History

Wayback Wed: HP green-lights emulators

Green-LightFifteen years ago this month, Hewlett-Packard gave the recently-orphaned HP 3000 customer base hope. The vendor was speaking at the first HP World conference since HP's plan to curtail 3000 futures. Customers were reluctant in 2002 to step away from MPE/iX, at least at the pace their vendor was urging. In a roundtable at the conference in LA, HP said PA-RISC emulators capable of running MPE/iX software could be licensed for HP's OS.

It would take most of the next 10 years to make an emulator a reality, a period when HP declined to share tech details that would've sped development from third parties like Stromasys (which was called Software Resources International at the time.) Charon came onto the market during the years when HP had run out the clock on issuing new 3000 licenses.

HP's Dave Wilde said at that conference that 19 of the top 20 application suppliers for the 3000 were already on the move to HP’s other platforms. 3000 owners were moving at a pace far slower than the app suppliers, though. Customer interests in 2002 were higher about ways to ensure a supply of newer hardware once HP quit making it 12 months from the conference.

HP was far off in figuring how to placate its customers devoted to MPE/iX.  The vendor would extend a 50 percent credit for N-Class systems to be used toward any HP-UX system. The discount was to drop to 40 percent during 2005 and 30 percent during 2006. 

The discounts were going to be too short-lived. Customers were so engaged with their 3000s that HP had to extend its end of support date beyond 2006, and then beyond 2008. Post-2008 was the period when the 3000 emulator's development started to take off.

HP’s announcements at the September, 2002 show represented its first tangible offer to customers with continued 3000 ownership as their most cost-effective strategy. HP did not release pricing for the MPE licenses to accompany such an emulator. At the time, there was the possibility that such emulator software could make Intel x86 as well as Itanium processors look like PA-RISC 3000 hardware. The pricing of the MPE/iX licenses was going to be an issue, the customers believed.

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Songs of a Simpler Week of September

HP Song Book coverThere's tragedy a-plenty to ponder today, what with the news of Irma's landfalls and a somber anniversary of an attack right at hand. Over this weekend, though, an old friend of the HP 3000 passed along a memory marker. That's a piece of documentation that proves our 3000 world was a different place, but a place still related to what we know today. The marker for this month comes from Dave Wiseman, WisemanGatorwhose 3000 pedigree includes dragging an inflated alligator around a conference show floor as well as a 3000 performance dashboard with a Windows GUI, sold with a freeware version years before open source became an industry strategy.

Wiseman shared a sheaf of pages from the HP Song Book. Corporations of the 20th Century had official corporate songs, but these tunes first rose up on Sept. 11, 1989, sung at the Interex conference in San Francisco. They were written by Orly Larson, a 3000 division database expert who played guitar and strummed up good vibes from customers in the era before corporate Internet.

50th Anniversary SongIn addition to being a September a dozen years before the 9/11 tragedy, the 1989 conference opened on the 50th Anniversary of Hewlett-Packard. Unix was not yet HP's chief enterprise computing platform. The vendor wanted a seat at the desktop user interface table with its New Wave GUI, coupled with the HP Deskmanager office mail and software suite hosted on 3000s.

There was still more software to sell than HP could explain easily.

Database SongHP was trying out the concept of offering two databases for the 3000, TurboImage and Allbase. The song lyrics (at left) told the 1989 attendees that HP had already sold over 35,000 HP 3000s with IMAGE. Another product, HP SQL, was being touted for $15,000 "US list, that is," a line that somehow was scanned onto the melody of the ragtime hit Baby Face. Allbase's price was $30,000 in that year, "unconfigured, that is." This might have been the last time that HP software pricing made its way into song.

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Wayback Wed: The Big Wet soaks HP's show

Sam-Houston-flood-HarveyDuring this week of 2005, a natural disaster the size of Hurricane Harvey sank the launch site of HP's conference debut. Hurricane Katrina socked New Orleans two weeks before the first HP Technology Forum & Expo was to make its appearance on the HP 3000 show calendar. Katrina's loss of life was staggering compared to Harvey's toll. In some way, though, the disruption for that conference devoted to HP business computing felt fated. HP's computer group bore down a storm of change on the Interex user group's shoreline that year, cooking up the Technology Forum all during 2005. The HP-led show was roping in exhibitor dollars which had kept the Interex user group afloat each year.

Houston-flood-totalsAs of this writing, HP Enterprise has not reported damages to the HP facilities in the Highway 249 corridor where the Compaq and HP facilities are located. The reported rainfall totals are staggering, however, and the hurricane is being declared the worst rainfall disaster in US history. HPE-Houston-Facilities

The company had its history with hurricanes and the Gulf Coast before this week, though. HP got close to Houston because of its Compaq acquisition in 2002. In 2005, Interex canceled its HP World show when the user group folded with millions in unpaid hotel deposits still on the books. At the time, HP said anyone who'd paid to attend the Interex show could shift their registration to the first-ever HP Tech Forum. The event was to be held in New Orleans in the thick of hurricane season. Katrina wrecked the city so badly that HP had to move its new show to Orlando.

The 2005 hurricane rescheduled an HP show that was not aimed to replace Interex's annual tentpole event. The scheduling might as well have been targeted at the user group, though. Interex got notice in 2004 it could collaborate with the DEC-driven Encompass user group on a 2005 conference, But the HP user group launched by HP 3000 customers was 30 years old by 2004. Interex had to go its own way to retain enough revenue from the event. User group leaders averred that the deciding factor was HP's insistence on steering the content and tone of the new event. In particular, the tone was cited by an HP liaison David Parsons. The Interex members had a history of going toe-to-toe with HP's executives in the legendary Management Roundtables.

As they often do, the storms triggered disaster recovery reporting. Before Katrina swept its broom of destruction in 2005, we ran a pair of articles about disaster recovery strategies. Our columnist Scott Hirsh has also weighed in with best practices on DR in hisWorst Practices column written in the wake of 9/11. Gulf Coast weather didn't sink Interex, but the tradition of an August-September schedule for North American HP trade shows was scattered for good by the storm. HP CEOs had a tradition of being in hurricane paths.

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Wayback Wed: Lights Out for 3000 Classics

Series 70 with Disk FarmDuring this month 20 years ago, HP sent its death notice out about the original systems it built to run MPE. All computers running CISC technology, systems the community learned to call Classic 3000s, got their end of support notice in August of 1997. Hewlett-Packard officially labeled them and the software built for MPE V as "vintage software and systems."

As continues to be the case for HP's end of life plans, the finale for the 3000's original chip design arrived more than a few years beyond the EOL of September 1998. Series 70s were still in use when the original notice went out, at least a decade beyond their final shipping date. HP created the Series 70 when the RISC Spectrum project looked certain not to rescue the highest-end HP 3000 users in time. Series 68 users were running out of horsepower, and HP's final CISC server filled the gap for awhile.

HP was consolidating its support resources with the announcement. Even though 20,000 HP 3000s shipped between system introduction and the arrival of the RISC-based systems, the newer, lower-priced MPE/iX servers became popular replacements for Classic 3000s. By 1997 the software vendors had made a complete embrace of the new OS. But 3000 customers, ever a thrifty bunch, retained what continued to serve them well enough. Customers noted that the approaching Y2K deadline was not going to hamper the vintage software or its hardware.

Although the announcement sparked a 3000 hardware sales bump and hastened the journey of the two-digit systems like the Series 42 to the scrap heap, the old compilers remained under support. A community advocate then asked HP to free up Basic/V to the community, along with the original Systems Programming Language (SPL). The request pre-dated the idea of open source by more than a few years. HP's response was no different than the one it held to when it stopped supporting MPE/iX. Once an HP product, always an HP product.

Wirt Atmar of AICS noted that "If HP has abandoned Basic, it would be an extraordinary gift to the MPE user community to make it and SPL legal freeware. Basic still remains the easiest language to build complex, easy string-manipulating software that must interact with IMAGE databases."

Another community leader, Chris Bartram, made direct reference to freeware in seconding the move to give Basic/V to the customers. Bartram's 3k Associates already hosted a website of shareware for the HP 3000. He said donating the MPE V versions of Basic and SPL fit with HP's new policy of relying on shareware for its HP 3000 customers.

"It certainly doesn't hurt anything at this point to make it freeware," he said, "and fits in well with the wealth of other freeware programs that are becoming available on the platform -- almost all without "official" support or significant investments from HP." Old hardware, on the other hand, suffered from the same issues as HP's aging iron of our current day. Parts became a showstopper at some sites.

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The Next Totality: Will it be our last?

21stCenturyNorthAmericanEclipsesA wide swath of North America sparkled with zeal for the sun today. The total eclipse cut across the US from left to right coasts, scattering visions many viewers never knew before in person. We had a partial here in Austin and built a binocular viewer. On TV a stadium full of astronomy enthusiasts saw the clouds dash all but 11 seconds of totality hopes in Carbondale, Ill. Not far to the west, the Stonehenge knockoff Carhenge had clear skies and a stunning swing of darkness for about two minutes.

The talk today began to turn to whether this would be the last total eclipse in our North American lifetimes. The answer is easy enough for things younger than 70: this won't be the last, because less than seven years from now a top-to-bottom totality will swing through North America. Austin is in the path of 100 percent this time. We have to decide if we'll be renting out the NewsWire offices for viewing parties in 2024.

Next EclipseThe question that's harder to answer with certainty is whether this is the last totality for the HP 3000. For many years by now we've heard sites talking about plans to work in the 2020's. Ametek Chandler Engineering has a plan to take them into 2023. Earlier this month, the 3000 manager at MagicAire shared the news that he's deciding if clearing the 2028 CALENDAR roadblock is worthwhile for his operation.

The number of companies who'll rely on the 3000 may be zero in less than six years, but I wouldn't bet on it. Series 70 machines were running in the Dallas area more than 15 years after they were taken off HP's 3000 lineup. The odds of zero MPE/iX apps running in less than six years are probably nil. Virtualized PA-RISC systems from Stromasys will be cradling what we call 3000 apps in 2024.

Not-BrightOur community of experts and customers might take up their circa-2017 eyewear once again when I'm turning 67. If back in 1979 — when the last total eclipse sailed through a bit of the US — someone figured nobody would need to be wearing glasses to watch a total eclipse in 2017, they'd be wrong about that. Old tech has a way of hanging on once it's proved itself. The last total eclipse I'm likely to see is in 2045. I'll only be 88, and MPE will be just a tender 63 years old. Anything first created in 1954 and still in use is 63 years old today. That would be nuclear submarines and M&Ms. Think the latter (alluring, durable) while considering MPE's lifespan. There's also that song about the future, brightness, and shades. As we saw today, stranger things have already happened.


Wayback Wed: User groups, past and future

Connect logo partialTwelve years ago this week, the Interex user group became fully retired. Most of the community called the shutdown of the 31-year-old HP users group a bankruptcy, since millions of dollars of invoices went unpaid, while hundreds of thousands of dollars in deposits and membership fees vanished. In its own way, though, Interex was stepping aside for user groups better built for IT of the 21st Century. The groups that have taken over during those years are better focused, streamlined, and understand their constituents better.

One of those groups is seeking directors this week. Connect, the latest generation of a group that was called Encompass on the day Interex retired, is searching for nominees to serve in three seats on its board. Members of a user group board have important duties, even while they're working for no pay. They oversee fiscal decisions, like the group on the Interex board was charged with doing at its demise. Directors propose advocacy, like the dozens of volunteers who served on the OpenMPE group in its eight years of existence. A board at its best looks forward toward how its organization should evolve. The ecosystem for IT is always changing.

