History

Giving gratitude for 3000s and survival

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Damages and desires got stamped from HP's decision

EFORMz flyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


How a 3000 news blackout helped preserve owners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


November is a month for 3000 owners and nonstop regrets

NonStop News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


SAP destination achieved at last for 3000 owners

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Close to 30 years ago, a fresh software vendor included the HP 3000 in its targeted platforms. The hopeful mission was to help level the HP playing field for Unix and MPE/XL business computing. In the years when mainframe stability was the IT standard — and MPE still hadn't locked in its iX suffix — SAP chose the 3000 alongside the HP 9000 servers.

The announcement about the software suite already changing ERP standards came from SAP's world headquarters in Walldorf, Baden-Württemberg. SAP was trying to expand its beachhead in the US. The Internet played a minor role in corporate computing. "The company is going to SAP" wasn't a strategic cliche, because unless that company operated IBM mainframes, there was no widespread target platform for the manufacturing and ERP keystone app.

Twenty-eight years later, SAP has carried its clout to a fresh destination. The target may even dislodge some of the most staunch customers using ERP alternatives like MANMAN. SAP is already the replacement system at TE Connectivity, once the largest HP MANMAN user by system count. The final MANMAN database goes offline this month. SAP will complete its occupation in the TE campaign.

The new platform isn't TE, of course. A company doesn't represent a platform for an application. Even State Farm Insurance, with several hundred HP 3000s during the Nineties, wasn't an MPE platform. The new SAP platform is Suse Linux 15. The Suse Linux world considers SAP adoption a milestone for its customers.

Suse says the majority of SAP customers in the late Nineties "didn’t take much note of SAP’s 1999 announcement that SAP R/3 had just been made available to run on Linux." The 2020 media release from Suse last week reported a historical footnote. "Despite the establishment of an SAP Linux Lab, Linux was a wallflower in the SAP community."

The German vendor was as resolute as any military general about winning a space in the US market, though. Hewlett-Packard was going to be an ally in the assault. The app was so new to datacenters that 1992 coverage included an explanation of what SAP stood for. Systems, Applications, Product was in R/3, "mainframe-class software" headed to HP 9000 and HP 3000 users. The R/3 version had gained client-server abilities to reach beyond mainframes.

In 1992, "the foray into the US market has yielded big fruit in the shape of an agreement with Hewlett-Packard to offer SAP’s R/3 mainframe-class software to its HP 9000 and HP 3000 users." As part of the agreement, SAP and HP opened a joint development center at SAP’s headquarters in Walldorf, staffed by full-time engineers from both companies.

German soil already had a HP 3000 development lab. Down the road in Böblingen, the European HQ for MPE/XL systems was battling the push of Unix. The 25th anniversary of the 3000 was celebrated best up the road in Stuttgart, where a disco party roared with a sax player on a trapeze cable. SAP’s first new products for the North American market were expected in first quarter of 1993.

The software was building its legend of an infinite and sometimes maddening range of customization. That made the concept a good match for the 3000 strategy of robust customization. Business rules for accounting, personnel, manufacturing, materials management, sales and distribution, and plant maintenance — they all were executed in custom modules for most ERP.

Suse said in its 2020 announcement that in the Nineties, "customers already installed other operating systems like IBM AIX, HP-UX, OS/400, and Windows that worked just fine. Back then, SAP even still supported a combination of HP 3000 machines and operating system MPE for R/3."

The lab in Walldorf turned out an HP-UX version of SAP. The MPE/XL edition failed to embed itself in the combat unit of HP's 3000. Böblingen HP engineers were fighting the good fight against migration to Unix.

Linux had such blue skies ahead that it's eventually replaced Unix at many datacenters. Carrying around the proprietary versions of Unix like AIX and HP-UX was extra baggage for a platform: Suse is the second most often used Linux in the world among the branded distros, behind RedHat.

"Suse deployments/transitions for business-critical workloads and applications have been made available for public cloud environments," last week's release says. "Furthermore, major release 15 is the first version to take multi-modal principles into consideration." The names of the distros alone spell the coming change. Vendor specific operating systems were once named as acronymns. VMS, MPE, HP-UX, AIX: these ruled the corporate datacenters.

SAP modified its application to stand on the Linux platform. That represented the strategy beginning in the 1980s. On-premises computing was complemented by time sharing data processing. Everything needed a footprint in corporate offices, even if that footprint was no more than HP 2622 terminals or PCs that emulated them.

Linux won over the acronyms. The Suse report says, "Thanks to valiant efforts by SAP and partners like Suse, customers were able to see the benefits that highly efficient and optimized Linux systems have for mission-critical SAP systems."

There are new acronyms by now, like software-defined infrastructures (SDI), and application-focused architectures. IT is still run on acronyms. The emulation and virtualization of hardware and machines is a modern solution. The Stromasys Charon emulator replaces VMS and MPE servers. What's old, like the Nineties era servers, can become new again.


HP 3000s play like the Rays, without stars

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The World Series is on stage this week, seven games of baseball as rich in legend as anything the 3000 represents. In midsummer, the Series appeared to be a longshot to be played. COVID and its threats were reducing the baseball season to a mere 60 games, and even those were in question. Big stars were driving the Players Association, which had to approve the limited schedule.

The stars must have seen a better outcome in playing fewer games for less money, because now we have a Series pitting a mighty payroll against a tiny one. The LA Dodgers have the second-highest payroll in the game. The Tampa Bay Rays sit three slots from the bottom of the payroll rankings. The mighty Yankees lead the list. The Rays spend more than $80 million less per year on players, developing talent and making wise trades and signings.

The no-stars approach is far from old-school baseball. But one classic supporter of the old-school HP 3000 likes what he sees in the Rays and the Series. Steve Suraci says, "Old schoolers do not appreciate what the Rays do on the field. I am not in that class! I find the no-stars approach refreshing. Every player's willingness to put the team ahead of self is unheard of in this day and age."

That fits a professional who runs Pivital Solutions, an HP 3000 support company that was the last distributor to sign on with HP to sell the servers. That was back in the early Nineties, an era when salaries began to explode after the horrific 1994 strike that wiped out that year's Series.

The concept of the 3000 itself has always been everyday goodness. We saw that during the first year after the strike, when we launched the NewsWire. Within a year we were spreading the word about everyday excellence. We used a Willie Mays quote to describe the 3000. "It isn't hard to be good from time to time in sports. What's tough is being good every day."

Steve and I are betting on the Rays to make the team concept a winner in this Series. The Rays are the underdogs, but they ran up the best record in their league during those 60 games, avoiding COVID troubles even though they play in Florida. That kind of resilience echoes what the 3000 has amassed in its many innings of the IT game.


Upstart startup leads off with 3000 news

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early technology

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

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

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

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

Taking our shot

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

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

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

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

Not without fears

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

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

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

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

Y2K and the rising tide of tomorrows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


25 Years: Java promise yields Go e! app

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


25 Years: Build an emulator, so they'll stay

Field of dreams
Emulator day was a Saturday. February 2, 2002 arrived less than 90 days after HP cut short the lifespan of the HP 3000 hardware. On that Saturday, Robert Boers of Software Resources International announced a prototyping project.

We are currently building a prototype HP 3000e emulator, capable of running unmodified MPE and its applications on a Windows platform. Note that this is an A/D project only, we have made no decision yet about making it a product.

Boers was leading the company that would later become Stromasys after a name change. On that Saturday in 2002 he noted, "It is correct that we did not get much response about my note about hardware emulation. Our experience with the VAX and PDP-11 emulators is that the concept is often confused with operating system emulation, and the assumption is that recompiling would be necessary, or that not all applications will run.

"The hardware emulators we build are operating system-independent. The demo we use to show the concept is to unplug a SCSI system disk from a VAX, plug it into a SCSI port of a PC, and boot VMS (or another VAX operating system) from it. We do not need to convert the binary VAX code in any way or form. Performance is not an issue, we have reached VAX 7000 Dhrystone performance on a PC.

"The emulator engine we use is likely flexible enough for the HP3000 hardware (we use the same for PDP-11 and VAX). The core VAX emulator prototype (CPU, memory, disks) took less than 4 months to develop.

"It took us about a year to convince Compaq to support their software on our VAX emulator as they would any other VAX," Boers added. "We did that by passing their VAX hardware diagnostics and architecture tests. They now offer very reasonably-priced VMS transfer licenses."

At the time Compaq was the owner of the DEC lineup. Later that became HP, but the vendor grappled with the concept of transfer licenses without a released emulator in the 3000 marketplace.

In those early days of 2002, we asked HP's Winston Prather about the prospects for speed in setting up a licensing program for an emulator. What's the rush, he wondered. As we pointed out during his interview in that same season, many more people would be available as 3000 emulator customers in 2002 than, say, 2006.

Boers answered a raft of questions in the same timeframe from 3000 customers about the PA-RISC hardware emulator that would become Charon.

1) Would hardware emulation take more processing power than an OS emulator?

Depends on the OS. With a rich feature OS like VMS, the amount of code required to map all functionality accurately would be huge, expensive to write and to debug, and techniques to speed up execution by dynamically translating instruction sequences would not work. With 1-2 Billion instructions per second available the trick is more to keep the code size small. The total size, including the emulation of the major peripherals, of the run-time part of CHARON-VAX is < 500 KB and it fits in PC cache memory.

The big advantage of hardware emulation is the ability of fast and comprehensive testing by running the hardware diagnostics.

2) Does your VAX emulator provide bridges or gateways to the native OS or hardware? Is such even desirable?

Those bridges are available and used e.g to store emulated disks as files (although you can connect physical disks). Serial lines are effectively telnet sessions, and instead of mapping to the host serial ports, you can link them to host applications. But the goal is to leave the OS of the emulated system in control; our design goal is always to be able to run any available OS of the emulated system.

3) For MPE to run directly (ie. loaded directly from HP tapes) wouldn't you have to emulate the entire HP 3000 architecture?

Yes, certainly, that is exactly what we do for the VAX and PDP-11 emulators. For the PDP-11 we emulate over 100 devices (for the VAX less). We generate each device emulator component directly from its hardware description. A CHARON-VAX emulator is booted directly from the standard VAX/VMS installation kit on CD or standalone backup on tape.

4) Could you emulate multiprocessor 3000 hardware config (or, would you need to?)

Yes, but you need a host SMP system to benefit from the multiple emulated CPUs. We run actually clusters of VAX/VMS systems on a single SMP host that way. It only makes sense if performance is an issue, but if the original hardware is capable of it, the emulator should be capable as it is a direct copy.

5) Seems that if you implement a truly portable HP3K hardware implementation, as more modern host hardware becomes available, you could end up with a more powerful MPE box than you could ever have with real 3000 hardware - cheaper too!

Our standard VAX 3600 emulator runs at about five times the speed of a hardware VAX 3600 on an AMD 2000+ system (and probably gets 3 percent faster every year). But the 3600 is a slow system (compared to current technology) to start with. I have not looked into the HP 3000 designs in detail to be able to give an opinion here.

6) How much would we be restricted to peripherals and storage that are compatible with a real HP 3000, and how much could we use non-3000 components: tape drives, DASD, NICs)?

It is a matter of documentation and implementation time, there is no fundamental restriction except for real-time requirements (e.g. connecting with a parallel interface to an instrument), where the host system PCI latency might play a role. But NICs, disks, and tapes map very well. Emulated disks are generally faster than physical ones, because you can use the latest technology.


3000 emulator marks 10-year run

Zelus logo 2010
One decade ago this week, the Stromasys PA-RISC emulator made its debut in the market and on our webpages. The founders of the project were Dr. Robert Boers and the company's CEO in 2010, John Pritchart. Their interview with us remains useful. The talk, published a couple of years in advance of the release of what Stromasys called Zelus at first, shows the path for replacing HP 3000 hardware remains sound.

Newswire Classic

A long-awaited 3000 hardware emulator appears to be on its way to market, as Stromasys this summer announced a development, test and shipping timeline for Zelus. The product is described as a “cross-platform virtualization system” by the company that was founded as a spin-off from the Digital Computer European Migration Center in 1998. Stromasys, which called itself Software Research International until last year, has thrived on an emulator for DEC customers, those who need to keep using Vax, Alpha and PDP-11 hardware to support legacy applications. HP put the 3000 effort at Stromasys on ice for more than a year while it cleared the transfer of MPE boot technology for the emulator.

