most Software License Transfers happen between two companies. HP might've wondered, who sell themselves their own hardware?

HP's SLT mechanism began to license emulated 3000s in 2012. The development of an emulator, slowed by HP's balky cooperation, cut off an emulator-only MPE/iX license at the end of 2010. The License needed an emulator for sale before a customer could buy a new MPE/iX license.

In that May of five years ago, the process to earn an HP 3000-to-Charon license was not well known yet—which was one of the reasons Stromasys held its training and social event.

Perhaps HP's lawyers insisted on the "existing emulator" clause in that stillborn license. The license was supposed to cost $500, but a customer could never pay that money without a working emulator for a 3000 for sale on the market. Then HP stopped issuing MPE/iX licenses, because its Right To Use program ran out at the end of 2008. With no RTU, and no emulator license, 2009 was the moment when the 3000s in the world were limited to whatever HP iron (and attached licenses) were on hand.

The never-sold Emulator License for MPE/iX was not the first time the vendor allowed an emulator maker to license new servers. By the time OpenMPE wore HP down and spearheaded that Emulator License, the Stromasys product line was running hundreds of instances of VAX and PDP emulated systems, all using VMS. Digital, even after it became part of HP, didn't care if you were emulating its "end-of-lifed" PDP and VAX systems. What Digital-HP cared about was ongoing support revenue to keep older systems running. In some places, they were still the best solution.

HP's ending for the 3000 was nothing as generous as the ending for VAX system licenses. HP intended to cut off all 3000 business by 2006. Er, 2008. Well, certainly by 2010, even though some 3000 owners still would call on HP for MPE and hardware support during 2011. Customers are the ones who determine the life of a computer environment, and software never dies.

At that Stromasys training event in the History Museum, the general manager Bill Driest said the natural end state for every computer is virtualization -- what a 3000 customer would call emulation.

"We're here to help preserve the software investments that you've all made," he said. "We've always believed that the value of the system is in the uniqueness of the application. For 14 years we've had this tagline that keeps coming back: preserving the investments we've all made across these hardware generations."

Even today, you contact HP's Software License Transfer department. You tell them you want to do an intra-company transfer. And instead of the $500 that HP said a new MPE/iX emulator license would cost, it's $400 -- the same fee HP collects on any MPE/iX system transfer. You just need to have a 3000 license to begin with.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 04:13 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 14, 2018

Pub salvation in UK not needed at The Duke

Yesterday CBS News aired a Sunday Morning story about the fate of pubs in the UK. Pubs grew up in the country from the 17th Century. In recent years, though, their numbers are in decline. You can't smoke in a pub anymore in the UK, and the real estate has gotten pricey for watering holes. The downward trend means about one pub in seven has closed over the last decade. While that still leaves 50,000 UK pubs operating, it's become a little tougher to find a pint and fish and chips in Britain.

The Duke signThat trend might inspire a visit to the site of this year's 3000 reunion, the Duke of Edinburgh pub in Cupertino. The restaurant and drinkery opened for business in 1983, when MPE had moved from version IV to V, RISC computing was still three years away from HP's product lineup, and Apple hadn't sold its first Macintosh. The link between those two companies passes through the Duke. When the pub was once busy with HP 3000 experts, some were destined to make their way from HP to Apple. Mae Grigsby, who's arranged the reunion's tour of the Apple Park Visitor Center, shared a connection between the vendors' past and future.

Grigsby, part of the Apple Executive Briefing Program, said that some bits of HP's past are still on the site that's right next to the Duke.

Apple Park has a great history starting with your group. Some of the material of the HP buildings is actually still at the Park. Those were times. I started at Apple in June, 1986. One of my colleagues here at the briefing program started, right out of college, to work at HP in 1983 — at which time HP was THE company in Silicon Valley. 18 years later she joined Apple. Memories abound.

Other memories from HP are likely to be in the air at the Duke, which is in no danger of closing. Two of the RSVPs which reunion organizers have in hand are from high-profile 3000 alumni. Harry Sterling, former general manager of the 3000 division, has said he plans to attend. Orly Larson, the technical and community celebrity whose 3000 years include a sheaf of 3000-themed songs he wrote, has also joined the guest book. By my reckoning off of local maps, The Duke is the closest watering hole to Apple's spaceship HQ, just as it was the closest stop for those 1983-era alumni like Orly and Harry who worked at the 3000's HQ.

If you're inclined to join the group on that Saturday, you can register your RSVP (to help them plan) in a simple JotForm signup, at no charge or obligation.

As the Duke is a pub, perhaps a song will fill the air that afternoon of June 23, said organizer Dave Wiseman.

"I’ve asked if he’ll write a song," Wiseman said when he had Orly's reply in hand. Larson's baritone was a part of many 3000 meetings in those days when HP nurtured and sold MPE V and then XL and then iX.

As the event stands today, the cost of attending is limited to your own tab at the bar -- and even that will be covered for a while. CAMUS, the Computer Aided Manufacturing Users Society, is sponsoring a round or three at the Duke. Attendees can tour the Computer History Museum, opening at 10 that Saturday, with admission at their own expense.