That International Group for Hewlett-Packard Computer Users became Interex in 1984 and had mixed missions right from its beginnings. Built in an era without Internet or fax machines, Interex had to serve the needs of HP 3000, HP 9000, and even HP 1000 community members. The latter often didn't know they owned a 1000, since it was embedded deep in other devices. When I began covering HP in 1984, the HP 1000 group still was holding its own annual conference, even as it operated under the Interex banner.

Things got more complicated when PCs moved into datacenters and offices for good. By the time Interex locked its doors on Borregas Avenue in Sunnyvale, Calif., the HP 9000 members had overtaken the mission of the 3000, riding that pre-Internet wave of Unix passions. HP had announced its exit scheme for MPE/iX. Windows became the dominant environment for IT computing, a community too diverse for a vendor-centric group to impact.

The last executive director who left his job with the group still intact, Chuck Piercey asked repeatedly in the years before the bankruptcy what a user group built around one vendor might do in a homogenous landscape. Interex was built when the silos of vendors could stand distinct, and managers could run an all-HP shop and remain competitive within their industries.

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Wayback Wed: HP makes 3000 fiber-fast

Server-rack-fibre-channelTwenty years ago this month Hewlett-Packard began to make its 3000s fast enough to use fiber connections. HP Fibre Channel was an implementation of the T11 standard, a serial interface to overcome limitations of SCSI and HIPPI interfaces. Although the 3000 wouldn't gain a full Fibre Channel capability until the following year, HP laid the essential groundwork with the first High Speed Connect (HSC) cards for HP 3000s.

It was peripheral technology nearly in parallel with Unix, a strategy the 3000 community was clamoring for during the system's late 1990s renaissance.

New IO cards rolled into the 3000 market in 1997, giving the server a road to bandwidth equality with its cousin the HP 9000. HP told customers Fiber Channel was the future of 3000 peripheral connectivity. HP's first family of Fiber Channel devices were first deployed in a Model 30/FC High Availability Disk Array for 9000s.

SpeedChart-Series-997-IntroThe advance for the server gave the 3000 an open door to a technology that's still in heavy use. By some estimates more than 18 million Fibre Channel ports are working across the world. The technology has rocketed from the initial 1Gbit speed to 128Gbit bandwidth. The highest-speed HP 3000s until the ultimate server generation were Series 997s, designed to replace the Emerald-class systems. HP charged more than $400,000 for 997s at the top of the range. It was the only 12-way HP 3000 the vendor ever introduced.

Today the Fibre Channel advantage is available in Linux server settings. One example is the Dell EMC storage solution. Linux is the host environment for the Stromasys Charon HPA emulator.

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Wayback Wed: Blog takes aim at 3000 news

SearchlightTwelve years ago this week we opened the 3000 NewsWire's blog, starting with coverage of a departed 3000 icon, a migration tool built by a 3000 vendor to assist database developers, as well as a split up of HP's two largest operations. The pages of this blog were devoted to these major areas: updates from the 3000 homesteading community, insights on how to move off the 3000, and the latest News Outta HP, as we continue to call it today. After 2,978 articles, we move into the 13th year of online 3000 news.

Bruce Toback died in the week we launched. He was a lively and witty developer who'd created the Formation utility software for managing 3000 forms printing. A heart attack felled him before age 50, one of those jolts that reminded me that we can't be certain how much time we're given to create. Bruce expanded the knowledge of the community with wit and flair.

Quest Software rolled out its first version of Toad, software that migrating 3000 sites could employ to simplify SQL queries. The initial version was all about accessing Oracle database, but the current release is aimed at open source SQL databases. Open source SQL was in its earliest days in 2005, part of what the world was calling LAMP: Linux, Apache, MySQL and Python-PHP-Perl. Quest was also selling Bridgeware in a partnership with Taurus Software in 2005. That product continues to bridge data between 3000s and migration targets like Oracle.

HP was dividing its non-enterprise business to conquer the PC world in our first blog week. The company separated its Printer and PC-Imaging units, a return to the product-focused organization of HP's roots. Infamous CEO Carly Fiorina was gone and replacement Mark Hurd was still in his honeymoon days. Todd Bradley, who HP had hired away from mobile system maker Palm, got the PC unit reins and ran wild. Before he was cut loose in 2013, the PC business swelled to $13 billion a year and HP was Number 1. HP missed the mobile computing wave, a surprise considering Bradley came from Palm. You can't win them all.

That HP success in PCs, all driven by Windows, reflected the OS platform leader and wire-to-wire winner of migration choices for 3000 owners.

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Emulation proposes to fix 3000 antiquation

Antique serversA few weeks back, an ardent reader of the Newswire asked about our HP 3000 Memoirs Project. I shared a link to the History section of the Newswire, a subject we never featured in our printed editions. I figured I was chatting with a fan of the server until I asked, "What are you doing with your HP 3000 these days?"

"Dying, that's what. I cannot believe that my place of business still uses this antiquated platform as their system of record."

There's no reason to take this personally if you disagree. Webster's tells us that antiquated means "outmoded or discredited by reason of age; old and no longer useful, popular, or accepted." Some of this is true of the computing we still call HP 3000. (Some just call the server "the HP," which I take as a sign of less-ardent interest.)

However, the antiquated object in management cross-hairs begins with the 3000 hardware. HP's gear is a growing liability, unless you're smart enough to have independent support for the Hewlett-Packard systems. If not, there's a way to eliminate antiquated from the capital equipment list of problems.

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Laser ruling a draft for 3000 owners' rights

LaserJet 33440ALaserJets are wired into the history of the HP 3000. Hewlett-Packard never would have developed the printer that changed HP without a 3000 line in place. The business printer was designed to give minicomputer users a way to print without tractor-feed paper, fan-fold greenbar or dot-matrix daisywheels. That was more than 30 years ago. A Supreme Court decision on laser printing this week has a chance at affecting the future of HP's 3000 iron.

The ruling handed down this week was focused on a lawsuit between an HP rival, Lexmark, and a company that builds and sells Lexmark replacement toner cartridges. Lexmark tried to assert that its patent protection for laser toner cartridges extends to the buyers of the cartridges. Nobody could refill that Lexmark-built cartridge but Lexmark, the print giant said.

The upstart Impression Products has been buying used cartridges from the customers and refilling them. If this sounds like healthy commerce to you, then you agree with the decision written by Chief Justice John Roberts this week. Even though a company can protect a patent as it sells the product, the patent doesn't hold if the product is resold, or modified and resold. An article at WashingtonPost.com — where 3000 legend Eugene Volokh leads a popular law blog — has all the details.

HP is not in the story except for a line at the bottom, which notes how seminal the LaserJet remains in the story of printing. An earlier edition, the correction notes, used the word laserjet instead of laser printer. The 3000's future ownership might ride on how courts determine the Supreme's decision. You can resell a car that you've modified and break no law. HP has long maintained the HP iron called a 3000 is no vehicle, though, even while it carries the magic rider called MPE.

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Making 3000 Memoirs, One Post at a Time

Memoir ProjectFive years ago I was entering into memoirs territory. I had a decent start on my own memoir, Stealing Home: The Road to the Perfect Game. It was time for the 3000 community to have its memoirs, too. A few of the community's leaders shared stories, each a memory, of how the 3000 changed their life.

It was a simple and heartfelt formula I believed might be a book. What happened to the HP 3000 Memoir Project was that it became a dynamic story. Instead of being compiled into pages, the 3000's memoirs are in the History section of the blog. There are nearly 400 stories in there.

Three times a month, a history article gives us insights. I call these Wayback Wednesdays, or Fallback Fridays. Each memory is designed to supply meaning and insight. We can't change what happened to us. We might alter how we perceive it, though, as well as change the direction it propels us toward.

Everyone goes into every life situation with specific expectations. History shapes those expectations. We all try to make sense of what's happening to us; prior events give us context. We imagine how what we're doing in this moment will impact us in the future. Memoirs give us a guide to see how things might work out. Maybe most importantly, we draw on memories to evaluate what's happening and see what to do next.

So when Rob'n T Lewis of South Seattle College asked today, "Is the HP 3000 Memoir Project finished?" I said no. Perhaps it will never be, if there are stories remaining to tell. We told the first of them on this blog in 2007. We're always going to be evaluating everything for meaning, always drawing conclusions—not concluding the storytelling.

The Computer History Museum has an Oral History website section. It includes accounts from Alfredo Rego and Marty Browne of ASK. We're continuing that tradition for the 3000 founders, because everybody wants the last word.


Friday Fallback: The White House's 3000

White houseThere's a torrent of news coming out of the White House this week, but there's also a bit of history noted for 3000 users and fans. Out on the FedTech website, editor Phil Goldstein created some history and reported on some more with a story about the HP 3000 being the first computer ever to support the White House. It was 1978 when the 3000 began to aid White House efforts like tracking the desires of Congress.

A nonprofit organization that's been telling stories about the White House since 1961, the White House Historical Association says that Jimmy Carter's first minicomputer was "assembling databases, tracking correspondence, developing a press release system, and compiling issues and concerns of Congress." Goldstein developed a high-points article about those heady days of undercutting IBM mainframes and the swift rise of the 3000. In 1979, for example, the 3000 accounted for 15 percent of all data systems revenues at HP. It was $150 million in orders, up from $50 million in 1976.

The article has its problems with history. The timelines suffer from either a 1984-style rewrite, or rushed research. By the accounting of FedTech (a website run by vendor CDW) the 3000's operating system only lasted until 1997, the computers first surfaced in 1972, and HP began to develop it in 1968. Wrong, inaccurate, and misunderstood, those dates are. These things happen when a story's subject is Old Tech. Who'd care if the facts aren't accurate. The 3000's dead, right?

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 3.08.37 PMThere's plenty to appreciate in the article. Appropriate links to resources like 579-page The HP Phenomenon, and the HP Computer Museum. There's a link to a book, Managing Multivendor Networks, that covers the 3000 and was written in 1997. Wait, that's supposed to be the same year as MPE was wrapping up, right? Geez, these details. The truth is that MPE is still working today, 20 years beyond the inaccurate sell-by date.

HP was only successful in selling some of the first working models in 1974 after buying back all the failed 1972 units. And the development begun in 1968 was to create the Omega Project. The System/3000 was a fall-back effort when Omega, a 32-bit revolutionary design, was killed by HP in 1971. The vendor's short-circuit of a game-changer started a history that ran right up to the 2001 pull-out notice from 3000 futures. That one killed the rewrite of MPE/iX for the Itanium IA-64 chips.

The HP Phenomenon has priceless accuracy and strong details about the 3000's roots, starting on page 159 with MPE—Rx for Business. Dave Packard's quote that "we're wasn't proud of the 3000" echoed the system's endgame at HP. It's a thankless task to stay current when the vendor relentlessly withholds funds for innovation. What is not noted in the history article is that the 3000 made HP a computer company with the biggest success it ever had by 1976. You read the HP Phenomenon to find that fact.

As is often the case, the coda written to FedTech's 3000 story is rushed to a total demise. The wrap-up misses the work that the system does today, asking instead, "Why Did The HP 3000 Die Off?" Reports of its total demise are Fake News, something on the mind of the current White House occupant.

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Wayback Wed: 3000s Needed More Time

In this era of cloud computing, the roots of the original HP 3000s rise up. Clouds are the ultimate shared computers, systems so fluid they use hardware that can be provisioned with a set of entries on a webpage. Forty-five years ago this month the first computer that created our community wasn't making its way to its first loading dock. HP called this system a server for multi-programming, designed with the full intention of enabling people to use it from remote locations. The product couldn't bridge the miles between California and Connecticut, unable to ship from the HP factory location to a customer facility on time. It was the beginning of a black eye the vendor wore for nearly two years.

