Keeping Up the
Links to the HP 3000
mines stood at the start of Rich Corns computer career, but one
of the most natural resources in his life has been the HP 3000. More
than 20 years ago he developed print software for the platform, and
his solution has been sold as continuously as the form-feed paper
that was in vogue in 1984 when he launched his company, RAC
Consulting. Now HP wants to step up and replicate some of RACs
solution in one of its last enhancements for the system, an
improvement on network printing features that led the users
voting on the last SIB ballot. Its another example of how a
third party can solve 3000 problems sooner than HP, but will then
watch the vendor catch up later on.
Corn has watched
the HP 3000 mature like the trees at his first computer job, timber
felled for a California sawmill. When the mill put in a
computer-controlled log cutting system, Corn was taken with process
control. After discovering computer programming, software became the
focus of his career.
He worked in
a service bureau after his software schooling, a programmer
developing business applications. While evaluating an IBM 4300, Corn
got a look at an HP 3000 and was taken with the simplicity and power
of the platform. He got the contract changed and the bureau took
delivery of the first HP 3000 Corn used.
When Corn put
that HP 3000 to work he uncovered some of MPEs missing
elements, such as a tool with mainframe-class power to manage print
files. His skunk-works project created such a tool and ESPUL was
born. He then posted one stretch of his career working for a coal
mine in Olympia developing business applications, including one of
the first touchscreen industrial applications and the first in a coal
In 1984 Corn
purchased the rights to ESPUL and formed RAC Consulting. When the
time came to leave the coal mine, he went full-time into two decades
of success as a vendor and consulting on the HP 3000 platform. Ten
years ago Minisoft began reselling his print solutions as NP92. Now
as HP plans its path to delivering better networked print services
for some 3000 customers, we wanted to ask Corn about the nuances of a
solution elegant enough to link printers to HP hosts for more than 20
years. HPs networked print improvements will surface over the
next two years just about all of the remaining lifespan of the
vendors support for that improvement. Corns third party
alternative, like many, has an open-ended future. We spoke in late
June, in the weeks before HP rolled out its 2004 update to MPE/iX
How did you get started working on the problem of
networked printing for MPE?
Networking of printers was launched by HP with the
release of the first JetDirect card. Users did not take long to see
the advantages of getting printers off DTCs and located where the
network cable went. And it did not take vendors long to see that
users wanted support for this technology on the HP 3000. It seemed a
very natural expansion area for ESPUL.
How have things changed in the networked printing
sector for enterprise computer managers?
The biggest change is the explosion of choice in
terms of how you approach printing as an significant component of a
computing infrastructure and the number of products to choose from in
implementing the approach you follow.
Whats been the impact of JetDirect?
In my mind, JetDirect launched network printing and
still leads the market today in terms of the combination of price,
ease of use and reliability. I think its one of HPs great
products and very complimentary to the LaserJet and its impact on the
Where does the HP implementation of networked
printing on MPE fall short today?
First, though this is going to change, PRINTPATH has
always supported any printer you wanted to use with the HP 3000.
Second, and this remains, PRINTPATH supports the Unix LPD/LPR print
protocol for those cases where this is needed to communicate with
some printers and just about any other server/host system you want to
exchange print jobs with. One other advantage you get with PRINTPATH
is support that is ready to solve your printing problem no matter
what hardware or software is involved.
Is networked printing something that another OS,
like Unix or Windows, can be put in charge of for HP 3000
If you only have an HP 3000, then I dont think
you gain that much over 3000-based products though there might be
advantages in specific cases. If you have a heterogenous environment,
then a centralized print management scheme probably makes a lot of
sense. Many users are moving in this direction. If you have several
servers, mixed Unix/windows/mainframe/PCs then a centralized,
standardized printing model offers a lot of advantages.
Where can the SIB request for non-HP networked
printing, as stated, fall short?