The tour of Apple's vantage point, arranged by Wiseman, is free and starts at 4:30. The Duke is so close to the Visitor Center that a 20-minute walk from the Duke's side of the former HP campus to the other side will get you there. Apple says the Visitor Center is as close as anybody gets to the spaceship campus, unless you're working with Apple.

The reunion alumni of the 3000, though, has got an earnest invitation for their own tour. Grigsby said, "Our visitor center team, upon hearing of your desire to see the place on whose ground you and your colleagues labored to build the HP 3000 minicomputer, would be delighted to host a guided visit for such a special group of people."

The tour takes about 30 minutes, and another 30 minutes for people to browse on their own, visit the observation deck, or view a large model of the spaceship campus more closely, or buy Apple paraphernalia that you can only buy at this store and nowhere else. HP once sold such paraphernalia, as recently as the HP Technology Forum of 2006.

Anticipating that many people will be interested in getting a closer look at this incredible campus, Apple has built the Apple Park Visitor Center. Via an iPad with AR (augmented reality) you can view how the offices and conference rooms are organized. The APVC also features a retail store, a cafe, and an observation desk on the second floor from where you can get a glimpse of the Apple Park ring.

The Apple Park building is only accessible to Apple badged employees. It is a truly collaborative space where employees come and go and meet anywhere unhindered, though some areas are more secured (special access) than others. Because of high security and confidentiality issues in such a working environment visiting guests are not permitted unless they have been invited for special business purposes.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:12 PM in History, Homesteading, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (1)

May 07, 2018

June's 3000 Reunion destination: Building D

DukeSnugThis week I made my reservations for a date that's become rare in our community. On June 23, the 3000's experts, vendors, and consultants are gathering for another 3000 Reunion. That's the name that Apple is using for the group, since the gathering will include a visit to the frontier of Apple's world HQ. The event also includes a morning's visit to the Computer History Museum, the site of the 2011 Reunion where more than 150 members gathered.
Apple Park Rooftop

The highest point of the day won't be the elevated observation deck at the Apple Park Visitor Center, overlooking the company's spaceship campus that replaced HP's legendary 3000 hub. The pinnacle seems to be the afternoon hours enjoyed in a cozy snug at the The Duke of Edinburgh pub. Lunch, beverages, and war stories will be on the bill of fare starting at 1. People who know and remember the 3000 will gather in a pub popular enough with the MPE crowd that it's still known as Building D by some community members.

The Duke is on Wolfe Road, just to the west of where the 3000 grew up. Space has been reserved for a group that's making its way beyond 20 attendees. If you join us, I will be delighted to see you and hear your stories there, as well as any update on your interests and work of today.

The close-up nature of the venue doesn't mean it's without an agenda. As of today there's informal talks about migration, Stromasys emulation, the HP Enterprise of today and homesteading in our current era. The group is eager to include a member who's running MPE/iX today, either in virtual mode using the Charon HPA software or native on HP's venerable and as-yet durable HP hardware.

Screen Shot 2018-05-07 at 6.43.07 PMThe Duke was the site of a 2016 meeting of 3000 alums. In-person meetings for the 3000 community happen in bars and pubs by now. This event has been sparked by Dave Wiseman, who organized what he calls a SIG-BAR meeting in London in 2014. The vendor and semi-retired software maven has a history that includes a software project called Millware for 3000s as well as tales about a Series III he installed in 1978. Wiseman calls these events SIG-BAR because hotel bars during the Interex conference era always included informal wisdom, swapped after hours over a glass or bottle of something refreshing.

There's something about English pubs that can attract the 3000 crowd. Some of us who are flying in for the event are staying at the Hilton Garden Inn Cupertino. (At the moment, Saturday evening rooms are under $150, which is a value at Bay Area rates.) The Inn is close enough to the Duke that no matter how much happiness is served, it's a one-block walk back from pub. There will be an evening session at the Duke after the Apple tour, too.

The Duke sits within walking distance of a now-lost mecca of the 3000 world, the HP Cupertino campus. Building 48 has been replaced by the concrete, glass and steel of the new Apple world headquarters building. Apple's organized a tour of the Visitor Center for this year's 3000 attendees. The Centre's rooftop is as close as you'll get to the HQ spaceship without a contract with Apple, or a job at the world's Number 1 market cap company.

In 1976, HP fed Apple with engineering talent, a fellow named Steve Wozniak. Legend has it that Woz was working on HP's business computer designs at the time when he left to become VP of Apple R&D. In a way, that Apple HQ has always had innovation on its acres, even before there was a company first called Apple Computer.

The land of what's now called just Apple covers the path where a walk through an HP parking lot and across a cozy margin of poplars brought you to the Duke. "It's right across the street from where MPE lived," Stan Sieler of Allegro said at the 2016 meeting. On June 23, MPE's heart will be among the taps and the chips at The Duke.