The software has more to offer than making companies able to use 3000s indefinitely. Stromasys says Zelus will buy time for the sites which are migrating and need more connectivity and power for their interim 3000s during a migration.

Robert Boers headed up the company during 2009, but this year brought on John Pritchard as CEO so Boers could focus on the tasks of being the firm’s CTO. In the wake of the company’s announcement about Zelus at the recent HP Technology Forum, we interviewed the pair via Skype, bridging the gap between Texas and their Swiss headquarters -- even as the company works out details to bridge what will be an 8-year gap in 3000 manufacture when Zelus goes on the market next year.

Your press statement on Zelus says the product “ensures continuity after the phase-out program of the HP 3000 hardware.” Do you believe that’s how your customers will view the situation: phasing out the 3000?

Pritchard: For people who have mission-critical legacy systems, they believe all of their hardware are on life support. What we’re offering is to shift their focus away from worrying about hardware maintenance to giving them a software platform life that is independent of a hardware platform.

When it ships next year, will this product bridge the gap between 3000 hardware last built in 2003 and the newer technologies such as iSCSI?

Boers: Things like iSCSI will work out of the box. We do that for our VAX and Alpha emulation routinely, because iSCSI is elegant and useful. You tell Windows to create a virtual disk which is an iSCSI disk. You can tell the emulator that this virtual device is your SCSI drive. You can map to new hardware, so if you have serial ports, for example, you can map them to an Ethernet-based remote serial multiplexer. Most of this stuff is mapped standards.

So does that mean that the controlling environment for the emulator will be Windows?

Boers: It can be anything. For the time being, we typically develop under Windows 64 bits. But we provide these products under Linux as well. The customer only sees MPE. Basically, these things behave as virtual clients. From a usage point of view, you don’t have to know where they run. In Linux, we remove what we want, so you have something that runs on the footprint of VMWare. But for all of these choices, we need to know more about what the customer is looking for.

Pritchard: One of the purposes of this announcement to start to invite a dialog with the community. We want to select a few sponsor companies who’ll say, “Here’s my application, I want to be one of the first to migrate. Here’s my configuration, and here’s what I need.” We want to focus our development team on just a few specific customer applications.

We’ve gotten far enough in our prototyping to know that it really works, and what we need is a lot more market feedback and a couple of sponsor customers to work with, to get a few successes under our belts.

What is being a sponsor customer going to look like?

Pritchard: We’ll select a couple of companies that will give us complete access to their environment for their 3000 application. The customers we’re looking for in early adopters should be lower-risk environments.

Boers: Let me give you a couple of examples. In dealing with Hewlett-Packard, the issue they had the most difficulty with was the whole physical licensing process, their hardware-enforced licensing mechanism. They have given us two device ID strings which we can use in out emulators, a low- and a high-end machine.

The other issue is something that HP is washing it’s hands of: Unlike physical hardware, you can run this emulator on a number of different platforms with different performances. A lot of the third party licensing is based on performance. If we don’t do anything, then there’s no performance information there. I want to know from the third party software providers if that’s okay, or what we can do technically with ease, provide information about relative system performance [of the emulator.]

We can emulate a system ID string as a standard. Every time you install an emulator you buy another license key.  Whether to some extent software vendors want to link to that.

We addressed this a couple years ago, when we did our first attempt. I didn’t really get information in that area — except for comments that it should really be HP, as part of their software transfer licenses [of MPE/iX] who should take care of that. But obviously, HP is pretty much out of the game by now.


Worthy, worthless, or antique: 3K iron on tap

Ad1986_Oct_7978B_Interact-40
Hewlett-Packard manufactured countless hardware devices over the 31 years that it built HP 3000 gear. The earliest systems could heat rooms while running and buckle pickup truck beds when moved. In time, the 3000s could be carted in a luggage carrier (remember those at airports?) and even held under an arm.

People hang on to these creations for several reasons, not the least of which is the boxes get forgotten. This treatment was common even where the servers were at work, since the systems themselves rarely needed tending and disappeared into closets and under staircases.

The gear continues to surface, long after the last manufacturing line shut down at HP in early 2004. Peripheral devices like tape drives and disks were built for several HP lines including the 3000. A few of these bits of 3000 iron floated across the horizon recently.

Free to a good home: This A-Class A400 server recently used by Michael R. Kan, retired MPE/iX support engineer now enjoying a post-HP life. The A400 had a dual boot capability and include a C1099 console terminals and cables. This was especially worthy of genuine care and affection. "I was on the MPE/iX support team before transitioning to XP/P9500 support," Kan said.

HP didn't want the A400 back when Kan left on a retirement buyout. "Since I was a ‘remote’ who was working, no one ever followed up on the equipment and I couldn’t find anyone to take it. MPE/iX had wound down and no one or group with HP wanted the extra 3000 stuff."

Kan's A400 made its way into a Bay Area workshop. As a penultimate model of the newer PCI-based 3000s, the server's worth is still something that can be tracked by hardware resellers. Only the A500 is newer.

On the other end of the value scale sits the HP 7978B tape drive. A working model surfaced on the 3000-L newsgroup last month. This was a $22,000 device in its heyday that backed up onto a 33.75 MB 9-track reel. One of these behemoths appeared in the 3000 community not long ago. The owner was reporting about taking it to its natural finish line: the scrapper. We'd call them recyclers in a more current term.

Tracy Johnson has owned this backup device since 1998. Just sitting in his garage, he said, when the day of community junking came around. He managed to fit the device in the back of his minivan for the 7978's last ride.

A $22,000 tape drive, sitting in a minivan (for now). Think about the resale life of those two devices. How much could you get for a 36-year-old minivan? No, it’s just parts on wheels there. Maybe some useful ones.

The van only has to navigate through gravity and traffic markers, while it avoids taking up the same space as other vehicles and pedestrians and structures.

The tape drive has a lot more to do. It’s almost like a clown car compared to the minivans of today. It has file formats, tape locations, and network-serial connections to navigate. There’s calibration to consider, plus the age of the media. All more complex than staying on the correct side of yellow lines on asphalt, or following the routing from one address to another.

The drive needs an operating system. The minivan’s operating system includes a driver, plus a set of maps or memories about how to get where the driver intends to appear. To be fair, it will be the rare minivan of 1984 that could still run. I don’t think the first minivan arrived in the world until a few more years after that.

Between those two points lies the XP line of storage devices. An XP12 started this run, and XP9500 wrapped it up. One of those surfaced in the community, too. Worthless? Not as much as the 7978. More of an antique, honestly. Without monetary value, unlike the A400, but able to store a thing or two. Headed for its last ride in a minivan, maybe.


Where HP sells legacy OS's, and why it did

Spacex-rocket
Apple soared through a $500 per share mark yesterday. The market confidence comes from assessing the outlook for Apple's business model. The computers and devices Apple sells are powered by proprietary chips, either today, for phones and tablets, or next year for the rest of the company's line.

The operating systems for these devices are also Apple's specialized OS's. Software created for iOS or for MacOS will not operate on other devices. Soon, the Apple-branded chips will demand rewrites of applications.

Does this sound familiar? It should for customers who recall the state of HP's Year 2000 business plans. Proprietary operating systems all around for MPE, VMS, HP's Unix, and NonStop. HP-only chips powering all of those servers. Software rewrites needed as newer HP-proprietary chips entered to replace PA-RISC.

In a tale of two companies, HP's valuation at $70 a share in 2000 could be compared to Apple's $3.68 per share. Then there was a 3:1 split for Apple, and now there's a 4:1 split coming next week.

Making its own hardware and OS has been a good business play for Apple. HP turned away from this model to embrace commodity computing. Today only NonStop and HP-UX operating systems are sold by HP.

OpenVMS has been licensed by VMS Software Inc. MPE/iX licensing ended in 2010. Hewlett-Packard has a split over those two decades, indeed; the company is now halved into Enterprise and Inc. The size of its wide-ranging mission was too inefficient to maintain as a single entity. Commodity couldn't carry HP into a higher orbit.

Legacy strategy has often been powered by vendor-specific technology. Many factors apply to this year's soaring valuations. Apple became the first company ever valued at $2 trillion this month.

There's still value in legacy enterprise. The HP-UX and NonStop environments can be purchased from HP Enterprise today. Tru64, the Unix built by Compaq before HP bought the firm, is sold through indie outlets like Island Computing.

The last two decades seem to have proven there's no harm in engineering proprietary hardware and software environments. The crucial element is innovation and market reach. The invention within OpenVMS and MPE/iX keeps working for corporations that invested in legacy designs. Apple is releasing its 16th version of MacOS this year. Version number 14 of iOS rolled out this summer.

HP was able to create about 14 major releases of MPE/iX over the 20 years it sold the OS. It just hasn't been able to sustain growth using its own designs. That's a mission its legacy customers have accomplished.

Photo by SpaceX on Unsplash


25 Years: Ready to paint the 3000's future

Paintbrushes
In this week of 2006, HP was readying its first updates on how to manage the forced 2006 migration date for MPE/iX. The president of the only remaining international user group, Chris Koppe at Encompass, had picked the key sessions from the upcoming HP Technology Forum.

The 2006 Forum would be HP's first trade technical show for its enterprise customers to make its appearance as scheduled. The previous year's Tech Forum was bounced out of New Orleans when Katrina blasted in. August is a dicey time to schedule anything in the Gulf. This week we hear that the Gulf will host two hurricanes at once next week.

In '06, customers could come to an HP conference in Houston to hear

HP e3000 Transition and Migration Customer Panel
Successful Migrations: Making Them Happen
HP e3000 Business Update
OpenMPE: A Current Status
HP e3000 Peripheral and High Availability Environment

HP would cover a lot of ground in the 75 minutes that Dave Wilde would speak along with Jennie Hou, who became the 3000's final Business Manager. They'd cover

A high-level summary of developments in the HP e3000 business during the past year, recent news, and a review of what customers and partners can expect from HP during the next couple of years.

How HP was helping customers and partners transition to other HP platforms

How HP is supporting companies’ business-critical environments as they transition

There would be some frank discussion for the 3000 customer who was not well-along on a migration path, or even considering that road:

Address the concerns of companies that may continue to depend on the HP e3000 to meet some business needs beyond HP’s end-of-support date.

2006's show marked the last time the HP 3000 got so much airtime at a conference.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay


HP's server hardware mirrors OS choices

Mirrored lake mountains
Michael Kan, retired from HP support, recently reported his A-Class HP hardware goes both ways. He can boot his server with either HP-UX or MPE/iX.

"I simply configure HP-UX as my MAIN boot path," he says, "and specify the PATH on BOOT for my other disc, which is MPE/iX 7.5.5." His use of the HP designs is in line with HP's intentions for its enterprise hardware. One set of engineering was supposed to serve all: MPE, Unix, and RTE real-time environments.
 
For most 3000 customers, their A-Class can only boot into MPE/iX with the correct processor dependent chip in the unit. This was the issue at the center of SS_EDIT access — some hardware brokers were using it for unauthorized access in the late 1990s.
 
Kan moves from OS to OS with the fluidity HP probably engineered for at first. For years I wrote articles reporting that some processor-dependent code on ROM was forcing the HP 3000-styled K-Class systems into MPE/iX boot only. Software created by well-regarded MPE vendors made its way into unscrupulous hands, defeating passworded HP utility software, resulting in a way to designate an HP 9000 system as an MPE-bootable server. We might have called it re-flashing the PDC ROM at the time. It’s been a few years.
 
That software was SS_EDIT. The password-protected utility was being used by HP’s support engineers. The passwording was defeated, HP’s iron could be configured any way a customer wanted. Selling much-cheaper K-Class 9000 boxes as if they were 3000s became a way to buy a resold K-Class from a broker and save tens of thousands of dollars, and in some cases even more. It led to the HP lawsuit against the rogue brokers like Hardware House (the worst offender). There were jail sentences handed down to two other brokers (house arrest) while one of the Hardware House owners turned in state’s evidence in exchange for dropped charges.
 
Quite the cause celeb, the move seemed to show the MPE customer base that HP still recognized the inherent value in its MPE-related intellectual property. The lawsuits and HP’s High Tech Crimes Taskforce rose up in 1999 and 2000. It was a time when Y2K remediations and rewrites gave the 3000 some cover in the war over the datacenter and business computing. An HP business decision not two years later made the battle over the MPE IP moot, though.
 