First-HP-3000-Sale-DelayHalting starts have been in many a successful product's history. In May of 1972 the HP 3000 was already running late, beset with hardware problems. The archives in the NewsWire offices include a letter to the first customer to order an HP 3000. The initial shipments of HP 3000s only fulfilled Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard's doubts about being in the commercial computing business. Their H-P was stuck with a product which started as a disaster. It was up to another Bill to break the news in the letter (click for details).

HP put its best face on this first delay, telling Yale-New Haven Hospital that "When a first order comes from a hospital such as Yale-New Haven and from [Dr. David Seligson] a person with an international reputation in the field of laboratory automation, we are doubly flattered." But this HP 3000 system was going to ship late to New Haven.

"Although our development is remarkably close to the targets we set over a year ago, we find that we must slip our shipments to insure that our customers receive a computer system with the built-in reliability that HP is known for," read Bill Terry's letter to Seligson. "Your system will be the first shipped outside the immediate Cupertino area and is scheduled for December, 1972."

The letter arrived in May, seven months before HP would finally allow the first 3000s outside of California. It was a simpler time with crude technology. HP offered the hospital a bonus for enduring the delay. "We would like to donate an additional 8K words of core memory (part 3006A, $8,000.00) to your HP 3000 system. Additionally, our intention is definitely to continue with plans for the training of your people, both in Cupertino and New Haven, as soon as possible." The 3000 entered the world as an ASAP project.

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Friday Fine-tune: directories and tombstones

ByetombstoneA 3000 manager wanted to know about adjusting privileges on their server. When the community's veterans started to respond, extra information rose up. Some of was about the management of files in MPE/iX, the kind of legacy recorded on what's known as a tombstone.

Tombstones are data used to solve 3000 problems and establish file access. HP says in its manual for programming in MPE/iX that "It's frequently necessary to obtain status information on a file to determine the cause of an error." A File Information Display is frequently called a tombstone, providing:

  • Actual physical and operational file characteristics.
  • Current file information, pertaining to end of file, record pointer, and logical and physical transfer count. Information on the last error for the file and the last HPFOPEN or FOPEN error.
  • When a file is opened, the final characteristics may be different from those originally requested because of defaults, overrides, :FILE commands, and the file label.

You can use the PRINTFILEINFO intrinsic to print a tombstone. It requires that you specify the file number returned when the file is opened by HPFOPEN or FOPEN. The tombstone can display either a full or short format.  If the file is open, it provides a full display. Otherwise, it provides a short display. Calling this intrinsic does not automatically abort the program.

You can call the PRINTFILEINFO intrinsic from programs written in COBOL II/XL and HP FORTRAN 77/iX. When calling from COBOL II/XL, use the FD filename. You can call the name PRINTFILEINFO directly from HP FORTRAN 77/iX programs. You can obtain the required file number by using the FNUM intrinsic.

Tombstones came up after one list member resurrected an answer about privileges from a 11-year-old post. Ray Shahan, still managing archival systems for Republic Title of Texas, heard his name in discussion about TD and RD privileges and how to control them. He quipped about not being heard from in ages.

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Wayback Wed: Doing the Beta patch Samba

Samba dancerIn April of HP's 2006, the company was exhorting its customers to use the 3000 improvements built by the vendor. Near the top of that list was the latest Samba, the printer and file sharing open source software that made it easy for 3000s to connect to Windows servers and resources. The latest version was 3.0.22, delivered to the world in the same year as the Samba community began to use it. The snag for a 3000 user: the official patch was only available to customers that year with an HP support contract.

The issue remained a troubling one that HP settled by the end of its 3000 business. Beta patches with improvements like SCSI Pass Thru and Samba eventually got unfettered distribution, even through they never passed the tests needed for General Release status. Today, the best way to get any HP 3000 patch is to use the guidance of an independent support company. We never tire of reminding readers that Pivital Solutions is an all-3000 provider, an official reseller of 3000s until HP closed that business, and one of seven holders of an MPE/iX source code license. It's a unique combination.

HP improved the 3000 and repaired bugs with a patch process that included alpha and beta testing before going into general release to customers. General Release status was important, because until HP's code was GR'd no one could get it but HP support customers. That was a wide gap in coverage. By 2006 the majority of the 3000 world was getting support from the independent companies which serve the community today. Alpha testing happened inside HP, and beta happened in the customer shops where a test machine was available. As the 3000's futures dwindled inside HP, though, the beta testers became harder to recruit. Customers usually took on patches in a PowerPatch collection. One was being prepared for the ultimate MPE/iX 7.5 release during April, 2006.

The announcement of a PowerPatch deadline was a routine message from HP's 3000 lab. The messages asked customers to pick up what they'd ordered though the Systems Improvement Ballot. "There are more than 30 beta-test patches still not qualified to be included in the PowerPatch. Tests of PowerPatches must be completed by customers on HP support. The 7.5 patches can only be tested on a subset of the 3000 installed base: any server released before the 9x8 systems won't be able to test anything created for 7.5."

HP lab liaison Jeff Vance told the user community, "If you voted for one of the many SIB items which are stuck in beta-test, waiting to become GR patches, and have not requested any of these patches, please do so ASAP. It really doesn’t do the user community much good to have a bunch of MPE enhancements stuck in beta-test, maybe never to see the light of day."

Customers' devotion to stability kept the beta test improvements in the dark. Changes to a 3000 became harder to justify on a stable, version-frozen server. Samba 3.0.22 was ported by HP for all three supported OS versions of that year, from 6.5 through 7.5. It was the final Samba version developed through HP's labs, a significant one since Samba gained the ability to join Active Directory as a member, though not as a domain controller. Samba was one of the first advances for 3000s resulting from Posix standards for MPE -- developments that earned the OS its /iX name.

As HP closed down the MPE/iX labs, concerns rose about beta-test enhancements like a current Samba disappearing for customer use. A beta patch that never made it to General Release might be unavailable once HP's support contracts ended. The vendor came through with a plan to make the beta patches available to the world: ask HP support for what you'd like by name. Samba 3.0.22 was dubbed SMBMXY6F, for example.

The patched MPE/iX code itself remains inside HP Enterprise, but HP 3000 customers enjoy a unique place in HP's support world. A current HP support contract isn't required to get the code. It's a dance, to be sure, that a customer must do with HP support—but at least now that HP's been divided into Enterprise and Printer companies, the 3000 questions don't get confused with HP printers using the same number.

Continue reading "Wayback Wed: Doing the Beta patch Samba" »


On the Surprises Of Six Decades

.Kaypro Man

I never expected to be doing this on the day that I turned 60. That's today. I joined the world of the HP 3000 when I was 27. I worked out my earliest articles about MPE (there was no iX) on a Kaypro II like the one depicted at right. Yes, that phone there was state of the art, too. I came hungry to write about PCs and Macs and figured the minicomputer beat would be a starting spot. This has become the destination, the world we love together.

In my late 20s I gave little thought to what my job would be by the time I got old enough to buy Senior tickets at the movies. I'm a journalist, so I think about the future more than some fellows, though. I had no vision about reporting about a minicomputer when I turned 60. Like you, I never believed I'd be doing this for so long. More than half my life, I've typed the letters MPE together. My life has been blessed, both with the rich array of people whose stories I get to tell, as well as the sponsors who support this life's work. I am thankful for both.

But here we all are, faithful to work that is rich and comforting, steeped in the knowledge that the 3000 is nearly 45 years old. Just at midlife, perhaps, at least in the measurement of a man. I'm entering my third act, I like to say. Friends are close at hand in my life and I continue to  create with words and ideas. My dreams are realized and something I'll never retire from. Perhaps that's true for you as well. The 3000 was supposed to be rubbish by now. Instead, people still want to buy HP's software for it

I'm here for the surprises like that. Survival is success earned across years and through uncertainty and crisis. Your support of that survival is a point of pride. We all earned our latest act. Enjoy the role you are playing, making way for the future.

On Saturday my bride and publisher Abby cooked up a party for me, a total surprise. It was the first surprise party of my life. Sometimes the universe gives us surprises. When we're lucky, the surprises are enduring and continue to reward our faith and hope. The love, ah, that flows on its own, propelled by our lives together.


History processor heralds new Wayback/iX

A reconfiguration of HPCALENDAR intrinsic capabilities is opening the door for date revisions, one of the last remaining roadblocks to an everlasting MPE/iX lifespan. The design and development of the project has been underway in a Sourceforge repository since 2013, with a handful of volunteers working to deliver the new intrinsic WAYBACK.

BillandDaveworkingVolunteers cited the work of the Stromasys Charon HPA system for providing the ongoing inspiration to keep the work alive. One developer, who requested anonymity for fear of having his report labeled fake news, said that the everlasting platform for MPE/iX software triggered the stealth project. "This is no fool's errand," he said. "We'll bring these apps into a future HP never dreamed about. That's the value of the HP Way, retaining value and profitability."

When successfully tested, WAYBACK will bypass the 2028 roadblock to date processing. The Sourceforge team, which calls itself the League of Joy, believes that an additional processor will have to be added for HP 3000 hardware manufactured by Hewlett-Packard. Emulated and virtualized HP 3000s are expected to need no such separate CPU, although a high number of cores will make date manipulation seamless.

The end of accurate date processing — a state that the League calls Fake Dates — was never a concern when MPE was first developed. "This is not a bug, really," said Vladimir Volokh, who is not a part of the League development team. "It's a limitation. This 'end of 2027' date was as far away as infinity when MPE was created." Adding a Wayback/iX to the package of Fundamental Operating System components is the next step in the work to add pages to the 3000's calendar.

HPCALENDAR, rolled out by Hewlett-Packard engineers in the late 1990s for the 6.0 release of MPE/iX, has been a newer tool to solve the old Fake Date problem. Since HPCALENDAR is fresher than CALENDAR, it's only callable in the 3000's Native Mode. WAYBACK intercepts the calls to CALENDAR and pipes them though HPCALENDAR, or so it's hoped once this history processor makes its way through beta testing.

In the meantime, one of the developers in the League of Joy suggested that IT pros who want their MPE/iX apps to run beyond 2028 should bone up on using intrinsics. Suggesting the Using Intrinsics whitepaper on the 3K Associates website, D. D. Browne predicted a swift end to the Fake Date roadblock.

"We've all been keeping the 3000's applications alive for longer than NPR has been broadcasting real news," Browne said. "It's going to carry us all beyond retirement," he said of any system running with WAYBACK. "Back in the days the 3000 was built, TV and radio stations once signed off the air. This operating environment is never going off the air."


3000 friends: Meet in the Valley, or seaside?

Dream InnAn HP 3000 user group meeting has become so rare by 2017 as to be legend. After Interex closed up shop suddenly in 2005, Alan Yeo organized a late-binding gathering in 2005, then another in 2007 and another in 2009, all in Silicon Valley. By 2011, Yeo was working along with me and Marxmeier Software's Michael Marxmeier to put on the HP3000 Reunion at the Computer History Museum. The Reunion provided the debut spot for the only HP 3000 emulator, the Charon HPA from Stromasys.

Then the meetings began to evolve to reconnect us without needing a formal program. The most enjoyable part of the formal meets, after all, was the SIG-BAR gatherings in the hotel lounges. Gossip and speculation were always a key part of SIG-BAR. Lately the meetings have moved exclusively to this Special Interest Group. Last year there was a lunch meeting at the Duke of Edinburgh pub, set up by Birket Foster.

There's something about these leaders that can rouse people to return. The Bay Area in summertime has drawn a rich collective of 3000 veterans and experts. In 2008 the Computer History Museum hosted a seminar on 3000 software history. Another fellow with user group meeting experience is leading this year's charge to the Valley.

Dave Wiseman notified us about a 2017 gathering he's setting up for the Bay Area.

