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November 2001

Uncertain seasons require flexibility and demand faith

NewsWire Editorial

This week the World Series took to the field, featuring one team that many thought would be sitting at home instead of suiting up. I’m talking about the New York Yankees, a baseball team with more storied years as champions than any other in any sport. I’m no fan of the Yankees — rooting for them is something like cheering on gravity, given the problems of baseball’s current economics. In the last five years, they have won the Series four times. But the Yankees’ return to the Fall Classic this year proves that very little in life is certain. That is a sentiment that could be a great consolation to the HP e3000 community in this uncertain season.

It is a season of uncertainty in many places. You can hardly find a spot of the world’s economy that knows what the next six months will bring, whether it’s Starbucks’ expansion into Asia or the problems of profitability for California utilities. All of us in the HP and Compaq communities are casting about for clues about the impact of the coming merger. It’s driving some journalists crazy, especially those who focus on one of those two companies. Last month I witnessed an online news aggregator — the kind of bottom-feeder which broadcasts links to other sites’ news stories, writing little to nothing itself — plead for its readers to say what they thought would happen in the merger. Once it gathers enough opinions, this aggregator will then write an article reporting on what everybody thinks. That kind of original content is as substance-free as the news gets in this new century: printing opinions about what people think might happen between HP and Compaq, in the absence of facts.

It takes a lot of discipline to say, “There’s not much we know for certain yet” while the facts remain obscured. It’s the kind of discipline I’ve been watching the Yankees practice through October as they turned one baseball expert after another from hangman to herald. Teams must survive two preliminary playoff series to earn a spot in the World Series these days. The Yankees were picked to lose in both of these preludes to the Fall Classic, despite their dominance in years past. The other contenders all had better records, more desire, no fear of losing to the defending champs.

That all sounded a lot like the doomsayers predicting the malarkey that the HP 3000 is sure to be cut from the combined product line. I read it in places that don’t know the 3000 community very well, but employ crack analysts who know the computer industry. Details of that judgement were as scarce as original content on a news aggregator’s Web site, to be sure. But it just made sense to them that something close to three decades old would be boiled out of the witches’ brew of the new HP. After all, everything was going to move to (Linux/Unix/NT/your favorite buzzword). And HP was going to move smartly to Itanium, even though that processor is getting smoked in the horsepower race against PA-RISC, and probably will finish second for the next three to five years.

That reminded me of the baseball analysts who used to be players, telling us the Yankees were doomed for this year. Okay, the Yankees are a team that’s easy to dislike, and one of the reasons is their continued success. In the late 1950s there was even a popular musical written about them, “Damn Yankees,” in the middle of a decade chock-full of their championships. There remains a mystique and aura about the team to this day, something hard to accept as a competitor and harder to explain as a player on their team. It’s the kind of thing you might struggle to explain when you say you believe in your HP 3000.

But there it is, the intangible factor, confidence I believe is built around faith. When the Yankees lost the first two games of their best of five-game playoff series this year, the doomsayers were in full crow. Their opponent now had three tries to beat them once more, and finish them off. The Yankees had faith in themselves, and reeled off three straight wins to escape elimination. Then they dispatched a team that matched the all-time record for victories in the regular season.

Quiet confidence comes from years of survival. It’s something your computer community can call upon in these uncertain times. The Yankees weren’t hitting in those three straight must-win games, so they stayed flexible and played defense for their victories. Surviving to play another day is sometimes the best thing we can do, when we can’t produce a lot of hits.

It’s easy to claim the HP e3000 is short on hits these days, if you accept the definition of hits like in music: “popular and in vogue.” There’s another kind of music as well, the “timeless classics” that people record over and over after their initial heydey. That’s the kind of hit it looks like we’re getting from the HP 3000, as one computer maker after another reaches for the 3000’s stanzas of reliability, economy, security and durability.

This is where the HP 3000 takes on some of the Yankees’ quality: a thing whose success is envied. Some baseball experts dislike that team’s success. Some computer analysts dislike the concept of continued serviceability from a 29-year-old product. They want to be the first to predict its demise, a forecast not founded on facts, but on fatigue. They’re tired of keeping track of so many environments. Isn’t it time something goes away?

Well, it is. Was it just a few months ago that everything with a dot-com attached to it appeared destined for greatness? Seems like it to me, and now the old economy is well back in vogue. Gone are the companies poor in profits but rich in promises, along with their scheming software. Integrating with everything is an insidious asset, something the 3000’s architects are careful to nurture. Your server doesn’t claim to do everything, but communicates with those that make the claims. That flexibility can provide you with faith, especially in uncertain times.

It will be a while longer before I know the fate of the this year’s Yankee team, playing in its fourth straight World Series, hoping to outlast Arizona’s two ace pitchers. Down 0-2 after facing them, the Yankees then tied the Series over the next two games. But regardless of whether this is another championship season or not, New York — the city and its most famous sports team — is proving you can’t count anybody out until the results are all in. Your computer is just as alive and vital as it was before this merger was announced, and nothing has happened to change that. Stability in these uncertain seasons deserves special praise, so stick to the facts and keep your faith. In baseball the game has no timer; it’s only over, said Yankee Yogi Berra, when it’s over. It takes patience to follow the fate of a classic.

— Ron Seybold 


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