In London in 2014, Robelle's Bob Green said this about the in-person meeting at that London pub:

We exchanged notes on the current state of the machine—especially the new emulator—- and discovered what each of us was doing. An amazing number of people are still doing the same thing: helping customers with their IT concerns. But in reality, most of the time was spent swapping war stories from the past, which was great fun.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:41 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration, Newsmakers | Permalink | Comments (0)

May 02, 2018

May meant an IMAGE defense against Codd

During a May of 33 years ago, the award-winning database at the 3000's heart got a hearty defense. HP had customers in 1985 who wanted relational indexes for their 3000 data — and a speedy Omnidex utility for IMAGE was not going to sell those customers. It didn't have the HP brand on it. 

Alfredo RegoThose middle 1980s were days of debate about database structures. Adager's Alfredo Rego spoke at a 1985 Southern California Regional User Group conference about the advantages in performance that IMAGE enjoyed over SQL architectures. Rego took what were known as the Codd Rules (from computer scientist Ted Codd) and said that IMAGE could outwork them all. The SCRUG meetings were close to the apex of technical wisdom and debate for MPE in that era. The 3000 was still run by MPE V in that year, when the PA-RISC systems were still more than two years away.

In 1985, though, Oracle and its relational design was riding a wave of success in companies that had retooled from vendor-designed databases like IMAGE. At the time of the defense of IMAGE, the database was beginning to feel some age. The performance limits were more likely induced by the age of HP's CISC computer architecture. The Series 70 systems were still underpowered for large customers, the same companies who had become Oracle's relational database targets.

Ted CoddHP overhauled IMAGE enough to rename the product TurboIMAGE later in the year, a shift in design that put some utilities under the gun to use the full feature set of the database. Even into 1986, the debate continued over the merits of IMAGE versus relational databases as defined by Codd. "What are "relational databases" anyway?" asked VEsoft's Eugene Volokh. "Are they more powerful than IMAGE? Less powerful? Faster? Slower? Slogans abound, but facts are hard to come by."

Owing to its first place ranking in a 1976 database comparison in Datamation, IMAGE was a natural point of comparison to relational. "It's very, akin to a relational database from Codd," Rego said of IMAGE in an oral history interview at the Computer History Museum more than three decades later. "It has certain infrastructure to access the entries, or records, or rows if you will."

What Rego promoted in the face of Oracle's 1985 claims remained true for many years to come. Relational databases had more advanced search programming possibilities. But nothing was beating IMAGE for transaction performance during that year. Years later at the History Museum, the message remained clear.

IMAGE has two types of tables -- datasets if you will. One is called a detail table and the other one is called a master table ... Basically you have two ways to access those tables. One is through a doubly linked list, using detail datasets; and one is through hashing, using master datasets. It’s basically value addressing. It calculates, hashes and it says what should be here in position number whatever. And it allows for synonym collisions and distributes them very nicely. That’s called the master dataset structure, and from that master you can link to a chain of detail entries that can be anywhere and can be accessed very quickly. So IMAGE is very, very good for transaction processing.

Burt Grad, who interviewed Rego, understood what an opportunity HP was missing with IMAGE for decades. "If someone had implemented IMAGE on other platforms," he said, "it could have been a competitive product in the computing world."

As it was, the database ruled the 3000 world and its advantages turned away all competitors. Oracle took years to be convinced an MPE port of its database had any prospects, given the dominance of IMAGE on the OS. Later HP took up the mantle of SQL, the language that flowed from the query abilities in relational databases. 

HP released a relational database system of its own during the era, a product called Allbase/SQL. Within a few years HP turned IMAGE into IMAGE/SQL because they put an SQL shell in front of it. Allbase had no better luck than Oracle at catching on among MPE users.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:00 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 30, 2018

3000 fans explore a mystery of history

HP suitcase

A mysterious photo on a 3000 group website has started to spark guesses this week. Brett Forsyth has tacked a photo onto the LinkedIn Group that serves the HP 3000 Community. He's invited guesses on how a suitcase, or some sort of case, can be traced to Hewlett-Packard history.

Brett ForsythMost of the guesses so far concern the size of the case. Forsyth has been replying to the efforts, as if he's a game show host moving the contest along by eliminating wrong answers. If you're interested in playing, the group page provides a comment string. You can also supply guesses in our comments here, but for now we're just as much in the dark about the mystery as anyone but Forsyth. Just a few days ago he released another clue.

This game is one way a website can engage visitors. There's always been a lot of passive readership on the Web -- nearly all of it, in truth, compared to how many people visit a site. We run a comments string to the right of our webpages, but our visitor count is a large multiple of those connections, even here in 2018. Contests are old-school, but so are HP 3000 customers and experts. It's always surprising how a $25 Amazon card still motivates us as a giveaway.