Once the A-Class and N-Class servers arrived, a different program, SSCONFIG, began to be used. It couldn’t be defeated by outside software. HP had also shifted to a processor-linked pricing model for the 3000 and MPE. That meant the outrageous markups for the K-Class 3000s, the regrettable tiered pricing, disappeared for the newest 3000s. To escape the tiered-pricing jail, customers could buy new servers.
 
It hardly matters the way it once did. The upgrade HP created to PA-RISC, Itanium, is being discontinued by Intel any day now. The rewrite of MPE for Itanium was shut down after an estimate of the cost didn’t pass executive approval. HP 3000s might now number less than 5,000. But knowing you could pull an HP server from a packing crate, and boot either OS on it, feels like the magic the 3000 market needed. An HP 9000 sold for a fraction of its identical counterpart, right up to the end of HP sales of the 3000.
 
HP’s argument, a good one in concept, was that MPE and Image made the 3000 worth so much more than a 9000. A big problem was that the servers were being sold against one another by the HP sales force. The commercial application lead that MPE once had over HP-UX was gone. The pricing disadvantage HP put these 3000s at did its part to drag down the growth of the line.
 
One report I heard was that the 3000s paltry customer growth, compared to the success of HP-UX and the VAX line at Digital, is what led to HP’s cutoff of MPE’s futures. “If it isn’t growing, it’s going” away, was the statement someone heard echoed out of an executive meeting.
 
A support engineer, or any HP technical worker, has nothing to do with HP’s regrettable decision to kill off its MPE business. That’s a business decision based on a forecast of an ecosystem that HP controlled with its alliances, marketing, and engineering designs. At one point in the 3000’s history, though, the inability to buy raw K-Class hardware and designate it MPE or HP-UX mattered. It’s a delight to hear from Kan how the legacy engineering was supposed to work.
 

25 Years: 3000 Poster Project Kicks Butt

Largest Poster Project
August 5, 1996

It was a simple Monday assignment. Fill more most of a football field with 2,809 sheets of paper, each printed from an HP 3000 in four colors, to make a pattern of football players. "MPE Users Kick Butt" was tacked down with gutter-sized roofing nails to show HP's top executives the system could still do great things. The point was to make sure HP knew its 3000 could be connected to Postcript printers to print an enormous job, and that its customers were devoted to the product.

This was the World's Largest Poster Project, a brainchild of Wirt Atmar. The owner of AICS International made his bones in the word processor application field before shifting to reporting tools. QueryCalc was a ultra-spreadsheet for 3000 applications, giving its users a way to view and organize reports as easily as any Excel sheet set could. The volunteers wrapped the poster design around the name of the 3000's OS, which probably baffled some HP execs of the day.

This was also an important day for the still-new 3000 NewsWire. The poster was assembled at the Loara High School Football field in Anaheim, the town where we put up our first exhibit stand at the HP World conference. Interex had licensed the rights to the new conference name from HP. The NewsWire would be showing off its July, 1996 issue the next morning at the conference. We were also catering the volunteer effort with an array of Subway sandwiches and Domino's pizzas.

The poster was much splashier than anything we could order from fast food places. We engaged the high school's booster club to man the feeding tables, cementing the new relationship between school and 3000 community. Winds pick up by midday in Southern California in summer, so the dozens of poster builders getting a suntan from the bright sunlight glaring off the paper were racing the clock. Just after the stunt was completed, a helicopter was chartered to take a photo that Adager paid for, and then pitched to the Orange County Register.

Nothing is perfect, of course, so the panels of paper peeling up in the wind led to some hard feelings that a few volunteers took out on the catering menu. A typical 3000 tech expert — the Register called them nerds — can be picayune and exacting. "What do you mean you don't have a vegetarian kosher option for pizzas?" Domino's was unaware of how to make a pizza that fit both of those bills. Of such gripes were our debut day made in that sun. All were fed, and the newspaper smacked the photo and a story onto the front of its Local section.

We chronicled the record with an article in the August issue, the first-ever NewsWire edition to make its way in full to the World Wide Web.

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- More than 100 HP 3000 customers and channel partners succeeded in assembling the world's largest printed poster here, building a document of about 36,000 square feet on a high school football field. The poster was generated by an HP 3000 driving an HP DesignJet plotter, producing 2,650 3x4-foot sheets joined with tape and roofing nails.

In conjunction with this year's HP World '96 Conference and Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center, intensely loyal users of HP 3000 high-performance minicomputers bettered an existing world record by more than 35 percent. The HP 3000 mega-poster covered a 159 by 238 foot layout on the Loara High School football field just a few miles from the site of the HP conference. The completed poster weighed more than 670 pounds, and completely covered the area of the field between the 10-yard lines.

It was an accomplishment crafted from extraordinary cooperation. Born of Internet discussion and pushed along by a broad supporting cast of customers, the World's Largest Poster Project succeeded in attracting attention to the loyalty and satisfaction of HP 3000 customers, with only the support of a few channel partners to fund its material needs. And in the last hours of the record breaking effort, the poster was held together by the combined energies of a few dozen avid volunteers and thousands of two-inch roofing nails.

Fewer than three dozen volunteers were at work within a few hours of the start, rolling out strips of three-foot wide printer paper along the grass of the Loara High School football field. Fastening the paper to the field took more nails than the team had brought to the site, and soon several volunteers were dispatched to supply more of the most critical element in the project.

Meanwhile, the winds continued to climb, testing the resolve of a growing number of volunteers. Panels would spring up in the breeze, which seemed to appear from every possible direction. Project organizer Wirt Atmar (above, pointing out details to a volunteer's son) had printed the thousands of panels over a six week period and the driven the rolls of paper in a U-Haul truck from New Mexico. He stood alongside the poster's edge and gave instruction on holding it in place.

By 11AM, no more nails were on hand, and the question was on everyone's lips -- where are they? The winds climbed with the sun in the sky, and volunteers were forced to use shoes and poster tubes to hold the panels in place. As a section would rise up, dedicated customers would call out "It's coming up!" and race to tack it in place, an organic version of a fault tolerant system.

In succeeding to break the existing poster record, the HP 3000 customers started with virtual relationships. Unlike the previous record, which was done as a product promotion for HP and Disney, this poster was put together by a collection of individual HP 3000 users. There was no single corporate entity behind the poster -- the idea to put it together was born on the Internet. The group which grew to 100-plus volunteers assembling the poster each thought the event was an ideal and enjoyable way to make a gentle, irreverent statement about their belief in their chosen operating system.

Continue reading "25 Years: 3000 Poster Project Kicks Butt" »


On This Day: Sailing toward new reunions

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Interex founding director Doug Meacham

Fifteen years ago today, the 3000 community was on a quest. Where a conference was supposed to take place, San Francisco, there was nothing but unpaid bills for exhibit halls and meeting rooms. No HP World 2005 would start up, gathering the MPE/iX community for the annual North American meeting as it had for 30 years. 

A luncheon was arranged, though, to serve community members who had nonrefundable tickets to the canceled conference. The Interex user group didn't host it, of course. The group was belly-up dead. The effort emerged from the minds of Alan Yeo and Mike Marxmeier, software vendors who faced the prospect of time in the Bay Area and a hunger to meet 3000 folk.

I wrote about how reunions are a part of family life. The 3000 still has a family, even while many of its members are retired. The gatherings are all virtual now in our lives. Such a thing was nearly impossible 15 years ago. My mom is just as departed as Interex by today, gone but well remembered. We love things that leave us, which is a good reason to grasp onto one another until the departures.

NewsWire Editorial

Even though we work with machines to compute, we crave the spark of personal contact. I felt that contact this month in the heat of Las Vegas with my brothers and sister. We met in Mom’s hometown to move her. She went down Jones Boulevard just one mile, a significant journey when your next birthday, like Mom’s, will be Number 80.

Our days were filled with strapping tape, corrugated cardboard, and sweat in the desert heat. But the nights and the early mornings carried our laughter and the looks that passed between three adult children remembering the bumpy roads of our youth together. It was a summer reunion, a rich consolation for me in this first season without an HP World after 20 years of meeting old HP friends at Interex shows across North America.

I sat in the airport with my brother Bob and told him the story of the Interex demise, then rattled off the array of cities that have been my summertime stops. Most often, we met in San Francisco. And yes, even Las Vegas once. The Interex show never visited Texas during my summertimes in the market, just like my brother John never has visited me here. That’s why we Seybolds needed a reunion, to fill our cups with the memory of the looks on family faces.

Face time, we call it in business, something to savor and prepare for. The longer we all have stayed in the 3000 community, the better each summer’s reunion became. We could tell stories, gaze into eyes under brows growing gray, recall and dismiss. I would come back from the summer trip full of flint to strike for stories, leads I could track and then transform into news you could use.

So in a summer where I now feel adrift without an HP World reunion, I also give thanks — for the fortune that turned Mom’s apartment complex into condos, forcing a move that rounded up the Seybold kids for the first time in five years. We kids are well connected, here in the early bit of the new century. I don’t mean that we’re movers and shakers, but that we use e-mail, websites, cell phones, and blogs to keep up with our family news. All those links pale compared to that contact, the feel of the firm grip of a handshake or grasp of a heartfelt hug.

We Seybolds have another reunion on our horizon, and there will be one more on the HP 3000 community’s calendar, too. I’m not talking about the meeting next month when HP will host its first Technical Forum, the New Orleans show that contributed to the Interex demise. That won’t have the feel of mom’s 80th birthday this December. We’ll plan and anticipate that event with as much ardor as 3000 veterans, the folks who helped Interex grow for more than a decade.

Instead of New Orleans-bound meetings, the news broke early this month that the 3000 family will have a luncheon as its 2005 reunion. Mike Marxmeier and Alan Yeo made the best of non-refundable tickets to San Francisco and hosted a lunch gathering. A few days later the OpenMPE user group — just about the only one left, now — held a meeting at an HP facility. We’re all wondering how large that OpenMPE family might grow up to be, now that Interex has passed away.

The meeting at the HP campus reminded me of the gentle tug between vendor mother-ship and user tender-craft. Before Interex began to called itself by that name, the group was the HP 3000 Users Group, operated with an eye toward collaboration with the vendor rather than combat. Maybe it’s time to remember, during this month of the Interex flame-out, how that relationship operates when it serves both vendor and user.

My friend Duane Percox at QSS explained it well. The HP 3000 members of Interex — those who founded the group — got more radical and active through the 1990s as their HP options grew slim. The scuffles were fun for a while, but also something a vendor won’t brook endlessly. When HP got the nerve to squash Interex with a competing show, the market's more nimble marketers didn’t hesitate.

Percox said that give-and-take between vendor and users lets both sides save face. Marketing wants a great spin on customer experiences, while the customers want the truth. You must claim to be independent from your very first day — if you want the truth to be your main mission.

“You can’t begrudge marketing for wanting the best spin on things,” he said, “just like you can’t begrudge the users for wanting the truth.” The long-term formula to mix these elements has always been collaboration, something Interex’s founder Doug Mecham recalls in his Q&A interview.

At that 3000 luncheon we got a few hours of face-time with one another — so the 3000 customers and partners might feel like I did right after my family reunion in Las Vegas. All of us went home in the afterglow from a handful of days of hard work, marinated in laughter and yes, some sadness over days past. Toss in that OpenMPE meet, and mid-August felt a bit like the typical Interex week. In Vegas and in the Bay Area, I was getting to know a town better and a hotel or two — like the way we Seybold kids learned the short cuts around the sprawl of Las Vegas Boulevard, or finding the back steps up to the room at the Tropicana.

Because I’ve had my stand-in reunion as well as my family gathering, I’ll miss the Interex show a little less this month. I could count on the family of brilliant, funny, and fulsome people like the 3000’s founders and fans to engineer a replacement reunion.

Face time can give you a chance to hear significant answers. In our last hour together in Vegas, Mom read us questions off a newsletter from her new apartment — good ones like “What event in history would you like to have experienced?” or “If you wrote your autobiography, what would its title be?”

We kids shared many lessons learned in spite of ourselves, something I wish for any group of people who consider themselves family. I hope for other reunions in my future among 3000 folk. You’re a group that can teach lessons about collaborating.


