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October 2003

A new era, old skills, but always online

NewsWire Editorial

I spent a few hours this week crawling through dust balls and shopping near midnight. I was having the HP 3000 customer’s 2004-2006 experience, and my toils weren’t as tough as I feared. I found my chores tolerable because of temperament and training, a couple of props you will want to lean on during the years to come, no matter what plans you have for your computer.

If you plan to migrate, you’ll have to choke back some dust balls in your systems. Mine sat underneath a wide array of office furniture in the NewsWire’s modest offices. We strung our telephone wiring under that furniture eight years ago — this issue marks the first number of our ninth year, thanks to all — and the wire went down quickly back then. We had a lot to do in those days and not enough budget to do it perfectly. If that sounds like program development at any company you know about, then you might imagine me with dust on my chin, tracing the wires between phones on a steamy afternoon to find which circuit had stopped working.

Moving away from a server that’s been wired into your company for more than eight years will involve that kind of mucking out I fell into this week. I pulled old wire that wasn’t even connected anymore, just to get it out of the way and simplify things. While I tugged, nothing got written, because I felt like I was the best fellow for both jobs, the writing and the tugging.

You might be in the same position at your company. If you’re lucky, you can get your management to hire you some help as you yank out those old applications that nobody uses anymore. Or get the new faces to do the yanking. You may not want your work to stop as completely as mine did that afternoon.

This will be the life of the migrating customer for the next several years: taking careful inventory of what you need, and replacing it with something newer. For me, a brand-new phone cord did the trick, something I had lying around. We’d love to hear from anybody who gets off this easy while moving away from the system.

If you plan to homestead, you may well have the shop-near-midnight experience. We wanted to update our version of Adobe Acrobat on the Mac, and learned that the latest release does not run on OS 9, our tested desktop publishing platform.

“No, Version 5 isn’t for sale anymore, sir. It went off the price list on Aug. 23.”

I took a breath and paused. The Version 6 which Adobe wanted me to buy would require new hardware, a new OS, lots of tag-along upgrades. I could see a week disappearing, and much more money.

I wanted to see if Adobe was firm on its end of sales date. Some of you might want to try this with HP’s channel in the coming weeks, but you want to attempt a more careful approach than I did. I had missed the end of sales deadline by less than three weeks. A different Adobe rep had assured me just a day earlier I could buy Acrobat’s Version 5, after all.

“And so I suppose that Adobe has rounded up all those Version 5 upgrade CDs, and destroyed them, right?” Sarcasm didn’t motivate my Adobe rep, who assured me that “I didn’t say that, sir.”

I was having the homesteader’s experience, trying to buy something the vendor no longer sold. I turned to the world’s shopping bazaar, eBay, to obtain the software I needed. One copy of the Version 5 upgrade disk was at auction, and I put in a bid $20 higher than the current limit. The next night, near the witching hour, I sat with mouse in hand, ready to defend my purchase against other bidders. I succeeded, and two days later I had the CD Adobe would not sell me. I upgraded successfully with my valid serial number.

I still have to reconcile support for the software. At some point Adobe won’t want to help me solve problems with it. I suspect, however, that day is far off. The support business is high-profit, for both software companies and computer makers.

There might not be many HP 3000s on eBay yet, but the computers are available, though not many are N-Class boxes. Support is just as available this month as ever, and support is the essential part of continuing your 3000 ownership. If can shop near midnight, or bid a little high, you can manage it.

Both migration and homesteading go easier with training and temperament. I crawled among the dust balls and thought “I’m getting a strength workout. It’s not so bad, because I’ve been riding 100 miles a week on my bike.” I called on my novelist-in-training skills, too: the ability to keep drilling down on a scene until you’ve got it right, eliminating whatever does not carry its weight.

As for the temperament, if you homestead you will have to let go of the old experience of making computer purchases. You may find it as daring at first as I did, shopping on the wide open market. If you want bits or nuts and bolts that are no longer manufactured, though, you can find them at a price. If your budgeting shows that the company saves money by purchasing at a premium, rather than investing in a makeover, you should make that note to somebody in finance. Bottom lines get good attention there.

Most essential to either experience is support, either the backing to make your move away or the assurance that somebody can help you with problems. We have a good alternative to Adobe’s support in a third party where we are a client. That’s essential, that client part. You want to have a relationship with somebody before the problems arise, or your migration deadline gets close.

You’re lucky in this, because the HP 3000 and MPE community has great third parties. Lots of them used to work for HP, if you want to assure your management that the service will be superior. So long as the third party network shines, you can work through the dust balls and get the shopping done before midnight.

The only thing that’s dying on Oct. 31 is the HP sales channel and its factory builds of 3000s. If you’ve bought yours recently, you won’t miss that channel. If there’s a wake nearby, it’s only for HP’s sales, not for the 3000. A PR flak recently asked me “The 3000 is dying at the start of November, right?” At least you’re better informed than that. Let your company pursue the 3000’s virtue: always online.

— Ron Seybold 

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