Last week one of the organizers of the upcoming HP 3000 party in the Bay Area suggested a fine finale for the mystery. Dave Wiseman would like to see it solved in person at a June 23 meeting in Cupertino. The gathering is a reunion for some and a retirement party for others. Wiseman's invited Forsyth to bring the case along to the meeting on that Saturday afternoon. The meeting location is being worked out, but it won't be as much of a mystery as the case itself.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 09:36 AM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 18, 2018

Wayback Wed: one website to serve them all

HP suitcaseIn late April of 1999, first steps were being taken for the largest website ever devoted to the 3000 community. The site was not from the 3000 NewsWire, although we'd been publishing 40-plus stories a month for almost four years in paper, on the Web, and through Online Extra emails. The newest entry in 1999 was 3k World, a site launched by Client Systems, North America's largest HP 3000 distributor.

At the time the HP 3000 was in full renaissance. HP had remade the server as the HP e3000 to stress the computer's Internet readiness. The system was at its sales peak for the 1990s, capturing e-commerce business by drawing well-known clients like M&M Mars. Client Systems was reaching for a way to connect the thousands of 3000 owners as well as the market's vendors. A big website with community message boards and a repository of tech manuals and bulletins seemed to be a great draw.

3k World needed steady content, though, the kind that messages and tech papers from HP couldn't provide. Client Systems reached out to us. Sure we had content, contributed and written by experts and veterans of the MPE/iX world. We had news as well, plus some commentary and opinion. Client Systems licensed everything we produced for use on 3k World, while we retained the rights to use it on our own website.

For several years 3k World built its readership and its content, even though the membership was not posting a lot of discussion. Then HP pulled the plug on its 3000 business and Client Systems watched revenues decline. The NewsWire's content — articles, reviews, and tech papers — stopped appearing on 3k World when that site's budget sank.

3k World might have had a chance of connecting customers across many miles, but the content was all-English language, and so the French and Spanish users were taking a small leap to use the content. Within a few years the site became static and this blog was born in the summer of 2005.

Community is always the driver on these kinds of missions: attracting it, growing it, and making its discussions useful and worthy of a visit. LOLs and "you betcha" in comments do not engage readers. Prowl the comments sections of many tech websites and you'll find that experience. It takes a village to build a community, and that village needs to share what it knows and ask for what it needs.

The concept of a community is pretty well handled on LinkedIn, at least as far as the tools available. The Groups service (which is free to join and use) includes a comments and discussion board, a jobs board, a way to publish articles and more. The HP 3000 has a group for people with experience and contact with the server, the 669 members of the HP 3000 Community.

Easy to search browsing of content and archives are what's missing from the LinkedIn Group. I started it 10 years ago as it became obvious the MPE/iX lab was closing at Hewlett-Packard. It's a curated membership; requests to join pass through me and I approve anyone who's got bona-fide 3000 experience or a connection to the community. The recruiters may be in the shadows, but I try to keep the group focused on help. A jobs board is available. Jobs are a better LinkedIn product when you pay the $29 monthly for a Premium membership.

One feature that's not obvious about that Premium status: these members get full access to the training classes offered at Lynda.com. That's worth the extra all by itself; Lynda.com used to charge $25 monthly.

Just this week, a HP 3000 Community group member—who once resold and supported HP 3000s—posted a contest to identify how an object in a photo might be a part of HP's history. There's still time to comment and become re-engaged with the community. Join the group if you haven't yet, or log in and head to your Groups page on LinkedIn to play.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 12:54 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 11, 2018

Wayback Wed: HP group combines, survives

Connect LogoIn the aftermath of the Interex user group bankruptcy, an HP enterprise user group survived. That group remains intact to this day. Its survival is due to an ability to combine forces with other groups, an effort that kicked off 10 years ago this week.

That week was the time when Encompass, the user group that outlasted Interex, gave members a vote on merging with three other HP-related groups. At the time of the April vote, Encompass and these partners weren't even sure what the allied group would call itself. Endeavor was being floated as a possible new name.

The vote of the Encompass members approved the merger with the International Tandem User Group; the European HP Interex group, which was operated separately from the rest of Interex; and a Pacific Rim segment of the Encompass group. The European Interex reported that it had 35,000 members at the time of the merger.

Encompass became Connect, a name announced at HP's Discover conference later that same year. Connect still operates a user group with a large meeting (held at HP's annual event, for the in-person gatherings) as well as smaller Regional User Groups.

The group bills itself as Connect Worldwide, the Independent Hewlett Packard Enterprise Technology, a membership organization. Membership in any user group has evolved during the decade-plus since Interex expired. By now it's free to join the group that serves OpenVMS customers, companies that still employ HP's Unix computers and hardware (Integrity), and sites using the HP NonStop servers (the former Tandem systems).

Those Tandem-NonStop users make up nearly all of the in-person meetings other than the HP Discover event. Discover is devoted to everything HP Enterprise sells and supports. One of the few links remaining to the 3000 at Connect is Steve Davidek, whose management and then migration off 3000s at the City of Sparks made him a good transition leader at Connect.