User groups stay afloat with collaboration

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Newswire Classic

The first Interex board chairman, Doug Mecham, served for the initial five years of the user group’s existence. In 1974 he first gathered the group at Ricky’s Hyatt House hotel in Palo Alto. When the 31-year-old group failed to host its annual lifeline conference and slammed its doors shut suddenly in July 2005, we wanted to talk to the founder of that feast, to hear his views on what makes a good user group serve both vendor and customer at once. Now retired to the Oregon coast, Mecham made himself available by phone within a few days of the Interex announcement.

How do you feel this week, now that Interex has closed its doors?

I knew there was contention for a while. I’m not necessarily surprised. I think it’s highly unfortunate that HP chose to be competitive; obviously Interex chose to terminate right before a major conference. Obviously they didn’t have the money. It’s very disappointing. I could handle it intellectually, but it’s like a child you’ve created. You see the child and then the death. It takes its toll, deep down in your psyche.

An era has really passed. People have changed, the situation’s changed, the world has moved on in many ways. Interex ran for so long that a lot of people marveled that it had done so well. It was a high tech company, and it had a long life with a lot of people passionately involved.

How essential was the HP 3000 to the existence of Interex?

It began with the 3000. That was the genesis. The 3000 had a couple of problems when it came out. It was a real new adventure for HP. They thought it was going into the engineering world. It had FORTRAN, no COBOL, and a 16-bit integer. You know how long that lasted in the engineering world? About two nanoseconds. The one small hitch was when it first came out it had some bugs and was crashing a lot. I sort of initiated communicating with a bunch of people around the world, saying, “Look, we’ve gotta talk, because we’ve got to find solutions to these problems.” So we developed a users group and called it the HP 3000 Users Group.

Was a computer user group a novel idea when Interex was first created?

There was SHARE, GUIDE and DECUS. They were all there already, but DECUS was company-owned, and SHARE and GUIDE were IBM captured. Our approach was going to be entirely different. We wanted to be very collaborative. We knew the relationship had to be A, independent, and B, very collaborative. We never beat up HP like DECUS, GUIDE and SHARE did with DEC and IBM and waste a lot of energy. In fact, our technical group headed by Ross Scroggs actually met with the HP lab quarterly over two or three years to sit down and work out the issues. Boy, did that make a difference to the HP 3000. HP pulled it off the market, redid some things and brought it back out as the Series I.

So do you mean the user group played a key role in the 3000 becoming a usable system?

I would like to think that’s true. But certainly there was a lot of technical expertise and software put into it. The users group grew users, and it grew vendors. There were a lot of contributions made in support of the users, who needed tools and software. I feel that over the 31 years that a great deal has been contributed. We got HP to perform the miracles that make the HP 3000 probably the most stable business machine on the face of the earth.

Do you believe the machine’s stability will allow it to outlast HP’s interest in it, or the lifespan of this user group?

Absolutely. The HP 3000 lasted a long time, because it kept getting upgraded, and it’s still a fine machine today.

Do you think the Interex shutdown is something that will reflect on HP and on the HP 3000?

Probably. It’s an older computer, so when the user group goes away, who’s going to get out there and support each other and swap stories? The 3000 users may form their own group. Remember, Interex expanded into Unix and all of the other HP computing platforms.

How will it affect HP? If you were a customer out there and they suddenly pulled the user group from you, and then the next day they said they were going to lay off more than 14,000 employees, what would you tend to think? It probably broaches the concept of trust in a vendor. It certainly doesn’t help it.

What’s at the heart of running a successful users group, well past 31 years?

Interex has never had the propensity to challenge the vendor, at least in terms of the old user groups. Collaborate with the vendor, yes. To confront them? Not in an adversarial way. They were advocates for HP, and probably facilitated billions of dollars of sales. In the early days, the salesmen used to bring customers by. Those customers saw the user group’s customers having great successes, and that was a great motivator for sales.

The essence of the user group was a collaborative process. One reason Interex was running so long was that the user group grew its members. People were programmers, then they became vendors. Many users helped other users. They pushed them up the ladder. That was essential to the success of Interex.

Do you think the HP 3000 needs a user group to replace Interex?

I think someone will step in and do something, and there will be some sort of meeting. There’s still a bunch of 3000 vendors out there. They may want to get together and discuss the 3000 because they want to make their investment last longer. That’s happened with other groups, like HP’s calculator group that kept on with a small cadre of interested users.

Should we have another users group like Interex? It would certainly take a different format, because it’s no longer super-technical, because the technical problems for the most part have been solved. You’re interested in applications now. The issues are how can you use the 3000 better and what software can I run on it.

Do you believe the Internet stepped in to do the work that the user group did for HP customers?

That’s pretty simplistic. There’s still a need for face-to-face meetings. Look at how big the conferences became. Some of them have topped 8,000, and they came from all around the world. They came for face-to-face integration with other users, as well as with the vendor.

I’m sure that over time the technical aspects began to diminish, because the systems became very stable. The application software became far more important. The 3000 had a lot of technical issues to begin with, but they were resolved, and it grew into a technically stable platform. There were some problems, but not like the early days, when it crashed every half hour.

So do in-person meetings still deliver special results?

They always have and they always will. With the advent of the Internet, it’s provided a wonderful means for communication. But it still does not take the place of the face-to-face, one-on-one, seeing the other person. There’s something about people meeting people. You don’t run a marriage 10,000 miles apart by the Internet. You can do a lot, but when it comes right down to it, then it’s much better to have your wife right next to you, right?

What kind of a substitute do you think HP’s Technical Forum will be for what Interex did with its conference?

It’s obviously going to be a vendor-driven affair, right? The downside is that the vendor is going to drive his own agenda. How open are they going to be? If they’re truly open and collaborative, then it may work out fine. But if you look at the core competencies, what’s HP’s? Engineering. Can they run a users group? Maybe if they get the right people. The core competencies of Interex were user groups and user advocacy and vendor advocacy.

We’ll be able to see, once HP’s conference is over, what things result from it. It will be interesting to see, that’s for sure.

Since collaboration remained popular at Interex right up to the end, do you think collaboration with user groups has become unpopular at HP?

HP’s changed a lot in the last five years, haven’t they? The HP Way is no more. I think Interex ran very much along the lines of the HP Way. When I met with David Packard, he assured me they supported our group. HP went for many years with lots of ups and downs, and they got through every one of them. You have to ask why.

So you think HP’s competing conference contributed to the Interex shutdown?

They tried to split the pot, and pot just wasn’t big enough to support both. What surprises me is that HP didn’t come to Interex and say, “We want to accomplish this — will you help us do it?” They always had before, but this time they wanted to do their own thing. That’s their call, and they have to accept the consequences.

The support of Interex depended on the Interex conference. Why didn’t HP throw in with Interex, when user conferences are not part of HP’s expertise?


How OpenVMS Escaped the MPE/iX Fate

Fire escape
VMS people got a better deal than 3000 folks. The operating system for DEC minicomputers mirrors the 3000's OS in many ways. The most important way was the goal for getting an OS into the market during the 1970s: servicing business computer users. VMS was also built to support science and technology computing, which was really more of a matter of who Digital chose to sell to than any technical advantage. HP tried to sell MPE to the sciences and tech firms, but DEC got more applications needed to embrace those markets.
 
It was a big advantage for VMS. Once the Unix drumbeat got loud it was being called OpenVMS, in the same way that HP tried to rebrand the HP 3000 with an "e" at the front of the number. Not "e" for excellent, but e for Web-ready. It doesn't make a lot of sense now, that naming, but at the time "e3000" was clever paint on a pony that already had plenty of victories around the business track.
 
Years earlier, HP changed the suffix behind the new MPE. Instead of MPE/XL, it became MPE/iX. The new letters were there to show the OS had Posix bones. That was an era when putting an ix at the end of anything was supposed to give it good coverage. They were times when proprietary operating systems were in full rout, except at IBM.
 
OpenVMS wasn't special enough to save DEC from being purchased by Compaq, though. DEC had no small business products to rival the Compaq servers, but it had plenty of customers running corporate and business organizations. Selling to business, especially overseas, was supposed to be easier for Compaq once it acquired the Digital salesforce. Neither Digital or Compaq were Microsoft, though. A few years later, Compaq had to wade into the arms of an HP that was eager to be the biggest computing company in the world. Size, that HP believed, really does matter.
 
While HP had opened its exit door for MPE, Digital OpenVMS customers were looking over their shoulders at the Windows-heavy HP now being run by Compaq executives. HP put money into VMS for more than a decade after HP stopped selling 3000s. Then they sold the rights to the OS to a private company that’s staffed by former DEC/HP people. The company, VSI, has served VMS support calls for HP since 2017.
 
That company has been rewriting VMS to run on Intel x86-64 processors. It will take another 18 months before VMS Software Inc. will release the first production-caliber release. They’ve been working since 2017. Yeah, a full five years. VSI is bankrolled by Teradata, which has been plowing millions into gathering control of the OpenVMS futures. VSI has been told to at least break even pretty soon.
 
OpenVMS customers are just as ardent as MPE brethren about the prowess of their OS. The ecosystem, as HP liked to call the collective of vendors and hardware providers around its 3000, was larger for the OpenVMS boxes of various flavors. First there was the PDP hardware, then VAX, and after HP's three years of engineering, an Integrity-Itanium release of OpenVMS. All of these were proprietary hosts, however, something that Intel and AMD have reduced to footnotes on the business computing legends.
 
VSI's port of OpenVMS has been a fascinating look at a future that might have been for 3000 owners. The company is thick with tech legends like Chief Technology Officer Clair Grant. The labs are in Bolton, Mass. just 15 minutes down MA-117 from the DEC mothership town of Maynard. Funded by the investment of a multinational business software corporation, VSI began with a close relationship to HP.
 
Relationships between vendors and OS manufacturers can be prickly. Lots of smart people in boardrooms together can make for contentious meetings. Or you might look at vendors at the Interex Management Roundtables, eager to tell HP how it should be taking better care of MPE/iX and 3000 customers they have in common.
 
Size did turn out to matter to the future of OpenVMS. It was the crown jewel of Digital's throne room, tended to with a care that MPE could only envy at HP. Enough of the sciences, technology firms, and businesses like manufacturing chose DEC to give it a massive lead in the installed base count over MPE/iX. HP had to choose something to preserve from Digital when it bought Compaq. That decade of development in the HP's labs -- well, those offices in Massachusetts — gave VMS experts the means to build a support talent needed for a stable legacy system.

Photo by thr3 eyes on Unsplash


25 Years: Surviving beyond HP's wishes

Pontiac survivor plate
As the 3000 NewsWire closes in on its first 25 years, our 25 Years series tells stories from selected days in history for the 3000
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In 2002, an emulator to enable an open MPE was fresh on the 3000's table. A group of the same name, OpenMPE, took its first mission as taking hold of the 3000's OS futures. HP's Dave Wilde met with Jon Diercks shortly after HP's "we're quitting" news surfaced. Diercks launched the idea of a group to promote an open-source MPE/iX. With Linux soaring, open source would lift all ships.

Even the ones that were drifting along at the end of three decades of success.

The emulator question rose when the community appraised its options to keep its legacy choices alive. Millions of lines of proprietary HP code couldn't stand a chance of becoming open-sourced. Quickly, OpenMPE's mission became saving the HP hardware that could run MPE. In 2002, HP drew a firm line that no emulator could ever mimic the PA-RISC chips unless the hosting hardware wore an HP badge.

During the summer that led to the first Interex conference where HP had to face angry customers, the HP-only mandate stuck in the community's craw. Patrick Santucci, working with systems at Cornerstone Brands, shared his frustration on Sept. 27. "HP still seems to be saying, 'Die, MPE, Die!' Why not let the company writing the emulator decide what hardware they will support it on? After all, they're the ones doing the work."

From that conference during that week in Los Angeles, I reported, "HP gave customers the first ledges of opportunity to continue their climb with their HP 3000s, announcing it will allow a 3000 hardware emulator project to continue as well as creating new MPE licenses."

Nothing changed about HP’s beliefs about the proper future for HP 3000 owners, however. HP’s leader of its 3000 operations, Dave Wilde, still believes that every customer must begin planning for a transition of some sort. But the company’s HP World announcements represented its first realization that staying on the computer platform is the best course for some companies.

