History

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear members:

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

Interex

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

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

Continue reading "Two very tough days for 3000 customers" »


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.

Continue reading "Wayback: Security boosts as enhancements" »


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

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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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Wayback: Oracle embraces Sun and Solaris

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Celebrating a Software Salvation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Finding the Drumbeat to Differ, Decades Ago

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Finding the Drumbeat to Differ, Decades Ago" »


Wayback: MPE joins the land of the Internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Wayback: MPE joins the land of the Internet" »


Itanium, we hardly knew ye, aside from HP

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

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

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

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

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

And so, we remember the fallen.

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

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

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

Continue reading "Itanium, we hardly knew ye, aside from HP" »


Wayback: MPE's Computer Scientist Expires

Kick Butt Poster

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wayback: 2009's emulator hopes, proven

PA-RISC-clock

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Wayback: 2009's emulator hopes, proven" »


Gifts given, 11 years after a Christmas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Source code for MPE/iX: Security, by now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


HP 3000 dream tracks close to virtualization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "HP 3000 dream tracks close to virtualization" »


Suggested servings of Unix, ignored

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


It's always a red letter day today

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

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

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

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


Wayback: A month to download 3000 Jazz

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Wayback: A month to download 3000 Jazz" »


Another If-Only Salvation, this time Linux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Another If-Only Salvation, this time Linux" »


Wed Wayback: India rises, California rests

HP-3000-lab-Bangalore-1995

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Wed Wayback: India rises, California rests" »


Wayback: Charon kicks off with freeware

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Wayback: Charon kicks off with freeware" »


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Wayback: DX cuts new 3000 price to $7,077 " »


Wayback: 3000s boot mainframes out of HP

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

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

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

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

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

The paper is archived at the OpenMPE website.

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

PosterProject


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "July's IA-64 news, delivered by the Sandman" »


Meet shows veterans never too old to learn

2018 3000 Reunion

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_3832

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

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

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

Continue reading "Meet shows veterans never too old to learn" »


We're raising a glass in your honor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


New DL325 serves fresh emulation muscle

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "New DL325 serves fresh emulation muscle" »


Making a 3000 Reunion a Personal Affair

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

HP 50th Anniversary Song

Lyrics to Orly's 50th Anniversary HP song

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

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

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

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

Orly at Reunion
Orly Larson

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

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

Continue reading "Making a 3000 Reunion a Personal Affair" »


Wayback: HP's 3000 Conference Sign-off

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Wayback: HP's 3000 Conference Sign-off" »


Being first is about serving customer needs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Wayback Wed: Charon's coming out, at a pub" »


Pub salvation in UK not needed at The Duke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "Pub salvation in UK not needed at The Duke" »


June's 3000 Reunion destination: Building D

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "June's 3000 Reunion destination: Building D" »


May meant an IMAGE defense against Codd

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

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

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

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

Continue reading "May meant an IMAGE defense against Codd" »


3000 fans explore a mystery of history

HP suitcase

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

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

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

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


Wayback Wed: one website to serve them all

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wayback Wed: HP group combines, survives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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From Small Boxes Came Great Longevity

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

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

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

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

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

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Tracking the Prints of 3000 Print Software

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

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

Bruce-Toback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WhoOwns

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

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

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

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

 


An Opening for MPE's Closing Numbers

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

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

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

OpenMPE Links
OpenMPE's 2009 patch proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wayback Wednesday: An Armload of Value

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


MPE/iX keeps propelling relevant history

Professor KanzbergAt a recent meeting of HP 3000 managers running ERP shops, the present conditions and futures surfaced during a discussion. The MANMAN users, running an application on 3000s that hasn't seen an update in more than a decade—like their servers and OS—marveled at the constancy in their community.

Things change slower than expected. A monolithic application like ERP is the slowest of all to change. MPE/iX and its apps are proof: the history of technology is the most relevant history. History makes migration a requirement.

Ed Stein is a board member of the CAMUS user group. At the meeting he said the past three years have not removed many members. The 2028 CALENDAR replacement process caught his eye.

"I chuckled when I read a NewsWire article in 2015 and thought, 'Hey, how many of us are going to be around in 2028?' Well, most of us who were community members in 2015 are still members now," Stein said. "There's a future for those still running on MPE. If you don't like the hardware, then there's Doug Smith [from Stromasys] telling you how to get over that issue. MANMAN could be around in archival use 10 years from now—if not in actual production use."

Stein read that article about the CALENDAR intrinsic's shortcomings and decided he'd plan ahead, just to check off one more crucial challenge to the 3000's useful lifespan. 

"We want there to be a CALENDAR fix sooner than later," Stein said. "Because later, the talent might be retired or gone to fix this thing. We're looking at this as more of an insurance policy. If by chance we're still on this platform 10 years from now, we're going to be okay."

The platform's history is responsible for HP's continued standing in the business computer market, after all. Professor Melvin Kranzberg (above) wrote a set of laws to show how we relate to technology. MPE's relevance is more proven with every subsequent development.

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Forbes news not fake, but it's surely slanted

Fortran-coding-formIt was an odd encounter to see the HP 3000 show up on the Forbes website recently. An article about technology and school systems mentioned the server in a sideswipe of a wisecrack. Justin Vincent, a CTO at a school software vendor, wondered aloud how 1970s computing would've handled a 20-student computer lab.

Since the HP 3000 has been a K-12 solution for more than 30 years, Vincent's article took aim at the computer. It was just a glancing blow.