There are Technical Boot Camps for both NonStop and VMS customers that Connect helps to organize. A boot camp for HP-UX never became a reality. That's one of the choices a group of allied users must face: even some support for a resource like a boot camp (some members were eager) needs to be balanced against the majority membership's desires.

Some missions have survived from the Interex model that drove that group for more than 30 years. Advocacy still has a place in the Connect membership benefits, a project that's called Community Voice by now. The old days of an HP user group with a taste for confrontation ended once Interex refused to join HP's effort to consolidate user groups and things like advocacy. The Interex board voted to stay independent—without giving its members a formal vote like the open balloting which Encompass did.

The benefits of Connect still lean heavy on networking, along with some technical resources steeped heavy in NonStop expertise. Advocacy flows through HP's Discover show, and there are 19 Special Interest Groups. SIGs like these were the hotbed of 3000 customer desires communicated to HP from Interex members.

From the Connect website, the list of membership benefits includes these resources.

  • 19 Connect Communities and SIGs (special interest groups)
     
  • Never miss a beat with Connect Now, a monthly eNewsletter
     
  • Problem solve and stay on top of your game with Connect's ITUG Library (a NonStop Download Library)
     
  • Have a say in HPE with the collective voice of Connect's advocacy programs
     
  • NonStop users receive a subscription and access to the archives of The Connection, a bi-monthly technical journal
     
  • All members receive a digital subscription to Connect Converge, our exclusive quarterly technical journal for HPE business technology users
     
  • Save hundreds of dollars per year with discounted registrations to premier events like HPE Discover, and Connect's signature tech-targeted Boot Camps
     
  • Save while you expand your knowledge base with 15% off HPE Education programs
     
  • Members and their dependents can apply for $2,500 Future Leaders in Technology scholarships

Posted by Ron Seybold at 10:33 AM in History, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 28, 2018

From Small Boxes Came Great Longevity

HP 3000s have survived more than 40 years by now. The live-server count probably numbers in the thousands, a populace that includes many members of the Series 9x8 line. This month, 24 years ago, HP started to deliver that low-end set of servers that's still running today.

A Series 918 or 928 is commonplace among the sites still running 3000s in production or archival mode. In the spring of 1994 HP uncapped a low-end unlike any before it. An 8-user server, running at the lowest tier of MPE/iX license, was under $12,000 in a two-slot system before sales tax. The 928 could support up to 64 users for under $40,000.

918-997 HP 3000 performance 1999The low-end of the 3000 line has outlasted many 9x9s

Servers at the 968 and 978 slots of the debut product lineup supported up to 100 users and still sold for under $85,000. The prices were high compared to the Unix and Windows NT alternatives that Hewlett-Packard was pushing hard in 1994. This was the era when Windows NT hadn't yet become the Windows Server software, however. Unix was on the way to proving its mettle in stability compared to 3000s.

The introduction of the 9x8 Series came in a shadow year for my 3000 reporting. I'd left the HP Chronicle and hadn't yet started the NewsWire, which would debut in 1995. During 1994 I was a freelance writer and editor for HP, looking over my shoulder at this low-end rollout that might preserve the 3000 in the small business markets. The 918 was a key to the 3000's renaissance and a good reason to start a newsletter and website. It's also helped keep the server alive in production to this day.

Later on HP would roll out a Series 988 to fill out the 9x8 line, a server five times more powerful than the initial 918 model. But just four years after the initial push into a low-end line, HP stopped actively selling all 9x8s except the bottom two models.

HP eventually got its servers down to $7,000 per unit, but only for software and hardware developers. In 1997 the Series 918DX system shipped to existing developers of commercial MPE/iX software, as well as some converts to the MPE/iX fold. Developers had to join HP’s Solution Provider Program to get the lowest-cost list-priced box that would ever be called a 3000. One consultant called the 918DX a personal mainframe.

Even the lowest-end 9x8s were on the outside looking in while small businesses bought servers late in the decade. "The trouble is that the smallest 3000 is so expensive it prices itself out of that market," said a customer at the Interex Programmers Forum in 1999. "Is HP looking at getting the prices down so they can get the 3000 into small businesses?"

HP's Dave Wilde explained that the 3000 division's engineers still had to move to a set of next-generation boxes with PCI technology for IO. "That means a major rewrite to our IO subsystem," he said. Wilde was running the division's R&D labs at the time.

Over time there will be a lot of benefit [to the installed base] in that area. But the real benefit will be that it gets us in line with where the mainstream of HP is. That will allow us to scale much higher on the high end and reach much lower on the low end in terms of cost-competitive boxes.

Wilde also believed the new generation of PCI-based 3000s would be "an evolution toward what we’ll be able to do on the IA-64 boxes." Within a couple of years the 3000's future in IA-64 would be curtailed, and finally the servers themselves. The 918s and 928s were steady, if small, workhorses. Customers could get along with them, even though the systems were on the bottom-end of HP's horsepower charts.

Product marketing manager Vicky Symonds added that HP could "look at the pricing of our low end and see what we can do. Obviously we have some constraints there in terms of how low we could go."