HP won’t let a [licensed] version of MPE be used with a hardware emulator before the 2003 end of sales date, although that kind of timing of releasing an emulator would be a remote possibility anyway, according to Allegro’s Scott. Another company, SRI, has said it considers creating such an emulator to be a less lengthy project. SRI sells an emulator for the Digital VAX hardware.

Almost 18 years later, that SRI emulator is Stromasys' Charon, which boasts an HP 3000 PA-RISC version. Charon began serving 3000 owners about a decade after that HP move to permit emulators. From the very first months, HP's PCs did not power the 3000 emulator.

Image by rjlutz from Pixabay


Automated messages track 3000's orbit

Satellite ISS
A few weeks ago, an email arrived with an offer to connect me to HP 3000 matters. It's an automation option that the classic mailing lists use. About once a month, the email asks if this is still a good address. If it reaches your box, the email does its job. If the list server gets a bounce from your address, you're a no-show. You drop from the list.

This is the kind of automation that has powered the 3000 as long as it's run in businesses. The server is built to withstand ignorance. The prospect of becoming invisible at a company does not tip the server into failure. The email came from the OpenMPE mail server, once a resource for news about getting MPE/iX into open development.

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is the host for 3000 mailing lists. The best known is 3000-L, plus another private list for masters of 3000 development. Then there's OpenMPE-L, starting in the 2000s. It was never a lively spot like 3000-L. OpenMPE was a defiant flag waving in the breeze of the 3000's future. 

A decade ago this month, the days devolved into the time of disputes. The formal mission of the group, to liberate MPE/iX code and take it to a community of developers, was emerging at last as a reality. However, OpenMPE could not count itself among the license holders of HP's select source code distribution. HP code on a CD sat on a desk for a while, but the $10,000 fee went unpaid by OpenMPE. The organization spurred the existence of a community-level license. It could not hold itself together long enough to become the repository of 3000 code it wanted to be.

A decade later, though, those automated emails still arrive. We are still on a trajectory toward a future, they say. Like a satellite bound for Mars and beyond, the automation and adherence to routines of the 3000 itself remains ready. A few decades ago, Alfredo Rego of Adager said his company's product had to last beyond reasonable maintenance resources.

Adager still tends to its database power tool, but a spacecraft can get far away from repair depots. That's the situation for the 3000 and MPE/iX today: still orbiting customers' planets, needing little tending. That list and its automation is a similar sign, listening for anything related to OpenMPE.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay


ERP surrounding advice still serves 3000s

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Earlier this week we marked a milestone on the NewsWire blog. A half-million pageviews ticked across the counter on our dashboard. I also noted that the pageview number didn't include the pageviews served off the original 3000newswire.com website. We didn't call it a blog when we started in 1996. The articles always started in print during the 1990s.

Google still tracks the performance of the original site. It's not paltry, either, even though nothing new has been posted there in more than 10 years. Google says 9,000 pages have been served during the month of May.

One of the most popular covered MANMAN advice. Cortlandt Wilson, whose pedigree on ERP goes into the 1980s, answered the question, "Is there still life left in the old MANMAN?" His conclusion was that a surround strategy would be keeping MANMAN vital, even though its owner of the time had curtailed development.

"Surround strategy," Wilson wrote, "extends the useful life of existing investments without sacrificing the business requirements for additional capabilities."

He added that "Bridging" is what I call a surround strategy that brings best-of-breed solutions to MANMAN today that are already being used by leading 'next generation' applications from the BOPS manufacturing providers (Baan, Oracle, PeopleSoft, and SAP)."

During the last 15 years, Baan has been absorbed by the current MANMAN vendor, Infor. PeopleSoft is now owned by Oracle. SAP remains the only one of Wilson's best-of-breed products whose ERP portrait is unchanged.

Sure enough, SAP is a regular choice for 3000 sites leaving MANMAN. TE Connectivity, one of the biggest MANMAN sites in the 3000 world, might be ready to cut off its last 3000 ERP databases in 2021. SAP will take over at TE when its 3000s finally go dark, 43 years after they first booted up MANMAN.

It's only a few clicks away from that article on the original 3000 NewsWire website to find reports on 3000 reporting tools, for example. If your 3000 is getting its first look by a new IT pro, because you're retiring soon, understanding what's on the server could make accessing the 1999 reports easier. Wilson wrote a roundup of reports, too. We've been fortunate to click on experts like him.

Image by Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay


This blog turns 15, logs a half-million views

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Earlier today, this blog served up pageview number 500,000. That's a half-million times that some business computer expert needed to learn about, repair, or plan for using MPE/iX or the HP 3000. Content at this web address still serves a community.

The straight-up math tells us that the total amounts to 33,333 page views a year on average. These days, the pageviews are closer to 16,000 per year. None of those pageviews are included among those off the website at the original 3000newswire.com. It's the repository for the 1996-2005 Newswire, the Online Extra newsletters, plus a record of 122 monthly FlashPaper supplements. That site goes back 24 years.

A half-million blog page views, all since the year before HP's original support shutdown, shows remarkable devotion. Not even necessarily to the NewsWire; that half-million illustrates how long a server can remain vital and useful. We've been telling the 3000's stories for more than 18 years since HP started to quit on it. We reported for six years while the product was still a part of HP's futures.

Although the news from that 2005 monthly roundup might seem like history, it reinforces the choices 3000 managers face today. Solutions not tied to a single vendor continue to face a steep decline. Going independent of a system vendor is the default move.

The 2005 news reports showed an HP trying to find relevance in a changing IT landscape. June was the summertime after CEO Carly Fiorina left HP. She departed after throwing the vendor's weight behind high growth, low-margin computing. PCs, laptops, and printers were ascendant in the HP of 2005. HP was finding new enterprise business elusive, unless the new systems ran Windows. Unix served some 3000 sites that migrated from MPE/iX. Many more of the departed had migrated to Windows. Some were taking a chance on Linux.

The 2005 customers were moving away quickly from the OS at the heart of their companies. By mid-year, only 43 months had ticked away since HP's exit announcement. There were not a lot of customers already exited by the month the blog opened for business. We surveyed customers to discover that a close to half were replacing a 3000 with Windows 2003 Server.

That was not HP's plan at all, figuring enterprise features of HP-UX were going to snare the ex-3000 sites.

This blog gave us the avenue to report survey updates immediately. One of the first five blog articles that kicked off the page view deluge updated our migration target survey with fresher results.

Customers expressed reluctance to put mission-critical computing onto Windows. But Windows’ familiarity won it many converts. This made HP's exclusive tech advantages less popular. “We are moving to a Windows 2003 Server environment," said programmer supervisor E. Martin Gilliam of the Wise County, Va. data processing department, "because it is the easiest to manage compared to Unix or Linux.” 

Hewlett-Packard was casting about for a plan to keep growing. In 2005 HP announced it would separate its printer units from PC segments. HP's 1990s management assumed everything was supposed to thrive on the business model that drove its laser printer success. A smaller direct sales channel, with less room for different and superior engineering, was the result of chasing commodity computing sales. HP was reorganizing, back toward a business plan that acknowledged not all products can use the same strategy.

Printers and PCs got their own leadership. At the time I looked into the future and saw that the HP 3000 customers were forced to leave might see another spinoff. A separate enterprise computing business. "An HP with non-Windows servers running HP-UX and OpenVMS could be just around the corner."

Nine years later, HP decided to break up the brand. Enterprise servers split off from the low-margin products. It didn't make HP more relevant to business IT. By 2014 even OpenVMS was flagging — and it remains the product line with the biggest number of customers not using Windows or Linux.

Our first month of blog reports included more tactical advisories. Some remain useful today. Keven Miller, who still supports 3000s and gathers MPE resources for the community, updated his 3000 firmware without the aid of HP's support engineers. It's the unusual site which doesn't need outside support help. After all, Miller's 3K Ranger firm serves 3000 customers. But the how-to about changing Processor Dependent Code is still on this blog's site, ready to serve its goodness through another page view. You will need patches, where the independent support firms can make them available.

We said at the time that "Miller's experience represents the level of admin skill a 3000 owner is going to have to call upon once HP's support leaves the field. If you're uncomfortable with this kind of admin, but need to keep your 3000s in service, there's a good lineup of 3000 service providers who can help you, all in the third-party market." There is still a healthy group of service companies working 15 years later.

Onward to the next half-million page views. It ought to happen around 2051, if we can keep up the current pace. I'll only be 94, while the 3000 will be 77. I hope to age as well as MPE.


Interex director Chuck Piercey dies at 85

Chuck Piercey
Chuck Piercey, executive director of the user group Interex during its greatest era of the 1990s, died last week peacefully in his sleep. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Charlene, as well as children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. His memorial last weekend during our viral times was held over Zoom. That kind of essential innovation would have been in step with his vision for Interex.

He held his Interex post more than a decade, longer than any director in the 31-year group's history. Piercey helmed the organization that gathered thousands of Hewlett-Packard community experts under one roof after another, in city after city, for each year's biggest exchange of 3000 technology and commerce.

Piercey would be quick to point to his staff as the reason for those successes. He came to his post from executive work in Silicon Valley at Perkin-Elmer, a semiconductor firm with roots nearly as deep into HP's. Piercey grew a multimillion-dollar user organization that launched new conferences and established a digital footprint into the Web. New publications emerged during an era when paper was still the dominant means of information exchange. But thick volumes of tech papers made their way onto CDs, too. Panels of HP's top executives sat for tough questions from 3000 customers during a time of uncertain futures. 

Screen Shot 2020-05-06 at 9.23.24 AM
By the close of Piercey's era, Interex had moved firmly into the promise of development over the Web. HP created an MPE/iX Shared Source project, which Interex hosted for the 3000 division. HP started in a very timid way with Editor, Query, and the TurboIMAGE class libraries. Members of HP's labs collaborated with users to check source code modules out and check them back in after revisions. It was akin to the Github repository, mapped onto MPE's essentials.

The growth took place while HP was sacrificing its 3000 vision to the promises of Unix. That strategy was driving a stake into the hearts of Interex volunteer members. Those actions made Piercey's work complicated in a way that reflected the industry's era of change. Terminals were the predominant access to 3000s when he arrived at Interex. By the time he left the group in 2000, the dot-com boom was reshaping the way 3000 users shared expertise. Windows was the driving force as Interex's work opened windows to an HP future that relied less on vendor-specific environments like MPE.

Piercey managed Interex with a series of volunteer board members voted in on three-year terms. In a continual change of Interex leadership, Piercey was the constant for that decade. Boards often better steeped in technology than business presented challenges to the needed changes, evolution that Interex accomplished nevertheless.

He came to the position with no direct experience in managing an association, but Interex pursued him relentlessly in 1989. With a mechanical engineer’s degree and an MBA from Stanford, Piercey worked at Silicon Valley firm Ultek during the first 20 years of his career. As he described it, the middle section of his career was being the founding partner of three startups, doing turnaround management at the bidding of venture capitalists. He was doing his own business consulting when Interex won him to its mission in March of 1990.

Piercey took the wheel at an association facing as much of a transition as HP itself in the 1990s. The group’s roots and its volunteer strength lay in the 3000 community, but HP’s attention was being focused on the world of Unix. Platform-specific user groups were under siege in the middle of the decade. He pointed out that even the 32,000-strong Unix group Uniforum eventually withered away. But Interex persevered, forming a tighter coupling with the changing HP and broadening the group's focus. The Interex user show and news publication were both rebranded as HP World to tighten the HP relationship. The conference was ranked as one of the best in a Computerworld survey.

His retirement from Interex was supposed to bring him into full-time grandfatherhood, but a educational startup devoted to molecular biology carried into his final career post. When he announced his resignation, board member Linda Roatch said, "He is largely responsible for bringing Interex forward to what it is — the most successful vendor-centric independent user group in existence."

Before he left his work at the user group, Piercey reflected on the future of single-vendor organizations like Interex. He had enough vision to see that a multivendor IT world could render well-established user groups obsolete. In board meetings and in public, Piercey would ask, "What is the role of a vendor-specific group in a multivendor world?" Asking hard questions was one of Piercey's talents that kept Interex on its feet during a trying time for user groups.

In a NewsWire Q&A from 2000, Piercey's final year with Interex and the final year HP proposed 3000 growth, he summed up the changes that challenged the user group. "Customers don’t have the luxury of focusing on the HP 3000 like they did 10 years ago," he said. "We have less mindshare, and we have to be more effective with the mindshare we do have. It squeezes the value proposition: you have to deliver more value cheaper and faster. What they really want is wise filtering of information."