Well, I think it will be helpful to users. But you
have to understand what is being provided. HP is removing an
impediment to using non-HP printers with MPE. It is not
supporting non-HP printers. To the extent that the
current use of PCL by the MPE spooler is your problem, this is a good
thing. If you have other issues, then this will not help. This will
not help with integration with print server/host systems that require
I am a bit concerned about the exact meaning of
no...handling of CCTL information would be done in the
statement of the SIB request and making the final form feed become
the users responsibility. If this is what is delivered, then it
may well require programming changes, which will prove problematic
for many users. If nothing comes out but whats in the data
file, that isnt going to be a good thing. 3000 people depend on
the spooler to print files correctly. Some may still need a tool that
handles non-HP printers transparently.
HP has faced 3000 customer requests for networked
printing before, requests that had an impact on your business. What
are the motivations of a third party solution provider versus a
The system vendor is always trying to do things as
cheaply as possible. If a third party is doing an acceptable job of
filling a need, the vendor will typically leave you alone. But if you
have a legitimate groundswell in the user base like they
dont like paying for a solution pressure can be brought
to bear on the vendor to do something about that.
While HP was
figuring out the absolute minimum that they could do to answer that
[networked printing] groundswell, I have to admit HP was as good as I
could have expected in terms of how they behaved toward us in that
process. The bottom line was they were going to do this. They tried
to do it in the way that was the least damaging to us, but still
achieved their needs. We knew how to talk about it, to highlight the
things we were doing that we knew they could not.
In terms of
something we could do in a solution that HP cannot, there is no such
thing. The question is whether its in the interests of the
system vendor to do it. They try to ensure their user base has the
right perception of them.
Is there an advantage the smaller supplier can
retain for HP 3000 sites?
One thing the smaller vendor can do is respond
quicker. The big vendor may catch up, but usually we can respond the
next day when a customers calls and says, Such-and-such printer
doesnt work with my 3000. Weve been able to respond
to those things in days.
Do you have an end of support deadline today for
PrintPath, or ESPUL?
There is no deadline. As long as we remain in
business we will do our best to support the users that remain with
Whats the latest challenge youre
facing for your customers?
HPs new printer, the LaserJet 3500, is quite
different than other LaserJets. Thats because HP has moved the
rendering engine completely off the printer and into the host driver.
Weve been able to make a lot of things happen for HP 3000s
because there was intelligence in the printer. Now theres much
less intelligence in the 3500. This printer wants the host driver to
send it a rasterized image of the print job. The printer can accept
basic ASCII text, but will not accept basic escape sequences and it
ignores any print job that contains them. Theyre taking the
approach that this printer will be used with PCs and they have CPU
cycles to burn. I think its a questionable design. Im not
going to add support for rasterizing print jobs on the HP 3000 at
this point in time, so this will be the first LaserJet we have not
supported in our 20-year history.
How has working in the 3000 community influenced
The HP 3000 showed me at an early point in my career
that powerful systems and software dont necessarily have to be
complex or unreliable. Poor design or unreliability is a choice, not
a fact of life. The reason for IT is to support business operations
and the efficiency of the HP 3000s design and quality of
manufacture allowed me to put more focus on adding value to the
business. With some other systems, the focus seems to be too much on
making the hardware or software work.
HPs had a history of developing software
that third parties were already selling. Didnt you overcome
this challenge once before?
Actually, no. The addition of network printing to MPE
killed a vibrant and growing business for us. We then focused on the
things we did that MPE did not and continued to do business on that
front, but that was really just a holding action. In fact, by the
mid-1990s, the MPE tool space was quite mature. The only expansion
area for third party vendors was network tools to bring MPE fully in
line with other operating systems. When network printing was
impacted, we looked to go in this direction, but it was clear pretty
quickly that HP would either provide these solutions or encourage
porting of free tools to MPE. So we opted to go in the direction of
getting off of the HP 3000 and into the larger Windows/Unix market
and something other than printing. To be fair, other major companies
have proven more likely to eat their partners than HP.
Whats been the best thing about working with
MPE and the 3000?
It was a joy to work with a system designed to be
simple, logical, resilient, efficient. The various
designers/maintainers of MPE deserve our gratitude for creating a
platform where we lived happily for many years and created some great
If OpenMPEs virtual lab needed any help in
its efforts to keep MPE viable, would you be available to