Today the 918 and 928s have become servers that can be swapped in as a hardware replacement for under $1,000 per system. The customer base eventually got its wish for a cost-competitive, low-end system—about 15 years after HP was being told it was needed.

 

 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:16 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (1)

March 21, 2018

Tracking the Prints of 3000 Print Software

Tymlabs logoA reader of ours with a long memory has a 3000 connected to a printer. The printer is capable of printing a 8.5 x 12 sheet, so it's enterprise-grade. The 3000 is running software built by OPT, '90s-era middleware for formatting print jobs from MPE/iX.

To nobody's surprise, the PSP Plus product had problems operating in 2018. "I actually tried to use it in recent times to print to a strange brand of printers, Microplex," our reader said. "The software still ran, but formatting did not work right."

Bruce-Toback

"I was able to print to it with some success, but I could never get the software to do what I wanted it to do, which was to fill up a 12 x 8.5" page and make logical and physical page breaks coincide." The software was a stellar choice for its day, having been developed by the funny, wry and brilliant Bruce Toback (above). Bruce passed away during the month we started this blog, though, more than 12 years ago. His tribute was the subject of our very first blog entry.

Great software that once could manage many printers, but can't do everything, might be revived with a little support. It's a good bet that OPT support contract hasn't been renewed, but asking for help can't hurt if your expectations are reasonably low. The challenge is finding the wizard who still knows the OPT bits.

"We bought and it went from OPT to Tymlabs to Unison to Tivoli to...” These kinds of bit-hunts are the management task that is sometimes crucial to homesteading in 2018. Printing can be a keystone of an IT operation, so if the software that drives the paper won't talk to a printer, even a strange one, that failure can trigger a migration. It's like the stray thread at the bottom of the sweater that unravels the whole garment.

Maybe this product that started at OPT never made its way to Tivoli. My notes say ROC Software took on all of the Unison products. Right here in Austin—where we're breathing with relief after that bomber's been taken down—ROC still supports and sells software for companies using lots of servers. Even HP 3000s.

Tracking these footprints of this print middleware led through some history. Searches turned up a NewsWire article about Toback—many, in fact, where in Hidden Value he was teaching 3000 users on the 3000-L about one kind of software or another. Back in 1997 the discussion was about something rather new called Linux. Linux could be useful, he said, to hook up a PC to the relatively-new World Wide Web.

Searching for OPT—which was the name of Toback's company—turned up plenty of hits about another OPT/3000, the one HP sold to track 3000 performance under MPE. Before we knew it, there was an HP Configuration Guide for the Series III and Series 30 on our monitor. Circa 1979, the HP3000 Family had promise.
 
HP 3000 Series III"The expandable hardware configurations and upward software compatibility of all the models," said the guide, "allow you to choose the system that best fits your current needs, while protecting your investment for the future." HP and everyone else didn't imagine that almost 40 years later that 3000 family would still have living members.
 
HP's OPT was a dead end, since HP stopped supporting that product by 1997. As for the Series III, with its beefy 120MB disk drive (the size of a single daily newspaper edition's PDF file), it was a museum piece before Y2K arrived. One support company featured a Series III at an HP World trade show, setting it up in a booth for people to photograph themselves with. No selfies in that year—you needed somebody else to capture your moment with history.
 
ROC was in the NewsWire archives, though. A 1999 article showed us that the OPT software had become Formation after the product was sold to Tymlabs, another Austin company. ROC bought Formation along with the rest of the stable of products which Tymlabs had sold to Unison—and Unison sold that lineup including Maestro to Tivoli. There's some begat's of vendors we might have left out there. Nevertheless, things like PSP Plus were well-built and useful for more than two decades.
 
That's the lure of homesteading—its low-cost ownership—as well as the curse of staying on too long. Product expertise disappears. We've reached out to ROC to see if the offices on Northland Boulevard still contain some tribal knowledge of the artist formerly known as PSP Plus.
 
Our reader, devoted to the 3000 in more than just spirit, is hopeful about its future even while he relies on software and hardware from the past. "I was so encouraged a couple of days ago that I actually searched the Internet for HP3000 MPE system manager jobs," said Tim O'Neill.

"If I did not have to move too far, I would sure like to go back to MPE. To me, it is still an exciting world—and with Stromasys Charon hardware and massively parallel disk arrays and high-speed networking, it is an exciting NEW world!"

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:12 PM in History, Homesteading, Migration | Permalink | Comments (0)

March 14, 2018

Wayback Wed: When MPE/iX wasn't for sale

Ten years ago this week, HP made it clearer to 3000 owners that they didn't really own their systems. Not the life-breath of them, anyway. At the final meeting of the Greater Houston Regional Users Group, e3000 Business Manager Jennie Hou explained that the hundreds of millions of dollars paid for MPE/iX over 30 years did not equate to ownership of HP 3000 systems. HP was only licensing the software that is crucial to running the servers—not selling it.

The hardware was a physical asset owned by the buyers. The software, though—which breathed life into the PA-RISC servers—was always owned by HP. Without MPE/iX, those $300,000 top-end servers were as useless as a tire without air.