The transfer of that information grew as a result of his work. Last weekend's celebration of Piercey's life was transcribed, including photos. It's hosted on the Web as a Google Doc, an eventuality of sharing that he would have foreseen.


Wayback: 3000s showed a Spectrum of hope

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

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

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

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

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


3000 market maven Charles Finley dies at 70

CharlesFinley_8_2_2013
Charles Finley, whose career in the HP 3000 community spanned eras from powerful regional user group conferences to trusted HP reseller status, then led to new success as a migration maven, has died at age 70.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

By Stan Sieler

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

FOCUS

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

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

VISION        

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

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

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

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

PA-RISC

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

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

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

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

Itanium (IPF)  

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

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

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

Photo by Ashes Sitoula on Unsplash


When the HP Way Led the 3000 Astray

Winding road forest

Editor's Note: Being a legacy system expert has its frustrating days. If experts of today ever wonder why they got into the lifespan of Hewlett Packard and MPE, they can look back to the start and the promise of the 3000. Bill Foster was a part of the HP team that created the system, before he went on to found Status Computing. the story below shows the an HP which had to remake MPE.

All the Foster you want, in an HP history worthy of being a book, is at his website.

By Bill Foster

If there ever was a company that always seemed to do the right thing, it was HP back in the 70’s. We had a term called The HP Way. There was no written definition — it was something you felt. When something good happened it was part of The HP Way. When you had the inclination to do something bad — cut corners on a project, treat a customer badly, turn in an inflated expense account, fire a really bad employee — these things didn’t happen. They were not The HP Way. It’s like we walked around with little halos over our heads.

Of course, if this was the only place you worked, you assumed all companies were like HP. You had to leave Hewlett Packard to become a part of the real world. So, we shipped HP 3000 serial #1 to the Lawrence Hall of Science in nearby Berkeley. A couple of weeks later they shipped it back. That 3000 could support at most two or three users on a good day -- nowhere near 16 or 32 or whatever they promised.  And MPE was crashing three or four times a day.

A few months and a couple of machines later HP punted and withdrew the 3000 from the marketplace. They gave free 2116 computers to the customers in hopes of appeasement — The HP Way. Bill and Dave were fuming -- this had been by far the most expensive project in the company’s history, and Hewlett Packard was being inundated with bad press — something that had never happened in the entire history of the company.

In fairly quick succession Paul Ely came down to save things and a few months later my boss Steve Vallender left. I don’t think Steve was fired — HP never fired anyone back then, they just promoted them into oblivion. But Steve was somewhat un-promotable — he lacked a college degree and HP was pretty snobbish about that.

Dick Hackborn asked me if I wanted Steve's old job. Are you kidding? Sure! Hurt me! I was looking to move up the ladder — this was a fantastic break. My guess was they chose me over my hardware counterpart because management finally figured it was better to put a software guy in charge of computer projects. No matter -- here I was, not even 30 years old, running all the hardware and software development for HP's computer business.

My first and most important job was to come up with a plan for the hockey pucks.  A year earlier, Dick Hackborn had hired a couple of smooth-talking marketing bozos out of IBM. Hackborn created a group called Product Marketing within his Engineering group to compete with the real Marketing group at the other end of the building.

This was very out of character for HP — to hire senior people from the outside. One of their first actions was to give mementos of a project to the engineers who had developed it — something tangible to remember their efforts. Apparently this was done all the time at IBM. The IBM marketing bozos came up with the idea of a brass paperweight about the size of a hockey puck, but about half the thickness. Stamped on each one were three overlapping circles signifying batch, realtime, and timesharing — things that the 3000 was supposed to do.  And each individual’s name was engraved on the back.

These were supposed to be handed out months earlier, but with all the problems, Vallender had hidden them away in a file cabinet. My first command move was to sneak in one weekend, lug them out to my car, and take them home to my garage.  The last thing I wanted was for anyone to get wind of them. The next step was to try to get some kind of usefulness out of the 3000 machine, and that meant fixing MPE.

Image by David Mark from Pixabay


So many owners = so much value

Office building colored floors
Editor's Note: While the MPE/iX MANMAN customers mull over their 2020 options, it's useful to look at the history of an application being orphaned by its creator. Cortlandt Wilson, a consultant on ERP systems, wrote this early-years history of how MANMAN's ecosystem evolved. The bottom line is proof that value in an application like MANMAN is baked-in — or it wouldn't have survived so much change.

Over the years MANMAN has experienced highs and lows. At one time the software's creator, ASK Computing, was a media darling — a successful high-tech company founded and run by a woman, Sandy Kurtzig. The MANMAN product has a good reputation in the mid-sized manufacturing systems market. The company, however, unsuccessfully tried to follow up its success with a next generation solution based on a new technology infrastructure.

When I was with ASK in the late 1980s, on several occasions I heard the president and co founder of ASK say that “we are an applications company, not a software tool company.” Unfortunately, the companies on top of the ERP market all developed their own technology infrastructure. The search for a new technology infrastructure led ASK to purchase Ingres for its relational DBMS and tools.

ASK finally purchased a infrastructure and the basic application software for a ERP system from a then little-known Dutch company named Baan. As part of the sales agreement ASK modified significant amounts of the functionality and called the application MANMAN/X. Strained by development costs and weak sales, the company floundered.

By 1994, ASK was facing a severe cash crisis. Looking for a financial angel or a buyer, the board of directors finally recommended a buyout offer from Computer Associates. Many ASK employees, however, responded to the takeover by resigning.

Industry analysts’ concerns about CA’s “ferocious reputation” and the loss of experienced staff highlighted the takeover of ASK. Many MANMAN customers expressed skepticism about CA’s ability to maintain the product, and the quality of support noticeably dropped. 

By 1996, CA concluded that application software and services shouldn’t be managed like software tools and utilities. CA spun off its manufacturing products into an independent business unit to be named the MK Group (MK for Manufacturing Knowledge). MANMAN/X was renamed MK to reflect its marketing role as the flagship product.

Note: Wilson reported from a user group meeting of CAMUS in the late 1990s that the MK Group began to prove stable and was responding better to customer needs. There's inherent value in MANMAN that the repeated transfers of ownership have scarcely erased. By this summer, sites using the ERP package will have right of use for a product that has endured three changes of ownership. The software went from ASK Computer Systems to Computer Associates to SSA Global to Infor. The final owner of MANMAN, Infor, kept up support for nearly 14 years.

Photo by Takafumi Yamashita on Unsplash


Gift wishes heading into the future

Christmas tree
Today's the day when generous people tuck presents underneath a holiday tree. Not so long ago, the only museum devoted fully to HP's computers was looking for gifts of classic hardware to flesh out its collection.

The HP Computer Museum is based in Melbourne, Australia. Its founder Jon Johnston passed away but left behind gift requests. The museum is downsizing now, like a lot of the owners and managers of HP 3000s. It's worth noting, though, that HP's breakthrough 3000 designs were among the most desired of museum gifts.

A table provides a listing of major hardware products the museum was seeking. This matrix lists the items by rarity and product category. Near the top quadrant: HP 3000s first released 45 years ago.

HP Computer museum needs
The white boxes represent the most needed items. The museum has no samples of these items. Pink boxes are most rare.

An HP-built 3000 server is old by definition now. The freshest pieces of hardware were manufactured more than 16 years ago. The craft and design of the HP iron, of any vintage, was legendary as well as being a gift of legacy. Even if MPE/iX is the only thing in use at some sites in 2020, because Stromasys emulation has taken over there as the hardware platform, HP's hard goods made that environment a classic.

Several resellers still trade in HP's MPE/iX iron. Cypress Technology's Jesse Dougherty continues to leave reminders about his 3000 system stock. Ebay is another reliable source, a place where the systems are often being sold by a reseller like Cypress. A Series 969 220 was for sale this week at $1,450.

Happy holidays. We're taking a break until just beyond the new year, when we mark the start of the 47th calendar year of MPE and 3000 service.


Seeking forgiveness as a support plan

So sorry chalkboard
ERP software becomes wired in deeply at corporations. Now that MANMAN has seen the end date coming for its manufacturer support, customers who rely on the ERP suite are looking for a 2020 plan to keep using it.

One aspect is a ruling about whether a product or a vendor is dead, but the intentions for its product lives on. It's an aspect of law called droit moral in France. Droit moral is not recognized in the US. Intentions are preserved in droit moral.

Some HP 3000 owners considered HP a dead entity after 2008, when no more patches were being built. HP's intellectual rights to MPE and the HP 3000 remain in effect. But there are those moral rights, too. This computer would not have become the keystone at places like aircraft makers and airline ticket agencies without customers' contributions, work that started many years ago. In fact, HP once recognized this kind of help in the market with the e3000 Contributor of the Year Award.

Contributors earn rights when measured in terms of ethics. Droit moral preserves ethics.

Source code rights might belong to customers once a product goes into permanent hibernation at the manufacturer. In 2008, I wrote that I believed that in order to honor droit moral for the 3000 community, HP's increasingly restrictive statements of licensing needed to stop. The vendor's support group needed to move on to other profitable HP markets. The vendor needed to leave owners and customers to continue using their computer, without any extra licensing payments to HP.

Droit moral lived in the hearts of some of the 3000 advocates within HP. While I visited HP's 3000 group one afternoon, the former business manager Dave Wilde and I walked across the wooded HP campus to lunch. That entire campus site is now the location of Apple Park, Apple's worldwide HQ, so things have changed a lot. At the time, through, Wilde said the 3000 group wanted to give the system "the ending that it deserves." It sounded warm and genuine.

Infor, the owners of MANMAN, are not as warm and genuine, even though they have enough sense about branding to sponsor the NBA Brooklyn Nets with an Infor logo on Nets uniforms. At the moment there's no coordinated effort from the remaining MANMAN customers to establish whether MANMAN truly belongs to customers after the exit of its creator. The customers are unsure who might even respond to such ownership questions.

Continue reading "Seeking forgiveness as a support plan" »


Wayback: HP FAQ captured its OS visions

Canary close up
It's only available through the Internet Wayback Machine, but a record of HP's intent for its enterprise operating systems still exists. For reference we traveled to LegacyOS, a website devoted to the legacies of Sun and HP's enterprise products. The promised land, as HP imagined it 17 years ago, was getting its operating systems to the Itanium Processor Family.

HP's decision to keep MPE/iX away from IPF servers was the canary in the coal mine for the company's business intentions for HP 3000s. Such a canary roosted in mines while work proceeded. If the quality of the air turned poisonous, the canary died and the miners evacuated.

At the time there were only two models of Itanium processors in working servers from HP, so calling it a family was marketing optimism. Nevertheless, moving to the nascent IPF, as well as a new OS in HP-UX, was HP's vision of end-of-life. The life ending turned out to be at HP's MPE/iX labs eight years later, rather than any useful lifespan for MPE/iX.

There is a current-day lesson in any review of the HP 3000 plans of 2002. HP noted at the time the vendor created a Business Critical Systems group. That group, HP's cheerful-but-inaccurate 3000 plans, and HP itself in its classic makeup don't exist anymore. Users can count on their community, rather than the vendor, to see the conditions for any end of life canary.

Q: What is HP’s strategy moving forward with HP e3000 servers?

A: Our commitment to HP e3000 and MPE/iX operating system is to continue delivering on the roadmap we have already communicated, delivering the planned performance and functionality, with future MPE/iX releases in the 2002-2003 timeframe. Moving forward, we are focused on moving HP e3000 customers to IPF-based HP servers that deliver more benefits to the customer, using aggressive and innovative migration programs.

Q: Does HP plan to port MPE/iX to IPF-based platforms?

A: No. MPE/iX will not be ported to Itanium-based servers. The communicated HP e3000 roadmap includes PA-RISC based servers that deliver the performance and functionality customers need in the 2002-2003 timeframe. After that, HP e3000 customers benefit more by moving to HP Unix Servers using Itanium technologies and best-in-class migration programs, and taking advantage of the industry leading performance, functionality, and lasting value that Itanium and HP-UX will deliver.

Q: Should HP e3000 customers who need to stay longer on the platform than 2004 be concerned?

A: Absolutely not. HP will support the servers at least until the end of 2006. During this time, HP is committed not only to provide full support for the servers, but also to make available the aggressive and innovative migration programs, to help customers successfully move into Itanium-based HP-UX servers on their own pace.

