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January 2000

Survive the past and rebirth your dreams

NewsWire Editorial

Few things can prompt a rebirth like death’s end. Here in our home we were dealt death’s hand, as Dottie’s mother passed away last month. It came as no surprise after a lingering illness, but that didn’t keep Betty’s passing from changing lives — mine, in a small way, as my wife led a life away from me for many days at a time, tending to her mom in hospice; Dottie’s, much more so, as she buried the last of her parents.

Betty’s end was long expected, and perhaps harder for its duration. When my father took his life we were all in shock for years. The creeping kind of death leaves you with more time for tears, watching a life trickle away. At that end, even a weak smile can flood the heart with bittersweet joy.

The passing of a parent can mark growth, although it’s the kind you don’t wish for and feel more keenly. Our parents hold expectations and images for us that we either strive to embrace or run to escape. When they leave there is sadness, softened by the love and sympathy of our friends and family. We thank everyone who poured the balm of kindness on our sore hearts during the past month, one of the hardest to lose a parent in.

But even in loss there is gain, the chance to embrace a new beginning. Survival is death’s complement, and in surviving their last parent Dottie and her brothers and sisters found succor in humor. They laughed about those family episodes that are only funny to the people who lived through them.

Maybe in the same way, the HP 3000 community can break a smile at watching the 1990s pass away. That was a decade dominated by demise, the death threat to a computer which many of you grew up with professionally. In the front half of the decade the stories that HP told about the 3000 concerned when it would die. In the back half of the 90s, the tales changed to whether it would live. Finally, with the promise of new architecture in ’98, the death of the 3000 was a story that HP put to rest.

Our parents can be the keepers of such stories, trapping us in amber to keep us stuck in the past they remember. Once they pass on, we can change those stories more easily. Our siblings survive to remember these stories of who we are supposed to be, but their memory does not match the power of a parent.

Here in the last days of 1999, it’s clear there will be a new story that can be told about the HP 3000. The management chain above the 3000 division has passed away. Now a new general manager is setting out on his own course: to tell the world why the HP 3000’s differences are better.

Back in our Q&A interview, Winston Prather says something we’ve longed to hear about the HP 3000. The man more in charge of the 3000’s fortunes than any other admitted he is tired of being defensive about the HP 3000. His comments came while he pondered the prospect of making the system compliant with the Unix standard, to make it easier to propose to new businesses. Comparing the HP 3000 to Unix feels too defensive, Prather says. Instead of explaining why it’s not a Unix system, he wants to articulate what it is, and how it’s better.

Prather also talks about emphasizing value instead of cost while telling the 3000’s story to the marketplace. This is a different story, but not a new one. It seems like the kind of career change we often yearn for in our middle years or later, when we regain the courage to stick to the dreams of our youth. I once imagined myself an actor in training, then a writer of short stories. I took up journalism as a security blanket, but haven’t put my fiction pen away altogether. My new tale in 2000 is that I’m a scribe who writes both stories and journalism.

Dottie has had a similar experience in her mother’s passing. She considered what things she wouldn’t want to miss before she died. Now she’s learning French with a tutor, and taking up the cello. Musician is her new identity, along with her more mature talents.

The HP 3000 managers will be recasting the story of this system in the coming year, if Prather’s mission takes hold. A lot of the work needs to be done in an area where his experience is still maturing: in marketing. Selling the HP 3000 as something better than Unix is a position we have long advocated here. Back in our earliest days I wrote a little column called Advantage 3000, which revolved around the unique benefits the system offered. (You can find these at our free Web site, www.3000newswire.com, in the Plan section.)

Those advantages were often couched in terms of Unix shortcomings. At one point the copy bothered HP so much that a marketing manager called to complain about “stories that attacked other HP platforms.” The 3000 was then serving in the role of “reliable sidekick to the Unix you already have.” It’s easier to step away from these old roles when you become a survivor. You can become, not the person your parents necessarily wanted you to be, but whatever you can dream.

It sounds like Winston Prather wants to entertain dreams of the HP 3000 becoming a choice on its unique merits. It will take the courage of a survivor to accomplish this remake of the system, just like it takes courage to call yourself a short story writer or a cellist. The 3000 division is eventually going to have to make it clear that the solutions which its products are superior to — in terms of value — include HP-UX, and NT for that matter. Without articulating that message, there’s not much chance of a significant remake for the system. And “reliable sidekick” is not a role that will promote much platform growth.

This is the step the platform could not take before it regained value in the eyes of top HP management. Those at the top today might be ready to hear from a division ready to distinguish itself from all products, including HP’s own.

Taking on new roles in maturity has grand precedent. Thomas Jefferson said once, “Although I am an old man, I am but a young gardener.” With the death of a difficult decade, perhaps the fields of doubt about the 3000 are cleared enough for its new crop of distinction. In our pages we will plant as many of these seeds as we can, to help you see where MPE can lead your enterprise.The 3000’s lifespan is a dead issue. We hope the system’s survival gives HP managers the courage to sing its unique advantages.

— Ron Seybold 


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