So we used to all be good friends in the community and its about time we met up again for a beer or three. We had a couple of very pleasant meetings in the UK and I am in California early June so I thought that I might organize one in the valley around June 5/6/7th. I am happy to organize a meeting while I'm in San Francisco. Could you tell me if you would be interested in coming? We’d love to see all of our old friends again

Dates: Any preference for Monday June 5th, or Tuesday June 6th?
Location: San Francisco/ SFO airport hotel/ Cupertino, or Santa Cruz (I’d see if we could book the Dream Inn for a Santa Cruz location)
Time: Lunch, afternoon or evening

Please email me, [email protected], so we can see if there are enough people interested to make it worth everyone's while.

I'd put a vote up for the Dream Inn (above, seaside) since it was a stop on my cross-California 20th wedding anniversary trip with Abby. They're even got a Dream Floor at the top.

Continue reading "3000 friends: Meet in the Valley, or seaside?" »


Wayback Wed: Customers' Proposition 3000

Computerworld April 22


During the month of March 21 years ago, the 3000 community tried to raise a ruckus. The object of Proposition 3000 was to prod HP into making the 3000 a full citizen of the future of business computing. After only a couple of years of introduction, the new processor HP was developing with Intel looked like it would pass by the world of MPE/iX. HP and Intel dubbed the IA-64 technology the future of computing. HP had backed away from plans to make the 3000's OS run on the new chip it was calling "Tahoe."

"The company appears to be making a fundamental but flawed assumption that MPE migrations will be channeled directly into HP-UX or NT-on-HP hardware." This was enough of a crisis that application vendors were standing up at an Interex Programmer's Forum to report HP asked them to rewrite their apps for HP-UX. We launched the NewsWire with a fanfare of it promoting the HP 3000 Renaissance. Not so fast, HP's top management was saying. We set down the challenge to HP and its customers in our FlashPaper (which you can read here to recall the outrage of the moment.) In this era, NT was the name of what would become Windows Server.

Customers want these systems, and vendors believe in their superiority. But those kinds of business blessings apparently clash with HP's profit motives; that's the only reason we can fathom for threatening to force an entire installed base to migrate to HP-UX or NT. You can decide for yourself how that kind of a productivity hit will impact your company's profits.

FlashPaper headline Mar 1996This was the canary in the mine shaft, the HP debate about whether to include MPE/iX in the future of business computing systems. In 1996 the IT world was allowing HP and Intel to call Tahoe the future, because the joint project was only a couple of years old. Tahoe had not yet become Merced, and then Itanium, all the while slipping release dates and getting lapped Intel's own by x86 generation enhancements. In 1996 the future looked to be slipping away. The most alarming development was HP asking vendors to rewrite for Unix. Soon enough, a few of them did, most notably the software company that put the 3000 into the world of the Web: Ecometry.

At the meeting we learned the problem wasn't really profit at HP. At the time of the Proposition, HP was earning $600 million a year in profit on sales of $1.2 billion. The 3000 division needed more engineering hands to move MPE/iX forward, resources the company would not provide.

The protest was staged at a Bay Area Interex meeting, a setting similar to the ruckus 3000 users raised in Boston at an Interex show six years earlier. But IPROF was not the annual show attended by thousands. The Proposition 3000 name and the movement were so-named because it was the new era of California's state propositions. HP's Tony Engberg replied that he would work to get the 3000 advocates an audience with top HP officials. The hearing felt desperately needed after Ecometry's Alan Gardner laid out the future HP presented him.

Continue reading "Wayback Wed: Customers' Proposition 3000" »


Simulator knows what day it is, or was

Feb22The SIMH project has created a software release that mimics the HP 3000 Classic CISC hardware. The software makes it possible to emulate HP 3000 servers that go back to the 1970s—the same systems HP mothballed in the middle 1980s even before the PA-RISC products of the past two decades.

So while SIMH won't give anyone an emulated HP 3000 that can run MPE/iX, the package somehow seems to know its way around the calendar. Even after MPE V has long since gone obsolete, the SIMH combo using MPE V from trailing-edge.com adjusts the year to match the current layout. As it turns out, the year 1989 has the same days of the week falling on the same calendar dates as 2017. It offers some hope of getting MPE/iX rewired so its CALENDAR intrinsic works beyond the end of 2027.

An emulator that virtualizes the ultimate generation HP 3000s is the domain of Stromays Charon HPA. SIMH is more of a hobbyist's dreamland, or as one serious veteran called it, "my version of toy trains."

Glen Cole fired up SIMH and reported that "the only user input below was 'hp3000 mpe-auto' ... Neat how it auto-magically knew that 1989 had the same calendar layout as 2017." He did a SHOWTIME to verify the date.

$ hp3000 mpe-auto

HP 3000 simulator V4.0-0 Beta        git commit id: f9cfae0c
Logging to file "mpe-auto.log"
Listening on port 1054
LP: creating new file

Cold load complete, P: 177664 (PSHR Q)
Press <CR> to start MPE.

HP32002E.01.00
WHICH OPTION <WARMSTART/COOLSTART>? COOLSTART
ANY CHANGES? NO

DATE (M/D/Y)?02/20/89
TIME (H:M)?22:35
MON, FEB 20, 1989, 10:35 PM? (Y/N)Y
LOG FILE NUMBER 5 ON
*WELCOME*
:HELLO OPERATOR.SYS;HIPRI

Continue reading "Simulator knows what day it is, or was" »


Wayback Wed: An Emulator's Partners Enter

Javelin-004Four years ago this month, the software that will continue to propel MPE/iX into the next decade earned its first partner. The support for the Stromasys Charon emulator first showed up from Minisoft, the vendor who announced an iPad-ready version of Javelin when Apple's tablet empire was new. Charon got a version of Javelin while the Stromasys product was just making its way into production status.

The promise of an emulator slowed down migrations in 2012. Freeware was showing up during that year that was tuned to Charon's HPA model. Keven Miller created a free utility to transfer Store to Disk files to the virtualized 3000 in the HPA. Minisoft broke the commercial software company ice with a product license created especially for the emulator. For $49, managers could now buy a Javelin to work inside the freeware version's 1-2 user license.

It was a small and initial development to show a marketplace was emerging for the sustaining aspect of the 3000. Freeware Charon (the A-202) was replaced by professional installation and proof of concept within a year. That change elevated the success rate for deployments. Software licensing became the only serious issue to resolve for a Charon site. For nearly all vendors, even though they didn't rework software itself, the licensing became an easy transfer. Software from one 4GL vendor remains an exception, but that company has vexed 3000 sites throughout three different ownerships.

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Wayback Wednesday: The 3000's e-Moment

SnowWithBezelIn the waning days before the Year 2000, the HP 3000 was running behind popular labels. The position was nothing new to the server and its fans. Hardly anyone outside of the MPE community knew about the computer and its legacy across the final 25 years of the 20th Century. For many years it didn't matter that the computer ran in the shadows of IBM big iron, Unix dot-com servers, and Windows PCs. The 3000 performed without problems and delivered impressive returns on investments in the HP iron.

But as far as the world outside the community could tell, the HP 3000 had little to do with the Internet. Once Y2K's survival mission was in the industry's rear-view mirror, HP decided to do something about the shadows around MPE/iX. In the prior decade MPE became MPE/iX to show the world the 3000 knew a bit about Unix. In February of 2000 HP rebranded the computer as the HPe3000, dropping that lowercase vowel in the middle of a name that hadn't changed in 27 years.

E3000Label-0002A vowel is an easy thing to add to a product. The Internet, not so. Engineers across the community, eventually those inside HP, worked between 1996 and 1999 to bolt on elements like a Web server, DNS software, Unix mainstays like bind, and more. The server was already working on the Web in spots like the e-commerce shops of Hickory Farms and Brookstone retailers. Despite the larger profile of well-known customers like M&M Mars, using the 3000 on the Internet was a secret weapon.

A new name was proposed to change that. HP Product Planning Manager for 3000s Doug Snow brought the idea to division GM Harry Sterling in 1999. By early the next year the entire server lineup had been re-branded. The new server bezels, both those for the standard cabinets as well as racked 3000s, wore a new badge. The name change story extended to our offices as well. The publisher of the NewsWire became known by a new name. Dottie Lentz became Abby Lentz to the world after I spread the news about a name as nascent as the 3000's Internet abilities.

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3000 experience floats up to the Fed

FedRichmondReid Baxter started his work in the HP 3000 world in 1981. This year he's helping to support the IT at the US Federal Reserve in Richmond, VA. There is no direct line between these two postings. Baxter has made the most of his career that started with MPE and terminals to lead to his current post where he helps maintain computers that serve the US banking bedrock, The Fed.

Baxter, one of the earliest 3000 Newswire subscribers, checked in this week to congratulate us on another anniversary as we crossed into the 22d calendar year of publishing. It's been quite a while, as Baxter says, since an HP 3000 was in his life: seven years ago he transitioned off everyday 3000 duty when his employer JP Morgan-Chase closed down its MPE/iX servers.

Baxter went into support of the 3000's successor at Chase, HP-UX, and then onward into Linux. When your skillset goes as far back as HP's Data Terminal Division, a new environment presents more opportunity than challenge. The 3000 once had a place in banking IT, which is why Chase once deployed the ABLE software suite from CASE for asset management.

After Chase did a downsize in 2015, Baxter went on a lengthy quest to land a new spot in finance computing. He's working today for HP Enterprise Services, by way of the Insight Global staffing enterprise. His mission is support of that Fed IT center, work that he can do remotely. One reason for that telecommute is that banking has often needed remote computing. Banking software on the 3000 once drove the adoption of Internet services on the business server, after all.

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The True Meaning of A 3000 Christmas

Charlie and LinusCharlie Brown shouts to the stars in the 1966 TV classic, "Isn't there anybody here who knows the true meaning of Christmas?" Linus leads him to the story that started the season which we're now ending. I like to think of that character's voice delivering an answer to the question, "Doesn't anybody remember the true meaning of MPE/iX?" Linus might say, "Its value, Charlie Brown, and its promises kept."

Like the commercial holiday that Charlie despised, there was always the phrase "you could just tell them to migrate" while discussing what HP's 3000 iron cannot do.

Feelings can affect choices and confirm faith. There was a design to extend the 3000's memory from 8GB to 32. But HP explained it couldn't justify doing that kind of work any longer. Adding "So migrate" might have sent people looking for systems with better memory, like a Christmas tree all shiny and new.

There are people who have known MPE/iX just as long as HP's lab experts, and some more deeply. A team of third party experts wrote the book Beyond RISC. HP bought thousands of copies. These two sides, first inside HP and now out in the expert community have wooed and rued that MPE gal, all while she has gained weight (years) and lost her tone (customers, demanding updates) and shown more grey (elderly versions of Ethernet, SCSI, all the tendrils of open source).

Yes, they've both had a relationship with her, but the outside experts still love her. HP's experts took her out, bought her dinner, even gave some gifts to show they knew her. The true meaning of MPE/iX and protecting a promise now resides in the wise Linus of our world, the independent software and support providers.

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Wayback Wed: A Dark Day for Emulation

LasthopeThe future looked dim for hosting MPE/iX on virtual hardware in December of 2009. Your market had little news about the forthcoming Charon HPA 3000 emulator. That software was only in alpha testing. This was the month that Strobe Data announced it was curtailing development of its 3000 emulator. Your community headed into 2010 with the hope of a Stromasys success and HP's promise to announce the new independent holders of MPE/iX source licenses.

Licensing source for an OS that only runs on aging HP hardware has value, indeed. Support customers benefit from outside licenses. It's well worth asking if your support vendor has such a license. But as a model to extend the lifespan of MPE/iX in production, source won't do the work that an emulator does: create new boxes.