To recap, the end of 2006 became the end of 2010, in part because HP's aggressive and innovative migration programs were undermatched to the needs of the customer. The Itanium technologies became an also-ran, lapped by Intel's modernization of x86 processors. Intel announced its departure from Itanium futures in 2015. Now commodity hardware rules the roost in today's mines.

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash


Xerox HP fight copies 3000's exit saga

Copier user
Xerox has been trying to buy the part of HP left over after the vendor's split up in 2015. The latest $33.5 billion offer, rebuffed by the HP Inc. board, is going to get pushed out to the HP Inc. shareholders. "It's a better deal that you're getting now" is the message to the thousands of HPQ stock managers. Voting shares for or against a merger has a spot in the 3000's legacy.

This is also the outcome that helped cement HP's exit from the 3000 world. In 2002, HP's acquisition of Compaq got pushed out to a proxy battle. Xerox says HP is defying logic by refusing to be acquired. That's the kind of resistance HP loyalists — the HP blue, they were called — tried to muster around Bill Hewlett's son, who was an HP board member.

Without that successful buyout, HP would've had no Digital VMS customer base to court and invest in to feed a business-focused Itanium operating system. HP-UX was a lock for Integrity, to be sure. The 3000 and MPE/iX were there, ready, but just too small for HP's designs on being Number 1 in all of computing. The Compaq PCs were going to make that a reality.

However, about three years after HP rammed through the Compaq merger through a proxy battle, the spark of that deal Carly Fiorina was forced to resign as HP CEO and chairman. PC growth had not contributed to significant HP market dominance. At the same time, the health of its enterprise business began to slip ever so slightly.

Another CEO pumped up HP's sales, even while its ability to sell OpenVMS and HP-UX faltered. Enterprise computing with HP-built operating systems was in decline. HP became an all-Windows enterprise supplier when full business server sales were measured.

The juicy fruit that HP's board dangled in front of uncommitted shareholders was Compaq's roaring PC business. A combined company would be No. 1 in market share almost immediately. That was promised, anyway. The fortunes of OpenVMS seemed secure, heading into the portfolio of a technology giant that had enterprise legacy to match Digital's.

By 2016, OpenVMS was in the chute toward ex-product status at HP. The coup de gras took place this year when VMS support customers were told the future was in the hands of VMS Software, Inc. OpenVMS users, as well as the MPE customers who were the casualty in that 2002 merger, can look at Xerox and watch the conflict knowing it won't change their fates.

Those were set in motion by the last proxy battle. The juicy fruit that HP's board dangled in front of uncommitted shareholders was Compaq's roaring PC business. The fortunes of OpenVMS seemed secure, heading into the portfolio of a technology giant that had enterprise legacy to match Digital's.

MPE customers were sent down the path where Tru64, another Digital creation, sits today. Formal support ended for them. However, MPE/iX was more than a new edition of Unix. It built a community around vendors. There was no other choice once that proxy war was lost.

Mergers are a good way to see where the soul of a company resides — if there's an open fight. Of course, there wouldn't be a shadow of the old HP to fight over — printer-PC HP Inc. — if the Compaq acquisition had failed. HP might be in the position of seeing itself absorbed and erased. A new afterlife seems unlikely for a company founded on something as common as Windows and printers.


Welcome to Year 19 of the Afterlife

Cheated Death on printer
You remember where you were, perhaps, on the day you learned Hewlett-Packard was done with MPE/iX. You might have been in a meeting, or checked your email before heading home. You might have been installing something a 3000 needed to keep serving your company, or even ready to order a new server to replace the old 9x8 box. Some unlucky vendors were holding orders for new systems.

People did all of that and more on the day HP revealed its 3000 era was on its way to a finish. By 2003 the community was calling the new era The Afterlife. The lifespan of building new HP 3000 hardware was ended when a box rolled off the line at the Roseville plant in early November that year.

Afterlife shirt

And so, on November 14 of 2001, the afterlife of Hewlett-Packard's lifetime started with dismay, anger, and then resignation. The five stages of death proceeded through discussions in a lively 3000 newsgroup. Taking a cue from the horrors of 9/11 in that season, programmers and vendors howled about the relatively unimportant death in their lives.

Doug Greenup was leading Minisoft in that November week. The CEO of a software company whose products were on thousands of systems, he became aware of the HP pullout with just one day's notice.

Alvina Nishimoto from HP called me. She was in charge of third parties with HP at the time. She asked me to sign a non-disclosure which she'd just faxed me. She said she had important news. I signed it and faxed it right back. She called to tell me HP was announcing they were discontinuing the HP e3000, and that HP-UX was their future direction.

HP might have been worried the story was going to get into the world without its influence. The news had been roiling through the 3000 community for more than a week before I learned about it. I'd been away on a vacation in Europe when I got the call from my partner Abby. HP wanted to brief me. Wirt Atmar, the founder of AICS and a 3000 stalwart, threw off the lid 10 days earlier about the pullout by posting to a developers' mailing list.

I spoke to two of our oldest, most trusted customers yesterday, one a ten-year customer and the other 15 years, about this upcoming announcement. Their first reactions were that it simply sucked their breath away. When I told them about HP's proposed plans of migrating their applications to HP-UX — which as an option has all of the practicality to them of trying to establish a penguin colony in Death Valley — their second reaction was "the hell with HP. If we move, it will be to anything but HP." I think that that's going to be the general reaction.

HP learned a great deal about ending a product line with the lessons that began 18 years ago. Earlier this year the company made a graceful transfer of responsibility for OpenVMS, sending the software as well as support opportunities to an independent firm, VMS Software Inc. HP won't sell any more OpenVMS licenses, although it continues to build Itanium servers that will run the apps created for that OS.

This was a vision that the HP 3000 community took to heart during the first of the 18 years that followed. A similar group of OS experts, organized and led by Adager, wanted HP to transfer the future of MPE/iX to new, independent stewards. HP didn't know how to do this in 2001 or in 2002. The offer took another form in the OpenMPE advocate organization, but eight more years had to slip past before HP's source code made its way into independent software labs.

A new history began 18 years ago today, a chronicle of a group of customers who kept their own counsel about walking away from a corporate computing asset. The next two years or so will show HP Enterprise customers what might have been possible had MPE/iX found a third party home. VSI is predicting that it will have production-grade OpenVMS ready for a late 2021 release on Intel hardware.

This is more than a shift away from the HP Enterprise resources. VSI is carrying OpenVMS to a new chipset, a commodity home. In 2001, Atmar told HP's business manager for 3000 operations, Winston Prather, such a move was what the 3000 customers deserved.

Opening MPE up and migrating it to an Intel platform offers at least some real hope for a continued and bright future for MPE. More than that, it keeps a promise that most customers believe HP has made to them, and that is very much the nub of the moral and ethical question that faces you now, Winston.

Migrating MPE to Intel hardware would have permitted MPE to run on inexpensive but high-quality servers. Earlier this month, VSI announced a timeline for such a thing to happen with OpenVMS. A different HP paved the way to that decision—a vendor perhaps chastened by the past—than the corporation that launched the 3000's afterlife.

In the beginning, the launch of this server took place during this month. The slogan at the HP 3000 lab in 1972 was "November is a Happening." Nothing can change what happened nearly 30 years later. But the VSI transfer shows the decisions over what to do with a loyal enterprise customer base have changed in the years since 2001's happenings.


HP's tech lures Xerox offer to buy

HP printer tech
Photo by Dario Seretin on Unsplash

Plenty of writers and customers get confused about the HP of 2019. Back in 2014, the corporation split into two units, operations that align on devices and datacenters. Hewlett-Packard Enterprise now sells datacenter products and services. It's the arm that created HP 3000s in the 1970s. HP Inc., the part of the company that makes printing, imaging, and PC products, received an offer this week to be purchased by Xerox.

HP Inc. acquired 55 patents from Samsung for business printing not long ago. Now the corporation is being courted by a suitor whose printing legacy is wired deep into the DNA of Hewlett-Packard's spinoff. Patents for LaserJet tech, the engineering that in 1984 took HP into the realm of resellers farther removed from HP than any 3000 VAR, are part of what Xerox is bidding for.

The offer, which HP Inc. confirmed it has received, would sign up Xerox for more than $20 billion in debt, financed by Citigroup. The appetites of the HP which created the 3000 and then cut down the vendor's future in the MPE/iX market helped to spark that 2014 split. HP was striving for an overall Number One status as a technology supplier in the years just before it announced its takedown of its 3000 business.

Management at the vendor aligned on growing sectors of business. While the 3000 had enjoyed a nice revenue increase for several years leading up to Y2K, HP saw the unit as one whose growth had a limited future. "If it's not growing, it's going," one 3000 vendor said he'd heard in reports about HP's future.

This was in the era when PCs were soaring on the HP balance sheets and printer products were being sold in groceries. The corporation had just acquired Compaq and Compaq's Digital group, so while there was a future for OpenVMS and its growth, cutting back on enterprise products became essential in HP's strategy.

Xerox developed the first viable graphical interface technology in its Star systems. The Palo Alto Research Center's tour for a young Steve Jobs at Apple led to the mouse interface becoming an essential part of the Macintosh release. 

In a move that proves there's always value in technology that outlasts its creators, there's now a deal in the market to return some of HP business technology to a corporation that's been a part of business computing history since the 1980s. It can be hard to tell what's going to survive in computing and where it will land. HP Inc. recently announced it will be cutting 9,000 more jobs. Betting on good management is at least as important as betting on good technology. As 3000 owners know, technology like MPE/iX is able to outlive the interests of its creators.


Wayback Wed: Leaving a Wake on an exit

Chris Gauthier  Jackie at Wake
Simpkins  Nizzardini  Johnson Wake redux
Above, a 2019 commemorative lunch today at Tide Mill Café in Hampton, VA with Terry Simpkins, Al Nizzardini and Tracy Johnson, all 3000 experts and veterans of MPE. 3000s are in use at their company, TE Connectivity. At top, a 2003 World Wide Wake picture with Chris Gauthier and his co-worker Jackie Mitchell, both supporting 3000 customers as contractors to Terix.

Today we're marking the 16th anniversary of the World Wide Wake. The event was a marker of the end of HP’s 3000 manufacturing on Oct. 31, 2003. Alan Yeo, who passed away recently, organized the Wake and posted photos contributed from attendees onto what we were still calling the World Wide Web. A Web gallery for 3000 people was groundbreaking at the time.

Yeo said back in 2004, a few months after the event that drew more than 400 devotees to meetings in 15 countries, “We have created a simple single Web page that by country just lists the venues and who attended, and also has a link to any pictures for that venue," Yeo said. “The information will be condensed into a single Web page, linked to a directory of about 75 images. We have had several offers to host the information, so rather than try and pick a single host, we thought that allowing any interested attendee to host it would be best.”

Thanks to good Web hunting from Keven Miller, the Wayback Machine link to the original Web page tells the tale of who attended, and where, along with some of the photos.

Our own archive of the photos, sans captions, is here on the blog.

The photos from that day look like party pictures, even though nobody in them was celebrating anything except Halloween. The memories were on the minds of everyone in the frame, though. The future without any more new 3000s didn't seem to scare anyone on that day, at least not for the cameras. It was a coincidence that the building of new computers, as well as the licenses for the MPE/iX that made the boxes genuine 3000s, stopped on the spooky holiday. HP's fiscal year ends every year on October 31.

The Wake gatherings were all across the globe. New Zealand was the furthest away from the Epicenter of Grief, as the 3000 faithful had dubbed Lori's Little Shack in Roseville, the town where HP's 3000 factory was ending its birth of the servers. 

Loree's Epicenter Grief

Continue reading "Wayback Wed: Leaving a Wake on an exit" »


HP's kids: Children who can't say yes, or no

Merry-go-round amusement parkPhoto by Marjorie Bertrand on Unsplash

Editor's note: Developer, vendor, and advocate Alan Yeo has passed away at age 65 after a lifetime of work for the 3000 community. His essay below was written in 2005 amid the early years of the computer's Transition Era. He wrote about the damage done after migrations were first triggered by HP's 2001 pullout, then postponed on a fuzzy timeline from the entity the community was calling the virtual HP division for the server, vCSY.