When people first started talking about education technology in the '70s, technology itself was the main blocker. We simply didn’t have the capacity to scale networks. Our devices were huge, input methods were clunky, the cost of each device was prohibitive and there was simply no understanding of how to design easy-to-use K-12 software with individualized and blended features.

Can you imagine if a school district did decide to set up a 20-student computer lab in the '70s? With Hewlett Packard's first “small business” computer (the HP 3000), it would have cost the equivalent of $10 million, and the computers alone would fill up a standard-size classroom!

I was a student in a K-12 classroom in the 1970s. Instead of putting us high school seniors though advanced algebra, we could take a Computer Science course. I was eager to do this and learned that the only lab work we'd do in our parochial high school was filling out an IBM coding form (above) with FORTRAN commands. The actual IBM 029 keystrokes had to happen at the University of Toledo labs. We brought the green-bar output back to the classroom to debug our efforts.

It felt unfair to see those quotes around "small business" computer, though. The 3000 was a genuine small business solution compared to the mainframes. I also wonder how a 20-user 2000 of the late 1970s could have occupied a full classroom. Even in that day, terminals could fit on an average lab desk. The dimensions of tape drive, disk, and CPU still would leave room for students and instructors. Even the small Catholic school classrooms could accommodate a Series III with room to spare.

The writing arrived in the blogosphere by way of Forbes' Community Voice. In the 1970s this was called advertorial, the kind of copy I had to write as a young journalist to meet an advertiser's needs. By 2017 this writing is now being farmed out straight to the advertiser's staff. At least we had to label our advertorials as un-news. What might come as news is the HP 3000 is still running school administration in a few places.

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Wayback Wed: MPE gets its last millicode fix

Drywall-patchTen years ago this month HP's labs delivered its final fix for MPE/iX millicode. The patch demonstrated the last critical repair of the OS by the HP development labs. It had been 16 years since HP had to do a fix for the 3000's millicode. The 2007 millicode patch was crucial whenever a customer's applications accessed mapped files and utilized Large Files, those which are 4GB or greater in size

HP introduced the Large Files feature in 2000, just after the community had cleared Y2K challenges. The corruption could occur if any one of five out of the last six bytes of a Large File failed to transfer correctly. Corruption introduced by MPE/iX is so uncommon that the patch became essential—and a way to gauge how much the community might lose when HP's labs would close up.

The labs were ready in a way the customers rarely saw. HP announced the bug with repairs and white papers already available.

OpenMPE sought an opportunity to take a role in the repairs. OpenMPE advocates showed concern that binary repairs like this one would present a challenge to application developers who need to integrate them into MPE/iX in the future. OpenMPE wanted to do this work. The advocacy group never got its opportunity to participate in the development work for 3000 sites.

HP's repair rolled out four years to the day after the company ended sales of the 3000. The development of this type of patch, a binary-level repair, remained available throughout 2009 and 2010. At the time of the repair, HP had not yet licensed its source code for MPE/iX. Delivery of that source code wouldn't take place until 2011. HP's binary patches for the corruption were not done in source code.

Large Files was a feature gone sour, by HP's own reckoning. The vendor was trying to remove the code from customers' 3000s. A 2006 patch was designed to turn off Large Files and get those files on the system converted to Jumbo files, which are much better engineered.

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HP's Way Files Go Up in Flames

Hewlett-packard-original-officesThe Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported yesterday that the vast collection of Bill Hewlett's and David Packard's collected archives, correspondence, writings and speeches — materials that surely included HP's 3000 history at the CEO level — were destroyed in a fire this month. An HP executive who was responsible for the papers during the era the 3000 ruled HP's business computing said "A huge piece of American business history is gone."

The fire broke out in the week of October 9 at the headquarters of Keysight Technologies in Santa Rosa. Keysight got the papers when it spun off from Agilent, the instrumentation business HP spun off in 1999. HP's CEO Lew Platt, the last CEO of the company who worked from the ground up, retired that year.

The blaze was among those that raged over Northern California for much of this month. What's being called the Tubbs Fire destroyed hundreds of homes in the city's Fountaingrove neighborhood. The Hewlett-Packard papers chronicled what the newspaper called "Silicon Valley's first technology company."

More than 100 boxes of the two men’s writings, correspondence, speeches and other items were contained in one of two modular buildings that burned to the ground at the Fountaingrove headquarters of Keysight Technologies.

The Hewlett and Packard collections had been appraised in 2005 at nearly $2 million and were part of a wider company archive valued at $3.3 million. However, those acquainted with the archives and the pioneering company’s impact on the technology world said the losses can’t be represented by a dollar figure.

Brad Whitworth, who had been an HP international affairs manager with oversight of the archives three decades ago, said Hewlett-Packard had been at the forefront of an industry “that has radically changed our world.”

HP's archivist who assembled the historic collection said it was stored irresponsibly at Keysight. While inside HP, the papers were in a vault with full fire retardant protections, according to Karen Lewis. The fires, which Keysight's CEO said were the "most destructive firestorm in state history," left most of the Keysight campus untouched. HP 3000s themselves have survived fires to operate again, often relying on backups to return to service.

Dave Packard coinsNo such backup would have been possible for the lost archives. The company was so devoted to its legacy that it preserved Dave and Bill's offices just as they used them while co-leaders of the company. The offices in the HP building in Palo Alto — unthreatened by California files — include overseas coins and currency left by HP executives traveling for Hewlett-Packard. The money sits on the desks.

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