Strobe hoped to do that using new hardware. The company started as a venture to emulate Digital computers as well as the HP 1000 real time machines. Many roadblocks stood in the way of a successful 3000 emulator launch in 2009. Strobe's founder Willard West intended to sweep away some obstacles by obtaining new PA-RISC processors. The chips were to be integrated on cards that would go into high-end Windows servers.

But development takes money. The resources for non-Digital development at Strobe did not materialize. It would take two more years for the ultimate winner in 3000 emulation, Stromasys, to bring out a product that needed no special HP hardware—just a special OS to run, MPE/iX.

An economic lull at the end of 2009--HP was reporting declines in all of its businesses except services --set the 3000/PA-RISC emulation work onto Strobe's back burner. The rate of hardware aging made a profound difference to Strobe, a small concern compared to Stromasys.

"We are just trying to survive the lull in government orders right now," the company's Alan Tibbetts said during the dark of that December. "The trouble is that the sales of our [Digital] PDP-11 line are down. The PDP-11s became unreliable more quickly and we have sold a bunch of them in the past, but the easy ones have already been captured." The month was a moment like the epic one in The Empire Strikes Back. Yoda watches Luke fly off Degobah, his training unfinished. "That boy was our last hope," he said. "Now matters are worse."

"No," Obi Wan replies. "There is another."

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HP: Still a font of talent after all these years

It's Wayback Wednesday, but the 3000's history recall has fresh entries from the current day. A lot of HP 3000 sites turned away from Hewlett-Packard's offerings over the last 15 years. But more than a few have not, even after three CEO ousters and a split up of the company into consumer and enterprise parts. There's still something in the split-off parts to admire. A new book chronicles lasting HP lessons to the industry players who are lapping HP today.

HewlettandPackardAmong the former: thousands of HP employees who've spent decades serving the HP customer. From engineering desk to conference presentation room, too many people to count or name have lifted the level of service. We heard from one today, Guy Paul, who once managed HP 3000s for the vendor and now is working on network storage for HP Enterprise. When asked what's remained stellar about the company where he's worked for 32 years, Paul pointed at people.

"The only thing that has remained that is good is the dedicated hard-working people I have had the pleasure to work with and learn from all these years," he said. He was compelled to add that many are leaving after the HP split up "and a merger all happening within one year." It's always been true that HP's loss of superior people is the industry's gain. So much of the 3000 independent enterprise earned its stripes by way of direct work with HP, too.

Some of that bounty has been released this week. A new management book might be cause for little celebration, but take a closer look at the new Becoming Hewlett-Packard. It was co-authored by a former top HP executive, Webb McKinney. He was interviewed eight years ago at the Minicomputer Software Symposium at the Computer History Museum. More than 20 of us were contributing 3000 stories at the Symposium, but the oral history McKinney gave at the Museum was even better. Best practices for the industry haven't changed that much since then. The HP book even makes a case for why the practices that have changed ought to change back. We're talking the HP Way here—although the book makes it clear that donuts are not a pillar of the Way.

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Noteworthy dates drive views of the future

Nov. 14 pageThis week on the 3000 newsgroup, Alan Yeo of ScreenJet picked up the remembrance torch to note the anniversary of 2001's 3000 business shut-off at HP. About your resilient computer he added, "In some ways it seems to have survived in some places in better shape than the HP that announced they were killing it!"

We agree and noted as much in the Nov. 14 NewsWire article. I promised to make not such a big deal about the history of the event; instead I tied it to recent advice about a hybrid of local and cloud-based ERP alternatives

Jan 1 pageThat event brought some benefit along with all of its carnage. Canceling the HP business operations for the 3000 (never an end-of-life; vendors don't get to define that) also sparked the completion of the first PA-RISC hardware emulator from Stromasys. The software continues to assure us all that the aging HP hardware won't be our only option over the next 11 years or so. Remember, on Jan. 1 2028, at 0000 hours, the dates stop working. Not MPE altogether, however.

A fix for that date issue might become a project for some remaining support company which has an MPE/iX source license. As you might infer from a date in this month's political events, stranger things have already happened.


The best wishes for your long life: a Plan B

Congratulations to us all. This is the 15th anniversary of the "we're killing off the 3000" announcement from HP. The end-game hasn't played out like HP expected. In 2001 the company's management didn't see three CEO resignations coming over those 15 years, or the company being forced to split itself to stay relevant to enterprise IT. Those two events are related. Yes, the 3000 got its pink-slip notice at the HP of 2001. So did the overstuffed, unwieldy Hewlett-Packard. The company that lurched toward every business while stepping back from others. It took 14 years almost to the day, but HP is half the size it was: HP Enterprise is the severed sibling from 2001's family.

Inside the 3000's division during that year, no one was talking about emulating the 3000 PA-RISC hardware that the company would stop building in 2003. That's now a reality, a new development since the 10-year anniversary of this sobering date. Hewlett-Packard was going to lead four customers out of every five away from MPE/iX, delivering them to the Unix alternative of HP-UX. Windows was going to get new customers out of the upheaval, too. No one figured three of every four departing companies would choose a non-HP environment.

DDoS Outage MapHere on this date in 2016, the idea of an environment as a crucial strategy is feeling outdated. IT directors always cared about applications. Now they're told they don't have to worry about environments. The cloud computing providers will do that for them. Except when they cannot provide the cloud. Behold (above) the map of Internet outage from last month on an ugly day.

The Support Group's Terry Floyd offered a Plan B strategy to the manufacturing customers of CAMUS last week. More than 30 companies using HP 3000s and MANMAN are in the CAMUS user group. Floyd's company is delivering a fresh alternative to help MANMAN sites move on from the 3000. But he also supports homesteading sites. With a foot in both worlds, he recommends staying safe by having a Plan B, even while you employ cloud computing for your future.

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Wayback Wed: HP's Oracle-MPE discounts for 3000s hoped to spark new applications

Spark-plug_s600x600Go back 20 years this week in the history of the 3000 and you'll find cheaper Oracle as a lure for application growth on MPE. Hewlett-Packard sank human resources and money into making Oracle a more attractive and affordable option for 3000 owners. By October, 1996 the pursuit of new applications was at its most ardent peak. HP would bring down the cost per seat of Oracle 7 by 25 percent just to get a company to install it on a new HP 3000. What the deal was seeking was places where Oracle might sell into a community that grew strong on IMAGE/SQL.

The deal, plus Oracle's applications, was trying to overcome three barriers to implementing Oracle. First, sites had data in IMAGE databases with no straightforward way in 1996 to move that information to Oracle's format. Second, site managers experienced higher management demands while using Oracle on other platforms. Finally, the price barrier for purchasing a second HP 3000 database (since IMAGE was bundled, even in 1996 after HP's efforts to split it off) kept sites from adding Oracle to their database mix.

HP's offer reduced one portion of the last hurdle. It offered Oracle's 7.2.3 version to 3000 sites at prices starting at under $1,200 per seat with an eight-seat minimum. Purchasing Oracle for an HP 3000 for under $10,000 hadn't been possible before. The price per seat increased based on HP's CPU tiers—the $9,600 price was available only for the lowest HP 3000 tier.

Oracle was always at arm's length from the 3000 user base, though. During the 1990s when HP was promoting HP-UX as a complete enterprise solution, the many Unix-based apps relied on Oracle foremost. In the middle 1980s, when Oracle was just rising up, a VP of market development asked me, "Why would I want to offer a database to a market where they already have a free, bundled database?" The question was a good one that never got a good enough answer for existing customers. HP and its Oracle allies had a good answer, but it was one that didn't matter much to the installed 3000 base.

We summed up HP's motivation on behalf of all customers with two words.

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Duke diners deliver some wayback news

Wayback sherman peabodyIt's always a great event—since it's so rare now — to see 3000 folk gather in person. Last week an invite over 3000-L and other channels requested the pleasure of the company of anyone in the Bay Area who remembers — or works with — MPE and HP 3000s. The number of lunchtime diners at The Duke of Edinburgh pub was at the intimate level, which is not a surprise. What was interesting was how informed some attendees were.

"Some were finding out about the [Stromasys] emulator," Stan Sieler reported. He was among the few who were still working on MPE tasks. I was surprised that the news of the emulator was just arriving in October 2016, five years after the product's debut in the Bay Area.

In the fall of 2011, about 80 HP 3000 folk gathered at the last HP3000 Reunion. (I won't say final, because reunions tend to hold on until organizers and the ardent alumni lose the ability to travel, drive, and have meals together. We're not young, us 3000 folk, but we're spry.) The story of the Charon HPA product has orbited the MPE solar system for many months. Not everybody looks up at the sky to see the stars, of course.

Those getting wayback news about Charon included one who needed a free hobbyist license. That kind of license went off the market at the end of 2014, when Stromasys transitioned to an all-proof of concept licensing and sales plan. The PoC strategy has yielded a string of green-lit transitions to the non-3000 hardware. Hobbyist/freeware licenses got abused; free software was caught running in commercial settings. Other people might have failed at their no-cost DIY approach. You don't always get news of failures when you never knew about the attempts.

News travels slowly, especially for managers who are not in everyday contact with MPE and 3000s anymore. Sometimes 3000 news has traveled slowly for reasons other than simple oversight, or becoming busy with non-3000 computing.

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Emulation customers got all they wanted

Signed Sealed DeliveredFive years ago this week Stromasys was doing a full technical detail demonstration of its PA-RISC emulation software. Since then, such virtualization has become an everyday choice for interim homesteading (just a few years of use needed) or long-term plans, too.

The software got its debut in front of a sophisticated crowd: HP 3000 veterans at that year's HP 3000 Reunion. In 2011 skeptics were schooled and devotees bowled over.

The rap on emulator choices from out of the past was performance. That's gone away by now, because moving an environment to a quick-growing OS like Ubuntu Linux -- the foundation for the emulator -- gives MPE an accelerating train of processor improvements to leap onto. Itanium won't leap like Intel's Xeon chips will over the year to come with Skylake. Here's a surprise nobody saw coming: the ultimate Itanium chip, Kittson, began development in 2011, and it's still not running in HP's servers. To think, MPE/iX could've had that fate if HP had chosen to port the OS to that chipset.

HP 3000 hardware and MPE experts at the Reunion believed in Charon's emulation future. In 2011 there were more in attendance at the Reunion than could fit in a single-family home. What's still in the years to come is making a home for MANMAN on one Ubuntu-Charon partition of a big Skylake Intel server, and MANMAN's replacement Kenandy on another.

Continue reading "Emulation customers got all they wanted" »


Earliest birds to eye Charon stick with 3000s

One week ago the 3000 Simulator Project rolled out a new version of software to simulate an MPE V Classic 3000. That news led to a look at the modern emulation product Charon HPA and what has helped make it a success. Diligent engineering and testing of the Stromasys product across the community started just about five years ago. One of the earliest vendors to green-light their software for emulation was a company who's still selling new customers on MPE software: Minisoft.

BirdseyeHistoryFounder Doug Greenup called last month to report on some new sales into your market, the one which established his company. He mentioned Minisoft's connection to See's Candies' HP 3000s. See's is using Minisoft's middleware, and the connection between emulation and Minisoft popped up when I found Greenup's earliest report on testing against Charon. Minisoft was the first third party company to announce their products were Charon-ready, including ODBC, JDBC, and OLE DB products. These were the days when PA-RISC emulation was as new as Clarence Birdseye's frozen food was in the 1940s. Greenup's report was so early in the Charon HPA lifespan that the Stromasys software was being helped into the market by independent consultants like Craig Lalley.

Craig [Lalley] gave us access to the Stromasys emulator to test some of our legacy MPE products. The HP 3000 terminal emulators under Windows and Macintosh worked fine connecting up via Telnet. We ran some VPLUS screens with no problems. Connections were reliable and fast. We also tested our middleware drivers, connecting and running queries.

