NewsWire Editorial

Your silver bullet is already loaded

We all want the silver bullet. That's the new technology that solves problems without extra effort on our part, the software that makes you say "Cool!" when somebody shows you a demo. A product can be a silver bullet in the early stages of its life. MPE was a silver bullet once, when the computing world was ruled by white-coated mainframe programmers and wizards. After some fits and starts, HP showed companies that MPE could mothball the lab coats and let customers order a computer they didn't have to battle to perform the slightest information task.

In our current season we work in a hailstorm of silver bullets. There's a new one to consider every few months, as the rate of change, improvement and experimentation continues to leap. It's as much a problem as a promise of ease, because our existing commitments get no time to mature anymore. Investing in anything just ensures you'll be comparing tomorrow's silver bullet to today's purchase.

Unix was supposed to be a silver bullet. From the perspective of HP's shareholders, it has been just that. The company's new customers consider it so. Its existing customers -- that's you -- see the arrival of this commercial operating system alternative as both a problem and a promise. Your view of Unix depends on how well MPE is working for your career and your company. This newsletter has a mission to improve that working relationship with education and information. We want to show you how to do more with that tremendous resource that's matured in your IS environment. The alternative is to bite that silver bullet.

Companies that have bitten off Unix have acquired a new set of challenges along with the bounty of tools and applications it delivers. Nothing's perfect, and this is what gives rise to those silver bullets. Now Unix advocates and secret fans have a bullet flying over their shoulders: Windows NT.

Customers who embraced Unix are discovering this year that their operating system is subject to radical changes between versions. The current 9.0 to 10.0 shift in HP-UX is so profound you must re-install the operating system. HP's engineers estimate they'll specify 23 hours of consulting time simply to plan an installation and subsequent modifications for the upgrade. Unix might be a godsend for HP, but it's clearly a work in progress. Throw in the significant differences between vendor's versions and you've got a great opportunity for a bullet.

A no-longer-modest software company in Redmond, Wash. has risen to the opportunity. They'd like everyone to consider Windows NT -- not 95 -- as a better enterprise software platform than Unix. While NT is not new, what is new is the HP belief that the NT opportunity and its Unix passion must play together better. Previously autonomous operations like the Personal Computer Organization and the HP 9000 General Systems division have a mandate to work together, to the dismay of some Unix zealots in the company.

The zealots aren't all inside HP. Some are customers who have bought their HP-UX silver bullets, and are looking over their shoulders at the NT lead flying from Microsoft. NT disturbs these customers as much as Unix bothered the MPE faithful. The Unix fans quote chapter and verse of the NT shortcomings, overlooking the very thing that made their Unix popular: lots of applications and tools, and rising market acceptance. As a trump card, they play the belief that anything not built on a public standard will fail at serving the open computing mandate.

Open computing has had a nice long ride in the marketplace, and it's brought some benefits along with the messes like 23-hour planning sessions. MPE now has the industry's best-designed POSIX shell, as well as compatibility with the latest storage devices. One of the gifts it never accepted is the gotta-reinstall mentality of Unix. For that efficient and cost-effective difference, the still-modest companies in the world that use HP 3000 can give thanks this season.

They can also be thankful that someone powerful has begun to identify the target that Unix has missed: system consistency and reliability. Microsoft isn't busy slamming Unix. Instead it's selling an alternative designed by a single company instead of a committee. If you think that sounds a little like MPE/iX, you might also recognize that you're ahead of the NT bullet, too.

More than two decades of maturity and refreshes are what puts the HP 3000 beyond the range of Microsoft's silver bullet. If Unix can be cut down by a "proprietary" operating system (that's what zealots call Windows NT), why not let that system be MPE/iX? It's a question for HP to ponder when it funds improvements to the product. The ongoing investment in those refreshes makes the HP 3000 a silver bullet once again, this time for problems spelled U-N-I-X.
-- Ron Seybold