Most software is purchased as a license to use, unless it's an open sourced product like Linux. The reinforcement of this Right to Use came as the vendor was trying to control the future of the product it was cutting from its lineup. HP 3000s would soon be moving into the final phase of HP's support, a vintage service that didn't even include security updates.

Hou confirmed the clear intention that HP would cede nothing but "rights" to the community after HP exited its 3000 business."The publisher or copyright owner still owns the software," Hou said when license requirements beyond 2010 were discussed. "You didn't purchase MPE/iX. You purchased a right to use it."

WhoOwns

The announcement made it clear than any source code license was going to be a license to use, not own. Support companies and software vendors would be paying $10,000 for that license in a few years' time. Ownership of HP 3000s is built around MPE/iX, by HP's reckoning, even in an Enterprise era. License transfers for MPE/iX are one of the only items or services HP offers.

HP's announcement during that March came on the heels of a new third party program to transform HP 3000 lockwords to passwords — the character strings that were needed to operate HP’s ss_update configuration program.

The new SSPWD takes an HP lockword — designed to limit use of ss_update to HP’s support personnel — and delivers the corresponding password to enable a support provider start and use ss_update.

Continuing to reserve the license for MPE/iX means that emulated 3000s still have a link to Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, too. The vendor never implemented its plans to offer separate emulator-based MPE/iX licenses, either.

 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 06:54 PM in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 28, 2018

An Opening for MPE's Closing Numbers

OpenMPEHeaderTen years ago this month OpenMPE was holding one of its last contested board elections. Spring meant new questions and sometimes new people asking them. The advocacy group launched in the wake of HP's 3000 pullout notice never had a staff beyond its directors. Once in awhile a 3000 expert like Martin Gorfinkel would be contracted for a project, but most of the time the six to nine volunteers from the 3000 community debated with HP on every request, desire and crazy dream from a customer base stunned into transition.

Directors operated on two-year terms, and those elected in 2008 were the last to serve theirs in the era when HP operated an MPE/iX lab. While the lights were still on at HP, there was some hope homesteaders might receive more help. OpenMPE was in charge of asking, but could report nothing without HP's okay.

OpenMPE never pulled from a deep base of volunteers. Most elections featured the likes of nine people running for seven seats, so a long list of losing candidates was never part of the results. The ballots came through from members of the group via emails. Here at the NewsWire I counted them and had them verified by a board committee. In the biggest of elections we saw 111 votes cast.

OpenMPE Links
OpenMPE's 2009 patch proposal

The 2008 election revolved around source code licensing for MPE/iX. The vendor would report the last of its end-game strategies by November, and the end of HP's 3000 lab activity was to follow soon after. Support with fixes to security problems and patches would be over at the end of 2008, and that made the election important as well. There was no promise yet of when the source code might be released, to who, or under what conditions. It looked like HP was going to shut down the MPE/iX lab with beta test patches still not moved to general release.

Getting candidate positions on the record was my role. I dreamed up the kinds of questions I wanted HP to answer for me. HP only promised that by 2010 customers would know whether source would be available and to who. A question to candidates was, "Is it acceptable for the vendor to wait until the start of 2010, as  it plans to do now?"

The question was more confrontational than the volunteers could ask. HP controlled the terms of the discussion as well as the content. Hewlett-Packard held conference calls with volunteers for the first five years of the group's existence, but the calls stopped in 2008. 

Fewer than 30 people ever served on an OpenMPE board. The list was impressive, but keeping good talent like consultant and columnist John Burke or Pivital Solutions' Steve Suraci was tough. Directors like that always wanted more out of HP than the vendor would provide: more transparency, more resources. Of the final three to volunteer, Keith Wadsworth was the only one ever to ask the board to consider if OpenMPE should continue to exist. His election in 2010 gave him the platform to demand an answer. During the next year the directors dwindled to three. 

The group was finally granted a license for MPE source, but it had little else as an asset. There was a $10,000 fee due to HP in 2010 for that license which the group couldn't pay. It also didn't have developers who'd polish it toward any productive use among 3000 customers. That source code was like metal stock without a drill press to shape it, or even an operator.

Staffing resource was always an issue. The group did its best work when it pointed out the holes HP had left behind in its migration strategy for customers. A license transfer process would've never surfaced without OpenMPE's efforts. As of this year, license transfers are the only remaining HP 3000 service a customer can get from HP Enterprise.

Springtime in the 3000's Transition Era replaced the summers of Interex advocacy. During the spring hard questions would be asked in public of people whose mission was getting answers and making promises. HP always gave a nod of thanks to OpenMPE but never portrayed the group as the keystone to the homesteading experience. After awhile the group began to hope HP would find a gracious way to contribute source code to the community.

A limited number of licensees was all the community would ever get. As he ran for his board seat in 2008, Tracy Johnson said that it was fruitless to tell HP a 2010 deadline for source news was unacceptable. Even while customers continued to drift away, HP held all the cards, he said.