The bottom line is our products worked like they were interacting with an HP 3000. So if any of our customers deploy Stromasys, we are confident our MPE products will work.

Charon HPA needed software vendors who were familiar to the 3000 community to step up and certify. It's satisfying to see that one of the earliest adopters of your market's emulator is still selling software to MPE/iX sites. We'd call those sites 3000 customers, but its possible the HP hardware has been replaced by Charon HPA. Which is precisely why it was good business to step up and demonstrate that the emulator worked just like an HP 3000. Works better, now that HPA is not five years older like those boxes with "HP" on the front.

There's your report. MPE/iX still running at high-profile candy manufacturer. New 3000 software still being sold in a few places. Stromasys now moving toward five years of support from the MPE third party vendors, support that started with Minisoft.


Meeting at Building D: the rarest 3000 link-up

DukeSnugNotices were posted this week on the 3000-L mailing list about a rare meeting next Monday, Oct. 3. At opening time 11:30, people who know and remember the 3000 will gather at The Duke of Edinburgh pub. It's a site popular enough with the MPE crowd that it's still called Building D by some seasoned community members. The Duke is on Wolfe Road, just to the west of where the 3000 grew up. As the 3000 group intends to arrive at opening time, it might be able to commandeer the snug (above).

In-person meetings for the 3000 community happen in bars and pubs by now. The last one we heard about this public was SIG-BAR's meeting in London in 2014. Dave Wiseman, a vendor and software maven whose history includes a software project called Millware for 3000s, set up SIG-BAR. The 2014 meeting was announced so far in advance that people were able to plan their summer vacations around a gathering at Dirty Dick's. There's something about English pubs that attracts the 3000 crowd.

AppleCampusThe Duke of Edinburgh is within walking distance of a mecca of the 3000 world, now departed: The HP Cupertino campus. Building 48 has been replaced by the rising concrete and steel of the new Apple world headquarters building. There's no word yet if the 3000 friends who meet Monday at Building D will bring their drones to take their tour of the Apple-ized HP campus.

A walk through the HP parking lot and across a cozy margin of poplars used to bring you to the Duke. "It's right across the street from where MPE lived," said Stan Sieler of Allegro while announcing the meeting. As of Monday, MPE's heart will be among the taps and chips of The Duke. Two years ago, Robelle's Bob Green said this about the last in-person meeting at that London pub:

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

As for that emulator, Charon HPA is in full swing by now, a certainty of life going forward with MPE/iX systems. For one additional lunchtime, a pub will be emulating the home of the system, even as it continues to move into a virtual existence.


Power outage, or no problems? It's been quiet on the 3000-L. "Yeah, too quiet."

SergeantIn the classic war movies, or a good western with Indian battles, there's the moment when someone notices the silence on the field. "It's quiet out there, Sarge," says the more innocent hero. "Yeah, too quiet," the non-com replies. That kind of quiet might be the sound we're hearing from the 3000-L mailing list today.

It's been five weeks without a new message on the mailing list and newsgroup devoted to MPE and its servers. Advice and solutions has flowed for two decades and more off a mailing list that still has 498 members subscribed. The number of subscribers has remained steady over the last three years. Like the number of migrations in the market, the exit from the list has slowed to a trickle. So has new traffic, of late.

The silence may not be ominous. In 2016 the 3000-L is used almost exclusively to resolve MPE/iX problems. The hardware posts are limited to the rare announcement of used server prices, messages that the members still howl at if they don't include <PLUG> in the subject. The server hasn't been sold by HP in more than a decade, but its owners still don't like to be bugged by sales messages. They solve problems in a grassroots manner. As a notable ballplayer once said, you can look it up. There might be no problems to solve.

1996-L-TrafficHowever, no messages at all over 35 days sets a new record for the 3000-L quiet. This 3000 resource was much more lively a decade ago. And 20 years back? Well, HP was still selling enough 3000s in the fall of 1996 to be sending its new marketing manager Kathy Fitzgerald to speak at an Indiana RUG meeting about the new servers. There was also advice on storage compression, because compression-enabled DDS drives were becoming more common.

3000-L migration messageGood advice: If you can find a DDS tape drive from 1996, you should take it out of service. Your MPE server, no. And evergreen advice from the L is still available online. Jeff Kell, the deceased 3000 guru who started the server on a University of Tennessee at Chattanooga server, built it to last.

Continue reading "Power outage, or no problems? It's been quiet on the 3000-L. "Yeah, too quiet."" »


Open launch has become a workaround tool

Jon Backus 2016Fifteen years ago this week I put the finishing touches on a Q&A with Jon Backus. He might be best known to one group of 3000 managers who flagged down his taxi-like service of MPE education — his Tech University had independent experts whocarried people from one point in their MPE careers to the next, better trained. An MPECert program was part of the venture that went into business just before HP changed its mind about continuing with 3000s. Tech University offered an alternative to Hewlett-Packard training classes, vendor-led education that was on the decline in 2001.

However, there's another milestone in his career just as well known. He launched OpenMPE as 2002 began, starting with a conversation with then-lab manager Dave Wilde. On the strength of that talk, the advocacy movement ultimately delivered MPE source code to third parties. It did take another eight years, but hopes were high at the start. HP named a key lab engineer to a board of directors. Minisoft donated middleware and MPE software from some of its licensed 3000s.

Backus began it all when he launched a discussion group on the Internet to explore the ways MPE might be preserved by its customers after HP steps away from it in a few years: a homesteading option. The group moved quickly to a consensus that open source methods didn’t fit MPE very well.

Jon Backus 2001“The feeling and desire is very much not open source,” Backus said at the time. “The vast majority feeling is a migration of support and control of the entire MPE environment, including IMAGE, to a new entity. The source would continue to be closely controlled, similar to the way it is today.”

Starting a education group for HP server customers was a bold move. We interviewed him as one of the last 3000 experts to sit for a Q&A before HP's November 2001 exit announcement. August 2001's HP World was the last show to offer any HP hope for the server. Without OpenMPE and its work to capture that source code, however, to independent support companies such as Pivital Solutions, the trade secrets of MPE/iX would be lost. Instead that source acts as workaround and custom patch bedrock to help homesteaders.

Source for MPE/iX was not the initial goal Backus proposed for OpenMPE, though. The whole of the 3000 business would pass to a third party in his opening gambit. HP took months to even respond to that, saying the computer's infrastructure was decaying. Tech University was already addressing the brain drain before OpenMPE was born.

Continue reading "Open launch has become a workaround tool" »


How Good Things Are Slow to Change

Change for the BetterFive years ago this week I was debating Apple's place in the future of tablets. The iPad was roaring along with more than 60 percent of the share of tablets shipped at the time. I bought one for my wife a few months later, to help her convalesce following a hip surgery. It was an iPad 2, and it's turned out to be the equivalent of a 9x9 HP 3000. It might run forever.

My debating point in late August of 2011 was Apple would not be chased off its leadership of market share anytime soon. In 2011 nobody offered a tablet featured with apps and an infrastructure like Apple's. I heard the word "slab" to describe tablets for the first time. That label predicted that a tablet could become nothing more special than a PC. White box, commodity, biggest market share will eliminate any out-sold competitors.

Sue KieselThe trouble with that thinking is that it's the same thing that drives the accepted wisdom about the future for datacenters still using MPE/iX and the HP 3000. Last Friday I attended a 20th work anniversary lobster boil at The Support Group for Sue Kiezel. She left her datacenter career on MANMAN systems to become a part of Terry Floyd's consulting and support company. All through those years, HP 3000 experience has remained important to her work. There's years ahead, too, years with 3000 replacements -- in their own time. Slowly, usually.

Terry Floyd-LobstermanThose 20 years also track with the Newswire's lifespan. It's always a chipper afternoon when I visit the company's HQ out in the Texas oaks near Lake Travis. In addition to things like barbecue and cake -- and last Friday, lobsters large enough to crowd a deep pot--reminders of the success of the 3000 are often laying about. Last week I noticed flyers and documents outlining software from Minisoft. Not all of that software is MPE-centric products, but it is all designed for any company that still makes and ships products using a 3000-driven datacenter. Even if that datacenter is hooking up iMacs to MPE/iX, a specialty Minisoft has come to own completely. The 3000 users who remain in the market believe they have a good thing. Change comes slowly to good things, behavior which mirrors human nature.

Continue reading "How Good Things Are Slow to Change" »


Poster anniversary lingers beyond sunburns

OC Register Poster

The biggest statement 3000 users made worked its way onto a front page. 847,000 OC Register readers took note.

Twenty years ago this month the HP 3000 community staged its most prominent protest. The stunt landed the server on the front page of a metro daily paper's news section for the only time in the 3000's history. It also produced sunburns and filled a football field. The lasting impact was memories, like so many computer stories. But a world record was set that remained unbroken longer than HP's product futures were intact for the server and MPE.

1996 Poster ChildrenIt was August of 1996 when a team of 3000 users, vendors, and developers gathered on the football field of Anaheim's Loara High School to build the world's largest poster. The stunt was also a message aimed at HP's executives of the time: Glenn Osaka, Wim Roelandts, Bernard Guidon and especially CEO Lew Platt. "Pay attention to the 3000's potential and its pedigree," the poster shouted. Acres of it, mounted under the Southern California sun of summer. Computerworld (above) was skeptical.

Wirt on the fieldSummed up, the organizers led by Wirt Atmar unfurled 2,650 3-foot x 4.5-foot panels needed to say "MPE Users Kick Butt." Atmar was one of the most ardent advocates for the power of MPE and the 3000. He printed those thousands of sheets off a 3000 Micro XE, a Classic 3000 because why would you need a PA-RISC system? It drove an HP755CM DesignJet printer for two weeks, printing the required 463 billion pixels. Atmar said, after he and his employees loaded and drove the 687 pounds of sheets in a U-Haul truck from his New Mexico offices to California, that "moving the paper into the vehicle was our company's corporate fitness program."

Poster and housesThey all had to be numbered and sorted and placed on the field. That was a spot where the winds arrived by lunchtime or so. It would be a race against the clock to build it, but the 3000 was always racing against an HP clock. The statement made for the server moved the needle for existing customers. General Manager Harry Sterling was just taking his job that summer and pushed for funding and lab time to bring the 3000 into parity with Unix and Windows NT servers HP sold. Often, it sold them against the 3000.

The image of the poster made it onto the Metro front page of the Orange County Register. The NewsWire provided lunch and recorded the event for our newsletter just celebrating its first birthday that month. We supplied sub sandwiches and pizzas, recording every request for things like a vegetarian kosher option. It was easier to get media attention than get a kosher veggie delivered to the Loara sidelines, it turned out.

Continue reading "Poster anniversary lingers beyond sunburns" »


August Throwback: Java and VPlus get cozy

Legacy ContinuesTwenty years ago this month the HP 3000 community was discovering windows into the World Wide Web. At the Interex conference held that month we heard the first about Javelin, a new Java-based terminal emulator that required nothing but a browser to connect a PC to an HP 3000. It was the first MPE terminal to run inside a browser, a technology that was searching for a commercial market in 1996. You requested a session and Javelin delivered one out of a pile of user licenses. At the 25- and 50-user tiers, Javelin got cheaper than Minisoft's MS 92 terminal.

That August was the first one with the NewsWire on hand in the community. Java was sexy and hot and Javelin provided a way to care about it while you managed an MPE/iX system. We reported with a hopeful eye that "Java is maturing as a platform for HP 3000 applications."