Vendors like Yeo who weathered HP's stormy strategy took on a lot of water because of HP's revision of its end of service deadline. Yeo's use of metaphor and allegory here are a fine tribute to his wit and intelligence that the world has lost. ScreenJet, his company, followed his insight to survive the turmoil.

By Alan Yeo

That's it, children, just give the merry-go-round another shove, just when passengers thought it was stopping and they could get off it and get on with planning the rest of their lives. Oh yes, some of the children will be happy; the period before they have to decide which ride to take next has been extended. But for the adults either already behind schedule, or struggling to get attention-deficit children to concentrate on important decisions, it's just another frustrating delay.

Now it wouldn't be too bad if the very Careless Stupid Youngsters ("vCSY") nudging the merry-go-round on weren't the same vCSY who had planned its retirement, and had then encouraged its customers and partners to seek out new more exciting future-proof rides. But no, to compound the disappointment they caused their passengers when they announced the ride was ending, they now have to say, “We lied, we didn't mean it, the ride's not ending yet!”

Is this because they think their passengers are still having the best ride in the fair? Perhaps they think they can just keep it spinning under their control for a while longer, that there are another 3000 pieces of silver to be extracted for their parents, the only Happy Party ("HP") in this.

And what of vCSY partners, and the encouragement they received to help transport the passengers to other rides when the Merry-go-round stopped. Or even those they encouraged to build an organisation to help those passengers that wanted to stay on the Merry-go-round and even maintain it after the ride had stopped.

For yes, there was an organisation of such Open Minded Passengers Established ("OpenMPE") that hoped to provide counseling and support for those who chose to stay, and even to build a work shop to repair the Merry-go-round Physical Environment ("MPE") for them. What of OpenMPE's chances now? Why would anyone invest in them when they need it, if the HP and vCSY are going to keep the ride spinning and the MPE supported?

And what of those who vCSY encouraged to build the transport for the passengers to other rides — their parents (the HP) had no transport of their own. Those vendors built the busses the planes and the trains, and even migrated some of the passengers to new rides. What are they to do now, just sit there with the engines running for a couple more years whilst the merry-go-round spins on?

And what of those partners vCSY encouraged to build infrastructures to keep old merry-go-round's functioning and provide support for the MPE? For them, the ride has been delayed for two more years, and it has reduced the number of potential passengers to the point where it may not be economic to hang around and wait.

Continue reading "HP's kids: Children who can't say yes, or no" »


Alan Yeo, 1954-2019

Yeo at Reunion

Alan Yeo, a software vendor and developer whose business ultimately led to success as a nexus for the 3000 community in its Transition Era, has died at age 65 after a battle with a small cell cancer. He is survived by his wife Helen, a lifetime of creations he designed with partners, and a gripping voice that gathered and rallied MPE customers after HP quit on their marketplace.

Yeo’s company Affirm, Ltd. rose up in the 1980s as a resource for manufacturers who used the HP 3000 to manage their enterprises. He served a group of customers across the UK and began to move in wider circles with the advent of ScreenJet, his software to modernize the 3000’s bedrock VPlus application interfaces.

ScreenJet arose in the years just before Hewlett-Packard scrapped its business developing 3000s and MPE. While the HP decision left Yeo undaunted in his business aspirations, it also led him to a new role as a leader for a 3000 community that was dissolving after the implosion of the Interex user group in 2005.

His first effort surrounded the final date of HP’s manufacture of the system. On Oct. 31, 2003, he organized and led the HP 3000 World Wide Wake, a collective of gatherings to celebrate the server and the people who’d made it their life’s work. Across North America and Europe, customers and managers held parties and met at pubs, bars, and restaurants. Photos from the events poured into a web server that Yeo hosted. Earlier in the year, Yeo asked out loud where else the HP 3000 community might gather in a user conference — a question he posed in a meeting at the Atlanta HP World, where few 3000 customers had appeared.

In the year that followed, he shared his strategy of being a master of one. It was built around the nugat of collaboration that led to his ability to connect.

"We’re starting to see more collaboration between migration tools providers and migration service partners," he said in a NewsWire Q&A. "To get some of this stuff right, you really, really need to know it. I think it’s too big for any one person to do anything right. If you want good fish you go to a fishmonger. If you want good meat, go to a butcher. If you just want food, go to Wal-Mart, and if you just want to eat, you go to McDonalds."

Community meets and reunions

Many of the stranded customers using the HP 3000 got an introduction to Yeo’s voice in those first years of the 3000’s Transition Era. He commissioned an editorial cartoon during 2002 that became a mainstay in his company’s ads, one built around the HP move to end its MPE plans and sever relations with the thousands of companies that grew up using the 3000’s extraordinary solution. The CEO of the company at the time, as well as the 3000 division’s GM Winston Prather, caught the brunt of the brilliance in a cartoon that compared killing off HP's 3000 futures to the evil in a Disney movie.

WinstonDalmations
A few years later, after the user group Interex folded its operations overnight and stranded users’ plans to meet at the now-canceled annual conference, the first of a series of Community Meets sprang up for 3000 owners. After an impromptu gathering in the Bay Area for community members already stuck with nonrefundable hotel reservations and air tickets, a single-afternoon lunch gathered several dozen managers, developers, and owners.

The first Bay Area meet was replicated and expanded twice more with single-day meetings in 2007 and 2009, organized and underwritten by Yeo and his business partner Michael Marxmeier of the database and language vendor Marxmeier Software. Other companies contributed to cover expenses, but the largest share of the organizing always went to Yeo.

In 2011, he and Marxmeier teamed up with some help from the NewsWire to mount the HP3000 Reunion, a multiple-day event with a meeting at the Computer History Museum. In addition to seminars and a group tour of the exhibits, a catered dinner, a briefing on the upcoming 3000 emulator, and a meeting of enterprise resource planning software users made for a busy weekend with dozens of community members.

Alan_Yeo_at_Reunion
Yeo was pragmatic while keeping his lights on for every software customer who’d invested in his products. Marxmeier Software has taken over support and services for ScreenJet Ltd. in the wake of Yeo’s death. ScreenJet and Marxmeier Software have had close ties for a long time. Yeo was a valued board member for Marxmeier Software and Michael Marxmeier is a director at ScreenJet.

To ensure the continuation of ScreenJet products and services, as of June 2019 support, license renewals and upgrades have been administered by Marxmeier Software. "This will not affect any ScreenJet customer product licenses or agreements which will remain with ScreenJet Ltd," said Marxmeier. "The teams at ScreenJet and Marxmeier will combine their long time experience and resources to guarantee efficient and reliable ongoing support and services."

Alan Yeo with dogsWith his beloved dogs at his Gloucester home

Ever-prepared, Yeo worked out the details of a smooth transfer over the months when his cancer recovery had failed. He'd rallied after treatments and recovered enough to race vintage cars on rural road rallies in 2018. In his last months the disease progressed to cut off motor functions of one arm. He resolutely typed long messages one-handed.

Failures were always a topic he could approach with candor as well as compassion. “Most software on the HP 3000 was too expensive, compared with other platforms,” he said in a 2004 interview examining the collapse of HP’s ecosystem. “However, because people could reliably write applications for the system, many of these were developed far too cheaply. Many customers got far too much for the money they actually spent.”

A reach for personal connections

The ScreenJet product was a recovery from a valiant effort to make the 3000 a vital part of the dot-com PC world. Millware was to deliver software that gave 3000 customers a way to make their VPlus interfaces behave like modern graphical interfaces. The software was to be free in exchange for giving over some of the screen real estate to messages from vendors. Before that user base could be established, dot-com computing staggered, a blow to the vendor element of the formula.

Yeo also picked up the pieces from the effort to market ScreenJet, developed as a connectivity product and sold by Millware.com until that marketing company went bust during the dot-com implosion. ScreenJet earned an award for migration solutions from Acucorp. But for all of his effort toward helping migration customers, Yeo was clear-eyed about 3000 transitions. ScreenJet achieved its best technical release just one month before HP announced its withdrawal from the 3000 market — and the product’s development up to that point was not driven by any need to move companies away from the platform.

Yeo also took a role as producer in a new feature for 3000 customers long abandoned by HP: Transact users. The advanced development language was kicked to HP’s curb in the middle 1990s, but sites continued to run extensive Transact applications, long after the “strategic” badge fell off the language. The TransAction software from his team give Transact sites service and tools to move programs to COBOL, a way to prepare for the journey away from the HP 3000.

Marxmeier, who reached out to break the news about Yeo's death, said he would miss his ally's organizational gifts, but even more so, Yeo's ability to write and speak with, well, eloquence. After drafting a heartfelt letter to inform the ScreenJet customers about the founders' demise, Marxmeier said he already felt a gap in the story. "It's something I would have liked Alan to read, before I released it," he said.

Yeo said he wanted no florid speeches of eulogy at his passing. Months before he died, he said if there was any afterlife at all, "I could be a little sprite, one who could occassionally make it rain on somebody who was being pompous, that would do me quite nicely." It's fair to say his narrative for the 3000's transition era was rich with the words that rained on misfortune and miscalculation.

Carly_cartoon_dalmations


Who's to blame when the lights go out?

Power-lines-towers
Photo by Peddi Sai hrithik on Unsplash

Yesterday the lights didn't come on in Northern California. Everywhere, it seems, because the Pacific Gas & Electric corporation didn't want to be sued for windstorm damages to its power lines. They cut the juice to prevent lawsuits. Tesla owners got a dashboard warning.

The surprise about the outage was as complete as the shock over Interex dowsing its lights overnight in 2005. Except the cynics could see the PG&E blackout coming.

Solar panel-owning residents of California and electric car owners were most surprised. I went to a 3000 tech mailing list to look for people worried about topping up their Teslas, because some people who picked 3000s are pioneers, so Teslas are well represented among MPE veterans. Like the usual chaff on a mailing list, there were turds of political opinion floating there about who's to blame for California's darkness.

So I wasn't surprised to see more attacks on the state of California. "A third world country" is the shorthand smear, although you can say lots of the US isn't a first world country any longer. In the exchange on the mailing list, it was apparently too much trouble to keep a state’s government separate from talk about Pacific Gas & Electric’s corporate moves. Once PG&E goes bankrupt, then the private corporation’s demise will be blamed on California voters, using that logic. It’s easier than keeping commerce and government separate, I suppose. 

Blaming the tough regulations about state rate hikes for the disaster that is PG&E business is having it both ways: Government is crucial, and government is ridiculous. On and on it goes, until we are supposed to trust a government that lets PG&E do whatever it wants, so long as profits stay high. 
 
Because every corporation with ample profits has always taken care of its customers in every need. 
 
Some people on that mailing list sure have a short memory about such nonsense. We are all survivors of a meltdown of a business model where corporate profits were ensured — because revenue growth was the only thing that mattered — while legacy technology got scrapped. Millions of dollars of investments, the fate of hundreds of vendors, and thousands of careers were lost.
 
The mailing list name still has the numerals 3000 in it. You’d think people would remember what brought us into each others' lives, along with the lesson we learned the hard way together. Oversight is important. The problem which hit the Hewlett-Packard 3000 customers was a lack of oversight from top-level management and the board of directors. It's sometimes hard to know what to do while things are changing (the computer business) and ambitions are high (make HP bigger than anybody, so it will win every deal).
 
A good rule to follow, though, is like a physician. First, do no harm. The 3000 community got treated by HP like a limb that had gone gangrenous. Old history that'll never be changed, yes. Also, a lesson for managers on how to treat older bodies like an operating system and software that's not new but is still performing well.  
 
Complaining about oversight, when you'd rather have none at all, is what got HP into the state it's in today. Two corporations, neither growing, both unable to honor the promises of forever-computing that drove companies to buy its products. HP's cut itself loose from the future of OpenVMS, and the thousands of companies that rely on that legacy OS need to trust VMS Software Inc., new owners of the OS's future.
 
It's a better deal than the one HP gave its 3000 customers. Private money would've taken over MPE futures in 2002. HP wouldn't sell or license it, but again, that's just history. Now that the lights aren't going on for the 3000 at HP anymore — so many of HP's 3000 web pages are dead or buried alive — it evokes the powerless situation in California.

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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.

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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.

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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 birthday 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.

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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.


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.


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.


Two very tough days for 3000 customers

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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.

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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.

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Was a 3000 ever a personal computer?

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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.


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.


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.’ "

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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.

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