It is apparent HP cares not one wit whether OpenMPE declares any decision "acceptable" or not, and making such declarations isn't going to gain any friends at HP.  We're more like a public TV station that needs a telethon every once in a while to keep us going.  But there's only one donor with the currency (MPE) to make it worthwhile, and that is HP. The one accomplishment that OpenMPE needs to put under its belt is to get HP to work with us, and not be at odds with each other.  Everything else hinges on this.

Third parties were supposed to negotiate their own separate contracts for support tool licensing. Testing the beta patches thoroughly using OpenMPE volunteers was proposed and Johnson signed off on it. The volunteer group couldn't line up testing resources, which didn't matter because HP didn't release the beta patches for tests beyond HP's support customers. Nobody even knew for sure if patches were something customers desired.

"Addressing the question of testing," Wadsworth said 10 years ago this spring, "although the OpenMPE board members and  members at large command considerable expertise, it does not seem apparent that OpenMPE as a whole has the ability, let alone the infrastructure, to  conduct such testing."

Higher-order proposals—like un-crippling the final generation of 3000 boxes—went unpursued, too. It seemed like HP was shutting down this product line. Why give customers the rights to full use of their servers at shutdown? "This type of change  would not only add new breath to the e3000, it would add new life to a platform that is being shut down," Wadsworth said in answering a candidate question. "So because of the unlikelihood of this happening I do not think it is a direction that OpenMPE should concentrate resources on at this time."

Source was released and licensed in the spring of 2010, and the group did the advocacy for the transfer of licenses, and to include an emulator clause in that license transfer. By the end of the effort, funding came from loans and contributions from the board members." The group's chairman Jack Connor, the next to last leader, said "the contributions showed their commitment to the OpenMPE concept."

That concept changed constantly over the almost nine years of the group's existence. It began with the desire to get HP to open up source code and technology about a server it was discontinuing. Then the mission was the creation of a 3000 emulator. MPE/iX licensing issues, as well as necessary but overlooked HP procedures for migration, because the longest-term mission.

HP's Dave Wilde, the penultimate HP 3000 business manager, said that OpenMPE was an important part of HP’s planning for a post-2008 ecosystem for the platform. Springtime elections offered hope that the ecosystem would flourish. 

 

 

Posted by Ron Seybold at 08:19 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)

February 14, 2018

Wayback Wednesday: An Armload of Value

Snow with A-ClassOn a February afternoon in a Silicon Valley of 2001, the HP 3000 realized its highest order of invention. The PA-RISC processors had been powering the server for more than 13 years, and HP was working on the next generation of systems. Y2K was already one year into the rear view mirror and the lineup needed a refresh. HP responded by giving the customers a server they could carry under their arms.

The first A-Class model of what HP called the e3000 came into the meeting room of the Interex Solutions Symposium under Dave Snow's arm. The audience was developers, software company owners, and the most ardent of 3000 customers. The box was the realization of a low-cost dream about the 3000s. The installed base had been hoping for hardware that could keep the 3000 even with the Intel-based hardware powering the Windows business alternatives.

Snow was a little out of breath as he came to the front of the meeting room in the Sunnyvale hotel. He set the 3.5-inch-high server down and caught the eyes of people in the crowd, lusting for the computer. "No," he said, "this one is already spoken for in the labs." Like in the older days of Hewlett-Packard, the company created a tool its own engineers wanted to use. He said the computer was the result of a challenge from a customer the year before: "bring a 3000 into the Chicago HP World show you could carry under your arm. It's a portable computer, although it does weigh a bit."

A-ClassCPUsThe A-Class systems cost thousands less per year to support than the Series 9x8 and 9x7s they replaced. HP told resellers A-Class support would be $415-$621 a month for systems running up to 65 percent faster than the older models. But HP also horsepower-throttled the servers in a move to preserve value for the most costly servers already in the market. The HP-UX version of the A-Class was more than twice as fast.

Snow borrowed one of the few that were testing-ready from HP's MPE/iX labs on that day. In a movie of 5 minutes, Snow leads a tour of the advantages the new design offered over the 9x9 and 99x 3000s. HP pulled the covers and cabinet doors off to show internal hardware design.

HP introduced the speedier N-Class systems just a few months later, and so the market had its ultimate generation of Hewlett-Packard hardware for MPE/iX. The 2001 introduction of the A-Class—a computer that sells today for under $1,500 in some price lists—was part of the reason for the whiplash when HP called off its 3000 futures just 9 months after that February day. When the Chicago HP World closed in that summer, it was the last expo where HP's slides showed a future of more innovations.

These 14-year-old systems have been eclipsed by the Intel hardware, but running a virtualization system. The Stromasys Charon HPA is running MPE/iX production applications on servers even smaller than that A-Class. HP had the idea of making its computers smaller. It was up to the virtualization concept to make them both smaller and faster.

Posted by Ron Seybold at 07:16 PM in History, Homesteading | Permalink | Comments (0)