The Minisoft product is effectively a Java-based version of the MS92 terminal emulator, and it allows users to connect to HP 3000s without a client-based emulation program installed on their local desktops. Instead, Javelin downloads a Java applet in five to 20 seconds into a Web browser on the desktop. The resulting thin client handles HP 3000 terminal emulation tasks.

But customers won't have to modify existing HP 3000 VPlus application forms to deliver them over browser-based connections using Javelin. It reproduces function keys and special keys as well as performs Windows-grade slave printing. Minisoft's Doug Greenup said the product had been tested against MM/II and MANMAN on the 3000, as well as many custom VPlus applications, Qedit, Speededit, Powerhouse and Quiz.

"It's a little slower than our Windows product right now," Greenup said, "at least with character-mode applications. Block mode screens are faster." He said the product would be a good fit for inquiry and modest data entry applications, as well as public access to HP 3000 databases in government and university settings or for remote sales staff.

The point was to reduce the cost of connectivity and give casual users a simple link to HP 3000s. Java was in vogue at HP's MPE labs at a time when the goal was to give the 3000 an equal set of Web tools. HP-UX and Windows NT were claiming to have all of the momentum at the time.

Continue reading "August Throwback: Java and VPlus get cozy" »


Samba-3000 sync and Formspec data tips

Samba sharing on our 3000 using Windows Explorer is slow, but it gets the job done. However, if I take down networking on the 3000 and bring it back up, Windows Explorer tells me the 3000 is inaccessible. Ping works, Reflection connections work and Internet Explorer has no trouble connecting to our Apache/iX web site. What's happening to the 3000's networking?

Frank Gribbin resolves and explains:

Samba-on-3000After rebooting the PC, everything works again until networking on the 3000 is refreshed. Your solution should address the fact that Windows is maintaining a table of connections that needs to be refreshed in DOS. From the DOS command line, issue the command nbtstat -R or nbtstat -RR.

James Byrne also points out:

You can get into trouble with cached credentials with Windows Active Directory as well. You can clear them from the command line with:

net session \\samba.server.ip.address /delete

Or you can do it through the Credentials Manager on the workstation's Control Panel. However you clear the cache, you still need to restart the workstation with the problem cache — because the credentials are still in memory.

Continue reading "Samba-3000 sync and Formspec data tips" »


An HP chieftain's last dream is Trumped

Carly TumblingBill Hewlett and Dave Packard were HP's most famous CEOs, but aside from the founders, the most notorious HP chieftain was Carly Fiorina. With the news today of Donald Trump's VP candidate choice -- not Carly, but an Indiana governor with genuine political chops -- this may be the time when Ms. Fiorina finally settles into that Fox News chair which is the terminus of her trail. As the picture above recalls, announcing Trump's rival Ted Cruz as the next President, then falling through a trap door onstage, might have ended her political hijinks.

Or not. Nobody can be really sure what Ms. Fiorina will do next, which seemed to make her an ideal pairing with The Donald. Unlike the presumptive nominee, she's better known by her first name, as if she was Cher or Hillary. So what follows will cite her as Carly. 

I've written about this shiny and shallow CEO since her first day. In 1999, in a July of 17 years ago  there was still an active 3000 business to manage at HP. We probably have different reasons to relay a smarmy track record of Carly's at HP, but the headlline "Carly Fiorina pans TSA on Yelp" pretty much sums up how she's always trying to fail better, apparently to teach us her new rules. Yelp, after all, is not so fraud-proof.

Her latest birthday cake was decorated with her Super PAC's logo. It was a show of hubris as raw as forcing out Dave Packard's son from the board of his father's company, or trying to get that board to pay five times what PriceWaterhouse turned out to be worth.

Carly pushed the HP cart into a ditch when she loaded it with Compaq, but she was just one of several CEOs in a row, all hired from outside HP, who ransacked R&D and spent acquisition money like it came off a Monopoly game board. Carly, Hurd, Apotheker. Three people whose smell of success has helped HP focus on enterprise computing once again -- after Carly yoked the company to those Compaq tigers who took over the company's spiritual campus. At least HP's business computing organization got the ProLiant out of it all.

An old friend of the 3000 at HP who watched the wreck of Carly break onto company shores recently marked his 30th anniversary with the system. Carly was called She Who Must Not Be Named inside the workplace, but SWMNBN's CEO behavior was a slap in HP's face as sharp as anything in 2016 politics.

SHMNBN’s disregard for ‘the little people’ has long been demonstrated. Her inability to sync with the company middle management was evidenced by a growth in employment during her self-declared hiring freeze. Then when the cuts did come, rather than having your boss or lab manager inform you, some VP you’d never met invited you to a meeting and delivered the news. From where I sat hard it was to tell if she was just a person encased in an over inflated bubble of self-regard who’s lost touch with reality.

This may be the last time we'll have Carly to kick around, as President Nixon said of himself in 1962. That didn't turn out to be true, either.

Continue reading "An HP chieftain's last dream is Trumped" »


How HP's OS's Become Virtually Free

KiteThe 3000 community has been receiving updates for simulator project this year. This isn't the software that virtualizes the PA-RISC servers which were the ultimate boxes in HP's 3000 line. This simulator software is strictly shareware, strictly free, and strictly built to emulate a previous generation's HP 3000s. The SIMH project can turn a PC into a Classic HP 3000, the sort that used MPE III, IV, or V as its operating system.

This is also a project that points to the lifecycle of HP's operating system products in the public domain. A hobbyist -- or a company that could get along with a 3000 with circa 1991 power and OS -- needs a copy of MPE V to make this freeware simulation work. Where you get this software is up to you. But it's not a secret, either. The process to free involves the passage of time, the end of commercial sales, and perhaps HP's tacit approval.

The creators of SIMH are assuming HP won't be reining in the 20-year-old OS built for the previous MPE generation. Dave Bryan, who posted a note about a new version of the SIMH simulator for the 3000, said that the HP Computer Museum in Australia has helped to make MPE V available for simulator use via a website.

I assembled the kit from the tape image in that directory, which was supplied to me by Al Kossow of Bitsavers. Al then posted the kit and tape on his site.

Before undertaking the 3000 simulator project, I verified with Al in 2011 that he would be able to post an MPE image, and he confirmed that he could.

This year marks a milestone in the 3000's Classic generation: a moment to download the needed MPE V OS without a license concern. If Kossow's upload is legal, this version of MPE V has become freeware.

This kind of open source status is what the 3000 community pursued for MPE/iX for the better part of a decade. As the ultimate 3000 OS, MPE/iX hasn't moved into the state of a GPL license (for sharing). Not yet. But there was a time when HP's MPE V was closely guarded and licensed, too. Nowadays, not so much. The transfer to open access for an OS requires time. HP hasn't sold an MPE/iX system in almost 13 years. The company stopped selling MPE V servers 21 years ago. The clock might be running toward an unfettered MPE/iX.

Continue reading "How HP's OS's Become Virtually Free" »


What's MPE got to do with emulators?

Thoroughbred-horsesCompanies that want to use their MPE/iX applications a long time might count their timelines with two eras: Before Emulator, and After Emulator. The B.E. period left the MPE/iX user locked to Hewlett-Packard hardware and waiting for upgrades to HP boxes. The A.E. era uses virtualization via Charon to permit many beefy Intel boxes do the MPE/iX work. But what does MPE/iX code have to do with the magic of Charon? Not much, which is a good thing.

There's a stubborn story we hear about how the gem of MPE's source code is at the heart of what Charon does. What a virtualization engine like the Stromasys product delivers is a new capability for Intel hardware. An Intel box can pretend to be a PA-RISC processor, thanks to the software engineered by the creators of similar products for the Digital market.

But Charon doesn't rely on MPE/iX secrets to do this magic. It's like thinking a jockey is the being who's running a 2-mile racetrack course. He's the rider, and the horse in this metaphor is Charon. The basic design of Charon products, like the ones that virtualize the Sun Sparc systems and the PDP systems of DEC, creates the expertise for booting up Intels like they're 3000s. Nobody expects the ancestry of the jockey to play a role in making the horse faster. We don't sit in the grandstands to watch jockeys hoof it around the track.

Continue reading "What's MPE got to do with emulators?" »


Throwback of mid-June marks much change

Amid the midpoint of June, we have reported a lot of change in that month of the 3000 community's calendar. In the blog's first year of 2005, this report said HP's Unix was named in about a third of migrations.

HP-UX gains in later results (2005)

These revised percentage totals keep Windows in the lead. But with 71 companies reporting their migration plans or accomplishments to us, HP-UX has managed to poke above the 30 percent mark, to just about one-third of the target platform choices.

And there remains in the community a vibrant devotion to migrating to Windows. Linux was less than 10 percent back then. How enterprise tastes have changed.

New, independent training begins (2006)

MPE-Education.com becomes the hub for 3000 training as of this week, since HP has called off its training courses for the platform. Many companies still have years of HP 3000 use in front of them.

Paul Edwards and Frank Alden Smith revitalized HP's 3000 training materials and put the education experience online at $1,750 a seat. The market didn't materialize for the noble, useful service.

So much to see, so far to go (2007)

RibbonsOn a rack in one of the Mandalay Bay's wide lobbies at the Encompass show — lobbies so wide that a semi truck can pass unfettered — a stand of adhesive badges sparkles. The array of ribbons stamped with silver letters lays out the known future for an HP customer or prospect.

To no one's surprise, no "MPE/iX" ribbons. This is a conference which looks toward a new future with HP, instead of the past, or MPE's ongoing tomorrow without the vendor. 3000 community members are coming here to make plans for something new from HP—or hear from vendors and experts about how to make better use of something else from Hewlett-Packard.

The new Las Vegas digs for the annual user group show "improved its curb appeal," said the user group president. A sprawling show in a Vegas casino resort still showed off HP-UX training. "Windows on HP" suggested the vendor was scrabbling to keep customers on its platform.

Continue reading "Throwback of mid-June marks much change" »


Blog's birthday marks 11 digital years

Birthday-candlesThey're like dog years, these digital years: each counts for much more considering the change that they chronicle. This space on the Web has now been open 11 years. On June 8 of 2005 a death in the 3000's family rose into the news. Bruce Toback, creator of several 3000 software products and a man whose intellect was as sharp as his wit, died as suddenly as HP's futures for the HP 3000 did. I wrote a brief tribute on that day, because Toback's writing on the 3000-L made him a popular source of information. His email posts signed off with Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem about a candle with both ends alight, which made it burn so bright.

Like the best of the 3000's community leaders, Toback flashed bright ends of technical prowess and a smart cynicism, the latter which couldn't help but spark a chuckle. His programming lies at the heart of Formation, a ROC Software product which Toback created for Tymlabs, an extraordinary HP software company here in Austin during 80s and early 90s. Toback could demonstrate a sharp wit as well as trenchant insight. From one of his messages in 2004:

HP engineer [about a Webcast to encourage migration]: During the program, we will discuss the value and benefits of Transitioning from the HP e3000 platform to Microsoft's .NET.

Bruce: Oh... a very short program, then.

Without the news and developments of migration, though, we might not have arrived at this space with as much copy by now. Today there's more than 2,800 articles here going back 11 years, and there are 10 additional years of reporting and commentary on the 3000newswire.com site as well. (You can search it all through the link at the left, and people do every day.) After more than a couple of decades of this work, we thank the community — and in particular, our sponsors — for the opportunity to blog about the present, the future, and the past.

Continue reading "Blog's birthday marks 11 digital years" »


A Weekend Memorial to the Future's Past

Here in the US we start our Memorial Day holiday weekend today. Plenty of IT experts are taking a few days off. I reported the start of the HP 3000 emulation era over a Memorial Day weekend, five years ago. We'll take our long weekend to celebrate grandkids and a cookout, and see you back here next week.

In the meantime, here's that first report, a three-parter, showing that Stromasys set and met its development schedule, one that gave the 3000 homesteaders a future beyond the lifespan of HP's MPE/iX hardware. One year later, the software, called Zelus at the time, had a formal debut at a Training Day. Now as Charon it's preserving MPE/iX applications.

ZelusBoot-e3000-a400-2

During that 2011 springtime, Stromasys offered screen shots of the PA-RISC emulator as evidence the software could serve as a virtual platform for the 3000’s OS. The screen above shows the beginning of the boot sequence (click for detailed view). HP provided internals boot-up documentation to assist in the software's design.

A product journey toward a 3000 hardware emulator took another significant step this spring, as the Zelus cross-platform software booted MPE/iX on an Intel server.

CTO Dr. Robert Boers of Stromasys reported that the OS has come up on a version of the emulator that will managed, eventually, by Linux. Although the test screens that Boers sent were hosted by Windows, the "fairly preliminary version" will be released on an open source OS. "Windows is a little passé," Boers said. "But we now have a first prototype."

Stromasys said it has now been able to use Zelus to tap PA-RISC hardware diagnostics to get the bugs out. "The way we had to debug this was just looking at the code instruction by instruction," Boers said, "to figure out what it does. That took us a long time." Compared to the emulators for the DEC market, "this is by far the most complex emulator."

Continue reading "A Weekend Memorial to the Future's Past" »


A Spring When The Web Was New to You

May 1996 Front PageTwenty years ago this month we were paying special attention to the Web. We called it the World Wide Web in May 1996, the www that does not precede Internet addresses anymore. But on the pages of the 3000 NewsWire released in this week of May, a notable integration of IMAGE and the Internet got its spotlight. We've put that issue online for the first time. The Web was so new to us that our first 10 issues were never coded into HTML. Now you can read and download the issue, and it's even searchable within the limits of Adobe's OCR.

As an application for higher education, IRIS was serving colleges in 1996 using MPE/iX. The colleges wanted this new Web thing, popular among its professors and students, to work with the 3000 applications. Thus was born IRISLink.

IRISLink is not a product that Software Research Northwest will sell to the general market. But SRN's Wayne Holt suspects that a generic version of something like it is probably being built in the basement of more than one third-party vendor for rollout at this summer's HP World meeting.

"The message traffic on the HP 3000-L Internet list shows that a lot of sites prefer the COBOL lI/IMAGE model over writing piles of new code in a nonbusiness oriented language," Holt said. "But people are telling them that won't fly in the world of the Web and - take a deep breath here - the time has come to dump their existing well-developed COBOL lI/IMAGE infrastructure on the HP 3000. Not so."

The integrators on this project made themselves big names in the next few years. David Greer convinced Holt at a face-to-face meeting at a Texas user conference where "I listened to him share his vision of what the Web would someday be in terms of a standard for access to resources and information." Chris Bartram was providing a freeware version of email software that used Internet open systems standards. Take that, DeskManager.

It was far from accepted wisdom in 1996 that the WWW would become useful to corporate and business-related organizations. Even in that year, though, the drag of COBOL II's age could be felt pulling away 3000 users from the server. An HP survey we noted on the FlashPaper pages of that issue "asks customers to give HP a 1-5 rating (5 as most important) on enhancements to COBOL II that might keep you from moving to another language." There wasn't another language to move toward, other than the 4GLs and C, and those languages represented a scant portion of 3000 programs. Without the language improvements, some 3000 customers would have to move on. 

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Creating 3000 Concept-Proving Grounds

Proving GroundThree years ago today, Stromasys hosted a community meeting at the Computer History Museum. It was the coming-out party for the debutante HP 3000 virtualization product Charon. The software had been running in several production sites for awhile, but the CHM meeting collected several dozen partners, prospects, and Stromasys experts. Some spicy slide decks were shared, along with promises that saving MPE/iX applications just got easier. This was billed as training.

In the 36 months since that day, the Charon HPA software has been enhanced twice to better its performance levels as well as establishing more complete emulation of the HP hardware environments. One major change to the solution came by eliminating an option — a kind of addition through subtraction that's pushing the software into production use more often. The Freeware A-202 of 2013 has been removed, replaced by Proof of Concept. PoC is pretty much the only gateway to using the software that transforms Intel-Linux boxes into PA-RISC 3000 servers.

3000 sites "are coming out of the closets," said product manager Doug Smith when he flew into Austin to update me about the product. He's running a program that discounts PoC engagements, with savings based on the size of the license. Companies that few of us knew were using 3000s have surfaced to adopt Charon, he explained. There's also a 6-way and 8-way configuration of the software that moves above the performance levels of the biggest N-Class server. Meeting and beating HP's 3000 iron performance is a big part of the approval process to get Charon sold and installed.

A proof of concept engagement takes real production data, integrated into the software-server combo of Charon over a period of five days, and shows managers in tech and the boardroom how seamless emulation can look. Smith says that MPE sites don't even need a Linux admin to do this virtualization. One part of that is because of the proof of concept phase gets everything in place to run. Three years ago, the issues to resolve were license-based in some prospects' eyes. By now, putting Charon in play involves five days of time and a license that can be either annual or perpetual. 

But Smith says just about all the Charon licenses sold to 3000 sites today are perpetual. This might be one reason why going to Computer History Museum for that 2013 coming-out seemed so fitting. Legacy and history are often co-pilots that deliver stable applications.

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MPE source code ID'ed as key to encryption

In a news item that appeared in our inbox early this morning, the researchers at the website darkstuff.com report they have identified the key algorithm for iPhone cracking software to be code from the 1980 release of Q-MIT, a version of MPE. The iPhone seized as part of an FBI investigation was finally cracked this week. But the US government agency only reported that an outside party provided the needed tool, after Apple refused to build such software.

IPhone crackThe specific identity of the third party firm has been clouded in secrecy. But the DarkStuff experts say they've done a reverse trace of the signature packets from the FBI notice uploaded to CERT and found links that identify Software House, a firm incorporated in the 1980s which purchased open market source code for MPE V. The bankruptcy trustee of Software House, when contacted for confirmation, would not admit or deny the company's involvement in the iPhone hack.

A terse statement shared with the NewsWire simply said, "Millions of lines of SPL make up MPE, and this code was sold legally to Software House. The software does many things, including operations far ahead of their time." HP sold MPE V source for $500 for the early part of the 1980s, but 3000 customers could never get the vendor to do the same for MPE/iX.

Lore in the 3000 community points to D. David Brown, an MPE guru who ran a consulting business for clients off the grid and off the books, as the leading light to developing the key. An MPE expert who recently helped in the simh emulation of Classic HP 3000s confirmed that Brown's work used HP engineering of the time in a way the vendor never intended. Simh only creates a virtualized CISC HP 3000 running under Linux, so MPE V is the only OS that can be used in simh.

"Lots of commented-out code in there," said the MPE expert, who didn't want to be named for this story. "Parts of MPE got written during the era of phone hacking. Those guys were true rebels, and I mean in a 2600-style of ethics. It's possible that Brown just stumbled on this while he was looking for DEL/3000 stubs in MPE."

The FBI reported this week that its third party also plans to utilize the iPhone cracker in two other cases that are still under investigation. Air-gapped protocols were apparently needed to make the MPE source able to scour the iPhone's contents, using a NAND overwrite. The air gapping pointed the DarkStuff experts toward the HP 3000, a server whose initial MPE designs were years ahead of state-of-the art engineering. "Heck, the whole HP 3000 was air-gapped for the first half of its MPE life," said Winston Rather at DarkMatter. "It's a clever choice, hiding the key in plain sight."


Big G anniversary recalls era of 3000 crunch

Wheaties 3000This month marked the 150th anniversary of General Mills, the benevolent cereal giant that started its business just after the Civil War milling flour. The maker of Wheaties, Gold Medal Flour and Play Doh, the company known as the Big G got a rousing eight minutes of celebration on the CBS Morning News this weekend. When the report turned to Wheaties, it triggered a memory of one special era for the HP 3000. MPE/iX once managed a giant boxcar-load of operations for the food company, a firm so large it acquired fellow 3000 customer Pillsbury in a 2000 deal that teamed century-old rivals to make the world's fourth-largest food company.

Powerhouse was an essential part of the Pillsbury legacy, but the reach of the 3000 was even deeper at General Mills. Mark Ranft, who operates the Pro 3K consultancy, said his time at the Big G covered the years when core corporate functions were controlled by a fleet of 3000s.

"I was the system admin for all the HP 3000s at General Mills," Ranft said. "At one time they had 30 systems.They were used for plant, logistics, warehouse management and distribution applications. We had a proprietary network called hyper channel that allowed fast communications between IBM mainframe, Burroughs (Unisys), DEC and the HP 3000 systems."

It was an era where the 3000 community dreamed of earning attention from Hewlett-Packard, as well as enterprises which were considering Unix. The 90s were the period when HP-UX vs. MPE was in full flame inside HP as well as among customers. In 1993 Hewlett-Packard ran an ad in Computerworld and InformationWeek touting the use of the 3000 at General Mills. One of the best pieces of HP advertising about its longest-tenured business system, the ad captured the flavor of the cereal giant.

It also helped us on the way to another anniversary being celebrated this month. Ranft dropped us a congratulations, along with other 3000 lovers, on the 21st anniversary of the first stirrings of the NewsWire. "I am so happy that you have done this for us for all these years," he wrote us. Growing notice of the large customers of the 3000 pushed Abby and I to start a business plan, project revenues, and research readership and sponsors during March, 1995.

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Making the Years Count in One that Leaps

He was once the youngest official member of the 3000 community. And for a few more years, he still has the rare distinction of not being in his 50s or 60s while knowing MPE. Eugene Volokh celebrates his 48th birthday today. The co-creator of MPEX must wait every four years to celebrate on his real day of birth: He was born on Feb. 29 in the Ukraine.

Like the HP 3000 and MPE itself, years do not appear to weigh heavy on the community's first wunderkind.

Eugene at 48Although he's no longer the youngest 3000 community member (a rank that sits today with Myles Foster, product manager for MB Foster in this first year after his recent double-degree graduation from Carleton University) Eugene probably ranks as the best-known member outside our humble neighborhood. He built and then improved MPEX, VEAudit/3000 and Security/3000 with his father Vladimir at VEsoft. Then Eugene earned a law degree, clerked at the US 9th Circuit Court, and went on to clerk for now-retired US Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor -- all en route to his current place in the public eye as go-to man for all questions concerning intellectual property on the Web and Internet, as well as First and Second Amendment issues across all media.

Eugene's profile has risen enough since his last birthday that the Associated Press included him in its latest "Born on This Day" feature. He's appeared on TV, been quoted in the likes of the Wall Street Journal, plus penned columns for that publication, the New York Times, as well as Harvard, Yale and Georgetown law reviews.

When I last heard Eugene's voice, he was commenting in the middle of a This American Life broadcast. He's a professor of Constitutional law at UCLA, and the father of two sons of his own by now. Online, he makes appearances on The Volokh Conspiracy blog he founded with brother Sasha (also a law professor, at Emory University). Since his last birthday, the Conspiracy has become a feature of the Washington Post.

In the 3000 world, Eugene's star burned with distinction when he was only a teenager. I met him in Orlando at the annual Interex conference in 1988, when he held court at a dinner at the tender age of 20. I was a lad of 31 and people twice his age listened to him wax full on subjects surrounding security -- a natural topic for someone who presented the paper Burn Before Reading, which remains a vital text even more 25 years after it was written. That paper's inception matches with mine in the community -- we both entered in 1984. But Eugene, one of those first-name-only 3000 personalities like Alfredo or Birket, was always way ahead of many of us in 3000 lore and learning.

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